Jared didn’t want to go home. He rather considered walking to the nearby beach and jumping into the water so the waves could wash him away, especially since he didn’t know how to swim. He was tired of going home with nothing for his woman and two children to eat. What else could he do but beg?
‘Hey mister, beg you a dollar, nuh? You can help me, mam? Me noh eat nuttin from mawnin? Help me nuh?’
Sometimes he wandered into middle-class areas where he could pick hanging mangoes or climb the trees if the owner wasn’t there. But Mirna and Ratty and Shelly needed more than mangoes to eat. They needed bread and rice and meat. He could sell the mangoes, but the returns wouldn’t be enough to buy energy-giving foods. He hated to see their hungry faces. Their mother Mirna was slightly mad, and the children looked like they might have a touch of her madness in them too. But oh, so innocent are they! Jared felt that he was slowly killing them. Murdering his own family. Deep down they must really hate me, he thought.
Feet were made for walking, and Jared walked till he reached the market. This was his last act of desperation. He saw some limp, dried-up vegetables in a pile—carrots maybe, or some cabbage. No, he didn’t want any of those vegetables. Fruits were what he was looking for. But he didn’t see any. Stale fruits and vegetables were usually thrown out late at night or in the early morning. But it was early evening. Yam and green bananas were okay if they could be found, but then there was no stove inside the house. All cooking was done in the small garden at the back of their one-room board house. That would take a lot of time while the evening deepened to darkness. So they needed cooked food.
In the market, you begged and got insulted, or you stole and ran the risk of being chased and beaten by a mob. Market vendors supported each other. Theft against one was theft against all. Jared observed the rules. He would rather beg than steal. He had seen too many get beaten real bad, limbs broken, heads busted; he didn’t want to suffer like that.
It was getting dark. He had to do something. He just couldn’t bear to go home empty-handed and see the sad eyes one more night. He looked across the street at a vendor, Washie, who had helped him out before—but always reluctantly, always cursing under her breath. Maybe he could ask her for a roasted breadfruit she hadn’t sold and was probably going to throw away. She had a few on the table—completely black from roasting. Some looked as if they had been there for days. As he inched closer to the shop, he noticed a white woman counting the change she had just received from Washie.
What the heck, he thought. A white woman. Most likely a foreigner. A tourist perhaps. She was sure to have money. Which white person in Jamaica didn’t have money? Maybe she was sympathetic to poor black people. Or maybe she could be embarrassed into giving something because no white woman wanted to come across as a mean person.
He would go for it. He sauntered over to her.
‘Miss, ah don’t mean to bother you, but help me noh please. Beg you sumpting noh? Ah hungry.’
‘Sorry sir, I can’t help you now. Perhaps another time.’ Her response was quick and firm.
Jared gathered from her accent that she was an English woman, definitely not an American. And she sounded like she wouldn’t help him. But he was desperate. Neither white nor black people would help him. Colour made no difference. His two little children were starving. What did they do to deserve this? What did he do to deserve this life? His own mother struggled and struggled to feed him. Just the same way he’s now struggling to feed his two little ones. When his mother couldn’t cope any more, she gave him away. And given away he was many more times by those who could no longer care for him. The last he heard about his mother many years later was when she’d suffered a nervous breakdown and ended up in the Bellevue mental hospital. He’d never met his father.
‘Me wi take anything you have you know Miss. Tings kind ah rough wid me.’
‘Just leave me alone, please. I said I can’t help you.’
Jared at this point was blocking her way, causing her to stumble and drop one of the packages in her hands. He bent down to help her pick it up, but the woman would have none of the help he offered. Instead, she angrily pushed him away to retrieve her own package. Washie was infuriated.
‘Lef me custamas alone.’ She picked up her knife and pointed it at Jared’s face.
‘Me nah do har nuttin. Ah just a likkle sumpting me ah look.’
‘Me say fi lef di woman and go bout you business.’
It just wasn’t possible to simply walk away like that.
‘You have anyting can gi me tonight?’
‘No. Lef me alone.’
