Duncan McGibbon, Poet

The Naked Shore

 

A harsh, white light glowed through the doorway, bared the austere tiles on the cell floor and threw a belt of white across the coffin. It was made of rough wood, nailed unevenly and lay on two wooden boxes. The woman crossed the floor and stood beside it. She had asked the Prison Officers if she could see the body, but none of them seemed concerned to do so. The Director’s word did not apply here. The woman sighed and slid her hand across the top of the coffin, a possessive, almost intimate gesture.

“Well, I never thought it would come to this, so quickly.” She spoke gently.  Her voice thin, but sharp in the equatorial air.

”Still it means an end to the matter. I always promised I would tell you everything once you had been dealt with and now I shall.”

***

Six years earlier, the sidewalk Café Orpheus, had been alive with the bustle of the young, vying with each other to get their point across, together with their prose, or at very least their poetry. A swing group was attacking the silence with the throb of a double bass, a clarinet and the thrill of a washboard guitar. No was listening, though everyone heard the music of their ambitions. Everyone was feeling for fame. James was no exception. He had come on his own as his friends who were mostly Bookers workers, did not share his interest in writing. The talk was about Driver, the poet, who had died a few months before. Michael was lamenting the absence of any genuinely political poets nowadays. Sitting opposite him, his girlfriend, Bibi Afsana was hinting that Driver’s reputation was overblown because of the popularity of his opinions with the British. James loved Driver. He would not hear an unkind word about him. This led Bibi Afsana to tease him and Michael, a Civil Servant, to taunt them both.

In the course of their badinage Michael hinted that Driver’s death had not been as natural as the authorities had claimed. Someone was overheard gloating at his funeral. This wrought silence. Bibi Afsana’s face grew solemn and child-like. James was wide-eyed. Of course nothing in Georgetown was natural, except the humid air and the twice-yearly inevitability of rain. Driver had been critical of government involvement in the random violence that too often went with policing in this capital of wooden box-houses. Driver had been found dead in the park he loved. Dead of a heart attack, but no-one had seen him enter the park that early in the morning. It was assumed he had arrived before the park keepers. After all, only the cricket pitch was manned at that hour. Michael was hinting that he could have been carried there. Many would have had an interest in his death. He had threatened to expose the self-appointed executioners of those times. Driver had criticized the relentless drift to racial division between the political parties. He had also threatened to expose the traitors who would sell the country out to McLeod and the CIA.

“Did he have any friends at all?” Bibi Afasana mocked.

“Driver was a poet. Like Lorca, he didn’t care, but the people loved him and would have protected him. “

“Like Lorca?” James found Bibi Afsana’s cynicism didn’t suit and to her disappointment, he decided to leave and headed out of the rattan and bamboo bar under the whispering sway of the ceiling fan. She had only meant to ask who he was. His slight figure went out of the door and hurried down the street. Michael and Bibi watched his progress through the huge arched windows. The two friends spoke closely at James’ retreat.

A week later, James found himself in the Park watching a tribute to Driver. As the audience gathered, he noticed a woman crossing the floor. She was tall and slim. She wore a saffron dress with pink coral designs printed on it. The halter top was straight and tied in two generous bows at the sides of her arms. She walked with a deliberate dignity. She wore a red hair piece which descended with the dark tresses of her hair on either side. Her face was oval with a wide balanced brow and a fixed slightly surprised expression on her lips and mouth. She was beautiful.

A young man was walking beside her. He was clearly drunk and hardly bothered to keep up with her. She treated him with a concern James felt to be unjustified, but then who could guess at what a woman might like. The lights went down. Someone came on to sing a Creole lyric from “Ol’ Hugue,” an everything number with energy to it. The rest of the performance rocked to Jumbee Jamboree.

James had assumed the woman had left, until the young man she was with had to be taken out by two bouncers. James was fascinated. She walked ahead of him, called a taxi and busied herself giving detailed instructions to the driver. She had put on a white, gathered jacket. Then she closed her handbag and strolled back into the Centre. She had noticed him standing by the doors.

“It was good of you to stay close. I think I was able to manage though. Desmond gets like this when we go out. I don’t know why he can’t control himself better.”

