A Caribbean Tale by Yaari

A Bastard Was Born

Pretty girl was born the bastard child of a well to do black man and a poor but beautiful Portuguese woman.  He made it up from selling cows to owning a rice mill and she made it to town from a small farming village in the country area.

They met; they courted; they became engaged; and she let him…..    She got pregnant and he left her for a proper black woman of the upper class.  Without money she was nothing more than a pretty face.  That face wasn’t enough to hold a man on the way up the ladder.  He climbed while she fell further and further into shame.

The scarlet letter was engraved on her brow.  Shame on you woman.  Society put it there and she polished it.  Bitterness and shame took over and flowed into the atmosphere.

She gave birth – Pretty baby born the wrong color, at the wrong time, in the wrong place – skin as white as soursap flesh and face the splitting image of that man who went from cows to rice mills up to fancy house on the hill.  Nothing could hide Pretty baby from that Scarlett letter.

The pain inside as she looked at this child through the eyes of her dead dreams and shattered future erupted in anger at all things around her.  Yet, she continued to live propelled by the instinct to survive and love – yes love in spite of the childhood dreams of social status soured and curdled in the pit of her stomach – dream of protected wife into welcomed motherhood was dead dead dead, but she was alive and so was Pretty baby.

Poverty was the stagnant trench and she was caught in the depth of hard work and nowhere to go fast.  She washed clothes with hands angry with shame and rough with determination.  She cleaned other people dirt and held the pieces of her ego together by rending the air with her roars.

They lived between bits of wood that made up the tiny rooms that sheltered her mother and pretty baby.  She hated and loved them as she tried to breathe and felt their fragile beings clog her nostrils.  With every breath the pain seared her heart.  She blasted them with the hot words of despair and loss.  The wounded animal in her had no way to control the ripped ego and self hatred that battled to take over her heart.

Lonely without human warmth to nourish emotions she fought battles she kept losing.  The world outside no longer held clouds, dreams did not paint her future.  Her eyes closed from exhaustion and behind her lids danced her mocking nightmares of what she had become – an insect of society, unworthy of visibility.  She was a bad woman, a bad bad one, a good for nothing.

So, she let another one in.  He came with nothing but smiles and the knack of a snaring charm that caught them all.  In the midst of social ridicule what he offered came close to companionship and a semblance of love.  He came and offered conversation next to kitchen stove – a kind of family.  She needed him so shame looked the other way and she ignored the fire of the Scarlett letter.

She took him to bed and had another bastard.  Born, again, shame stood tall and she let go of all internal expectations and just looked ahead for the sun to rise and bare the day, the grind to come, and to let go of life in the night – the market, the scrub board, the buisin,’ the self hatin’ and in a little hole somewhere a flicker of lovin’ laughter struggled against the biting pain.

At times the tired hands washing other people’s sweat didn’t make enough to bring food to the table.  Friends with pity stretching their faces gave here and there even the left overs from hospital trays entered her door as scraps on plates.  Her spine barely withstood the tug to break and slowly she found a way up the alley away from the neighborhood full of other tired souls to settle on the border of visibility.

Pretty baby grew with this in her flesh.  Shame! Shame! Shame!  She watched and heard the vicious pain sear the air with its burning purpose.  Hell and damnation.  She learned to cringe behind a silent face.

Resistance came in school work.  She excelled. She did well – won academic awards and gathered a little envy to soothe her hidden wounds.  She yearned for love, the love of family, a home away from questioning stares, away from gossip surrounding but not confronting.  She longed for peace as she endured the constant waves of harsh social derision.

Instead the turmoil continued and half sister did it again with another abuser of women’s love and time and brought into the world and unsuspecting innocent bastard child.  This bomb shattered any facade and scattered family parts far and wide.

Poor bastard child brought another layer of shame.  Pretty girl swayed with the social burden; she staggered again and again; she called on prayer; she locked her jaws; she stifled the screams.  Instead of beating the walls she taught herself absolute control.  Father abandoned and reclaiming could go to hell.  She would make it on her own.

And she did.

Pretty as pretty could be she found pieces of love and affection and cautiously she accepted them from a safe distance.  Alongside those pieces of love she kept pace with the old and made others her responsibility.  To keep them safe, to make some pride became her purpose.  To live in spite of her history glowed in her for a time.

One day Pretty girl saw him and he saw her.  The commitment was made.  She saw the possibilities, the pieces coming together, a dream being made.  Probability of love hovered closer and closer.  She made a friend.

Little did she know that she had met…..

A Mad Man Was Born

The mother had given birth to all his children in private shame.  They did not know that their daddy hadn’t married her.  They were all bastards according to Caribbean society. She felt the anxiety and quelled it with the long ago story of the slave trade – life for family.  At least he stayed.  What could a woman in her circumstance do?   She had after all laid down with that man.  That Indian.

Indentured labor had brought his kind to the Caribbean.  They came with an intense Muslim culture and it had grown into their only claim against non-slaves.  At least they weren’t those blacks, the pitiful.  At least they had something – religion, a connection with India, a language.  They were something.

She found him after his first Indian wife had died and he needed warm flesh to remind him of life.  She got pregnant and his reputation in community made him stay and pretend a social commitment had transpired.

