Billie Holiday croons in the heat of the afternoon, the soft sizzle of the old LP, adding to the melancholy she feels. She remembers her grandmother and her grandfather telling stories of when they would visit the wicked south, the dirty south, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi. She remembers thinking as a child how lucky she was, that she and her friends didn’t live in a world like that: afraid to look into a another’s eyes; taking the back seats in the bus; being beaten just walking down the street minding your own business. Imagine seeing a lifeless body hanging from a tree on the side of a road: face unrecognizable; eyes bulging; tongue bloodied and swollen three times its normal size; limbs bent awkwardly, bones like broken match sticks. That’s what Billie is singing about. Emmett Till was only 14, lynched in Mississippi as late as 1955. Bernice’s own mother was born just the following year making the story still relevant, at least to her. Billie’s voice hauntingly sad, Bernice Toucan let the words tumble across her mind, over her tongue and spill into silence. She switched on her Nina Simone version on her cd player. It was hard to choose which one she preferred so she just didn’t bother and often played both.
Her thoughts went to the events the day before. Little Melanie Chickadee had come home from school, clutching her raincoat against her forehead. She and her older sister, Marion had come straight to her. Marion was screeching her name, “Aunt Bernice! Aunt Bernice! Pleeease, come quick!” At first Bernice hadn’t realized what was going on and was about to send her housekeeper to check what all the noise was about, when she heard the flapping at her window. She looked out and there was Marion and Melanie, blood dripping from Melanie’s head. She rushed to let them inside and got the housekeeper, Maisy, to get a clean wet towel and some water for the girls to drink. She gingerly cleaned Melanie’s head while asking Marion to calmly tell her what happened.
“Aunt Bernice. I don’t know how ih end up dis way. We midi come home from school when one of the boys in another group started to make jokes about the man they stoned on George Street. He was singing “Boom bye bye inna batty bwoy head” and the other kids were laughing and shouting “all batty man need fi get shot”. Melanie turned around and said to Leroy, the main bwoi who midi do it, ‘God seh fi luv eviadi. How you wuda like it if dami you?’ Then Leroy get vex and come up to Melanie and tellah ‘Tek dat back! I nuh gay! what? da musi yu gay!’ Melanie shake ih head and telah, ‘ah nevah seh u gay but my ma seh dat people whe talk di mos gat di most fi hide.’ Den he try push ah dung and Melanie push ah back. Suh I get Melanie and tell ah mek wi goh home. Den wen wi miya jus turn di cawna, ah feel sumting knack mi back and den ah si Melanie drop dung pan di street.”
At this point Marion’s voice is rising and her breath is quickened. She swallows and hi cupped a few times so Bernie reaches over and gives her a glass of water.
“Marion. Just sip it slowly, sweetie. Everything is ok now. Take your time.”
“Oh, Aunt Bernice,” wailed Marion. She was sobbing now and so was Melanie.
Bernice just gathered them both under her wings and rocked them as their bodies shook. By now, her own children were in the room, quietly standing by the doorway. She beckoned them to come and they did so quietly. Their eyes were wide and fear made them still. Bernie realized that she was still holding the bloody towel and could only imagine what they must be thinking. She smiled reassuringly and said, “Melanie and Marion were attacked by one of their school friends on the way home from school.”
Her daughter made a clucking sound and said, “Some friend.”
‘Katherine, I am sure the boy who hurt Marion and Melanie doesn’t even understand what he was doing or why he was saying what he was saying.”
“Oh, mom! Why you always have to be like this? Can’t you just get mad like everybody else? Nelson ma miwa dun di walk to da lee bwoi house fi bus fi hi head!” Bernice shot Katherine her ‘you bettah stop that now’ glare and Katherine stopped her tirade. Katherine sighed and asked in a lowered voice, “Whe hi seh?”
“Well, he was making fun of the incident that happened on George Street and saying derogatory things and Melanie stood up to him.”
“Way to go Melanie!” said Katherine.
Melanie raised her head and smiled weakly at the compliment.
Katherine tried not to react but Henry gasped. Even with the wound cleaned, it still looked frightening.
Bernice got up and said to the girls, “I think we had better call your mother. We can go pick her up at the factory and then go see your doctor or the ER whichever your mother prefers. I think you might need stitches Meli Mel.”
“Ok, Aunt Bernice,” Marion dried her eyes and hugged her sister close to her.
“Maisy, please have the driver pick up Lindsey and bring her and Darnell over here to stay with Henry and Katherine. You guys play some games while we are gone ok?”
Katherine and Henry nodded, not saying anything.
Bernice called her friend and quickly relayed the details. They decided to take Melanie and Marion to Bernice’s private doctor. She really didn’t want the girls at the public hospital facing all kinds of stares and even more trauma. Bernice felt it was the least she could do. Melanie had stood up to a bully today and she paid the price. She needed to know that it wasn’t in vain and that people would respect her for being so brave. Bernice felt that by taking care of the wound and quickly trying to get Melanie and Marion to bed with some dinner and tea, the sooner the girls could recover.