“He looked bored to me, which is incredible considering he was with you.”

          The woman noticed the flattery. “I think we’ve met before. I remember now. It was at my late husband’s funeral.”

          James frowned and then stared open-eyed at the woman.

         “You mean Philip Driver? Is …was, he your husband?”

          “Yes, it’s impossibly sad. Listen. I know how much you loved my husband’s poetry. It was you, wasn’t it you who read at his funeral? Listen. I don’t want to go back in there. Come and see Philip’s house.”

James was amazed. This might be the only chance he could get. He accepted.

          The poets’ house was one of those large wooden shrines on Main Street following the lines of the old, Dutch drainage canals. The taxi argued to a halt. They entered by the long verandah, the wrought-iron pillars of which were painted blue and white. Inside, the huge drawing-room had a curious combination of antique and modern furniture. Some of the recent sofas and arm chairs would have taken time to shift in an Edgware Road furniture warehouse. Other items were exquisite. A small, walnut gaming table with a triangle top and clove -hoofed legs must have been a museum piece. There was an Empire table with one-legged winged lions and another with flowing gaited legs and pieds de biche feet. An upright piano stood at the far end of the room which was plastered with stucco throughout and covered in the curving folds of dust- dank drapery. What was old stood untouched what was not old was brash, polished and assertive.

          The woman’s name was Ashley Maeghan Redouck, Redouck-Driver that was.  She went into the modern faux-marble kitchen and brought a bottle of Pouilly Fumée .She took it from the bulky refrigerator, which emitted breath. A rinse of ice had formed on the two glasses she had brought. She opened the bottle with a competent unfamiliarity that told James she had house-servants. The bronze sun was intoning warmth through the curtained windows. Ashley Maegan stood close to him, her body no longer tall and ethereal, but insisting on more concrete attention. James took the glass and drank. Its chilled rush of musk smoked in his mouth. Ashley Maeghan took off her jacket and sat opposite James on a squat, brown armchair. James was standing next to her. She gestured him to sit which he did on a preposterous embroidered pom-pom.

          “Philip worked in his study at the back. I will show you in a minute. His body lay there;” She gestured with a studied movement of her arm “one end on the gaming table and one on the piano- stool.”

          James stared at the threadbare empty carpet. Driver had been such an active poet, his inner space seemed irrelevant now. His poetry was in the market-place among pick-pockets, storytellers and travelers. This was no summoning to inspiration.

          “I loved Philip for the last five years of his life. It was a privilege to know so great a man. He was the only poet I knew who could convey all the contradictory moods of this great country. Its naked coast, hidden behind a shy sea-wall, its old plantations, its rivers and mining tracks, its dry pampas hills and the tropical forest with its cruel animals and inaccessible cliffs. He could make its diversity speak for humanity, don’t you think?”

          James had heard this stuff before. He had expected something more intimate, even the disclosure of faults.

“Yes, but he must have had moods, been angry or depressed some times.”

Ashley fixed James with a tolerant look. “James, Philip was a Saint. He never uttered a single angry word to me. He kept that for the politicians and the fixers.”

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be asking such personal questions so soon after his death.”

Ashley stood up and directed James to the little study room at the back. It overlooked an overgrown garden which ended by the canal-bank beyond the fence of which was the usual cesspit of clutter and rubbish. The room was crammed with books, some so old they were cracked and tattered. Manuscripts lay everywhere, giving the impression of untidy, but expressive energy.

“Where do I find myself now?

Where men and festivals allow

broken hearts and spirits to mend

and simple joys need not pretend.

                                                          James couldn’t help reciting. He knew so much of Driver’s work by heart, the passage came to him almost naturally. As he turned some manuscripts fell. Among them was a mirror that broke as it thudded to the wooden floor.  Ashley half gasped and half laughed. She picked the pieces up and set them on a bookshelf. James mumbled his apology. Ashley smiled and a said nothing.

The study was full of photographs of Driver’s life. Pictures taken while he was reading to audiences, while at prize-givings and at demonstrations were piled up with group portraits of political committees and honorary degrees. He had led a very public life up to a few years ago when he had suddenly vanished from view. Ashley was standing very quietly by the door. She seemed slightly bemused by James’ interest.

