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News & Features » January 2016 » Read “Father, Father,” Garfield Ellis’s story from Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean

Read “Father, Father,” Garfield Ellis’s story from Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean

To celebrate the release of his new novel The Angels’ Share, today we’re pleased to feature author Garfield Ellis’s story from Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean.

AngelsShareFather, Father
by Garfield Ellis
Jamaica

Call your father now, nuh!

My breath is hot in my nostrils, tears of anger burn my eyes as I run, and the blood drips down my face where a stone has burst my head.

Call your father now, nuh!

There are three boys after me.

One, I could beat easily. Two, I could take a chance and stand and fight. But three is too much. They have my knapsack. I had to leave it as the ugly one grabbed it, twisting my neck as he pulled at it to try to stop me. But I swivelled hard and left it in his hand. Dirt splatters from a wall in front of me as a rock is thrown at my head. I run and zigzag through the narrow lane.

Call your father now, nuh!

“Touch me,” I had said, “lay one finger on me or any of my friends, and I will call my father to lock you up and make them run you family out of the dirty canefield hut you live in. My father is in charge of all canefields from here to Clarendon. Touch me—no, open your mouth—and I call my father and you and all your ugly family will turn beggars.”

A shove had gone with that threat. Little boy in torn khaki was at the end of that shove, standing there with his friend, trying to hustle money from us, John and me. Saying how he liked my shoes. Young snarling dirty boys who hardly passed through the school gate except to get their names noted on the register once or twice a week. Sullen boys, dirty boys with downturned eyes, hating school as much as school hated them. Maybe because they smelled so much . . . too poor to change their clothes or bathe anywhere except the irrigation canal that fed the canefields. Their skin was as chalky and scaly as fish left to die in the sun. Always there, standing at the gate, intimidating those they could, fondling the girls, and threatening those they think are soft.

But I would not be soft. I stood up to them.

“You never had to insult them so, we could just walk them out,” John said.

“I never insult them—I just tell them the truth.”

“But we could a just walk them out. Leave them alone. Them will kill you, those people have gun.”

“Cho, they don’t want me to call my father.”

Now they chase me down a lane that leads to a place I don’t know. And where is John? Disappeared the moment he saw them. Isn’t he the one who got me into this? Isn’t he the one I defended when I took them on? Isn’t he the one I offered to follow home though it was miles out of my way because he was scared to pass alone through the area where these dirty ugly boys live? Now I’m alone, far from home and even farther from the safety of the school crowd where I took them on.

There is no shelter here in Portmore, just the sun beating down on this concrete gully with its intermittent tracks of dirt. I am running from one strange lane to another. I don’t know where I am going and I am running out of breath.

Call your father now, nuh!

I wish I could call him; I wish he would come. Drive his big car, park it at the end of the alley down which my tired legs now falter, open his arms to my charge while lifting his larger-than-life self to its full height, raising his hand like Moses pushing back the sea . . . like the great defender I boast him to be. Touch my big son, just touch one hair on his head, if you think you’re bad.

But I am alone. I have no father to rescue me.

Call your father now, nuh!

I am tired. The open fences, dirty houses, are all part of one hot, hazy blur around me.

I cannot go much farther.

A large lamppost looms. It is a crossroad with an alleyway to the left and right. I brace myself and swing right. The feet behind me are closer and seem multiplied in my ears. I swerve around the corner, and before me are houses on every side. Then there is a cul-de-sac with a narrow lane feeding off to the left; it is the only escape from this box that traps me. But standing there is a snarling boy with a knife in his hands. I have been herded into a dead end.

I pull up quickly, but lose my footing and fall, skating in the dust on the seat of my pants till my backside burns from the gravel.

Call your father now, nuh!

Anytime you need me, he had said, just call. Just call, man, and I will come. I now realise how deceitful a promise that had been, for how can I call him? How do I know where he is at any time of day, and even if I did, by what means would I reach him? How stupid I was to believe that I could call. . . and even more stupid to think that he would come.