At the doctor’s office, while Melanie was receiving her stitches, Bernice and Dodes waited in the lobby. Dodes started to cry.
“How could this happen Bernie? They are just kids. Melanie is still just a baby. And this boy? What would possess him to stone my children? Did you see the bruise on Marion’s back?’ Of course she had but she just nodded. She knew Dodes didn’t really want her to talk. She just needed to cry and vent. “I feel like it’s all my fault. She told that little boy something I said.”
Bernice grabbed Dodes by the shoulders and turned her to face her. “Now stop it, Dodes. You only try to raise your children to be fair and just. She stood up to that boy because of what she believes and you are the one who gave her those beliefs. And they are good beliefs Dodes. Don’t let some ignorant little boy who has no idea what he is talking about change what you are teaching your children. There will always be bullies out there. And we all have to learn how to deal with them. Now. Get yourself together. We have to call the police as soon as we get home and the kids are gonna come out here any minute now.”
Dodes had nodded silently and sniffed loudly, trying to regain her composure. Bernice softened as she saw her friend try to calm herself. “Dodes. I am so proud of you. You are a great mom. Look at the wonderful children you raised. You need to let them know that you are proud of them ok? They did the right thing and they want to know that from you, ok?’ Bernice hugged her friend and felt herself start to tear up. Just then the girls came out all patched up and smiling, each with a lollipop their new favourite doctor had given them.
Bernice presses replay and listens to Nina again. She sings about murder and cruelty. Facts race through Bernie’s head. At one time, there were 4 million members in the KKK, made up of doctors, lawyers and even religious ministers. They justified their hatred with biblical quotes. They let their children cheer at lynchings, then let them go home to have the wives and sisters of those they lynched, cook their food and kiss their bruises and scrapes. And here it was, happening again, this time directed against sexual orientation. Did we never learn? History seems bent on repeating itself, lessons lost. Yesterday, a stoning, tomorrow a hanging. What would it take to satisfy these bigots? How could self-proclaimed devout Christians incite such hatred and not feel an ounce of Christian love and tolerance for their fellow creatures, God’s creatures?
Bernice sighs and presses replay. She had begged Dodes to be strong and take pride in her good sound beliefs she taught her children. Bernice shared these beliefs and expected no less from her own children. But, she could not help but be painfully aware of the difference. Bernice was definitely more insulated against such assaults as that just perpetuated against two little girls by a little boy. Dodes was alone, her children subject to dangers Bernice’s weren’t. Melanie and Marion hadn’t gone to school today. It was Friday anyway. Dodes had decided she wanted them to recover as well as have the next three days for the incident to fade in the schoolmates’ memories. But Bernice decided that even though the police had been called and the little boy arrested, that was not enough. She needed to go to that school and talk to the principal. Dodes had not gone because she needed to go to work but Bernice could and decided she would.
Nina sings about bodies swinging and the image of ropes hanging from trees flashes across Bernie’s mind. She is at the end of her rope. She is tired, tired of the inexplicable hate fueled by ignorance and fear. She could not just stand and watch this escalate. She makes a silent promise to all those who had hurt and all those who continue to hurt. She would not stand down or stand aside. She would stand up and stand beside and fight for what was only right and decent. She rises and goes to her room. She would go to that school and demand some sort of corrective action. She would get the media involved and send a strong message that this would not be tolerated. She wants to take that little boy, and others like him, and show him there is a different way to live, to think, to act. Plans blossom in Bernie’s head and hope flickers and then brightens. She is at the end of her rope but she will turn around and use it as a lasso, gather those wayward children and teach them to love and be accepting of difference. Bernice giggled out loud and shook her head. She marvels at herself. Even while she is thinking very dark morose thoughts, a funny image pops into her head of herself lassoing these boys. Bawk! Bawk! Bawk! Her giggles give way to hysterical laughter borne out of her own anxiety and apprehension about what she is about to do.
It’s mid-morning in the Jewel. Bernie is sitting on the wire alone and she can smell coconut oil and frying onions and hear pressure cookers rattling. Usually, she is in her office writing or doing light book keeping for her husband; but, today she feels closed in by all her thoughts and feelings. She tries not to show it to her friend, Dodes, just how much she is concerned about the state of their country. That is just not the dynamic of their friendship. Dodes has always clung to Bernie’s every word and reserved a special benefit of the doubt for her. It got to the point that Bernie had to gently admonish her friend against putting her on such a lofty pedestal. She becomes especially uncomfortable when Dodes puts herself down and defers to her because of her education and position in society. No matter how much she tries to show egalitarian consideration, Dodes refuses to act like her equal. In this way, Bernie can’t ever truly be herself around Dodes. Dodes has put her in the position of mentor and guide. It would not do to show any sort of weakness as the disappointment would upset Dodes’ estimation of her. Bernie is Dodes’ rock, a compass in this crazy, overwhelming world. If Bernie should voice any misgivings or uncertainty, Dodes would be sure to overreact and feel like the sky is truly falling. Bernie doesn’t mind being this for Dodes. She understands that Dodes is alone and needs her to be that stabilizing force in her life. She plays the role well and is nurturing, supportive and even motherly as Dodes sometimes needs her to be. The downside is that it left Bernie without a confidante and that makes her feel lonely at times. She could only be her true self with her husband, Joe and her friend, Judith. But, Judith does not live here and is often busy herself and Bernie hates talking on telephones so essentially, that leaves her with herself, thoughts swimming and fears unabated.