Jared paused for a moment to let the nos sink into his consciousness. Yes, this wasn’t the first time for the day or the week or the month or the year that he was hearing the word no. But this evening was different. He kept seeing the hungry faces of his children. Ratty was five years old. Sweetest, most handsome little boy you’d ever seen. But Jared knew that eventually, Ratty would end up just like him. A basic school was nearby, but Ratty hardly attended classes there. No lunch to give him. No proper shoes. Always hungry. What the hell would he ever amount to—a hustler? A beggar like his father? Or maybe a thief? Jared prided himself on never having stolen anything, but as he obsessed about the hunger writ large on his children’s faces, he thought: What was so virtuous about not being a thief? But who would he steal from?
He felt a kind of respect for the people who sold their wares in the market—market vendors they were called—some of them from poor backgrounds and uneducated just like him. So he had a problem with those who preyed on them and stole from them. But there were the more scientific thieves who stole outside of their communities. They stole cars from middle-class people. They broke into homes in uptown areas. Sometimes they would even break into shops even though that was difficult. Then there was a whole other class of thieves, such as the lotto scammers he’d been hearing so much about. They stole from Americans by phone. But that required education and knowledge of computers. Jared had no such education. He didn’t even have a smart phone, and he didn’t know a damn thing about cars or how to drive one. I’m good for nothing, he thought. Not even to be a thief. I’m a beggar for life.
But even though he wasn’t qualified, tonight he felt the need to be a thief. He needed to find food for his children. But stealing in the market was out. Stealing cars was out. Being a scammer was out. What other kind of stealing was he qualified for or capable of?
Washie waved him off and Jared walked away, depressed, but turning the thought of stealing over in his mind. It was as if the thought had given him an adrenalin rush. It was the antidote to his depression and sense of hopelessness. He had to walk towards the bright lights. Nothing was happening in the dark. Bogle Street, named after national hero Paul Bogle who fought against the colonial system in 1865 and who was hanged, was a brightly lit commercial area. Lots of food stores were there basking in Bogle’s light. There was a grocery store in the distance, on the right-hand side, owned by a Chinese man. A Kentucky Fried Chicken was on the left of the Chinese store. Kentucky and the grocery store had food his woman and children needed. He had no money and no plan, but he needed to find some food tonight.
As he got closer to Kentucky, which had far brighter lights, he could see two men in white T-shirts standing in line before the cashier as if they were ordering food. Soon they would be eating chicken legs and chicken breasts. He felt envious. He had not enjoyed that kind of food in a long time, and neither had Ratty or Sweetie. Yes, he gave them bun and cheese. That was a real treat. Rice and corned beef were good too. Sometimes women from some middle-class area would give him a few tins of sardines or a half loaf of sliced bread. Sometimes he would have to scrape the mould off some of the slices. He was grateful, nonetheless. But how great it would be to take some cooked chicken home tonight!
Across the street from Kentucky, there was a streetlamp in front of the Chinese-owned grocery store. A white car parked in front of the store faced Jared as he walked towards it. Two old-looking men were sitting nearby on boxes, playing dominoes it seemed. No sooner had Jared shifted his gaze to the car than he heard a loud thud. He gazed back at Kentucky. The two men in white shirts were running out of Kentucky, chased by a third man who looked like a security guard. The one in front made a lightning entrance into the driver’s seat of the parked car Jared had just looked at. The second man fell. He then pulled out a gun, turned around and shot at the guard. The guard fell as well. He, too, had his gun out and fired back. The gunman in the white T-shirt got up, ran around to the other side of the car and jumped in as the car was now in motion. In his panic to get into the car, he seemed to have kicked an object that came in Jared’s direction. Jared also had to hit the ground in case any more bullets were still flying around the place. The security guard fired his gun one more time at the getaway car.
Jared lay flat for a while. Thoughts rushed through his mind. Lucky to be alive. Stealing or robbing can be a dangerous business. Everyone around him went momentarily into a state of shock. As he slowly sat up, his hand touched a small plastic bag. He felt that it had thick wads of paper inside. A reflection of light from the streetlamp suggested to him that this is paper money. Suddenly he realized this was probably what the man had kicked away before climbing into the car. The loot. The money. He had no idea how much there was in the bag, but he instinctively put it in his pocket. No one could possibly see him do that.
One of the two old men who saw him get down on the ground called out to him.
‘You okay man?’
‘Yeah. Me alright.’
A crowd quickly began to gather. People were streaming out of Kentucky and other nearby places. The security guard walked over to Jared and the old men to scrutinize the crime scene. He had a device in his hand into which he spoke:
‘Police on the way? Okay.’ He looked at Jared.