“Did Mr. Driver appoint a literary executor, Mrs. Driver?”

“Call me Ashley.”

“I mean what’s going to happen to all this stuff?  There could be unpublished poems among these papers?”

“He didn’t write much in his later years. “

“Ashley, there’s material for a biography. Would you like me to contact the University?”

Ashley snorted audibly,” What would they do with them? Use them as jotters? No. Harvard will take them all for its Latin American Consortium.”

Next to the study was a small bedroom with a single Dutch bed made of old oak. It was newly made and there was no sign of Driver’s clothes. Ashley walked straight in, still holding the wine and the glasses.

           “I got rid of his clothes through the Dharm Shala Church. They took them all away last week. I’m not one for mementoes. I have my own dear memories.”

          “Maybe I could interview you and write an article about your life together.”

          “That would be a good idea, but you must tell me something about yourself first. Do you write?”

          James explained rather too hurriedly about his publications in little journals and his recent collection that was “doing the rounds.” Ashley listened with an expression of wry respect.

          “Bravo, my little man. It was brave of you to opt for poetry. It does nothing. It discovers nothing and its makes no money. Everybody writes it and thinks they’re the only ones who can. While others concoct philistine bestsellers and grow richer and stupider.”

          James stared hard at the elegant woman and then gave a secret, sheepish smile. He stared at the cluttered desk and joined Ashley in the bedroom. The windows opened out onto a lawn that ran to a cluster of Brazil nut bushes. The sunlight glared through the tall panes and gave a late afternoon glow to the white counterpane. Ashley lay on the bed. Her eyes were closed on the silvery light. She had slipped off the arms of her dress. James stared down at her figure. She had become sensuous and James was intoxicated on more than just wine. The smell of musty books and the perfume of jasmine coming from the garden seemed to join with the voices of pleasure and sadness in a chord whose lead note was urgent. James lay on the bed too, feeling the sway of the woman’s passive invitation like a pulse of life through his body.

          They made love un-self-consciously. When James woke, it was dark. A breeze from the sea was testing the lace curtains by the window. Ashley lay asleep beside him, uncovered on the counterpane, her head turned away, and her body like a landscape swelling in the bliss of its season. James caught sight of a figure by the door. It was Driver, looking at him as he had known him look at him when he was alive with that glance of mild reproof and surprise, reserved for the young. James looked again. If he had ever been there at all, he was gone now.

          She had promised to get in touch and had broken the promise. As if to prompt her, James went by the house a few weeks later during a break from teaching. The house was empty. It was open as the estate agent wanted to encourage viewers. Everything had gone including the upright piano and the Provinçal bed. In the bedroom all that could be found was a small mirror lying on the floor in the place where he had slept next to Ashley. It was an identical mirror to the one he had broken. James picked it up and slipped it in his pocket. He left without a further word to the agent, who was busy showing an American couple round. They were asking about phone connections.

          James went back to his flat near the College. He found a bottle of rum which he had been keeping as it was old and good. It did not take long before he found an irrefutable argument for drinking it all. He left the apartment building.  ‘The street that never sleeps,’ was calling him. He decided to catch a bus which was not a good decision as the pace of traffic seemed to deaden with each turning the driver hit on. A gang of young children was also moving near. They tended to be armed and pretended to beg only to see how much money their victims had. James battered the bus doors until they opened and slunk off across the traffic of Main Street and took a taxi to the Pool Hall. He walked through the crowded bar and restaurant then went upstairs to the top balcony and stared out across the cityscape of low, narrow buildings. He had promised himself he would never be in love again. It was stupid to make promises to the heart as the heart never promised to keep any promise. So here he was ‘gyal malad’ again.

          Hours later he woke up in the casualty department of the Georgetown Hospital. It seemed to cater for the dying, or those determined to get the part. A man with a bandaged arm offered him a drink from a bottle. He was thin, had a mass of curly hair and was singing shantos, in a raucous atonal voice, which the tired and harassed nurses kept telling him to lower.

