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Catalog » Browse by Title: I » Iron Balloons: Hit Fiction From Jamaica’s Calabash Writer’s Workshop » Excerpt from “How to Beat a Child the Right and Proper Way” by Colin Channer, from Iron Balloons

Iron Balloons: Hit Fiction From Jamaica’s Calabash Writer’s Workshop

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Jamaica’s literary lion Colin Channer presents new fiction from the freshest young Jamaican authors and the Calabash International Literary Festival’s Extended Family.

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Excerpt from “How to Beat a Child the Right and Proper Way” by Colin Channer, from Iron Balloons

Good evening, fellow classmates. I’m very please to appear before you to present my five-minute “how to” speech in Speech 112 this evening.

I know many of you had a long day at work, so I’m going to be brief and to the point. I had a day off today, but that don’t mean I should just go on and on because my energy is up.

By the way, professor, we could open the door? These trailers hot like jail. And while you doing that, can I ask you to give me a little break if I go over five minutes, please? I have a lot on my brain tonight. You’re shaking your head. Consider it a graduation present. After this semester you won’t have to see ol’ Ciselyn again. You smiling now. You little devil you. You smile just like my youngest son.

So, fellow classmates, I need to explain something to you before I start. If you notice, I don’t have any cue cards. What happen is that today I change what I had plan to talk about. So what I did the cue cards for don’t really make any sense again. So, as the young people say, I’m going to do it on the fly.

So let me start over again. I’m very please to appear before you to present my five-minute “how to” speech in Speech 112 this evening. I know many of you had a long day at work today so I’m going to be brief and to the point.

My speech this evening is called “How to Beat a Child the Right and Proper Way,” and the reason I decide to speak on this topic is based on the fact of something I saw today that remind me of something that took place on a Tuesday night in Jamaica thirty-four years ago, in 1972. Some of you never even born yet.

Anyway, today when I was in a Duane Reade on Broadway, over by Wall Street, buying some panty hose and some chocolate for my grandchildren, I saw this child of about seventeen back-answering her mother. Everything the mother say, the child back-answer. You know how these children nowadays can go on. Just rude. When the mother talking to her, you know what she was doing? Popping her bubble gum and rolling her eye. She fold her arms and shaking her leg, and sometimes when the mother say something serious to her, she look on her mother and laugh. The child just rude and out of order. Anything the mother say, she contradict her. If the mother say, “A,” she say, “B.”

But anyway, I wasn’t really paying them any mind, you know, because I’m not a person that like to put myself in people’s business. Plus, I was in a mood where not a thing was going to bother me, because I was coming from a luncheon for my daughter Karen. I can’t really remember the place. Fancy place though. When you walk in there you see class. What it name again? It has a name like a person. But for the life of me I can’t remember what. Fancy name though. French. But anyway, a lovely place though, down Wall Street with plenty columns and chandeliers. Her office give her a big honor today, that’s why you see me dress up like this, with my hat like I going to church. Cause you know me. I’m simple. I don’t like fuss.

But anyway, when I reach the register now, the mother and the daughter come up behind me, and the arguing was still going on. Just bloo-bloo-bloo-bloo . . . bloo-bloo-bloo-bloo . . . mother and daughter back and forth, and my poor ears couldn’t eat grass.

So when I sift through all the bloo-bloo-bloo, I pick out that the little girl get into bad company. She won’t do her school work or go to school, and the mother went up to her school to talk to the guidance counselor, and the little girl tell her off. Tell her off in front o’ the guidance counselor, the principal, and her English teacher. Denounce the mother and call her all kind o’ names.

So this is what the mother was trying to talk to her about in the pharmacy now, when the argument start.

Some things the little girl tell her mother I couldn’t even say in class. No child suppose to say those kinds of things to their mother. When you look at the little girl, you know, you can see that deep down she is a nice little child. But nothing more than she feel she big now because she turn seventeen, so her mother mustn’t say nothing to her. When I tell you, nice looking girl too, you know. Small in body but you can see she have a nice shape. She have hips. And her hair is so tall and nice. Tall down almost to her bottom. And when you talk about wavy and thick. And don’t talk about shine. And to top it off, she have a beauty spot on her cheek beside her nose. Have an Italian look. Pretty girl in her green plaid uniform, so you know the mother spending money to send her to the good Catholic school. But just out of order. Just out of order. Just out of order. And rude. Just calling her mother stupid and denouncing her how she don’t know anything, and shouting after her how when anything happen she always take the guidance counselor and the teacher side.

When she say that, you know what happen? I feel like turn around to her and say, Whose side she suppose to take? She’s your mother.

But I keep my mouth shut.

So anyway, I couldn’t get the little girl and her mother out o’ my mind even after I leave Duane Reade. But I had a lot o’ time before class, so I went to get me exercise—you know, walk around.

That is how I keep myself fit, you know. I like to walk. That’s how come I don’t move from one thirty-five from I come to this country. I lose a little o’ the height though. You know, the bones and age. But I born with height to give away.

By the way, when I say I like to walk, that don’t mean I like to walk any and anywhere, you know. I don’t like to walk in parks and all that kind o’ thing. I like to walk in Manhattan. I like to walk in the city. While I walking, if I see anything for my children or grandchildren I can stop and pick it up. Or if I want some tea or something to eat, like for instance if I get some gas, I can stop and take my time, then start to walk again. Plus, when I watch New York 1 I hear ’bout too much women who get rape off while they exercising in the park in broad daylight. I don’t know why they bother go and tempt fate for. You think is yesterday man like to rape woman in bush? So you know this now and going to go out and run beside the bushes with you leg expose in shorts? Listen to me, I never once hear ’bout a woman getting rape in front o’ Rockefeller Center at half past 12. So what that tell you? Stay with the crowd!