‘You alright?’ Jared nodded his head.
‘You lucky dem never shoot you,’ the guard said to him.
Jared thought to himself: Is you who could a shoot me. De man dem a drive away and is you fire after them. I was near the car.
As they spoke, a police car arrived. Two policemen strode up to the security guard as if they knew him.
‘You know the man dem?’ one of them asked.
‘One ah dem kind a look familiar like him come from the area.’
‘What kind of car them was driving?’ the other policeman asked.
‘A white Honda, it looked like to me,’ replied the security guard.
Jared could see that the policemen would be asking lots of questions, taking up time. But he was more concerned about the plastic bag in his pocket. He wasn’t sure what was in it. And if it was money, how much was there? He needed money. He wasn’t going to give up such gains.
The tall policeman then asked the security guard:
‘How much dem tief?’
‘Not sure, but I’m sure it is thousands,’ the security guard responded. There was a moment of silence as if to assess how successful the robbers were.
‘So what is the role of this gentleman in all this?’ asked the tall policeman, pointing to Jared.
‘Well, he was on this side of the road when the car drove off and had to hit the ground like everyone else,’ said the guard.
‘Did you get a look at their face, Mister?’ the tall policeman asked, turning to Jared.
‘No sah, from me hear gunshot me get flat,’ said Jared.
‘So where you live?’
Why the hell is this policeman asking me so many questions? Jared thought to himself.
‘Over that side,’ Jared replied, nodding his head in the direction of Wasteland.
‘Where over there?’
‘Wasteland? So what you doin over this side at this time of the night?’
Why the hell am I being asked this question, Jared thought. Isn’t this supposed to be a free country, at least so they say? Don’t I have the right to go where the hell I want to go any time of the day or night? But I guess this right doesn’t apply to poor man like me. How could I forget? When I’m walking around in those uptown areas trying to pick a few mangoes to sell to feed my two innocent children, how often do these damned police patrol cars stop me to ask what a bwoy like me doing in the area? Was I the one who broke into lawyer Rich’s house last week? No sir is not me. You look like a tief to me. Whey you come from? If ah ketch up in a dis area again me ah go lock you up. You hear me bwoy. Oonu too damn tief. But this is downtown. I have a damn right to be here. This is where I’m from. This must be an uptown policeman who has forgotten that he is downtown. Why do I have to explain a damn thing to him?
Anger was building up within Jared, but he knew it would be suicidal to act on it, especially since he knew he might have some of the loot in his pocket. And he was desperate to hold onto the loot. So, he decided to tell the truth.
‘Going home but trying to pick up some food for de children.’
‘Oh you was going to pick up some food from Kentucky?’ Without any hesitation, the tall policeman signalled to both the security guard and Jared to follow him.
‘Come let’s go inside to talk to the others. I wanna know how much dem tief.’
Jared didn’t want to go inside. It felt like a trap he was walking into. He wanted to go home. There was some money in his pocket, he was sure. He wanted to go home and make his children happy for a change. To buy them some cooked food. But not Kentucky. Not tonight anyway. He had to do something dramatic.
‘Listen noh officer, me little baby sick. Me haffi go home. Is a few likkle tings me come out here to try and get fi har.’
The tall policeman took a close look at him.
‘So I thought you was going to buy some Kentucky?’
‘No man, me can’t afford dat.’ There was another pause. What the hell does this policeman want with me? Am I a suspect? Does he know I have a plastic bag with money in my pocket? Impossible for him to know that.
Jared wasn’t always meek and mild with the police when they got aggressive with him for no good reason. Sometimes he would just say, ‘Okay boss,’ and do as they said. He had been boxed before by a policeman for daring to ask, ‘Why you a treat me so boss? Wha me do?’ He had been caught climbing a mango tree before. Private property. Trespassing. Praedial larceny. You can’t argue when caught doing that. You had to be meek and mild. Or you might be taken to the police station. Locked up for a day or two and let off with a few boxes on the face. It wasn’t worth protesting when caught red-handed like that. But normally police were gods. Nobody dared to argue with them. There were no rules governing how they might react—they might take out their gun and shoot you. At least that was the fear. On a few occasions, when challenged for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the policeman took out his gun. True that the gun wasn’t actually pointed at him but why was it out in the first place?
