Cherry Smack

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Affirmation

They ventured to pay respect to Vince and retrace his formative years. Given their atypical destination direct flights were out of the question; instead they flew from London to Bridgetown and hopped on a twin-prop de Havilland to Timehri, Guyana. They touched down at Cheddi Jagan International Airport, a collection of municipal buildings bordered precipitously by a topiary garden with the words Welcome to Guyana cut into red and green hedges.

Immediately adjacent was the main foyer; a drab lobby reminiscent of a tax collection office. They queued up to check pass customs. Time slowed pace as he processed his new surroundings, focused on a puzzling distraction. For the first time in his life he noticed everyone from the humble porter to the savant pilot looked exactly the same as him. It felt strange as if he had slid through an inter-dimensional portal to a room where everyone had his face. Gone was the feeling of alienation, of being the odd one out. Sadly, the moment was fleeting, as though he looked like them, he knew he was not one of them. Laurie, Jimmy’s brother and incorrigible fusspot interrupted.

“Are you going to tell her?”

“Tell her what?”

“About your wife.”

“I think she’s got enough on her plate without that.”

“Well you better tell her soon, I don’t like lying.”

“You’re not lying.”

“If she knows, I know I am in the shit too.”

“Ok Laurie, whatever.”

They were met by their cousin Malcolm and his extended family at the Pegasus Hotel, Georgetown. Malcolm was a heavily built, tall strapping man with cast iron tenacity. His swarthy skin and thick black hair bore mirrored resemblance. His wife Sharro was an attractive Indian with a gentle face and kind eyes. They both wore American designer jeans and shirts. It was a surprisingly apprehensive moment. There were no open arms, instead a British-Guyanese stand-off; sniffing each other out. They cracked a smile and the British reserve crumbled giving way to a hug or two. They were welcoming and spoke like they were old friends instantly dissolving barriers.

They cut along the Demerara, skirting through lush green terrain in a white 12 seater Hiace. A blanket of ever present palm and banana trees mingled with exotic flora and rare shrubs lining the route. Eyes diverted to a clearing as they pulled up at a large farming estate. Tractors puffed and threshers thrashed in the expansive fields behind. An orange plumed rooster crowed on cue as if to announce their arrival. Sharro had prepared lunch. After slaking thirst on fruit and coconut palm they retired to their home, a wooden colonial house perched on flood evading stilts.

Jimmy hung back on the porch and dreamed of adopting a less complicated life. Malcolm’s daughter, Sonia, a pretty young slip with long black hair; came out with an ice cold Banks. She wore a white linen dress and straw sandals.

“You’re lucky you’re British. I wish I was.”

“Why’s that?”

“You got choices, prospects. Opportunity is a word that has little meaning for someone like me.”

“Why don’t you leave, immigrate?”

“Too late they’ve clamped down, too many people leaving. UK got too many people, we haven’t got enough. The only way out is to get married.”

“You mean fake?”

“Yeah 20, £30k will get it done.”

“You pay to immigrate?”

“If I had the money, why not? Do you have anyone special in your life Jimmy?”

“Yes.”

“You’re lucky, do you love her?”

“Yes, I think I do.”

They climbed up and crossed the porch through to the living room. Wamara timber covered every inch of floor and wall. The bedrooms housed bulky wooden wardrobes and beds shrouded by finely meshed mosquito nets hung from the ceiling.

Sharro reached inside a glass display cabinet adorned with stencilled gold tulip garlands and granted privilege, placing occasional white plates and matching gilt edged serving bowls on the dining table. They tucked into a familiar spread of Madras Curry and Rice, Beef Chow Mein and to round it off Sweet Vermicelli Cake. Glasses fizzed with Mauby poured over cubes procured from the obligatory pineapple ice bucket. They listened intently to Malcolm’s life and quickly glossed over theirs. Sonia connected a Walkman to a somewhat twitchy electric socket. She played CDs and showcased family pictures as Jimmy scrutinised musical tastes. They were a charming family with gentle voices. It struck him how different they sounded from the UK West Indians. Had twenty years of western toxins polluted these sweet tones into harsh dissonance?