 “Dis watter de cohl, cohl. “

James took the water. He needed a drink. It tasted like the rum they must serve in heaven. There was only one doctor who worked at the hospital. If you got to see him he would cure you of any disease and straighten any bone in front of you. He was never to be seen. As the Haitian taxi driver who had brought him in said

"Dokte pa chache malad, se malad ki chache dokte." 

"Doctors don't seek the sick; the sick seek doctors."  

 James signed himself out and began to walk out of the hospital when, in the plate-glass window, he noticed his face had been badly bruised and cut. He still had the mirror in his pocket. It was unbroken, despite his fall. He peered at his normally smooth brow.  It had dark, bloody gashes torn across it. His nose was bloodied and two huge black stains were pooling under his bloodshot eyes. A large bruise had erupted above his eyebrows. He called another taxi and was ferried home through the still, but noisy streets of the chess-board city. When he got back he realised his wallet had been stolen. The taxi driver soon realised that a fresh chicken and a bottle of wine was a fortune in inflation-poisoned Guyana.  James sought the refuge of his bed.

James woke in the heat. The sun was beating down through the un-curtained windows. His body was stiff and sore with sunburns. It reminded him of yachting holidays in Devon when the excitement of tacking in the wind made him heedless of the Channel light on his bare back, until the night came. James squirmed to his feet and drew down the blinds. He stumbled about the kitchen making coffee. What troubled him was the nature of the act that had brought him low. Had he been ‘mogged ?’  Had he walked into a wall? Had he simply fallen down? Had the taxi driver robbed him, who brought him to the hospital? Had he had a fight?  The latter was unlikely as aggression always leaves some trace of fear and he felt none. Why would a taxi driver bother to take anything but his fare, given they were the usual excuse the police had to prove they were ‘crackin’ down.’ No, he had fallen and been robbed where he fell. Whoever the thieves had been, they had only taken money. He had everything else he possessed, including hi s passport. He phoned his students to tell them lessons were cancelled, news which was greeted with pain in a community where learning was life and death for survival. The Bookers management were non-committal.

For the next few days James continued to cancel, read Mittelholzer, tried to remember the clothes Ashley wore and watched the progress of healing in the mirror. His reclusion was suddenly broken by a loud knocking on his door. It was evening .T his was a time when common sense told you not to let anyone in, even yourself.

“Who’s there?”

It was Bibi, tired, concerned and as haughty as ever. She burst into a trill of laughter at the sight of James’ bruised and swollen head.

“How yu do’? I came roun’ cos I knew you were in trouble.”

“I was mugged, Bibi. My wallet’s gone!

“Wappened?”

“I.. I’ve been  waiting for this swelling to go down.”

Bibi took his head gently in her hands. She nursed the swellings and offered to get some bandages. James did not want any fuss. Though he was glad she had come. Bibi helped him tidy, or rather James helped Bibi.

“Bai mek dut”, she muttered. She straightened out a piece of paper.

“Here in Georgetown James had written in letter to the local paper, men ordered women lives, but there is change in the air. In Georgetown you can tell there is change afoot, as the only common language, violence, comes to be spoken in a louder voice. Just who will benefit from the change is no-one’s guess.” James screwed it up and threw it in the rusted bin.

James played Lord Melody 45s on the record-player.  Bibi and James were soon between the fresh sheets she had found. James was slow, still in the blur of recovery. Afterwards, Bibi lay beside him, looking over his young wounded head through the squared reinforced glass of the window onto the gardens. It had been raining and now the sun shone. She remembered the old saying; rain a fall and sun is out – sumbody dead.

“James,  you hearing me.” James snorted assent. “They gonna heng de Redouk woman.” James started.

“You mean Ashley Driver?” Bibi lay in silence. James could hear the sound of traffic from the street.

Nah, de bouji… her bruther’s wife…This is a bad matter. He box her. It’s that simple. The judges think she murdered a child for a sacrifice, but it was he an’ tha sisto.”

“They shouldn’t hang anyone, guilty or not. I knew Ashley was wealthy, but I though she got it from Driver’s estate.”

“She got that too…” There was a silence..”Wah gwan?” There was a longer silence. James felt Bibi heave.