Call your father.

Call me when you ready! Though he knows I have no way to do so. I will come when you want, though he knows he will never come, will never be there when I want. Nor will he be there when I return home after I have been beaten.

Big son, my big son.

Big son! Maybe after this, when I am dead, he will come. Maybe then he will find me, me who he has neglected. Big son! Yes, big son in the dust now, faced down by a knife and three cowards. Maybe when I am dead, maybe then. Someone else will call and then he will have no choice but to come. Someone will call and tell him, Your big son dead, man . . . Then he will come. Then he will know . . . that I wanted him, that I called and he did not come.

“Call your father now, nuh!” Big ugly, bulky boy, whose name I do not know, on the right edge of the circle of three that converge on me. “Your father not coming now? So I live in a shack, I live in a canefield . . . so your father goin chase me out like a dog? Your father is a bad man? You call him? I don’t see him. Call him now, nuh.”

He has spoken my thoughts into the hot day. He should not have done that. My hatred for my father is my own. So I choose him. I choose him now, that boy of sixteen years or so, two years older than me, a head and a half taller, big and broad like a mature footballer, with a knife in his hand as long as my arm and a mocking snarl on his face, I choose him this day to die with.

I am at his throat, from crouching in the dust, through the air so fast it is as if the earth has tilted to meet his slamming back. There is no strategy to the attack, no form to the madness. I am an animal broken loose, teeth bared, biting, sinking into dirty flesh till blood runs down my face. Head butting, stiff arms tightening around an ugly thick neck, knees pumping, kicking, legs flaying. Angry animal gurgling and savage grunts coming from me. It is expelling something deep and deadly in this dirty place, on this hot dusty road. I shall vomit everything here and now, for I shall not return from this place. I shall not return to be anything he wants—not to ambition and good grades, not to school and vacant parent-teacher chairs, or the empty stands when I compete in athletics. I shall not return to a lonely home and a mother who tells me to turn the cheek all the time, nor to the empty spaces of my room and the echoes of empty promises and a voice so strong, a smile so sweet, and face so godly. I shall not return from this place. I shall kill him now. I shall die right here with him, with this ugly, thick, smelly person. I shall kill him now and die right here in the hot dust of a strange and ugly street. Right here, right now, I shall die for him; I shall die with him . . . I with this empty space that I see is my father.

Call your father now. Leave me alone, police people. I do not want to know I almost killed him.

Call your father now. Leave me alone, hospital people. Leave the knife right there buried in my shoulder.

Call your father now. Leave me alone, mother people. I do not know, I cannot tell what is wrong with me.

Call your father now. Leave me alone, father people. Let the scowl drop from your face, for I called and you did not come. I wanted you and you were not there. You are never there when I need you! Leave me alone, father . . . for when I call, when I need you . . . you do not come.

Call your father now, nuh! No, I will not call him. I have no voice to call. I am alone and I am empty . . . I have no one to call . . . I have no father to call . . . I have no one. . . I am alone . . . let me die alone . . . I have no one . . . I have no father.

Call your father, call your father, call your father . . . Father . . . Father . . . Father!

***

GarfieldEllisGARFIELD ELLIS grew up in Jamaica. He studied marine engineering, management, and public relations in Jamaica and completed his MFA at the University of Miami, as a James Michener Fellow. He is the author of five published books: Flaming Hearts, Wake RastaSuch As I Have, For Nothing at All, and Till I’m Laid to Rest. His work has appeared in several international journals, including CallalooCalabash, the Caribbean WriterObsidian IIIAnthurium, and Small Axe. Ellis has won the Una Marson Prize for Adult Literature for his collection Flaming Hearts (1997), and later for Till I’m Laid To Rest (2000). He also won the Canute A. Brodhurst Prize for Short Fiction in 2000 and 2005, and the 1990 Heinemann/Lifestyle Short Story Competition. The Angels’ Share is his latest novel.

Posted: Jan 13, 2016

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