Tonight presented him with one of those moments when making the wrong decision could be very costly. But how costly could it be when he had earlier thought about jumping into the sea? He loved his children, but they, like him, were half-dead. What difference would it make if the waves took him away? Education was supposed to be the way out of poverty for poor people. But it was clear as day that his children were never going to get the education they deserved. Like he hadn’t. They were on an empty stomach for the better part of the day. How could you learn on an empty stomach? How could you be confident in school when you didn’t have the proper clothes? When your shoes had holes in them? What would they do when they grew up: walk the streets like their father? Pick mangoes? Get insulted by the police? Get locked up and beaten in jail for wanting to eat? What would his little girl do? Sell her pussy? What kind of life would that be? Wouldn’t he be better off dead than alive like a despised cockroach? As things stood, his children would not love him more dead than alive. As for his woman, she couldn’t bear to have sex with him any more. Every time he made a move, the excuse was always about not getting pregnant again. ‘Me noh want no more pickney. Mine you come inna me. Or, me head a hurt me. Me feel weak. If me hungry, me can’t enjoy it.’
Jared wasn’t sure if his mother ever loved him apart from the natural instinct perhaps to love the life coming out of your womb. But after that experience, did she ever really love him? Would she die for him? Sacrifice herself for him? Sell her body to take care of him? There was no evidence that she did, and he was still alive! By that logic, he thought, If I die so what? My children won’t miss me. They’ll continue to survive somehow. Life wasn’t worth a damn thing. His adrenalin was beginning to soar.
‘So what you name?’ The tall policeman just wouldn’t give up.
‘Jared Walker.’ There was a moment’s silence. The policeman looked at him. He seemed to be thinking about his next question.
‘You ever get lock up yet?’ Why, Jared wondered, is he going down this road? What am I supposed to tell him? Why am I being forced to expose myself like this?
‘Boss man ah just some food me out yah a look fi mi pickney dem you know. Mi jus a come out pon de road and buck up in a de business what just happen,’ pleaded Jared, trying not to sound too frustrated with this sudden line of questioning.
‘Ah say if you ever get lock up yet?’ His tone was now more insistent. In other words, he was saying: I am a policeman and you damn well have to answer.
‘Officer, me never go a prison yet. Ah de truth. And me noh tief. Me no mix up.’
‘So what kind of work you do?’
This was a crucial moment. The question got to the heart of the matter: why he was on the street at this time instead of being home with his children. It cut to the heart of his problems. It addressed the fact that he had no damn job apart from begging, picking fruits from trees that belonged to others and selling them to buy the basic necessities that his children needed. But this was a policeman. His uniform made him more powerful than the prime minister even. He wondered how he could find the educated language, the social confidence to say: Sir, Mr. Boss Man, General, Mr Police Officer, why are you fucking with me? You have no reason to ask me any question other than that it’s your habit to fuck with poor people. You speak as if you come from the same class as myself. The difference between us, though, is probably that your father didn’t fuck your mother and take off as mine did. So as a result, I’m an uneducated street beggar. While, lucky you, with mother and father, you ended up with a job that fucks with the same class of people you originated from. Jared stared at this tall policeman for a hot moment. What should I say?
‘Officer, most times I do a little buying and selling in the market. Like if I raise some mangoes I go and sell them.’
The tall policeman was not done with Jared yet. But the security guard was. Another police car had arrived, and those policemen entered Kentucky. The security guard was ready to go inside as the other policeman had done.
‘Look me going inside. Coming?’ The tall policeman barely looked at the security guard. His focus was on Jared. There was something about Jared that seemed to fascinate him. At least that was what Jared figured.
‘Soon come.’ With that the security guard walked away. It was now the tall policeman versus Jared. He continued his cross-examination.
‘You didn’t answer my question. Have you ever been arrested before?’
‘Ok boss me climb mango tree uptown to pick a few mangoes. The owner call the police and me get lock up for a couple hours and den dem release me. That is the only time me ever get lock up.’
‘So you is a mango tief?’
‘Jus trying to support my family, officer.’ Jared decided that he had to get rid of this policeman. He didn’t want the money taken away. He needed to give his family something to eat tonight. Something they would really enjoy. But this policeman for some unexplained reason wanted to spoil everything.
‘So why you asking me so much question boss? Is not de robbers dem you come for? Is a little poor bwoy like me you after?’ At that moment, the policeman’s phone rang. He took it out of his side pocket.