She loved him and fooled herself that he loved her.  And there the excuses started and abuse became love and stayed like a viper in her heart spewing a toxic venom.  Slowly it moved through what was once her inner self and became a personal poison.  It ate and ate and ate…..

Into this new well a mad man was born.  Baby boy a handsome mix of coolie and red – favorite thought twisters of colonial heritage.

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Here is a story.

Once upon a time there was a beautiful Guyanese woman; she was golden in color and slight in built and of christian mind; inside her bubbled the african and amerindian spirits.  This beautiful woman met a handsome man; he was smooth chocolate in color and muslim in mind with senses harking back to India.  In the midst of this mixture of love and lust were the gods of racism, slavery and indentured labor, at war with each other as they conducted their historical colonial orchestra.  These gods banned the legal union of muslim and christian and manipulated these people – one beautiful woman and one handsome man – to participate in multiple forms of abuse.  The relationship of the gods eventually produced an offspring, gender suspicion and this godchild grew into sexism.  The love hated itself and the hate fed on the love.  He did not marry her and she allowed him.

Over time this woman gave birth to twelve children six of whom died – one of them in a tragic death of red hot flames.  The man, throughout these births and deaths stayed steadfast, to the gods and their godchild.  And, he collected their weapons for use.  The years made him expert with words as weapons; he used silence with the skill of isolation; his understanding of gender gave birth to demands beyond equality.  Eventually, shaped by the forming of child selves, the deaths of six, the burning of one all mixed with the expertise of the progenitors her mind caved in.  She went crazy.

There was this large house somewhere in the country made for those who went crazy.  He had money; he sent her there; he sent her to her own cottage.  For twelve years he kept her there; on a train from town to town he sent her favorite fare; he made special arrangements for her culinary pleasure.  The twisted gods of love continued to work their magic.  Eventually, he brought her home to manage another generation of offspring.

Into this holy mess a tall, beautiful and handsome he child was born.  He held all the traits of both his father and his mother and he was baptized in the springs of the muslim and christian baths and he became a child of the Caribbean.  He tried to satisfy all of these gods of mother and father.  He met and fell in love with another beautiful woman of golden color and christian mind and married her.  Over time they gave birth to seven brown girl children of the Caribbean.  But, throughout it all he was strapped onto this wrack of torture; his life was woven into the world of the colonizer.  They turned the wheels slowly and over time he broke and followed the path of his mother.

You wonder why I tell you this story of colonial order and you ask how in heavens name it could be of import to my selves as an educator and intellectual conductor.  And, I tell you it is … just listen and it will cross those borders and they will meet at the intersections.

The beautiful golden woman he met was also a child of the Caribbean.  Her mother was of Portuguese descent sprinkled with some african spice and she was a country girl in an urban city.  Poverty was her bedding and blanket.  Love and lust were her transgressors.  They led her down the aisle and she believed their lies.  They put a ring on her finger and she followed them to bed.  Instead of ring she bore a child on those bed of lies and became a woman scorned and a woman despised – a single mother.  The child of this unblessed union was the beautiful golden she child with dreams of her own.

When they met he was shy and she was bright.  He stopped his bike and followed her.  She noticed and from then on they shared moments in time.  They learned to love and trust.  They married and then came those seven girls.  The wrack on the wheel stole into their lives and wrecked that time.  He lost faith and they lost the connection of friendship.  They both felt betrayed; he by what had entered his head and she by the broken promise of dreams.  Time collided and folded into itself and sooner than they could comprehend in their senses lives were shattered.  Mental illness reached into the folds of flesh and imploded.  Society’s condemnation of such illnesses stained their everyday lives and sentenced them all to years of silent torment.  This social condemnation along with gender discrimination exposed all of these women to other human vultures.

The smell of blood drew them like jackals who sensed the wounded.

And, the tall beautiful golden woman was sentenced to a life of a struggle to save her girls.  She was left to do this alone.  Shaped by the gods of christianity and the colonizer’s social rules she held her tongue when the vultures walked in and fed on the lives of her young.  She watched as they took vows of subservience and she watched and listened as they laid down on beds of nails and gave up blood to the vultures.  At these crossroads stood irony.  The vultures fed on her young in the same way that the handsome grandfather fed on the blood of the beautiful grandmother.  They drew blood with words and smashed lives with fear of exposure.  “You will go just like your father.”

For years I lived with the fear that the man I loved would be used to abuse me.  For years I heard and watched realities that made that fear a nightmare.  For years the threat hung over my head.

This is the history into which I was born.  These experiences shaped me and these experiences are with me at the crossroads.  Mental illness stands with me at the intersection.  In the book Black Feminist Thought Patricia Hill Collins centers the importance of working from the intersections of our lives.  In this way, all “truth” is recognized and analyzed.

These are the experiences that tilt my world.  In Melissa Harris Perry’s book Sister Citizen: for Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Politics When Being Strong Isn’t Enough, these experiences found a lens to give them meaningPerry’s use of the analogy “tilted room” to describe gave sanity to what would otherwise be insane as women try to exist with a lack of logic in their day to day lives.

When they confront race and gender stereotypes, black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up.  Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion.  ……… To understand why black women’s public actions and political strategies sometimes seem tilted in ways that accommodate the degrading stereotypes about them, it is important to appreciate the structural constraints that influence their behavior.  It can be hard to stand up straight in a crooked room.”

Milissa V. Harris Perry in Sister citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

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