gall and gumption

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stones on the Roof

When I was in a small Caribbean island working as a newspaper editor I was sometimes a last resort for people with really peculiar problems. They thought that publishing their stories in the paper might bring about some kind of resolution that they could not get anywhere else. In each instance I couldn't help them in the newspaper, and mostly what I ended up giving was just a sympathetic ear. But that counts too!

Like the mysterious man I nicknamed "Mr. Snuffaluffagus" who would appear in my office with stories of a conspiracy involving land titles, a former drug dealer, and a couple of prominent citizens, and a rich English man who had mysteriously disappeared. Mr. S. would bring this folio full of letters, survey maps, copies of deeds and set my head to spinning with all of it and assure me that all I had to do was check at the courthouse where the land titles were registered and I would find the trail of fraud and murder. I tried, spent hours flipping through documents, but I couldn't make head or tail of it. After about his third visit I realized that Mr. Snuffaluffagus, who lived alone up in the mountains somewhere, was out of his mind. I think he caught on to the moment when I realized this, because although I never said anything about it he never came back after that. Some people have a sort of instinct for the moment when the magic won't work on you any more.

Another was the Desperate Deportee, deported from the U.S. after a successful career as a "businessman" in the drug trade. He told me a little about his "work" and it was more than enough. He was desperate because he had been attacked by the junior gangsters. They had damaged nerves and muscles in his right hand, and because he was a deportee, he could not leave the island to go to Barbados where there were facilities to treat it properly. So his hand was crippled. He had taken a job working at what, in the U.S., would be a dollar store, and then he had gotten laid off. He was very bitter and angry. In fact he was so bitter and angry that he went back to the dollar store and, pretending to have a gun in his pocket, grabbed a bunch of money out of the till. This sort of thing was beneath the dignity of a player like him, but he was in that state. He had come to me because he wanted the story to be told of why he had done the desperate act he was contemplating--he wanted to get revenge on the owner of the store, he wanted to rub him out. I listened to this and said, "I can see why you're upset. But before you do that, why don't you go and talk to this man?" I gave him the number of a preacher I had interviewed a few weeks before, who worked with prisoners. He took the number and left. Then I called the owner of the store and told him to keep his eyes open, but he wasn't terribly concerned. I didn't see the Desperate Deportee for a few weeks and then one day he waved me down as I was driving by and he was beaming. The preacher had put him to work counseling the ex-prisoners and helping them to re-integrate into society, and he loved the work.

Then there was Mr. B., for whom, also, the press could do nothing. He had come to me because he was, as he said, desperate and couldn't take it any more. Mr. B's landlord was throwing stones on his roof. Mr. B. lived in this little village, just a single one-way street that curved away from the main road to the bluffs and then back up to the main road. It was a sorry little place, but Mr. B. rented an apartment there for himself and his two teenage daughters. There were three units altogether; one was occupied by a single mother with a 12-year-old daughter, and the third one, which was upstairs and overlooked the other two, was occupied by the landlord, who was quite simply the nastiest human being I have ever encountered. He had "interfered with" the 12-year-old daughter of the other tenant. Then he had bought her mother off from testifying in court by offering her a year's free rent. On the day when he appeared in court, the tenant and the victim her daughter were somehow off the island. The case was dismissed. But now that he had "won" the case he wasn't so disposed to keep up his end of the bargain, so he was trying to get the tenant out. She had complained about it to Mr. B., standing outside of her place, and the landlord had overheard. He retaliated by cutting off the water to both apartments, and then, not satisfied with that, had resorted to throwing stones on the roof of Mr. B.'s apartment. Mr. B. had stuck it out about the water (a neighbor had run a hose into the living room and from this they washed, cooked, and survived). But the stones on the roof were an outrage, he was shaking with indignation when he told me about it. There was nothing the police could do, as there was no law against a man throwing stones on his own roof in the middle of the night--even if there had been the remotest chance of catching the landlord in the act.

