A persistent craving for guava-coconut tarts drove me out the house.
She was walking on the right side of the road, as was usual for that time of day, heading toward Frederiksted, as I approached the Pastry Hut in the direction of Christiansted. Cars were zooming in the opposite direction, so I screeched to a full stop, neglecting to turn on my left turn light. A courteous driver stopped and signaled for me to make the left turn. As I stopped and got out of my car, she ran up and crouched down in front of me. I glanced over my shoulder to make sure it was her. How could she have crossed the street so quickly?
Stepping back, into my open car door, I waved for her to pass, but she quickly and firmly took a hold of my left wrist, slammed my car door shut, and, peering into my eyes with fierce determination, said, “Me been waiting long time for you. No time for guava tart.”
Her grip was a rubbery manacle, allowing no escape. Easily, she led me from my car and the Pastry Hut parking lot. How did she know that I didn’t need to have any guava-coconut tart in this, my second week on a diet, I reflected, but still thought about calling out to someone, anyone, “Don’t you see the mad woman leading me away? Help!” It was fleeting. I instead looked around and chuckled, feeling an affinity with my captor.
I had to trot to keep pace with her. I noticed that the flamboyant trees lining the road were in blossom, and suddenly I wanted nothing more urgently than to see their fire-red petals. I glanced down and realized she was barefoot, her soles black as tires. My breath caught, as if I had swallowed a fish bone. She smelled like parched soil after a sudden shower of rain. You are not really dressed for the journey, I thought I heard someone say, but realized it came from my own mind. I tossed my head from left to right and dismissed the thought. Don’t throw a lit match on kerosene. The wind was indifferent. My two-inch heels crunched yet were comfortable, but my starched cotton peach blouse and straight tan skirt, while ideal work attire, were not intended for a fast-paced walk.
After I had loped behind her on Queen Mary’s Way for about three hundred yards, she turned to me, eyes dusky as a sunset, and sneered: “You think you know me, but you don’t see the man on me back.”
She was a crazy woman. The entire Frederiksted community knew of her. Crazy for years. One of the known crazies on the streets. I had been following her for months, asking others about her, trying to find out where she lived, who sewed the eclectic clothes she wore, wanting to uncover the genesis of her mental illness. She was ill. Some might also think me ill. Obsession was an illness. I wanted, no, needed to know her. She mumbled something I did not catch. She laughed, sweet and deep, then spoke clearly, as if delivering a lecture.
“You and me is one, but you don’t see that yet. Time will tell.”
The clouds suddenly grayed over, and the air smelled wet. There would be a brisk afternoon shower, disappearing as suddenly as it appeared. Drizzles as soft as a lover’s touch covered my skin. She stopped, her head back, face to the sky. She had a beautiful mouth, I realized—full, smooth lips, almost mauve colored, and her teeth, surprisingly white. I followed her gaze, trying to see as she saw.
“Me is God’s Child,” she said, returning her gaze to the road and shaking my left hand with her right. She still held me firmly around my left wrist, with her slender, strong, earth-brown thumb and middle finger.
“I am pleased to meet you, God’s Child,” I replied, bowing my head. “I am She Who Answers the Call,” I replied mischievously.
“Me know,” she said, a smile flitting across her face. “That’s why me go tell you a story. Is right here, on this spot it began.” She stood, a tree planted.
I looked around as if seeking evidence, a marker that would indicate a catastrophic event occurred here, but nothing stood out, except maybe two conch shells buried facing tip to eye, pointing east to west, with their pink interior showing. I could feel her eyes, like torches, flaming my skin. I nodded for her to continue.
“Walking helps me forget what I always remember.” She paused as if allowing me to take in the full impact of her words. I searched for something meaningful to say, but coming up with nothing, I remained silent. She didn’t seem to mind, and I sensed, if I was quiet, she would tell me what was on her mind. There was a Thibet tree stump on which she leaned, while I stood before her, a child being scolded. I was listening to my strained breathing, when her voice, like a wisp of wind, nudged me.
“Is not me alone someone lie to. I know this to be the truth of truths. And me is not the first person who love someone, and the very person you thought was your friend, who love you too, took what you love without so much as a sorry. She was me cousin. Well, she is still me cousin, and me still love she. She knew me love he. He wasn’t me first, but me love he in a way that did spell danger. Me love he until me thought he was mine.”
I knew what she meant. I had loved beyond love, if that is possible. I knew about loving someone so much that if another person got in the way . . .
“So listen, nuh,” she said, pulling me back to her story. “When you love someone more than you love yourself, it easy for another person to raise a cutlass and slice up the love, just chop it up.” She threw back her head, and a strident anguish that stopped a bird in flight spilled from her throat. Then she shoved me and I stumbled down. When I had regained my balance and dusted off my behind, God’s Child was way ahead, dancing up the street. She waved at me and shouted over her shoulder.
“Forget the diet. Catch you later.” Her voice echoed.
I didn’t know if I should walk back to my car or follow God’s Child.
Jamaican-born Opal Palmer Adisa is a writer, cultural activist, photographer, and curator, and is the author of fourteen books, plus articles, poems, and stories published in over five hundred journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her latest poetry collection is 4-Headed Woman (2013), and Love’s Promise, a short story collection, is forthcoming from Peepal Tree Press in 2014. She lives between St Croix and California. For more information, visit www.opalpalmeradisa.com.