The village of Banga Top lay still in the shadowy distance as Clue and Eustace rounded the winding curb . Ahead, Gary waited patiently with cupped hands against parted lips. Clue bounded past Eustace and charged towards Gary, his tail slicing the night air. The trickle of water in the gutter nearby rattled along to the concrete culvert under the dirt packed road and emptied on rocks lining the gully on the opposite side.
“Mek wi res yaso til maanin,” Gary announced while running his fingers through Clue’s matted hair. In response, Eustace heaved his crocus bag unto the closest rock and sat on the flat stone-wall nearby. Meanwhile, Gary and Clue squatted in unison on the edge of the concrete wall that lined the culvert that bordered the drain on the opposite side of the road. All three travelers soon became lost in their own contemplation as the village slept.
Hours later, the sharp racket of the Rhode Island rooster erupted in the distance and jolted the weary travelers to reality. Eustace removed a plastic bottle from his bag and dragged himself to the bank on the other side of the road where the trickle of fresh water tantalized his senses. After filling the bottle, he cupped his hands and allowed the water that flowed through the make-shift bamboo channel under a rock in the side of the road to travel down weary arms to the tip of his fingers before washing his face vigorously then emptying a handful of the liquid down his parched throat. Eustace gargle then spat spewing water down the front of his plaid jacket. Clue popped his head with both ears pointing skyward as he surveyed the scene. Gary stretched his lanky legs as his sore feet led the way to the spring where he washed his face and filled his water bottle then slung it over his shoulder. By now, Eustace and Clue led the charge as the trio ascended the last hill that led to the village square of Banga Top.
Screech! Screech! The sound of coconut broom against gravel reminded Eustace of his childhood days in Last Pass, the object of his destination. As the three mounted the steps to the piazza of the village shop, singing and the smell of damped earth alerted them to the possible source of the earlier screeching and confirmed that morning had indeed arrived. A whiff of the sweet aroma of chocolate tea spiced with cinnamon and vanilla mingled with the smell of fried fritters and fried sprat reminded both men and dog that the last meal of East Indian mangoes they had consumed at noon the previous day was the last of the stash of food they had packed for the two days journey to Last Pass.
As the sun eased its way laboriously over the Blue Mountains, Eustace glanced at the brown leaves on the weather beaten fruit trees that stood in stark contrast to the green shrubs along the fencing of the homes below. The devastating effects of the recent hurricane on the food supply of the community was marked by the empty almost leafless trees staring back at him. At the far end of the piazza, a group of village men gathered around a half-broken rectangular table with a pack of dominoes occupying the centre. Gary seemed mesmerized as he watched the men shuffled the dominoes to mark the start of the Sunday morning ritual. Eustace scratched his head then tapped on the side window with trance like motion but shuffled backwards in the nick of time as the window swung open to reveal a plain-looking middle-aged man with a placating look in bloodshot eyes. Eustace had used up his last coin the previous morning and felt much unease as he swept his eyes once more on the bare trees nearby before forcing the words from his stomach. The domino game ceased as Eustace cleared his throat then greeted ralph, the no-nonsense village shopkeeper.
“Maanin, mi a aks yuh fi wan breadfruit or tuu finga a banana fi kuk likl bikl,” he managed to belch out as he watched slow the transformation of the knitted brow in front of him. Before Ralph could respond a low snicker was heard amid the pregnant lull in the domino game to his left. The domino match reclaimed momentum as Gary and Clue made their way towards Eustace.
“Sari, Sandy bluo wei evri ting, mi no a nutn fi gi yu,” Ralph bellowed above the din of the domino hitting board. As the three descended the steps that joined dirt road showing scraps of worn asphalt here and there, awkward glances tore into the pit of their backs followed by stifled remarks and snickering.
Eustace shuffled gingerly to a huge star-apple tree that hung precariously over the narrow road and sat on a stump below deep in thoughts as he considered their plight. Gary and Clue joined him with questioning stares on both their faces.
“Weh wi ago nyam? Wi av wan muor die a waakin fi duh” Gary piped after a long pause.
“Shot yuh muot bwai an mek man tink,” Eustace snapped at his overgrown nephew as he wiped sweat from wrinkled furrows above his blank stare.
Clue stared at both men wagging his tail and licking his tongue to every outburst. The village was fully awake now and news of the two men and a dog made the round like a flash of Summer rain. Eustace begged each passerby for a morsel to cook or eat despite the anticipated negative response. After a while, he beckoned his travel companions.
As Gary and Clue drew closer to him, Eustace queried, “Yuh memba di suup stuori yu granpa aalweiz tel yuh? Goh kech up som brambl mek wi cook som suup. Nutn trai, nutn dun,” Eustace chimed; a sly smile circling thin lips.
As Gary and Clue departed, Eustace rolled three medium-sized stones under the sparse shade of the star-apple tree then unwrapped a shiny dutch pot enclosed in his crocus bag and laid it precariously in the centre of the three stones. He started humming his favourite song as he poured the water from his water bottle into the pot and watched as curious eyes watched from behind hedges and curtains. Gary soon returned with a bundle of dried sticks that he placed under the pot and lit the fine twigs with the lighter he had pinched off his friend Troy two days ago. As the sweet aroma of the pimento wood rose, Eustace raised his voice to a crescendo and continued singing, “wash yuh pat, tun ih dung, mango taim.”