It had taken her a long time to realize that she was not meant to have many close friends as she had tried to force others to play that role. Eventually, they fell away and she never heard from them again, or worse, they would turn on her and misunderstand everything she tried to say or do. The catch is, even though she has her husband right there, all the time, he is very busy. He works non-stop on his various contracts and while they are lucrative, sometimes, the work just drained everything out of him. In that way, she becomes nurturer again and has to wait until he could be available to her. So here she was alone, trying to be patient. Patience had not come to her very easily. Her passion and youth had made every issue, every thought seem so important that she felt compelled to try and come to a resolution as quickly as possible. She had learned over the years, that, that was just not how the world works; and that while she could attempt to engage others into reaching resolutions to arguments, crises, and challenges, forcibly and loudly was not a way to maintain friendships and alliances, no matter how right she felt she was. Now, she had learned that her anxieties were her own to deal with and while others could try to be supportive, she couldn’t expect them to know what to do or how to do it. She and only she could make herself feel calm and determined to continue on.
She felt a flap of air and turned towards it. It was Buster Piam Piam.
“Hey Bustah. What yu doin here? I thought you were at Robinson’s Point with Paulie.”
“I was Bernie but I came back earlier than planned. Granny Ivy is not doing to well so we came home to be with the family.”
“O Bustah, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Well, she is doing better already, as usual.” Bustah laughed. “I swear, she does it on purpose. She heah we outta town, get jealous, play sick just fi ruin we good times.” Bustah smiled at Bernie.
“Ahh Bustah. You and that morbid humour of yours. Nevah change, heah?” Bernie smiled at her friend but it didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“Oh oh. I think I interrupt some deep thoughts here Bernie. You look like you gots your thinking cap on.”
“O Bustah. You are in the world of economics. What do you think about this supah bond business? As far as I can tell, it sounds like crippling debt that we can never repay and I get really perturbed at the thought that I absolutely have no idea where it all went!” Bernie lets out an exasperated sigh.
“Berns, it was a bad idea. I don’t know all the ins and outs of it but it would seem that yet again, for the fleeting moment of glory, we spilled our guts. And now everybody is scrambling to make this seem ok. Meanwhile, the politicians are fighting away pointing fingahs. Shit ah wish they would just get close enough to each other and poke each oddah eye out…dah nuh like dey need dey eye! Dey all blind anyways!” Bustah slapped Bernie on her back as he guffawed. Bernie was startled but she joined in since she wouldn’t want to send the wrong message and hurt Buster’s feelings. Problem was, she really didn’t feel like laughing. She felt to burdened by her fears and unanswered questions.
Changing the topic, Bernie asked Buster, “Wheh yu oddah half dey? Usually him nuh tuh far behind.”
“O lawd, gial Bernie. Paulie meet a gial da caye. She da di cook and every week she come een fi buy produce. Soh him deh wid her right now before she haffi goh back da caye. Da bwoi always got his head undah skirt ah tell yu!” Bernie and Bustah laughed at the thought. “And di ting is, him soh desperately in love and ciant eat nar sleep. Him drive mi crazy wid all dah talk bout dis gial or dat gial. Right now I hafi heah bout ‘Allison has such lovely long legs. Allison’s voice is so musical. Allison is so smart.’ But di ting is las week dahmi Becky…next week it wha be di same tings…’insert name here’.”
Bernie laughed at the truth of that statement. Paulie was ridiculous in love. He would be the perfect romantic partner for some lucky girl, one day, maybe. Unfortunately, his interest waned quickly and soon he was mooning over someone new. She likes the statement “insert name here”. It describes how she feels about all the politicians, just now. It doesn’t seem to matter who, which party, what the accusations are, who tief, who tek, who liad, who get outta facing consequences for committing crimes…just “insert name here”. Her mood started to deflate again.
“Bernie, Bernie!” Bustah’s voice rang in her ear, jolting her back to the conversation.
“Huh? Sorry Bustah. Ah midi tink again. Whe u midi seh?”
“Ah ask u if u have time fi a lee bite. Ih luk like u need some distraction befo da big head a yours explode,” Bustah said with a kind, understanding smile.
