When Bob was alive, I could understand why Carol wouldn’t be with me. Every time Bob leave her gates, him would say, “Keep youself pure for I,” and Carol would keep her promise.
But when Bob dead, I wait six months before I tell Carol about my true-true feelings. That’s when Carol tell me that Bob come to her in a dream and say, “Keep yourself pure until I&I show you a sign that will set you free.”
Since then, me and Carol been trying to figure out what the sign was, and all she say was, “When I see it, I will know it.” But is three years now since Bob dead and three years since Carol and me waiting for the sign.
Then, everything change on Carol birthday. I give her a present from one of the tourist shop in St. Ann’s Bay, and as a brawta, I get her some good herb from Ras Makonnen. Soon we was inside her bedroom hugging and kissing. I was down to my brief and Carol was down to her bra and panty when she pick up her clothes and run into the living room.
I was pulling up my pants when Carol come back into the bedroom. She had on all her clothes.
“Junior, you know I love you and I know you love me, but we cyaan do this.”
“Yes, I know,” I say. And then, I don’t know what come over me. Maybe it was the frustration. Maybe it was looking into Carol’s eyes and knowing that she loved me, but she did want to keep her promise. I don’t know. I really don’t know why I say it, but it just buss out of me.
“What if I tell you that Bob come to me in a dream and tell me that him would reveal the sign to me tomorrow morning?”
“Bob say so? True-true?”
“True-true. By tomorrow morning you will see the sign.”
I was lying. But which man wouldn’t lie to be with a woman as sweet as Carol? Men tell lies for less.
Bob never come to me in no dream. The last time I see Bob was when I drive him to Nine Mile in him VW “to cool out from Babylon.”
I drive him to Ras Makonnen’s gates for the best herb in St. Ann, and then, we go up to Bob’s house at Nine Mile. Up there, him always take the herb out of the paper that Ras Makonnen give him and wrap up something in the paper. Then, we would drive back to Brown’s Town, and he would spend the night with Carol.
It used to hurt me to drive Bob to Carol’s house for it was through me that Bob come to know Carol.
I know Carol since we was in high school and I always have strong feelings for her, but I never let her know. I never think a girl as pretty as Carol wouldn’t even talk to me. So every Sunday after Mass, I would go to the meetings of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and especially when her birthday celebrations come around in the month of Joseph, I would go to hear her sing “The Lion of Judah Shall Break Every Chain.” Ras Makonnen love to say that he was the one who change me from an altar boy into a warrior for His Majesty, but it was Carol. It was always Carol.
And Bob tief her from right under my nose.
Bob know Ras Makonnen from when Bob used to wear short pants. Ras Makonnen know more about Bob than what John write about. If Ras Makonnen say a so it go, a so it go. So whenever Bob was in Brown’s Town, him would visit the Ras and that is how I meet him.
Bob car fall inna one of the pothole that the MP promise to fix before the next election. That time come and gone, but them still vote for him every election.
After I fix the car, Bob ask me to drive him to him gates. Bob put him seat way back so nobody could see him and him fall asleep. Bob did like how I drive him car, so whenever him was in town, I would drive him around and him would ask me about what was happening around Nine Mile.
It was a special feeling, for Bob don’t talk much and especially when other people was around. People see him onstage and think him was always like that. But him was a quiet man and when we was talking inside the shop, if anybody else come near, him would stop talk and walk away.
But one night I make the mistake and tell Bob how much I love to hear Carol sing and him say, “Take me to see her, nuh?”
Ras Makonnen say that was my first mistake because Bob always say, “My only vice is woman.” But I was thinking Bob could help Carol to get a record deal—anything to help her leave the courthouse where she work as a clerk. Things were dread there and every day Carol had to put up with her boss, who want to touch her or whisper some slackness in her ears.
From that first night, Bob was planning him move. Carol used to tell me that Bob write a whole heap a songs for her, but I never hear one on any album. I tell her maybe it was for the best. But to tell the truth, I wish she would’ve never meet Bob.
I was mad with him, but I couldn’t blame him for wanting Carol. She was the prettiest woman in St. Ann. Her hand cool as a river stone and her skin was so black, she was blue. The best of Africa and India was in her blood.
And when Carol get in trouble with her taxes, Bob pay off the taxes and buy the house that she living in now. Is the only thing that I could be grateful for because I could never afford to give Carol a house like that.
I get up off the bed and Carol kiss me like the first time we kiss. We walk out of her bedroom and she follow me to the front door.
“I waiting for you,” she say. Carol hold my hand and rub her fingers over my palm.
After Carol close the door, I stand up for a long time on her verandah to look out at the flowers in her garden. The flowers was the prettiest in the district and her red-eye neighbor always say how the garden was nice, but I could see she was saying it through her teeth. Some of the woman at the courthouse, who like to faas in Carol business, ask her where she get the flowers, but Carol never tell them. Carol tell me it was a secret that she would never tell a soul. Carol tell me all her secrets. Even the one when the doctor tell her she could never have a baby.