“Soh weh yuh ago put ina di pat, stuon? Gary taunted as Eustace poked the burning flame.
“Luuk an laan, bwai! Eustace responded then continued singing, oblivious to the crowd that gathered behind him.
The water started to spew bubbles and Eustace whispered a prayer in his heart before unwrapping a neatly folded brown paper bag that he removed from the pocket of his plaid over worn jacket. The almost brown looking seed of the East Indian mango he had eaten the previous day stared back at him.
“Den a weh yuh ago duh wid dat? Mass Dada, the village hunter who had just arrived on the scene queried;dropping his hunting bag on his black water boots to pronounce his dismay.
“Mi ago kuuk som mango seed stuu,” Eustace answered nonchalantly and reached into his bag for his ratchet knife.
“Yuh kriezi, tek tuu a dem bud yah put in deh, insted,” Mass Dada offered as he pulled two well plucked partridges from his bag and handed them to Eustace.
Clue gave a howl in response then started barking while the crowd giggled at his antics.
“Tenk yuh Sar, som skelan an taim an fuud kain wuda duh justis tu di buot I waa ruo,” Eustace chimed exposing scattered brown teeth.
Gary chopped the birds into quarters, washed then slowly; lowered the portions into the boiling water. Gary smiled as he remembered the story about the stone soup his grandpa had told him one moonshine night the Summer before he died.
Meanwhile, Eustace continued humming his song while some bystanders joined him with gusty singing. Miss Icilda, a buxom light-skinned woman who lived across the main road pushed her way through the crowd holding a laden scandal bag above the crowd.
“Unu gi mi wei deh, gi mi pas” she shouted handing Eustace the bag containing two stalks of escallion, a sprig of thyme and a slice of pumpkin.
“Tenk yuh swiit laidi, Gaad bles yuh suol, som dashiin, a breshe an piis a yam wi duh dis yah suup wel.” Eustace chirped gleefully.
Gary and Clue seemed to have joined the impromptu choir that erupted after this exchange. Church going villagers stopped by and their tambourines provided accompaniments. What happened next, was beyond the understanding of all three travelers.
Ralph, the erstwhile shopkeeper announced his presence by rapping on the humungous iron pot he was rolling towards the fireside, soup ladle in hand as he beckoned some young men to pour water from the jugs they were carrying into the giant pot. On cue, blocks replaced stones and the humungous pot heaved on top of the furnace. The sweet-smelling soup from Eustace’s pot was poured into the concoction that was now being brewed in the copper pot. Diced chicken back, peeled and washed dasheen, yam, sweet potato, noodle, green parsley and cornmeal dumpling found their way into the copper pot.
The domino table relocated to the centre of the road and a real road party began with chanting and singing led by Laddie, the chorister of the village. When the pot was ready, plastic and enamel utensils appeared from black scandal bags in no time and servers took up their post near the pot.
Eustace, Gary and Clue stared at the plates of fried fritters and sprat brought over from Miss Icilda’s kitchen followed by a bucket of hot chocolate tea. As the food made the round, the song leader began singing,
“Wen mi ruos mi yellow yammmmm!’ In refrain the crowd responded and the eating, singing and merry-making took on a life of its own. Eustace looked and his nephew and a feeling of joy welled up in his stomach.
“Dem yah piipl rieli nuo ow fi paati!” he thought to himself as he sucked the eye from the last sprat on his plate.
When the village boys sounded the drums of the village Brigade Band, children dashed like a flash mob into the dirt road some carrying breakfast dish in hand while others had cricket balls that were quickly stuffed into pockets or thrown into hedges nearby to be reclaimed later. The flute players did justice to the folk song “Sammy plaa piisa caan dung a guli,” and the crowd joined in while marching towards the square to the Boom! Boom! Boom! of the loud drumbeats.
The three travelers joined in the revelry as the village dogs and chickens watched from the fringes of the celebration in anticipation of any scraps thrown their way. An occasional howl or cackle added variety to the ensemble that continued well into mid day.
Some errant members of Pastor Mack’s church wended their ways sheepishly through a side entrance during the sermon. At exactly 12:00 noon the bell that sat in the Anglican churchyard south of the village square started ringing. Like well-trained sheep, cheers were exchanged and the villagers returned home after they bade their guests goodbye.
In high spirit and filled stomach the three collected the leftovers, packed their bags and waved a last farewell as they rounded a corner and made the descent into Jackass Pass that would herald them into Last Pass, their destination.
Eustace remembered his East Indian mango seed that brought him much luck so he pushed his hand into his jacket pocket to make sure it was securely seated in the brown paper he had unwrapped earlier.
“Wat a mirekl yu bring mi, tide?” he whispered pulling his hand from his tattered pocket. Clue watched as the brown paper made its way down the side of the road into a gully. He gave a loud bark that turned into a yelp as a pebble landed next to him.
“Kum aan bifuo nait kum dung pa wi!” Gary yelled while staring at Clue in a reproachful manner.
Years later, travelers stopped at the very spot to pick mangoes from the laden East Indian Mango tree that spread from the gully to the expanse of the narrow road. No one could tell how it got there and the villagers from Banga Top made frequent journeys to where they called Mango Walk to feast on East Indian mangoes all year round.