“You know what Bustah? Long time ah haven’t been to Seaside Cafe. Ah always feel so peaceful there with the waves lapping and the breeze in my face. Can we go there? They have the freshest papaya you ever tasted.”
“Alright Bernie. You are on but I want a watermelon margarita too!”
“Well talk about ‘it’s five o’clock somewhere’!” chuckled Bernice. “I might just hafi join you. I need some fun Bustah. Do I ever need some fun right about now. Lemme just tell Joe and I’ll be right back.”
Buster watched his school friend fly up to her house with some sadness in his heart. He rarely ever saw Bernie so deflated and pensive. She was a thinker, even as a child but she was also a fun, quick witted provocateur. It got her into trouble with the stuffy, authoritative teachers when they were in school, but she hadn’t let that change her. She just got more spirited and challenging. Buster knew that Bernie was probably not worried for herself as much as she was worried for others who were already struggling. He knew that like himself, people sometimes doubted her sincerity because it was obvious she was wealthy and that she struggled to balance charity against pity. She had always voiced strong hopes that as Belize became more and more developed, that those poverty stricken and seemingly forgotten areas would finally get electricity and the stagnant drains that were breeding grounds for mosquitoes and thus responsible for yearly outbreaks of malaria, would finally be connected to the city sewer systems. He knew that she was probably seeing all those dreams just crumble under the weight of the reality of the financial crisis facing Belize.
“Hey Bustah! Now dah yu di drift off. First round is on you! Let’s go have some fun, man.” Bernie smiled at her friend encouragingly.
“Alright Berns. But if you get tu tipsy tu fly, u pay fi di taxi!” And in his usual gentlemanly way, Bustah let Bernie fly off first, elegantly and sure, she headed towards the beach.
It is a sunny morning in the Jewel and children all over are rushing to school. Some stop at the Chineyman shop to buy haadtimes and sweets or pencils and erasers. Others dawdle on corners waiting for their friends to catch up so they can walk the rest of the way together. On the junction of Fortification and Judgement Streets, passersby can hear the screeching of a frustrated Dodes as she hustles the children out the door.
“Marion! Marion! Get your little sister and get your bottoms out of here NOW!” screamed Dodes.
“But MOOOOM! She is so slow dis morning and she will make me late. Can’t you take her?” asked Marion.
“Marion, if you backansa mi one mo time, ah wa wahm you lee rass fi be suh rude,” responds a very visibly angry Dodes.
Bernie hails the children from her perch trying to distract them and Dodes from escalating and also to signal to Dodes that the neighbours are hearing everything.
“Morning, Marion, Lyndsey. You bettah run a little to catch up on time, girls. You only have 20 minutes. Hold her hand Lyndsey and don’t give Marion any trouble ok? See you dis evening girls. Maybe you come visit me and I’ll have some treats fuh yu ok?” said Bernie kindly.
She didn’t deal with this in the morning at all. Their driver took her children to school and she had time then to chat with Dodes over a cup of tea before she had to go to the factory. The bus passed by their street around 8:45 am. She was the last one the company driver picked up. She was close to the highway and it was only five miles to the factory. They usually made it with about six minutes to spare, just enough for a last bathroom run before she clocked in at 9:00 on the dot.
Dodes looked especially flustered as she sidled next to Bernie. “Aye, gial. Sumtimes, deya pickney just tek it outta mi. My day staat at 5 in the mawning. By di time da damn bus come? Ah ready fi lay down again.” Dodes sighed heavily.
“Come Dodes. Ah have yu tea ready fi yu. Ah cud call Maisy and have her bring us some fresh tortillas if you want, with some dutch cheese? guava jelly?”
“Thanks, Bernie. Ah mek breakfast fi di pickney but den dey staat fight and of course, ah nevah finish mines.” Bernie calls to her housekeeper, Maisy and instructs her to bring Dodes some breakfast.
“Now Dodes. Tell mi whe happen. All ah heah da lata railin up and screamin. Who do what now?”
“Well da Marion and Darnell again. Ah nevah know what wa set off Marion these days. Shi so quiet and moody and her mouth di staat to sting.” Dodes looks up at her friend with tears glistening in her eyes. “Sometimes, I wonder if ah mek a mistake kicking her daddy out. Ah mean at least he would be here now fi help me.”
“Dodes. Nuh duh dat tuh yuself gial. You did what you felt was best at the time. He was cheating on you and withholding money and spending it on the other women. How you know anything would be better or even different now? 10 years later? Maybe you guys would be fighting so much, it would be worse. And then he has five more children pan top. What if he mi have dey while he mideh wid u still? How u miwa deal wid dat? And what bout Melanie and Lyndsey? They wouldn’t be here now, would they?