“Draw down!” Bibi shouted. James leaped off her.  Bibi grabbed her clothes and ran into the shower.”

“What’s wrong, Bibi? James shouted nervously.

“Ah, who she to yu, this Ashley?” she screamed.

“I interviewed her about Driver, that’s all.”

“James, yu and I got a story between us now. Yu play fresh wuth that Poothagee wumman?”

” I interviewed her.”

 “I don’ care what damn way you put diz.” She emerged from the shower, holding her clothes in front of her and ran into the hallway, shouting through the doorway. “We’re done, James. Yu not wanted here. That Driver womman is kutnee evil… evil. She put the evil eye on her sister in law so that she got the money. And all along you were her sweet man. I gwhan from yah.”

“It was once! once! before we knew each other!”

James heard his front door slam.  He didn’t know what “macachodo” meant, though he knew what she meant by it.

A month went by. The summer grew hot. The papers announced the execution of Joyce Chaitran, her maiden name, for arranging a child sacrifice.

At first it was the Coolie girls in the streets who caused James lingering pain. Then it was the girls who wore clothes like her, the long red and white tie-dyed boo-boo and head-wrap, not the  Universal Stores cocktail dresses, that were launching out everywhere for Princess Margaret’s visit. Finally every pen, every essay, every corridor reminded him of her haunting absence. At times he would latch onto a girl who resembled her, only to drop her over some detail. Then he would find her again.  

James always walked home past the sugar factory where she walked. Sometimes at night he would wander near Bibi’s parents’ place in Canal One. He would hang about by the wooden bridge, sometimes sleeping in derelict cars until the cockerels woke him.

One night under a clear moon, he saw her. She was running along the canal bank as if pursued by someone. James did not want to approach her as there was such an appearance of fear on her face. She seemed smaller, quicker than when he had known her. She crept over the wooden bridge, turning once almost to look James in the eye. Yet she seemed not to notice him. Then he noticed another figure watching from the path behind him.  James had attempted to follow him but he had dived away into the shadows of which there were more in Georgetown than in Hell itself.

The next morning he found himself in the Police Station. Bibi hadn’t turned up to the sugar factory for work and James had noticed at once. The wooden building was dominated by a tall English Sergeant who took down the details, gave him a long look with his cool, blue eyes and asked him when he had last seen Miss Afsana. James gave a rambling account of his one-sided encounter. He excused the lateness of the hour by claiming he was studying night-owls.

“And which particular species would that be, Sir?”

James paused. “The screech owl, of course. It’s beginning to invade the parks.”

“The tropical, or the tawny-headed? I just ask out of interest Sir, as I am an amateur ornithologist.”

“Why the tawny –headed: that‘s why it’s so special!”

The sergeant looked astonished. His visage hardened.

”Thank you for your information, Sir. -I mean Miss Afsana and not the owl-She is known to us.”

“Then she isn’t in any danger?”

“She is alive and well. Please leave your name and address. We may need to contact you again.”

The next day James read about Bibi’s arrest. The charge was murder. The victim was Ashley’s new husband, the same drunken young man he had seen Ashley consign to a cab some months before. Bibi refused to see James in prison. Then, because of popular feeling she was secreted in some old penal jail.  

James went back to work, teaching commerce to the young men Bookers had selected as apprentices.  When James arrived home he found a letter. It was from Ashley, appointing him literary executor for Philip Driver.

James had given in his notice to Bookers after a week of deliberation. He had met the girl he had mistaken for Bibi. She had listened patiently as he explained his dilemma, one or the other had done bad things. Laura , for that was her name, had  told him to keep his job.

“U mess wid one ... u mess wid all, so juss na mess or abey go mess wid iyu. Das right ya hear, iamey?”

