It seems I always waiting for him—to come back from tent or a session or some lime down the coast. I make the bed every morning, smooth out the sheets and fold the corners under the mattress ’cause he like it so. He like to pull back the covers, climb in and then stretch his feet against the tucked-in edges. He say it remind him of when he was a little boy.
I keep smoked herring, cleaned and boned—as much as you could bone herring—in a plastic bag in the freezer so I could make a herring and breadfruit quick if he feel for it. Boy, that man could buss up a breadfruit and herring. And I leave the porch light on because I always imagine night woulda fall already when he come back, the crickets making how much noise and Miss Anthea’s dog next door quarrelling that every other dog on the block liming. “Ella,” he used to joke, “the reason Miss Anthea alone is she always want keep her man tie up like that dog. That poor animal paying for every man that ever left her.”
I don’t go out for too long in the evenings because I want to be there when he reach. I know if I out he will wait in the yard a while, smoke a few Diamonds, tell a few stories, and maybe start up a little extempo session with the young people. The skinny one they calling “Straw” used to hang on to his every note, like he was “Kitch” himself.
I imagine how it would be when he come. He would stand in the yard and call me, “Ella, Ella,” like he been there the whole time cutting grass or come from playing dominos next door by Charlo, and it’s something he calling me to see. I know that whatever pass between us, I would schtupps and play I vex and then go out to him anyway. I could never give him the scene he really deserve. No cussing or bellyaching, just a catch in my throat and plenty joy in my heart. I wonder if he would still find me beautiful. He used to tell me, “Ella, girl, I love your succulence.” He was that way always; he couldn’t just say, “Girl, I like your size,” or “Your eyes pretty.” It was, “Ella, your eyes brown like tamarind seeds and your flesh as sweet and tart.” He had a way of saying things that make me see myself different.
I keep the garden nice and plant a little okra, ti oignon, tomato, and chadon beni to sell on the side, but mostly I like to plant flowers, like ixora and alamander and gingerlily. He sometimes call me Gingerlily because he say I beautiful but tough. Everything was a lyrics for that man. I reach in how much of his songs, but nobody know that, just me and him. I used to play like I not impress, but I was. Sometimes when one of his songs playing on the radio and I there washing wares, a little smile would come on my face. If I catch myself, fool girl smiling for a next fool, I would be well vex with myself.
I accustom his going and come back. He say when the music call, he have to go. I never try and stop him though I know is not only music that call him. Sometimes is the rum, for days at a time, but sometimes is Marietta down the coast, a shabine girl with plenty brass but no class. He don’t love her.
The money part of things would get him down. People only want him to come play this fete here, that charity function there, and no one want to pay. Tent season was always good but I would not see him right up until after Carnival. I would hear him on radio and when he reach finals, people in the market would talk about how his lyrics sweet and how he the last of the old school. After Carnival, nobody remember. He tell me, “Ella, people want jump and wave with their chicken and rum. It ain’t have nothing for me after Carnival.” He put out a Christmas album one year and it was good. Remind me of Christmas by my grandmother—his voice was like black cake and ginger beer; he could take you right back.
But what I like most was the music he would play for me at night, with that fool dog barking in the background and a breeze carrying the smell of salt and the young people old talk up from the bay. He real’ has a voice I tell you—that’s when the lyrics would pass. He sitting there with his grandpa Sonson cuatro; it looking a little tired but he wouldn’t give it up for another one, and he never go anywhere without it. He would sit there and pull a melody from it, his hat push back on his head and his shirt open, and I with my knees draw up under my chin, my arms pulled through my sleeves, because no matter what time of year it was, I always feel a chill on that veranda.
I would watch him and watch as the music take him. He would leave me there in the night smelling of sweet lime to go somewhere I could not follow, and I never try because I understand that’s really his first love. Is like with the child I make for him before god take her away. Beautiful child I tell you; she look like him bad. He make as if he vex, “Ella, you don’t have eyes for me now I give you a child.” It was true in a way, but he know I love him. And I know he love me. No music, no rum, no woman change that. That’s how things always was between us, from times.
I still waiting, because I never lose that feeling in my heart; he always come back.
I cut up the breadfruit and put it to boil on the stove, and I chopping the seasoning pepper but they have a bit of heat so my eyes start to water. Dry season peppers, the heat always concentrate. I look up and see his cuatro hanging by the door, and the crying start for real. I still waiting, he go come back. Please god. He never woulda leave that cuatro unless he coming back.
Katherine Atkinson is a Saint Lucian writer. She is recipient of the 2006 National Arts Festival prize for literature, and winner of the 2007 Word Alive performance poetry competition. Her work has been published in The Caribbean Writer, and she was recognized by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association with an award for her short fiction in 2007.