Dodes smiled weakly and shook her head. “Anyways, suh Darnell have dis habit fuh nuh duh his chores and den po Marion end up di hafi do dem bc by di time I get home, da time fi Darnell duh ih homework. You know he nuh as smaat as di girls and so he tek twice as long fi duh anyting. Suh Marion decide dat she wa staat get back afta Darnell and stop wash ih clothes and shi di hide dey anda di bed stuck up all in between di bodes dem. I di look fi days everywhere befo ah finally find dey. Darnell di wear di same unifahm fi neahly a week now. Ah haftu di wash it da nite and heng it inna di bathroom. Suh dis mawnin, Marion squirt tootpaste pan di shirt and po Darnell had to goh da school wid a wet shirt cause ah had to rinse out di spot. And we use Close Up cause da di cheapest and da rass red. So po Darnell shut gat dis pink lookin stain crass and crass it. Aye.”
Bernie is laughing now as she imagines Marion doing this to her brother. “But Dodes, gial. Why yu nuh mek Darnell wash ih own cothes fi tru? He di get big unuh? Even lee Melanie wash clothes with Marion pan Saturday.’
“Really? Ah nevah know she midi actually wash di clothes. Ah know dey go dungstayz tugeddah but ah mi tink shi just di kip Marion company,’ said Dodes. “Ah feel like sumtimes my life jus outta control Bernie. Ah feel like day in and day out, ah just work and work and work and fi what? Ah di lose mi pickney. Sumtimes di look whe Marion give me, ah wah slap ah but den ah jus wah dissapear eena wah hole. Dah like shi hate mi. Anyway,” Dodes chewed a piece of her tortilla and swallowed before continuing,” Ah di try explain tuh Marion dat even doh Darnell wrong fi nuh duh ih chores and ih nuh wash ih own clothes and she hafi end up di duh it, shi just as wrong for hiding his clothes and ruining his shirt. Shi tell me how whe she do nuh as bad as whe hi duh and plus top, he get everything fuh duh absolutely nutting and shi get nutting fi duh absolutely everything. When dey wah lawn dat in di meantime, di two ah dey di mek it haad pan me! Ah just di try mek a life fuh all a wi you know? and ih feel like nuh mattah whe ah try duh, ah ciant get head and all dey duh dah fight di mek it woss!”
Dodes starts to smile. “Sound like friggin UDP and PUP huh? ‘you tief’ ‘no yu tief!’ Dodes moves from side to side changing her voice to represent each side.
“well, at least ah nuh as teifah as u!”
“Who seh so? wi still nuh know how much yu tief! At least when we tief, we pass it on to the people! Ask evibadi whe get turkey and ham fi krismus. At least dat da sumting!”
“Ha! what people? fi u people? O wait! da nuh even fi we people! Da di bloody alien whe uno just hurry friggin give citizenship!”
“Well when election time cum, u always drag out alla your votahs dem, even di one whe dead fuh 20 yeahs! At least ah nevah tek money fram Ashcroft fu mi campaign! Go google da shit! Ih deh ret deh pan wikipedia! And a bet dah only di million whe uno cop tu! Who knows how much ih reaaaaaalllly give uno!”
“Well look pan kettle di cuss pat! Who u fi seh jack shit? You represent di man den tun rung and sue ah??? Conflict of interest much? u lucky u nuh dead! You sure hitman nuh deh afta u?”
At this Dodes looked squarely at her friend,” Meanwhile me and you di get busup like pinata, right Bernie? Ah mean really? Put puss eena bag which one cum out fus? And dey one pa tv! O my lord!” Dodes puts her hands on her hips and imitates the tv personalities they all knew so well. ” I know my party nuh perfect but that is in the past! We are talking about this government today! They promise to do bettah and they haven’t! They are just as corrupt so out they must go!'” At this, Dodes cut her eye and sucked her teeth. “Da stupid di tawk but nuh stupid di listen. Ah mean who dey di fool? How I supposed to vote dem back in when demi worse and dey di actually agree da demi worse?? Soh dis govament tief tuh suh let’s vote een di one whe tiefarah! My goodness!”
By this time Bernie is laughing heartily. She loved it when Dodes got funny. “Aye, Dodes. Stop! U wah mek ah drop off ah disya wiyah. Hmmmmm.” She catches her breath. “Dodes. Dodes! Di bus di cum! Go lock u doh hurry!”
Dodes flies off to lock her door before the bus stops on her street.
“See you latah, Berns! whooohooo!” waved Dodes.
“Bye Dodes! See u latah fi tea!” waved back Bernie.
Dodes seemed in much higher spirits as she made her way to work. Another day, another win against unemployment and poverty. She made a silent promise that she wouldn’t lose her focus and determination even when her children questioned her actions. She needed to talk to Marion. She couldn’t stand the thought of losing her best ally, her best friend in this world. If she only knew that is exactly why Marion resents her.
Bernie Toucan and Doo Doo Chickadee are sitting on their usual spot by the junction of Fortification and Judgement Streets, having a bit of tea. It is a lovely afternoon and the long time friends are enjoying a lighthearted chat when they feel the wire dip. Both of them look over and give shrieks of surprise.