Ashley lived in a large house that overlooked the sea-wall. Despite the danger of floods it gave a high, long view of the coast.  It was about a mile down from the Russian embassy. She had servants who tended James as if he were an ambassador. The Driver archive had been indexed by a secretary after the move from Georgetown.  James’ task was to sift through the unpublished writing and put together a memorial volume. James worked in a room at the top of the house which overlooked the sweep of the Demerara coastline. Ashley was still in mourning, a custom still observed in her community. One of her jackets was torn at the lapel. It was rumoured her parents were shopkeepers whose community originally came from Madeira, and that she had changed her name to disguise it.  Ashley herself claimed to be descended from Sephardic Jews in Dutch Guiana. As she had no family, no one knew for sure. Her past was sealed under name- changes, deaths and the tastelessness of money. James did not know how he came to be in love with her.

The minute James opened the first folder he realised Driver’s style had changed.  The terse un-syntactic writing astonished him. The poems took diverse personas from those who had predicted disasters unheeded. The American author Morgan Robertson , alone in his Atlantic City hotel room, whose book foreseeing the wreck of the Titanic had been rejected  as unrealistic, Bertaux the French Minister of War who had had a vision of his own death by a military aircraft at Issy Les Molineaux,  Jacques Cazotte in prison facing the guillotine he predicted, Mother Shipton,  who predicted the fire of London , Lincoln in Washington seeing his coffin, Samson in Boston seeing Krakatoa , Arthur Machen in London overcome by the Angel of Mons and many others. Driver transformed from one into another in a trance, pursued by a figure of evil, his voice recorded by the American Psychologist, J.B.Rhine.  Most did not even make sense:

The beastliest, as if a terrible apocalypse,

will strip the old Brickdam down

while the people gather round you,

Cazotte, the joker, in the pulpit now

while the lobisomen  lopes the aisles

testing for the steel -skull maul

that gnaws me and you, my mask.

Did you get that one, Professor?

                            

A great flood finally drowns the city while the figure of the lobisomen, a Portuguese werewolf, imitates Benjamin’s Angelus Novus and a tide of chaos mounts. The task of presenting them to the public would be a difficult one. Meanwhile, the older poet’s words were beginning to send their shivers into his own style. The scenario was that of a man haunted by evil.

Bibi had been found guilty of murder. She had not yet been sentenced but the people were thirsting for blood.  The Indo-Guyanese used her as an example of the unreliability of the Afro-Guyanese. They in turn made a scapegoat of her. It was an election year and both parties wanted to maintain order. Ashley had the ear of some senate members and James had asked her to put in a good word for Bibi.  Ashley surprised him by asking him to come with her to visit Bibi. He could not refuse.

Bibi was being held downriver in an old penal Jail. The place was a ramshackle collection of bare wooden huts. James was startled at how pale she looked. The Governor had agreed to her transfer here, as the crowds were restless. She smiled when she saw James, but seemed in fear of Ashley who stood throughout the interview. She was wearing a gored skirt and a severe-looking blouse with a matching jacket.  Bibi looked the atavistic image of an outcast in her prison shift. She muttered she was grateful for ‘yus comin.’

“Dah wan nice frek”

Ashley gave a crooning thanks and asked how they were looking after her. Bibi said it was good she was the only one here, but she was lonely. James asked if he could bring her some food. She shook her head.

There was a silence. James was aware of Ashley, immaculate in her shimmering mauve suit. There seemed to be a force of silence between them. It was Ashley’s young husband who had been the victim, though the theory maintained by the prosecution claimed Bibi had wanted to kill her brother –in-law, but the young man, whose name was Desmond Orion had intervened. She had knifed him and fled. Her prints were on the knife. She had been arrested the night James had seen her , running back to her parent’s house, though when the police tracked her down she was in a Cafe in Georgetown. James half admired the resolve Ashley had made to visit the woman who had killed her husband and presumably her lover. Though James knew her loyalty was wayward.

“I want to tell you’re forgiven for killing George, Bibi.” Ashley came out with the sentence almost like lead from her tongue.

Bibi started. “an’ Mamma rope go hice me.”

“That’s the law, Bibi. I can’t help that. I wish you hadn’t got involved with my brother in law.“ Ashley had replied with a note of tenderness in her voice that seemed to bring tears to Bibi’s eyes, though her mouth was smiling in some crazy way.

“You thought Maura had set up that Chaitran woman, but she and not he took the child to the Obeyah man.”Ashley’s voice had become protesting.