So anyway, Wall Street is one o’ the areas where I like to walk. Down there is like England to me. You have your little streets and your old white buildings. And almost anything you want to shop for you can get down there. Plus, is a orderly kind of place. Is a business place. Down there, you don’t have nobody running up and down like they wild. Take for instance Times Square or further down where I work in Herald Square—too much wildness up there, man. Too much young people idling with no ambition or nothing to do. Just running ’bout the place and talking loud. If they bounce you by accident, they wouldn’t even say, Excuse me. And when they ask you a question is like they don’t know the word please. But sometimes you can’t really blame them. When children come like that, is the parents’ fault.

Speaking of fault, you know if they don’t organize a luncheon for me at Macy’s, is my fault. As I mention Herald Square I remember that this month make it thirty years since they took me on. If they know what I know, they better have a luncheon for me like my daughter office had for her this afternoon. Even if is just accounting alone. Or is hell to pay!

But anyway, when I say I couldn’t get the girl and her mother out of my mind, it was the mother I couldn’t forget, in truth. And when I walk about two blocks I start to hear a voice telling me to turn back. And I kept telling the voice that is not my business. But the voice wouldn’t stop, and all the fight I keep fighting it, you know what I do? I spin round and turn back down to Duane Reade.

The way I was stepping down Broadway, people must be think I was mad. Because you know how down there stay—everybody moving like they have battery, or somebody wind them up. Just voom-voom-voom-voom . . . voom-voom-voom-voom. Worse, is summer, so all the tourists come and make the place more pack. And they don’t know how to walk.

So imagine my dilemma now. You know how the sidewalks down there stay. Hardly two people can pass. And is me going one way, and is them coming the other way. And is me boring through, and is them getting mad. But I don’t care, because I had to talk to that mother. I had to talk to her. Because when I take a stock, I realize that her hands were so full and she don’t know what to do.

And . . . hmm . . . let me tell you . . .

Hmm . . . ahh bwoy . . .

You see my daughter Karen, who I went to the luncheon for? She might be a Senior Vice President at JPMorgan Chase now, but don’t think it did always look like she was going to turn out the right and proper way. At one time it look like she was heading for the gutter fast, fast. But you know what save her? I, as mother, did what I had to do. Because, le’ me tell you something, you know: Once they go past a certain point—these children?—don’t think it easy to bring them back. When certain kind o’ rudeness come, you have to nip it in the bud. When they want to spring up like they fertilize themselves and act like they big, but you know for a fact that they small, don’t wilt in front o’ them. Stand up firm! Hold your ground! Push them back. Sink them down again below the grass, and stand up over them like you have a machete in your hand. If they push up they head again before they time, don’t hesitate. Take one swing and chop it off.

So anyway, when I reach by this big store here . . . the one where you can buy everything from clothes to luggage but your mind always tell you to really look ‘pon the label good—Century 21—I think I glimpse the two o’ them, and I stop to focus. And you know what? It was the two o’ them in truth.

When I almost reach them now, I call out to the mother.

I say, “Excuse me, miss. You were in Duane Reade?”

I could touch her on her shoulder, but I don’t like to touch people in this place. Since 9/11—especially down that side—everybody get extra jumpy, m’dear. Next thing, you touch somebody and them turn round and think is terrorist and shoot you.

So, when I call her now, the mother stop and look at me and say, “Yes. Is something wrong?” She must be see a little thing in my face. Cause I’m a person like this, you know. I can’t play hypocrite. And I can’t take hypocritical people. I’m like Flip Wilson. What she name again? Geraldine. Don’t you cry and don’t you fret, cause what you see is what you get.

Anyway, the mother had on a tan coat that catch her to her knee. Not a dark tan, but more like . . . you know those Clarks shoes? Same color as these chairs here you sitting on. It was a spring coat with a belt round the waist, and from I see that I know her dress was not in good condition. Because now is May, and is just too hot for that. Plus, she didn’t polish her shoes. Some twenty-dollar pumps. And the shoes itself was lean.

And when I see that now, I say to myself, Dear God. Imagine, this woman sacrifice for this child so much and this child treat her like dog mess. The parents who do the most get the least thanks.

Breeze was blowing. And like how they don’t have the World Trade Center again, it was coming right through . . . whih-whih-whih . . . from over by the Westside Highway. I had to turn my back and take off my glasses before it blow off. For if it blow off, is me same one have run it down, and next thing dirt blow into my eye and blind me.

You’re laughing. But is true. You can’t take any chance again, you know. Not when you’re old. I accept that fact. When the breeze start, I say to myself, Glasses, hat, and frock. You wondering why I say frock? Heh! People nowadays wi’ scrutinize you same way. No matter how you’re old. So anyway, I ease over underneath one o’ the awnings down by Century 21, and the mother and the daughter follow me. And when I straighten out myself now, I say to the little girl, “Sweetheart, I overheard you in the Duane Reade. Why you talk to your mother like that? I can see you’re a nice girl, from a decent home. Look how your mother work and send you to school, eeh. And look how your uniform neat and nice. Why you speak to Mummy like that? You not to do that, sweetheart. When you talk to Mummy like that, you will make her feel embarrassed, like she don’t train you at home.”

That little wretch! You think she pay me any mind? No sir. She just take her mother hand and say, “Come on, Ma. Let’s go.”