‘Yes. Yes. I’m there. Oh yeah. You serious? For all this trouble?’ He paused for a moment and looked up and down the street. He peered under a parked car. ‘Where you are now? Exactly where? All right, let me take a look around.’
Jared couldn’t believe what he saw and heard. Could this policeman be connected to the robbers? He never seemed interested in going inside Kentucky. What was happening outside was more important to him. Who’d just called him? What did he tell him? Why was he looking around the place? What was he looking for? Did any of his colleagues call him?—but they were all inside Kentucky, including his partner. Investigations had just started. They could not have gone after the car. They did not even know the licence plate number. The two old men were still standing by the side of the road. There were some board houses behind them in the dark, and Jared knew that these houses were on the edge of a gully, typical of housing construction in poor areas. The policeman stepped away but came back, gesturing for the two old men to come closer as he stood in front of Jared. The two men came closer.
‘You were out here when the shooting started?’
The one who looked older responded:
‘Yes, officer. We hear the commotion. Two men came running out of Kentucky. Gunshot between dem and the security guard who was behind them. Dem get into the car and speed off.’
‘Did you see dem drop anything? Like plastic bag.’
‘No, officer, didn’t see anything like that.’ The other man shook his head as well. The policeman then looked at Jared.
‘Did you see anything drop from them?’
‘No officer,’ Jared responded. ‘Didn’t see anything.’ There was now no doubt in Jared’s mind about some sort of collusion between this policeman and the robbers. He was sure that the call he’d just received was from one of the robbers. Jared did some quick thinking and decided on a strategy.
‘But I think I see the security guard pick up something off the road near where the car was parked. Not sure, but that is what it looked like to me.’
‘Oh yeah. Wait here. Soon come back.’
The tall policeman walked quickly towards Kentucky, pushed the door open and went in. At the top and bottom of the street, Jared could see lights, suggesting that both ends are blocked by police cars. He surveyed the scene behind the houses and decided to make his move. He started walking along the side of the house facing the street. The two old men looked at him. The one who spoke to the police asked him:
‘Where you going?’
‘Have to go home to my children. Don’t have time to waste.’
‘Through the gully?’
‘Yes. Children hungry have to go feed them.’
The two men turned their gaze towards Kentucky, and Jared followed their eyes. He could see the tall policeman and the security guard dashing out of Kentucky and running towards them. Jared made his move. He went straight down the side of the house, and as he got closer to the gully, he realized that there was a high fence. He had to climb it. As he wrestled with the barbed wiring, trying to find a foothold, he heard voices followed by ‘Him gone down there so.’ The sounds of approaching feet were getting closer as he reached the top and made a leap for the gully and landed on the other side, falling short several feet.
‘Hey, come back.’ This might have been the voice of the tall policeman—it sounded like him.
‘Stop. Stop. You don’t hear me.’
Jared kept going even though he heard several gunshots behind him. It was dark. He figured he couldn’t be a clear target. He had no idea how much money there was in the bag he was carrying, but it was worth risking his life. He had to make his way through smelly garbage and flowing water as he kept hearing more gunshots. He felt confident that the policeman would never cross over the fence to chase him. The gully was too squalid. He was sure of that. Once he got out, he would probably have to lie low for the night, but by tomorrow he was sure he would be able to treat his woman and children to good food and maybe buy them some clothes depending on how much money the plastic bag contained. From now on, he was sure to be a target but he had to take his chances. He loved his children. He loved his woman. If he was taken from them, he would at least feel the satisfaction that he had once made them happy. His life was going nowhere, and as much as he loved his children, their lives were going nowhere either. They would all end up like him. He climbed out of the gully at a spot where he thought he would be safe and made his way home.
When he reached home, totally exhausted, he went straight to the outside bathroom, which fortunately had a light. He took off his clothes and first checked out the money in the bag. It was mostly one-thousand-dollar bills. He couldn’t believe it. They added up to one hundred thousand dollars. Never in his life had he seen so much money at one time. He felt like the happiest man in the world. He bathed, cleaned himself up and went inside. His wife and kids were all asleep.
He kissed his wife and kids, one by one, and climbed into the one bed they all slept in.
Don’t know how long this money will last. But from here on, I might have to consider the Kentuckys, the Burger Kings, the big supermarkets—that’s where the money is. I want to start making my family happy, as they will become tomorrow. Things must change.
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