Bibi wiped her eyes with her sleeve and turned to the window. As if to help her the attendant told Ashley and James the interview time was up. She was about to handcuff Bibi when James leaped forward to kiss her. He could not help his tears. Bibi looked up at him calmly and said.

“Don’t marry anyone. Wait for me, Dula ha,” she cried as she was led out. Ashley stepped forward and kissed the pinioned prisoner on the head. James, feeling torn by remorse, felt the gesture to be predatory, but farewells are an impulsive affair. The girls in “GT” had phrases for the smallest gestures of contempt. “Tek-yuh-eye and pass-me,” was a favourite. So was to “schtew yu teeth.”Bibi seemed to do both at Ashley’s gesture. The guard looked alarmed and hurried out with her charge. Bibi and her guard turned the corner. Her slender shadow grew, then faded, on the sunlit, white-washed wall

A week went by. Ashley and James had returned to the house. James had worked away at Driver’s words. Each ghost he transformed into ended up at the flood control gate on the canal. Each asked the angel, at the gate, impelled from the past, if he would let him in and each was told it was not time yet. So they shimmered in the mist. Each waited before Benjamin’s Angelus Novus to be let into Kafka’s Gateway of the law. The predictors doomed to haunt the wreckage of history and never to be let into the domain of truth. There was enough wreckage in the old canal for as many ghosts as Driver could pile in. Yet another figure was troubling the sequence: it was a woman. The lobisommen was a female werewolf. James felt she was beginning to haunt him too.

Ashley had been quietly following the fashionable season still preparing for Princess Margaret’s visit. James attended her cocktail parties and receptions. Ashley was close to her brother in law, Maurus Chaitran. She cut an influential figure. She was wealthier now she had inherited her sister’s money. The young man she had married had also left her a legacy in the form of a life–insurance policy. Maurus was the only representative of the Portuguese community in the Civil Service and had the ear of the British who were trying to negotiate between the Indian and Caribbean communities.,a phrase from Driver kept recurring

“Even a woman with purity of heart

who prays with me by night

can turn into a wolf

and  her thirst for cash will start

once the rice-crop moon burns bright.”

                                                It was based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, another of Driver’s doomed ghosts, before Lon Chaney came on the scene. The episode describes him being pursued through the very house James lived in. It is night and Lovecraft is saying goodbye to all his characters

“Farewell, my vicious friends, my army of invisible killers.

Farewell my haunted virgins, my bright malicious spirits,

for I join the cargo ship to the depot of death

led by my hold heart’s owner

 whose smooth hands have poisoned me,

whose teeth have sawn my arteries.”

                                                          This was not the poet James knew. The words were those of a man harassed by fear.

A thought occurred to James. Three people had died close to Ashley. The child supposedly murdered by Joyce, the woman herself and then Ashley’s own husband. Now another was to die in three days’ time. While all the time this woman who supposedly loved him swanned exquisitely from reception to party without any mourning on her peerless face. He knew she was drawing closer to him. The assumption was they would marry, despite Bibi’s warning. James was a wealthy man, an inheritor of his late father’s Ordinance  estate. He began to feel an irrational fear growing over him.

Later he went for a walk along the beach. He found a shark’s jaw with the tooth still embedded in it. A seagull’s feather was impaled on a tooth. The unity of creatures of the sky and the sea reflected his growing miasma.  A poem was coming to him. His pure love was lost. His pleasure was poisoned.  He was Driver’s ghost. He walked along the sea-wall road, crossed the track and went and back into the house.

Alone in the house, James returned to his task.  Driver’s literary papers were kept apart from his personal correspondence. Ashley had had everything copied and the originals sent off, not to Harvard but to a new university in Jamaica. She would sometimes bring James letters to help him edit, but the bulk of the originals lay out of his reach. After a while he was distracted from typing by a thought. One of the poems was illegible. An envelope had covered the photostat. It was addressed in Ashley’s hand to Cole Chaitran. It had not occurred to James until now that Cole had been the name of the boy her sister had supposedly kidnapped at random from an orphanage. Did Ashley’s brother-in-law have a love-child hidden away in an orphanage?