But now was not a time to remember secrets. I start down the road on my bike to see the one man who could help me, Ras Makonnen.
When I get to Ras Makonnen gates, him take off a piece of cardboard from the top of him head that him use to cover himself from the sun that was beating down on the godly and ungodly.
Ras Makonnen prips me and start to smooth down the legs of a chair him was working on. Is long time Ras Makonnen sight up the situation with me and Carol, and every now and then, him would jibe me about it.
“Brethren, Bob put him mark on that girl. It going take more than what the I have to get her,” him used to say.
“You mean like money? For if is money, then I might as well stop.”
“No, my youth,” and him wave him hand. “Is not money. If it was money, then she would have gone with her boss man or any of these big men who start to hanker after these girls from the time them in high school. No, Bob make her feel special, like she was a queen, which if the I really check it out, Carol is. That’s what the I haffi do.”
But when I tell Ras Makonnen what I do, him laugh, roll a spliff, and say what he always say when I came to him for advice.
“Make we smoke some herb and reason,” him say. “In the fullness of time all will be revealed.”
“I man know the I was going say that. That’s why I nearly never come here.”
“But the I still here, right?”
“Then, make we reason.”
I follow Ras Makonnen to the back of him yard where there was another chair that Ras Makonnen make out of a cotton tree that get lick by lightning. Ras Makonnen seat up on the chair and point to a stool that was beside him.
Then, him reach inside him shirt pocket, pull out a spliff, and light it with matches him always keep in him pants pocket.
Him give me the spliff and say, “Partake.”
The sweet Lamb’s Bread that Ras Makonnen grow with him own two hand—herb that Babylon spray plane that kill everything never touch—went straight to my head.
I pass the spliff back to him and him take a long draw.
“I&I really don’t know what to tell the I,” him say. “The I love this girl?”
“How the I can ask a question like that, Ras?”
“Answer the question.”
“So she make the I feel Irie?”
“Then go up to Nine Mile and ask Bob to give you a chance and see what him say.”
“No disrespect, Ras, but Bob dead.”
“Shut you mouth, youth man. How the I can say such a thing after the I know what happen between me and Bob after him funeral?”
By the time I say the word, I know Ras Makonnen was going to bring up the time after Bob’s funeral when Bob come to him in a dream. It was the same dream that Bob mother, brother, and lawyer have. Bob tell the Ras that him was vex about him tomb. After a couple a weeks, Ras Makonnen and an Ethiopian Orthodox priest went up to Bob’s tomb and Ras Makonnen dig into the back of the tomb. Sure enough, the head of Bob’s casket was set to the west. Ras Makonnen with a little help, turn the casket around and now Bob casket set to the east.
“I remember, dread.”
“So how the I can say Bob dead? Bob will never dead. Him still have works to perform on this earth.”
“All right, then. So go up to Nine Mile and make your peace with Bob.”
“But before you go, is time the I graduate to this,” him say. Ras Makonnen walk over to him shed and open the door. When him come out, him was holding another spliff and small package of herb, about the size of my fist, wrap up in brown paper, the same way as him used to give to Bob.
“This is for the I. I&I know the I ready for the high grade I used to give Bob. That way the I can finish up the I business with Bob.”
I&I bless the package from Ras Makonnen and put it inside my shirt because the Babylon was as thick as lice that day. Down the road, the musicians and the tour bus operators was getting ready to celebrate Bob’s birthday. Everybody was now on the Bob bandwagon. Some of them did know Bob and some of them was full of bad mind that worse than obeah. Now Bob was putting food on them table and them still couldn’t see the miracle.
“The biggest ship to dock in Jamaica is ginnalship,” Ras Makonnen used to say, and then him would try to keep a straight face before him would start to laugh. Ras love to laugh at him own jokes.
By the time I get to Bob old house, them lock up the front gate and it look like nobody was there, so I park me bike and step around the goat shit near the wall. I never know how I was going to get in, so I kotch against a tree and look up at the sky.
Why I lie to Carol? I ask myself. Me and Carol could just stay as friend. But now I was lying to myself.
The more I think about the situation, the more stupid I feel. But like Ras Makonnen always say to me, “If you falling, dive.”
I take the package out of my pocket and open it. Ras Makonnen wrap up the herb in corn stalk and I use one to build a spliff. I put the rest on the ground beside me and inhaled the good Lamb’s Bread. A coolness flow over my body and I blow the smoke over the grass. Yes, man is grass.
I lean against the tree and take another draw. Darkness was creeping over the hills and valleys. Peenie wallies was trying to outshine the few stars over the top of the rain trees. The croaking lizards and screech owls start a set with the bullfrogs adding bass to the track. The crickets slide in with percussion. No wonder Bob write him best music here. This place was magic.
And Bob take every ounce of magic that was in the dirt, in the grass, in the trees, and in the water and make this whole island sing like the kyries that did make it so hard for me to leave the church.