This mystified me at the time, and even after Mr. B. took me to his apartment to show me the lay of the land and where the stones were, I could not understand it. Later, I asked a friend. He said throwing stones on someone's roof was very bad, very malicious. "What would you say about a person who throws stones on the roof of his own house?" I asked. "I would say that that person has gone completely off the rails," he said. Well, OK, but I still didn't get it. I got it at last from one of the reporters, a nice, quiet, well-brought-up young woman of great good sense who had lived in that village briefly as a little girl. I took her there to take some pictures in case I could ever somehow put this story in the paper, which I was hoping I could do. We took the pictures and she showed me the house she had lived in. As we approached the main road she said, "They used to have a lot of trouble with stones on the roof here a year or two ago. But that time it was jumbies." "How do you know?" I asked her. "Oh, they hang out here," she said. At the corner of the main road she pointed to an old rum shop that had obviously been closed for a long, long time. "They come out here at night and they just walk up and down, up and down. Until about 3 in the morning. Right in front of this shop here." "How do you know that?" I asked her. "Oh I see them all the time." "What do they look like?" "They look like everybody else."

It all seemed so self-evident to her. This time, though, she assured me, it was the landlord.

Anyway there is a Jamaican newspaper that I too often forget to read. Which is sort of ironic because once on a long visit to Jamaica I got the idea that I would love to work for a newspaper like that in the Caribbean. And then that was exactly what I ended up doing. And if I were working at the Star today I might have been one of the lucky reporters who got to cover this story.

Yesterday when THE STAR visited the area, people were standing on both sides of the street close to the house and the occupants were seen moving out.

The residents claim some persons had gathered there from Tuesday. "Up till 4 o' clock dis mawning (yesterday) people still de pon di road a try fi see what a happen ova di yaad," a resident told THE STAR.

Residents said the stoning started approximately three weeks ago but was not occurring often. However, on Tuesday evening things allegedly changed, as they claim the ghost intensified its actions.

It is claimed the ghost began a relentless stone attack on the property, assaulting the occupants and even hitting anyone who was brave enough to enter. To make matters worse, the residents claim the aggressive ghost brought other ghostly company.

"It is serious," one resident said. "One of my friends go over there. When he reached the gate he was hit with a stone. When him enter di house him get (hit with) a figurine."

That figurine! Oh, that figurine!

Here's one where a ghost attended a funeral and behaved badly, it has a picture of the ghost too. And the lede, oh my god.

"Bwoy, mi neva believe inna duppy but when mi see dis mi convince. The devil nuh ave nuh manners," said Jenine Scott, one of the persons who attended the funeral of the late Yolanda Samuels on October 26.

The service, which was held at the Fullerswood Church of God of Redemption in St Elizabeth, went quite normal for the most part. However, it was after Scott, the videographer, and others were reviewing the recording of the funeral later that evening that they made the jaw-dropping, eye-popping and head-swelling discovery. They said there was a 'duppy' in the video.

Note the head-swelling effect. I've heard people mention this one. The other notable thing about these stories (and if you go to the Star site and search for "ghost" you will get more) is that the reporters completely believe.

You see, sometimes I want to explain to people that there are two universes in the Caribbean. There is the one that you see as an outsider, but there is the other one, the world of the villages, where stones on the roof are a serious business, where ghosts misbehave at funerals, where malice is a supernatural force. The interesting thing to me is how adaptable and persistent the old culture is, what a powerful hold it still has on people's imaginations. I know there are places where these beliefs are the truth and science is simply the folly of foreigners, and where the question of belief is never whether you believe but who you believe in.


At 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe!

At 2:28 PM, Anonymous Libby Tibbitts said...

Ghost stories all the way, huh? In some places, there are lots of stories to be heard about them. It's fortunate that he is still good despite being bombarded with stones by her landlady. And how's the roof? It somehow needs replacement, or else the next person to rent that room will have a tough time. Awoooo!

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