The next day, watched suspiciously by the old couple whom Ashley kept on as servants, James left the house to speak to his friend Michael who worked for the Registrar. Michael was silent at first, thinking James had come to make a last appeal for Bibi. James showed Michael the letter. A search of the books revealed the birth of a boy, Cole, and that Maurus was his father. The birth must have been concealed and the child put up for adoption. Then why would this child be selected by his Aunt? What motive did she have for killing him? Michael had always had his suspicions about the Chaitran case. Some of the children at the orphanage had life insurance policies taken out for them. A shy tall man, Michael said he would talk to the police.  For James that was not urgent enough.  He told Michael he was going to the prison. Michael shrugged his shoulders. There had been a strange silence about Bibi. Maybe it was because of the Privy Council wanting Guyana’s judges to be more independent. Maybe it was this Princess Margaret business.

James set off down river to the prison. It was dark by the time he arrived. He landed on the jetty with some Argyll and Sutherland soldiers going back to their barracks.  He found his way to the prison. It was dark and inaccessible. A policeman told him he was wasting his time. On his advice, James took a room with an Amerind family and went to bed early. He woke the next day. James had wanted to go straight to the prison, but the  family insisted he had breakfast. James was sat next to a small girl with a serious face. She asked him why he had come. James answered truthfully that he had come to save someone’s life.

“I know you will. I will make sure with Jesus,” she said. James noticed the statues and crucifixes in this the house. James thanked her and left.

When he got to the prison a notice had been posted outside, telling of Bibi’s execution. James began to shout and shake the gates violently. The same policeman came to the gates and let him in.

“Follow me.” He said, waiting for James to stop bellowing. The policeman led the distraught man to a prison-cell, where a coffin lay on two trestles. It was Bibi. He was quickly led out. James did not want to stay.

The sergeant followed him.

“Will you come with me?”

 They went into an office, where stood a single telephone and a desk.

“I would like you to tell Miss Ashley Driver that Prisoner 456554, Afsana, Bibi was hanged this morning at civil dawn. No reports have yet been made to avoid any trouble you understand. Mrs. Driver requested the body on behalf of Bibi’s family.”

James made the call, as if it was supposed to help Bibi.. It was taken by a servant.

          Waiting in the office, James stared ahead at the social flies on the window pane.  It was all loss now. Ashley would spirit them both away in boxes, the newly dead and the barely living.

          He saw the girl from the boarding house, standing by the car.  She was wearing her traditional cotton apron, tibisiri fibre beads and wore a headdress and leg bands, a necklace and decorations in her ear and nose. Her face was a painted Morpho butterfly.

          Ashley arrived in the late afternoon in the harsh noontide. Her chauffeur, the son of the servant- couple, was seated at the wheel, staring ahead at the doorway through which Missa had vanished.  From the office windows, which looked out to the street and into the courtyard, James saw Ashley step into the room. James was stopped from going in again by the sergeant who took him to one side. The policeman began to take notes. James thought he could hear Ashley talking to the coffin he knew her fine, sharp voice. She seemed to be in a trance.

          The child looked up at James,

          “Yu saved that life yet?”

          “No”

          “Well hurry up. I want to see her.”

          “She’s dead.”

          ”Then hurry up.”

          There were tears in the child’s eyes. James stepped into the street to see if the child’s mother was around. The child darted inside the courtyard and stared defiantly at James.

          “Hurry up.”

          James heard a terrible, eerie scream. Ashley walked out, to be met by the policeman. Protesting she was led away by two guards and the policeman.

          The little girl ran into the cell. James ran after her, hoping to stop her entering it.

          James heard the child cry. He turned the corner. Bibi was standing there beside the coffin. She put her arms around James.

          “Sorry. I couldn’t tell you before. James, you hearin’me?”

          The police sergeant came back to find James. He stared drily at the girl who was dancing and singing in the desolate prison cell.

          “I think I need to explain, Sir. Bibi works for the police, but we have to keep it secret. We set up her being hanged, to get a confession from Mrs Driver. She liked to boast.”

          The little girl stared up at them.

          “You kissed. Now you have to marry.”              

 

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