I try to take another draw, but the light was out. I light the spliff, take another draw, and head up to Bob’s tomb. But this time, I take the back way where I know the workman never finish working on the fence.
I creep under the fence and go up to the mausoleum. The door was locked, so I seat up beside the stone where Bob write “Talking Blues.”
After I make sure that nobody else was looking—not even the watchman if him was there—I take the rest of the Lamb’s Bread out of my pocket and use some to build another spliff. I put the rest on the stone. Then, I shield the flame with my left hand, light the herb, and watch the smoke rise into the sky, like the incense when I was an altar boy.
I close my eyes and begin to meditate on the times I drive Bob up here and how he was good to the people of Nine Mile even though some of them weren’t so good to him. Some of them used to treat him bad-bad and call him “half-caste.” One time I ask Bob why after they bully him, beat him, and sometimes laugh him to scorn, him still treat them like family. Bob laugh with that little laugh him have and say, “Is earth, Junior. Is earth. Jah put I&I on earth to do one thing—play music. Which one of these guys can say that them doing the will of the Father? Not one. So me no worry about nothing else.”
It was well into the night when I was smoking my spliff and thinking about what I was going to say that I finally get the courage to tell Bob how I feel.
“Brother Bob,” I say. “The I know I love this dawta, and the I know that I want to spend the rest of my life with her, but nothing gwine happen unless the I help I.”
And the minute I say the words, I feel like a damn eediyat. I mean, Bob couldn’t do nothing. Him was long dead and I was with a woman who would only stay with me if she get a sign from him.
But in my days as an altar boy, I see people lighting candles and praying to saints who never do much for them people. Bob do more for the world than those saints. Him feed the homeless and take care of the widow, orphan, and fatherless boys. To win freedom for them people some of these saints even kill in the name of God. Bob sing us into freedom.
And that is when I feel even more desperate.
“Brother Bob, only the I can fix this. So fix this for I&I.”
I take one last draw on the spliff and blow the smoke over the ash that cover the stone.
“But the I never should a dweet, Bob. You shouldn’t gwaan like them big man who think every woman is fi them. You could’ve had any woman in the world. Why the I haffi take the one woman who I love. Why, Bob? Why?”
I cursed and I pleaded with Bob until it was just before sunrise when I see a man who look like Bob walking toward me out of the mist.
“Look to the east and remember I,” him say. “The good and the bad. Remember I&I.”
A rooster crow. I wake up from my dream, or maybe it was a vision? I had to figure it out fast what it mean. First light was breaking over the hills and Carol was waiting on me.
I get up, stretch my hands over my head and yawn. My breath was nasty. I couldn’t go to my beloved with my breath smelling like that. And I never know what I was going to tell her. Maybe I could run away and never see her face again. That was one more lie I was telling myself. I couldn’t bear a day without seeing Carol.
I walk to the back of the yard and leave the same way that I come in. The path behind the house was clear in the morning light, and I sight up a peppermint bush growing in front of a breadfruit tree. I bless, then peel off some peppermint leaves and chewed them. When I was sure my breath was Irie, I hold on to the trunk of the tree and spit out the leaves.
As I lean against the tree and look out at the sunrise, I saw the attaclaps that was hidden in the darkness. The Babylon spray to kill off the herb burn up the hillside. But when I look closer, in the middle of the destruction, I see the sign from Bob. I take it in my hand and wrap it up in the paper that Ras Makonnen give I. Then, I make haste to see Carol.
The sun was over the top of the Blue Mountains when I get to Carol’s gates. It was still early. I knock on the door, hold my hands behind my back, and in two twos Carol open the door.
“Morning, Carol. Sorry to wake you up so early,” I say and step back a little.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she say. “I couldn’t wait to see you.”
“Me too,” I say.
I take a step forward and give her the Joseph’s Coat I find in the middle of the field.
“Bob show you,” she say. “Him show you our secret,” and she wipe away the tears from her eyes. “Joseph’s Coat for me and Bob’s birth month. Him would always bring me these from him gates. The prettiest ones in all of St. Ann. Now I can finish up my garden. Come in, Junior. Come in.”
I step through the door and into Carol’s life for three years now. And even though I still cyaan figure out what happened that night, I give thanks that me, Carol, and Maki, our son, still together.
And every now and then, I take a walk to Nine Mile, kotch near the rock, light up a spliff and give thanks to Brother Bob. For without guidance from Bob, my life would have never been so full with blessings. Selah.
Geoffrey Philp has written five books of poetry, two novels, two collections of short stories, and three children’s books. A recipient of the 2015 Luminary Award from the Consulate of Jamaica and a chair for the 2019 OCM Bocas Prize for Poetry in Trinidad and Tobago, Philp is featured on the Poetry Rail at the Betsy, South Beach, in an homage to twelve writers who shaped Miami culture. He is currently working on a collection of poems, “Distant Cousins.”