“Milli!!!! Millicent Audrey Avocet!”, exclaimed Bernie.
“Blue Shanks! Gial! Whe u di du ya?” asked Dodes excitedly. The friends come together for a warm embrace and kisses.
“Well girls. I’m here to bury my grandmother, Aurelia Avocet, memba shi? Granny Ray? She passed a few days ago and I brought her home. She insisted that she be buried here in Belize. U membah how shi does goh? Always have to have shi own way,” Mili smiled wistfully.
“I’m sorry to hear that Milli. I hope it wasn’t too difficult for you and your family?” asked Bernie.
“Well, she was almost 100 so we knew this was coming and the past few months, she was going in and out of the hospital. That was hard because it felt like I never left work, you know? Nurse at work, nurse at home,” said Milli.
“I’m sure she appreciated it, Milli,” said Bernie as she touched her friend reassuring on the shoulder.
“Gial but hmmm! Comin home da neva no joke! Dey harass me every step ah di way. Dey act like ah midi try smuggle drugs or something. Dey nuh know dat if a midi do dat, di coffin mi gwein di opposite direction? What di hell ah wa smuggle into Belize from States?” Milli’s eyes danced as she giggled. “Yu wud tink dey glad dat the immigrant di lef di country, right? Dey stop my rass da every station! Ah neahly miss mi connecting flight home. Ah tell di lady if shi nevah let mi goh, mi granny miya haunt shi rass sake a lef ah fi travel by shi self,’ said Milli.
“Haha!” laughed Dodes.”U nuh change nuh gial. U still di give trouble, big time lady and all.”
“Well! Dey piss mi off man! Ih does be dat I mi glad fi have a Belizean passport. I used to joke that I would nevah want a American one cause dey wa tek mi mek hostage. But hell! Ah di change mi mind. Ah mean, who wahn go thru da process da states? You have to pay almost a thousand dollahs den you hafi study and tek exam. Hmph! But lately, I might prefer be American.”
“Well, u know Milli, lately, wha latta pipple di rail up bout fi we citizenship. How easy it is fi get it and dat anybody could get it fi leebit a money or a simple vote inna elections. Jus di oddah day, PM give hundreds a pipple citizenship. Pipple nevah tek tu kindly. Seh how dey only di du it fi get votes cause dey desperate.” Dodes shook her head. “Milli gial. You might glad u live da States fi tru. Dis country jus di go to rass. Ah mean, why d hell u wa give a bunch a Guatemalans citizenship? Dey don tink we da fi dey? Now dey could vote and buy land and send dey pickney da fi wi school. Ih just bun mi when ah tink bout it.”
“Shit! Ah neva know tings get so bad gial Dodes,” said Milli. But dis rass nuh new mein. When ah midi go da SJC, dey used to talk bout di Chiney di pay like $45,000 fuh wa passport. At least den wi mid get something firit, right? But dis? Dey just di come tek whe dey done tink da fi dey already and we jus give it to dey!” Milli looked over at Bernie who had gotten very quiet, just sipping her tea every now and again. “Bernie. Whe di goh tru da maze a yourns?”
“Ahh.” Bernie sighed.”Ah jus di tink fi tru Milli. Ah mean, what do you do when something like this happen? Who u call? Is there even a process of inquiry?”
“Hey Milli,” said Dodes. “Di one good thing whe come outta dis? Dey gat deya 2 gial name Aria Lightfoot and Fayemarie Carter. Dey two deh awn gial. You know whe Aria seh bout di passport ting? Shi call Belize a prostitute! Something bout open fi business with evibady!” Dodes’ body shakes as she heartily laughs.
“Buwahahahahaha!” laughed Milli. “Dat da wa gud one Dodes! Suh wi da still ‘soldier taffy’? Wi jus do it legal like now. Wow!” Milli sobered as the thoughts swirled around her head. The Belize of her Granny Ray’s days definitely seem to be gone with her. This is one of the major conflicts she struggles with deeply. How can she, Milli, say anything about what is happening in Belize when she lives in a nice house and has a nice job in sunny California? She thinks of coming home often but she knows she is not ready to face this type of life where politics and one’s existence were one and the same. She shook her head as if to shake the thoughts right out. “Anyway, Dodes. Tell mi bout whe deya gial di seh.”
The friends sat on the wire for the next hour, until the sun sprayed its golden tendrils across the land, closing one more day, signalling one more triumph of survival over continued difficulties and challenges to all the good these friends knew as home.
Bernice “Bernie” Toucan sees her friend Doo Doo “Dodes” Chickadee sitting on the wires at the junction of Fortification and Judgement Streets. Dodes looks worried. Bernie decides to go see what’s bothering her friend. Dodes worries about a lot of things. She is easily frightened by everyday happenings but lately, it seems to have gotten worse. Bernie reflects that Dodes doesn’t even seem to smile lately.
