I was on my way to the Airport to catch my plane, passing through Kitty, a suburb on the east end of Georgetown when my cousin, Rex pulled over to the side of the road. The entire trip had been like that: one long journey punctuated by frequent stops to refill the radiator that was leaking.
Rex pulled out the now familiar yellow plastic pail from the trunk and set off to fill it with water, but when I saw him duck into the Offtrack Betting Shop across the street I knew that it would be sometime before I saw him again.
I didn’t mind the wait. I was in no hurry –there were another twelve hours for the flight and my body clock had long since adjusted to the easy rhythm of the lifestyle in Guyana. I looked around and couldn’t help thinking that while I would be back in Toronto the next day, life in Guyana would go on as usual, the same as it had over the last two decades when I was away. The fat pig: his enormous pink bulk taking over half the width of the trench across from me would still be siphoning his way through the muck; the women standing on the parapet gossiping would find something else to talk about; the men sitting around the table on the shop-bridge playing dominoes would be back to finish the bottle of rum, or start another.
Suddenly, I noticed people running up the street, past the car. It was if they had just received a news flash that looters were emptying stores in the shopping area and they wanted part of the action. It alarmed me.
I turned to see where they were going. They were crowded around a woman outside a shack two house lots from where my car was parked and they all seemed to be caught up in the excitement as she repeatedly slammed a piece of lumber on the door of the shack. The piece of lumber was so large and unmanageable that she had to take hold of it several times to avoid it slipping from her grasp. But what really stood out was a red blotch at the back of her head: she was bleeding from a wound on the right side, the blood trickling down through her short, curly, black hair, settling on her shoulder. But she took no notice of it.
“Come out,” the woman shouted as she hit the door repeatedly. “T’ink yuh can bust mah head and get away wid it, nuh?”
At last, after several bangs on the door, it gave way. A man emerged from the shack. She went up to him, pushed him with a sharp slap to his chest, and then, started to dance around him, sparring like a boxer in a prizefight. She kept him at bay while she took shots at his face. Meanwhile, the crowd milled around, laughing and clapping: the females encouraging the woman to stand up for her rights and the males teasing the man, asking whether he was a man or a mouse to tekh all that beating from a woman.
I though the incident would work itself out and dismissed it. But, a roar from the crowd a few minutes later drew my attention back again. I turned just in time to see the man running towards my car. He was moving fast, his head tilted as he took huge gulps of air, like a long distance runner coming up to the home stretch and calling on all his reserves of energy. He was shirtless and his baggy pants flapped like sails on a boat hopelessly out of control as he passed by my window. Behind him came the woman, brandishing a small kitchen knife in her right hand.
The man was glancing behind him as he ran. When the woman’s pursuit stalled a few yards behind the car he stopped just in front of the hood and stood there, pacing back and forth, ready to take off in case she started again.
“T’ink yuh can bust mah head an get away wid it, nuh? I goin’ fix you up today, just wait and see,” she said. “I don’ mind going to jail for yuh, you know.” As she spoke, she waved the knife in the air and made upward stabbing motions, like a conductor waving a baton.
The man was standing there, his head twisted to the left, looking over his shoulder. He seemed to be trying to gauge the extent of a wound on his back –I could see blood trickling from a cut. He kept checking his wound and alternately taking glances at the woman, like a dog on the lookout for his owner who was seeking to punish him for some transgression.
The woman made several attempts to pursue the man but every time she did, he ran off. Then, she would stop and walk back to her position and he would return to his. They were like two prize boxers returning to their neutral corner after every round. Eventually, pride and the constant jeering from the crowd seemed to get the better of him and he picked up two small pieces of concrete from some construction debris at the side of the road. As he walked closer to her, she retreated and disappeared into the shack.
The man was now standing no more than two feet from me and was using the car as a shield. His face was pockmarked all over: on the cheeks, on his broad nose, as if he had never fully recovered from the pox when he was a child. And, he had one of those brutally short haircuts, the type given to inmates of a prison.
When the woman returned a few minutes later she still had the knife but she was now carrying a small saucepan in her right hand. The saucepan was black with soot and in the haze of the afternoon, vapor rose slowly from the inside.
They both approached my car from opposite directions.
“I gan cut yuh rass,” she said, waving both the saucepan and the knife at the same time. “Yuh t’ink I scare to go to jail for yuh, nuh? Wait an’ see.”
In the meantime, the man said nothing, had said nothing through the entire confrontation. Now, he merely weighed the missiles, tossing them up and down in his hands, sending a warning to her. He still took an occasional glance over his shoulder at his wound, as if he had to remind himself of the reason behind the standoff. But most of the time, he flipped those pieces of concrete around and sucked his thick bottom lip into his toothless mouth.
And there I was, sitting in the car, watching Toothless, watching the woman, watching them watch each other, and wondering what I should do. At any moment the action could begin but I couldn’t leave the car from the left door since I would be directly in his line of fire, and leaving from the right side would make me vulnerable to a steaming pot of the woman’s home-made brew.
Then, suddenly, the woman emptied the steaming broth into the gutter and made a hasty dash towards the shack. I wondered what had startled her, or was she going for more weapons?
In a few seconds, I saw the reason for her precipitous action.
As she ran away from the car, a man on a bicycle came up behind her, peddling furiously to catch her before she made it to the shack. The Cyclist caught up with her just outside the shack, jumped off and grabbed her around the waist. He was a big guy, with massive shoulders and long arms that reached out to wrestle the knife and the pot away from her.
“Come on wid me to the station,” the Cyclist said. “You people disturb the peace too many times. Dis nonsense mus’ stop.” And, he led her away, taking the evidence with him: the knife, which was now protruding from his back pocket, the pot in his right hand as he pushed the cycle by the handle.
The Cyclist and the woman passed Toothless. His missiles had been discarded. Now, he stood around, his hands swinging loosely as if he was just casually standing by the roadside, the way so many men in the tropics do in the middle of the afternoon.
The crowd followed closely behind the Cyclist, pleading with him to give the woman another chance, that they would keep an eye on her to ensure it did not happen again. After he’d travelled a hundred yards or so, the Cyclist relented, gave the knife and pot to someone in the crowd and rode off. The crowd clapped and cheered as the cop went on his way and then Toothless went up to the woman, held her around the waist and steered her towards the shack.
The crowd applauded as Toothless opened the door of the shack for the woman. It was as if the crowd had just witnessed yet another episode in an ongoing drama. And, the last thing I saw before the Toothless and the woman disappeared, was the great smack he placed on her lips and the wide smile of pleasure it brought to her face.
Rex finally returned to the car with his pail of water.
“What was all de commotion about? He said.
I sighed and said: “Nothing, just another lovers tryst.”