He felt fortunate after speaking with Sonia but knew soon after she would return to her reality and he to his. Nagging doubts resurfacing about the recent choices he made. The trip granted perspective and focus; an awakening and desire to set mind eyes on what he had rather than what could be. His Dad would have told him to do his duty, his Mum to follow his heart.

Dad was gone but left a legacy. Mum let on at the disappointment she faced. Not one of her kids had given her a grandson and now Jimmy held the key. Did he not owe her that? What was he going to leave behind? Surely he was too young to fuss over such matters, yet there he was with the matter in his hand. As much as he wanted to appear new age and not give a damn his parents did a good job instilling family values, continuance of the family name.

Duty was deeply inbred. He was beginning to feel it take root. Sometimes it was easier to go with the flow. Sometimes it’s easier to take the path of least resistance. He knew the bitter truth would return there was no hiding. Truth is, nothing good ever came easy, he knew that. He searched his soul and tossed the ambivalent coin looking for his own truth. Mum could smell discontent, so he put on his happy face and sought distraction.

Jimmy strolled up to Starbroek market for some smokes. It was a hive of activity; stall vendors scooped aromatic spice. Exquisite colourful displays of fine textiles flapped gently in the breeze. He jostled amongst the bustling hordes in the dry Caribbean heat and felt encroached. Someone brushed against him. There was commotion. He looked across and saw a dreadlock thug running away, barging the crowd aside. He immediately patted his flat, empty pocket and yelled at him to stop. He was making off with his wallet.

Jimmy gave chase, weaving through the market crowd then up a hill. He was gaining ground but losing breath. Before he reached the top, to his surprise he dropped it. Jimmy thought he’d won the battle of nerves. As he reached down to pick up his wallet he glanced up and spotted the Armed Police at the crest of the hill brandishing deadly Kalashnikovs. His assailant winked as he pulled out a blade and ran off. It was all a game. He may have been an opportunist. Maybe he had a family to feed.

Jimmy gambled his life for a worthless scrap of leather not because he had to, not because he needed it, but because it was in him to run and get it back. When you act on instinct, that tells you who you are. When you shoot from the hip, that’s the real you. There was no escaping his traits. Jimmy was a simple man, like his dad, a dreamer, a grafter, a family man with old fashioned values. Ultimately there was no escaping it, of that he felt sure.

Jimmy ducked out early from dinner with the family. Ever since Mum announced the trip he made plans for a rendezvous with his old pal Rawl. He was filled with anticipation and paced round the forecourt lobby, eager to see his reformed friend. Alas, Captain of industry he was not. Things had taken an unexpected turn. They sat drinking Guinness Punch watching waves lash the seawall.

“Lennox wanted too much control. He got bamboozled by a suit. We opened our first station and he brought in a manager to audit the book. He started snooping, accused me of skimming off the top. Before I know it, I’m out and he’s in. I was onto him from the get-go but who’s gonna believe an ex-gangbanger?”

“So much for family?”

“True, blood don’t’ mean shit if there’s no trust.”

“Shame, I liked Lennox too.”

“The devil whispers. No matter, follow me.” They went to the rear of his flatbed. “Check it out,” He peeled back the ragtop to reveal twenty glass demijohns. “Moonshine, it’s the lick. I got a camp on the Potaro; the best spring water in the world.” They ambled back to the hotel.

“You back in it?”

“Nah this is different, I got aces.”

“Ok, long as you’re happy?”

“I’m free, never felt more alive my friend.” He secured the cover and ambled back to reception. “Why don’t you come down? Fly to Kaieteur and check it out?”

“Kaieteur?” Rawl slapped a leaflet from the concierge in his hand,

Kaieteur Falls’; ’Located on the Potaro River in Kaieteur National Park, central Essequibo Territory. Kaieteur is among the most powerful waterfalls in the world with an average flow rate of 663 cubic metres per second. It is the tallest single drop waterfall in the world, standing at a staggering 822ft.