“Hey, Dodes. You seem so pensive today. What’s up?” asked Bernie.
Dodes doesn’t look at Bernie but starts talking. “You see Johnny John Crow over there? That’s nevah good. He only come rung when someting bad about fi happun.”
Bernie sighs. “Dodes, you can’t let him bother you. It’s just his nature. He ciant help it.”
At this, Dodes looks at Bernie. “I’m scared Bernie. Things just seem to be getting worse and worse. My daughter’s friend Aaron Pope was killed the other day. Innocent little boy, sleepin in his bed, fuh no reason.” Dodes voice cracks with emotion. “Who is it gonna be next? What has to happen so all these young people realize that all this shooting and killing don’t do nuttin but destroy what little good we have left? Ah feel like nobadi give a shit nuhmo.”
“Dodes. You have to remember that not everybody is like that. There are people trying, trying real hard to get people to start thinking and maybe start doing something to help this situation. Like da gial, Aria. I have been reading her blog and she seems to be really fair about everything…none a dis party politics rass. Shi nu fraid fi nobadi, it seems. People like her, is exactly what we need.”
At this, Dodes gives a little smile, then a tiny chuckle. “Shi de awn nuh tru? Shi even use di “f” word!” exclaimed Dodes. Dodes threw her head back and start laughing real hard now. Her voice going up an octave, “Shi seh, shi seh to PUP ‘Grow the fuck up already'” At this Dodes is bawking from her belly, her whole body shaking, tears streaming down her face. “Bernie, gial. Ah jus cud imagine po George Price di roll inah ih grave! Buwhahahahahahaha! Aye! Aye! Mi belly di hurt!”
Bernie smiles at her friend. She knows that the laughter hides Dodes’ fears but it’s still nice to see her laugh a good belly laugh. It’s been too long.
“Hmmmmmm, Bernie gial. Whe u tink people like shi cud really do, huh?’ Bernie frowns as Dodes is serious again. “Ah mean, she is saying tings I wuda wa seh miself and ah know dat lotta pipple wudnt dare. You know, dey fraid fi lose dey job and soh. But, innah di end, whe shi cud really do, huh?”
Bernie looked at her friend. She was right. Nobody survived in Belize unscathed and could be downright destroyed when they said what this girl, Aria is.
“Well, Dodes. Wi cud hope dat di pen is mightier dan di sword. Ah mean, wi ciant do nuttin bout nuttin if wi nuh talk bout it fus. Look. nuttin get done in a hurry. Tings tek time. Tudeh she? Tomorrow? 20 mo like she. Instead ah jus siddung ya and worry, why wi nuh join dis gial, huh? Show her our support. After all shi di do dis fi wi right? Wi haftu believe dat good and sound judgement will prevail. Just look at history, Dodes. Ah bet during di Holocaust pipple felt like it would nevah end and den one day it did. Nuttin bad last forevah but wi ciant siddung rung and wait fuh mek ih done? Who di hell wa do it? WE, Dodes WE!”
“But Bernie. U noh andastand. What can I do? Ah nuh educated like you. Ah beahli di hold onto mi job da di facktry. Dey nuh wa give wi wa raise. Deh nuh wa wi unionize. Ah mean. Wot wa happen to me and my pickney if dey fiah mi? U know dey pipple who I work fah big innah politics.” Dodes pushed out her beak and shook her head. “Ah nuh know Berns. Ah fraid.”
“Ok Dodes. U have a valid point. But if we don’t help ourselves, who will? U noh tink my ma and your ma had dis very canvasation befo we had independence? People had to get together and fight! U wa end up like Jamaica? Caz ih look like dat fi real. Most ah fi dey people po no rass and deh gat parts a city yu bettah no dare go to. Some a di village dem nuh gat electricity at all! Still? innah dis day and age? Ah nuh want Belize tun like dat mein. U feel mi?”
Dodes looks at her smart, pretty friend and nods. “Alright Bernie. I will try. I will follow dis gial Aria and show her my support. I wa tell all mi other frens fi pay attention tu. Hey, Bernie. Who wudda tink that lee ole me wudda di du dis? All I duz k bout da bash pan Satuhdeh.” Bawk, bawk,bawk “Aye dems were di gud ole days, huh, Bernie? Memba whe wi duz steps? Wi mi tink wi soh hot!”
“Talk fi yourself Dodes! Ah still got it girl!” Bernie thrust her chest out and swung her hips side to side.
The two friends laugh as they remember their blissfully, uncomplicated days as young girls, when nobody was shot and they could walk around at night without fear. Days when all that mattered was a note from a boyfriend and holding hands excitedly with him as you walk by Baron Bliss grave…well more than walk, a stolen kiss or two. Those days seem so remote now; but, a tiny hope has sprung in their hearts, as they silently pledge their loyalty and lives to fight to take back their country from the clutches of corruption and greed.