Rawl figured the sight a must see. Chris needed little persuading and dragged Laurie along kicking and screaming. Without notice they hopped into a 4x4 and caught a flight from Ogle Airport. They didn’t have time to check the credentials of the pilot but later found out his nickname was Mad Dog. If only they had known that before the flight; Mad Dog could have taken his single prop Cessna and suffered it. They were accompanied on their adventure by two big burly city lawyers from England, a couple of toffs who were bragging about escaping a coup in Chile prior to Georgetown.

Sixty minutes into the flight they were bleating like sissies. Laurie was in the back, bent over double, trying not to retch as he felt he’d been riding the big dipper at Six Flags for the duration. The cockpit was cramped and incredibly noisy. Their pilot, a short determined hombre with a huge moustache, did not speak English. He tapped a gauge reading zero.

“Which gauge is that?” cried the lawyer.

“The fuel,” said Rawl.

“Oh shit, shit.”

“It’s okay, I don’t think the gauge is working.”

“Fucking great.”

Fact was none of the gauges were working. They were running on fumes, flying blind and lost as they were at least half hour over their planned thirty minute flight. Mad Dog descended to get a point of reference then suddenly pulled up to avoid a rapidly approaching cliff.

Chris took control. “Do you wanna turn back?” Back came a resounding Yes from the Lawyers. Laurie nodded hunched over, busy subduing the pain.

“It looks worse than it is.” said Rawl eager to stay on schedule “Trust me I’ve done this trip many times, this is normal.”

“Are we nearly there?” Jimmy shouted, tapping his watch.

Mad Dog ignored him, gestured with his hands to calm them down and feverishly went back to some gauge tapping.

Laurie threw up and wiped his mouth. “Just fucking land, will ya.”

Finally they hit the runway and evacuated the craft. Laurie stumbled out, kissed the ground, euphoric as if a last minute reprieve had been granted. He sniped at Chris.

“You happy? You had your Adventure now?”

Jimmy laughed through the pain, it was very Laurie. Rawl took it in his stride and the burly lawyers remained silent, trying to style it out. They had survived the near death experience and were 822ft closer to god.

They sat in a wooden shelter exhausted and broken. Rawl splintered off to fetch the flatbed. Lunch was delivered in foam food containers. Their humble Chicken Dal Puri was elevated; each morsel savoured like Filet Mignon, flooding their senses, reviving consciousness.

On cue their land walking guide emerged. He led them deep into the Amazon and then they heard it, the roar of the mighty river. It was deafening, so loud you had to shout to be heard. They followed their ears and there it was, magnificent, breath taking. There were no handrails, no viewing box. They waded knee deep into the clear crisp Potaro River and slowly pushed their way to the edge. The river’s spray dispersed sunlight into a rainbow arching red, gold and green.

Jimmy knelt on a rock next to Chris and peered over the edge straight down, all 822ft of it. A rush of adrenalin nearly tipped him over. Chris grabbed him and held him back.

“How do you feel?”

“On top of the world, like nothing can touch me.” screamed Jimmy with his arms raised.

They retreated back to the shore and knelt down skimming stones.

“So tell me about Kayla. You haven’t said anything about her?”

“She great, easy going. I met her at a jam. I wasn’t even going to play that night but when I saw her I got a bit flash.”

“If she makes you wanna try that’s good.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Look don’t listen to Laurie, take your time okay. Tell Mum when it feels right.”

Jimmy was not worried about Laurie more tormented by the hidden truth, his unborn son. He could feel his freedom slipping over the water’s edge. Jimmy off loaded, crying for help.

“I got a problem, there’s someone else.”

Nothing surprised Chris, with two divorces under his belt he had a clear perspective.

“Just ask yourself the question; if Kayla rang you now and told you not to comeback, how would you feel?”

Chris had a way of cutting to the truth. “Don’t fill your head second guessing. If you’re happy, stay with her. If you’re not, get out.”

Jimmy smiled as revelation dawned but as Chris only knew the half of it, only took half on board.

They headed back to the clearing. Chris and Laurie waited anxiously for Mad dog to fly them back to the Pegasus hotel. Rawl pulled up in the truck and peeled off with Jimmy into the Amazon.

They climbed into a Kayak and paddled along the Potaro into a tributary then moored up at the river’s edge. The camp was up an escarpment under an over-hanging cliff; a collection of makeshift tarpaulin huts built around a stone campfire. Rawl rolled a blue plastic fifty gallon still into place and hosed in fresh spring water. He poured in bags of turbo yeast, corn sugar and gave it a stir with a mash paddle. There was a sickening sweet smell like the burning of molasses from a fermented batch. They strained it into a distilling tank turned up the heat to an 80° slow simmer and waited.

Rawl siphoned off the heads and threw it away.

“You drink that you die, pure Methanol. We want the hearts, the stuff in the middle, that’s the best shit.”

Rawl shook the glass demijohn. “Sweet, you see the bubbles, beautiful. The faster they disappear the purer it is.”

Jimmy took a swig so smooth it evaporated the moment it hit his tongue.

“Good shit huh?”

“Where did you learn all this?” They got busy hauling bags, setting up another batch.

“From Buddy. He’s an old school friend. We grew up together as kids.”

“Where’s he now?”

“Back in Agricola. He used to cook bigtime till he got caught. His Dad had connections so they went easy on him. He works as a tracker now.”

“He works for the Police?”

“Yeah sort of, community service. The Police were desperate for help to shut down camps; too many deaths from off batches. It’s a sweet deal. We make all the brew we want and sell it right under their noses.”

“How much do they take? “

“$200 flat but it’s worth it. All I got to worry about is a rival team bussin in, but up here it ain’t no worry at all.”

Rawl asked Jimmy to take the new batch back to town. “Buddy will meet you at the hotel, just follow the signs to Georgetown. I’ll meet you there in a couple of days.”

They worked into the night and broke for coffee round the campfire.

“I met Mark before I left.” said Jimmy.

“Yeah what did he say?”

“Not much. He wanted to know where you were.”

“Did you tell him?”

“No. You hiding?”

“I can’t take any chances. Mark was good to me but a .38 in your mouth tends to loosen the tongue. I don’t know who to trust. Anyway, up here I’m free,”

“It is fucking remote.”

“Cayman and ’Condas is alI I got to fear and if the come.” He took out his shotgun. “New shoes !”

They loaded up in the morning and Jimmy drove back to the Hotel. He met Buddy round the back.

Buddy was a coolie, Rawl’s right hand man. He was a slick operator, his manner bold and flirtatious. He took the wheel.

Hey gyal, wa gwan wid yo?” He holla’d at the lights trying to engage every floozy that fell in his path; a Guyanese White van man en route to a kitchen in Agricola.

“We gonna make Nutcrackers, fruit juice and shine. We pack ’em on dry ice. and sell them outside Chutney.”

“You sell much?” asked Jimmy.
“Cha , ya think mi do this for fun. Last week ten case gone, dem buy bulk for party or jus to get lick up. What y’ gon do? Pay $3 inside or a quart from mi gate ?”

They made up fifty cases, dropped thirty to a sub and sold the rest at Chutney. Jimmy felt more alive than afraid this time; a visceral rush evoking old feelings.

“Let’s go on,” proposed Jimmy.

“Cool. Sheriff Street?”

“What’s there?”

“Every-ting.”

They parked up in a side street.

“You see over there, the rum shop, restaurants all got ‘bar girls’ turning tricks for 50 cents. “

“No Police?”

“Cha Police. Murder and kidnapping is mo’ dem business. They turn a blind eye to most. The girls clean and serve tables but everyone knows. Go see na? They push up on ya rass.”

“You been inside?”

“Nah, I use to live near the gold fields; flesh for rent. Brazilians, French come to work mining gold. Mi Cousin went to work near Brownsweg. She earn two grams of gold for twenty minutes. Her man ketch her and chop her up.”

“She’s dead?”

He nodded. “I look after her daughter now.”

They drove for an hour through the night to a gin joint deep in the bush. A solitary street lamp broke the darkness. The bar was lit with hanging shades dotted over dusty wooden tables. People sat round drinking cheap shine and brew. The radio was playing loud, blaring Chutney from the P.A. speakers. A flamboyant buoy was wining and liming. He shot a smile across in their direction. A rough coolie sat on a stump opposite. ”

Mi cut up, wen dem batty-man a skin dem teeth, Mi broadside dem rass scunt.