Bernie Toucan is sitting on her perch high in the tree when Doo Doo Chickadee calls to her from her perch on the electricity wires crisscrossing the road.
“Hey Bernie…yu heah bout di new blog whe suh gial name Aria something write bout dem politicians?”
“Yeah gial…what bout it?” answered Bernie Toucan.
“Well, shi talk bout all a deh…suh ah nuh really andastand whe shi di try do. Ah midi hope u coulda explain it bettah to mi?” asked Doo Doo Chickadee.
Just then, Buster and Paulie Piam Piam, the twins, landed next to Doo Doo.
”Happy New Year’s Bernie and Dodes. Whe di go awn?”
Doo Doo looked at Buster and said, “Well, ah midi ask Bernie if she know whe dis gial Aria di talk bout pan dis new blog bout di politicians dem. She talk bout all a dem so ah nuh know whe shi di try seh.” Doo Doo Chickadee shook her head with a look of true consternation.
Buster put his arms akimbo and looked up and down at Doo Doo, “Whe deh fi know Doo Doo?” and then in a sing song voice he bellowed, “Times haaad fi true!”
“Don’t give a damn; don’t give a damn, “ chorused Paulie Piam Piam. The twins busted into a fit of giggles and nearly fell off the wire laughing at their own joke.
“Aye uno two,” said Bernie Toucan. “Well, mek a si di blog Dodes. Ah could go through it wid u and si if we come up wid something.”
Bernie reads quietly for a bit and then says as she continues to read,” Well di fus paat look like shi just di seh dat neither one a di paaty dem do whe dey promise fi do. Hmmm, shi seh dat dem liad and tief and dat wi all tyad ah the same shit, different liar approach.”
At this the twins start to giggle again.
“Shi tell di PUP basically dat dey di fight like sum two year olds and dat deh nuh have no leadership, no direction…den shi tell di UDP dat dey no do when dey seh dey miya do but dey still di blame PUP fuh eviting and how dey da big cover artists and dey need fi fix dis shit and be mo responsible”
“Ooooooooooooh,” sing songed the twins.
“Hmmm, Bernie gial. Da who dis Aria person? Dey wa fire fi shi rass quick ting fi di seh alla dat stuff inuh?” said Paulie Piam Piam.
“Well u know dat da tru if shi mi live ya but shi deh da faren soh ah tink shi wa be ok. Shi family? Ah nuh know bout deh!” said Buster Piam Piam.
“Si dis da di rass ret deh!” exclaimed Bernie. “Evibady tu gaddamn fraid fi seh what needs to be said rung dese parts.” She shakes her head with indignation. “Da why uno so damn coward fa? If evibady tell dey rass off like dis, maybe dey wouldn’t do stupidness!”
Silence settles for a second or two as the birds shake their heads in agreement.
“Shi seh anyting bout VIP, Bernie?” asked Buster quietly.
“Well…no much inuh. Shi just seh dat dey got a good grip a di situation wid di corruption and ting but shi ask if dey religious. Ah wanda why shi seh dat?”
Just then Charles “Charlie” Crow sat next to Bernie and injected his usually highly respected opinion.
“Well I think that that is a very valid question. We have to be very careful how we allow religious agendas to infiltrate our politics and consequently our laws.”
“But den Mr. Charles, we da wa Christian nation. How we nuh wa bring God into di convasation?” asked Dodes. “Look pan di United States. Dey gat gay people inna di army and now dey cud get married! Dat ciant be right? Ah mean, I nuh gat nuttin genst gay people…do whe uno want inna di privacy ah yu own bed but ah nuh wa my pickney di si dat. Wat if my pickney decide he gay tu?”
Paulie Piam Piam snickered and looked at Dodes like he could kick her off the wire. “Now dat just stupid Dodes. And ah surprised at u. U, whe goh da church evi Sunday and talk bout acceptance for all. “
“Nuh get mi wrong Paul. I nuh want dey get hurt or nutting but really…ih jus gross mi out mein” Doo Doo made a shivering noise and ruffeled her feathers.
“Well but si. Da pipple like u allow dey cracked ones fi do whe dey do! Cas u turn wa blind eye and pretend dat dey one whe seh dey religious jus really di spread hate and fear. Come on Dodes. You bettah dan dat!” Paulie hawked and spat as if to emphasize his point. “Anyway Bernie, what else shi seh?”
“You really wa continue? Dis bloody depressin inuh,” asked Bernie.
The friends look down but they all shake their heads yes.
“Well, shi jus seh dat di media nuh di help cas dey belong to di diffrant paaties dem so how wi fi know what da what?”
“Tru ting mein. Ah hafi turn it off sumtimes. And wuss di newspapahs dem. Ah tink ah rather read ‘The Enquirer’!” chuckled Buster Piam Piam.
“It looks pretty dire,” said Charles. “I’m not sure what to say or think about our future as a nation.”
The friends looked out towards the setting sun as they each pondered Charlie’s heavy words.