Patois was known as the ungrammatical language spoken by the uneducated, but to Jimmy it was the slickest diatribe he ever heard. Mid-flow he switched to The Queen’s.

“You don’t understand a word I’m saying do you?”

Jimmy gaped, his stool toppled. He sounded like a boater hatted graduate and apparently only used patois sometimes because he preferred it. He slipped back.

“Woman tek all meh money!” his hand outstretched “ah want six cents” the price of the bottle of iodine he swung, running dry.

“He mad no rass” said Buddy. Jimmy gave him some change. “I got someone I want you to meet.”

They pushed pass a swaying crowd of limers, baying to a fresh mix. An old man sat at a table.

“This is my dad Alby.”

They had not seen each other for months. They chatted and imbibed, Everclear, alcohol so over proof Jimmy felt he had been stabbed in the throat.

Alby lifted his wary head.

“I work wid music, got mi firs Soca hit when mi turn 54..and was hit by tumour, being wheeled to my death and all I could remember is asking God to give mi another day so I could be wid family- -” He hugged Buddy “- -that’s all you got to know.”

Alby words rang out, unassailable. It was love, love that made parents selfless; the reward simply to see their kids grow and become more than opportunity afforded them. It humbled him, he felt more connected and less self-obsessed. Jimmy retired back to the Pegasus ready to start the family tour.

Buddy collected them in a minivan. They drove to the ship yard where Dad started out as a welder. The yard had been decommissioned for some time. A mammoth steel keel jutted out majestically from the dock as if frozen in time; waiting for the searing heat of Vince’s torch. They paid tribute then pulled up on a derelict side street in Albouystown, the perilous neighbourhood where Dad grew up. He couldn’t believe it. It was still there perfectly shabby third world chic. Looking round, all Dad’s explosive stories came to life. The main square still had a buzz and imagined it was just the way he left it. Jimmy became eager to explore, but Buddy wouldn’t get out of the van.

Cha, yuh mad.

He was one killing stare away from danger and when it came he quickly recoiled from doorsill to seat. He now understood Dad more. He was gentle but when the time came as hard as nails. When bullied by thug Rockers in the UK, they spat in his face. Dad wiped it clean onto the road then grabbed one and rubbed his nose in it; the other one pulled a knife. Chris ran over kicked him in the groin and held the knife to his throat about to cut him till Dad calmed him down. Jimmy slowly connected the dots, he understood more.

They drove onto Mum’s cousin, Reggie in Mahaicony and suddenly pulled over. Mum climbed out astonished. She paced up and down.

”It can’t be?”

A broad smile forged as revelation dawned. It was her old school and stood exactly as she remembered it; the same flaky yellow paint with not a crack out of place. They looked on as the euphoria built.

“My god, I wish your Dad was here to see this. That’s where we met, underneath that tree. That’s where we made plans.”

A tear ran down her cheek. She left shell-shocked but happy, faintly humming schoolyard rhymes.

They drove on and soon arrived at Reggie’s place, a roadside bar with ramshackle wooden tables and seating. They greeted each other with open enthusiasm. Reggie fetched a large pitcher of Rum Punch and they idled, recounting folly of hazardous swimming trips and barred horse rides.

“Your Mum still dance Margi?”

He demonstrated the Indian Classical dance with pointed fingers and toes. Mum laughed, she knew they had no idea. The Mum they knew was a ’60’s hipster into Little Richard and the Stones. She never watched Bollywood movies, wore a Sari or danced Margi. She sacrificed her traditions for her new life in Britain. The gaps were all but closed, Jimmy let go; the trip was now about Mum, lending much needed opportunity to close circle.

They left them to catch up as they consumed the complimentary Hassa and Rice. As the night wore on, spirits were high. They danced and drank themselves dizzy. This was how they did it in Guyana; partying till the moonlight dimmed and dawn broke.

As they got up to leave two men rushed in brandishing weapons, one waved a shotgun and the other pointed a pistol straight at Reggie’s face. He was told to hand over the takings. Reggie led them to the till. They shoved him out the way and grabbed the cash.

“Is that all ya get, don’t tes me,” He punched him in the face.

“You think ya a big man,” Reggie said puffing out his chest “Do it na? When dem come dem gon capoon ya rass.”

He shot, blood gushed and Reggie fell to the ground. Jimmy and Chris rushed over and Buddy gave chase.

Everything changed, the underlying truth of a country tormented by an evil few. They were desperate people, lost with no purpose but to plague the innocent. Life was cheap, a man’s life risked for speaking short. This was not Guyana. These were cowards hiding behind a barrel. Their day would come, a reckoning not by god but by man.

They were labelled bandits and treated as such. Armed Police hunted them down, not to capture and bring to trial, but to execute a prejudged sentence. It did not take long to find them. Buddy tracked them to a local shop and caught them hocking loot. The Police came, they were called merely to ID. A shootout followed, outgunned and cornered they met a grizzly end.

Fortunately Reggie only suffered minor concussion from a head graze. He was rushed to emergency that fateful night and survived.

Rawl was back in service. He picked up Jimmy. They were on a rum run for the reunion party that evening. Buddy parked his shotgun in the center console and hopped in the back. They stopped off at church, St George’s Anglican, a National Monument. Given the topsy-turvy nature of the trip, Jimmy welcomed the change of pace and went with the flow, silently intrigued. They made their way up the church steps.

“You look surprised. What are two lawless muthers doing here?” said Rawl.

“It wasn’t luck that saved Reggie ya know?” continued Buddy.

“Reggie’s a parishioner.”

“Yeah, drawing down his credit.”

“He still got plenty left.”

“He don’t take shit. A good man, God Bless.”

“You believe?” asked Jimmy.

“I’m afraid not to, aren’t you?”

He stood beneath the giant Gothic arches and felt humbled. Even though he was not particularly religious he knelt and joined them out of respect.

High into the nave, light danced from the Victorian gifted chandelier, a reminder of the imperial past. After a short time, they rose to their feet and backed out the aisle, crossing their chests, turned and left.

”I was like you, full of suspicion.” said Rawl.

“What changed?”

“I saw something after Leon passed.”

“What, like a sign?”

“Yeah, I know, wacko right? That’s what I thought too.”

“What did you see?”

“Does it matter?”

“You can’t say shit like that then keep me hanging.”

“It was a ruby stone. I won it off Leon as a kid. I kept it for years, like a rabbit’s foot, then I lost it.”

Jimmy looked puzzled they hopped back into the truck.

”Remember in the park, in NYC? They were onto me then. I was a dead man no question. I didn’t know what to do. I knew who was coming and decided to get him before he got me. I went to get my piece, reached into my bag to load up and there it was, the stone,”

“You found it, so what?”

“I lost it in Guyana; here, just across the way…. It was impossible, I tried to rationalise it but couldn’t work it out. You think I gone mad don’t you?”

“No, no not anymore.”

They stopped at Kuru’s Rum Store, a hive of activity. The queues were long, armed guards surrounded the tills warning off very shifty on lookers. They got a ticket, grabbed several bottles of finest El Dorado and hastened their exit. A man in a long grey mac trailed them, eyeing up the rum. He looked through the open window, Rawl calmly tilted up the shot gun so it was in clear sight. Nothing was said and the hoodlum wisely backed off to seek alternate prey.

That night they had their party, drank their precious cargo and danced to Soca on the rooftop bar. Jimmy chose his moment and grabbed Mum as she came off the dance floor.

“I got something to tell you.”

“What is it?” she panted, clearly exhausted.

He took her hand and sat her down.

“You’re going to be a grandma.”

She caught her breath astounded. He explained everything from the band, meeting Kayla and the baby, a last minute addition. The news permeated, cracking through the layers of grief.

She grimaced. “I’m not happy Jimmy. Why didn’t you tell me before?” Underneath she was beaming and could not hold it back any longer. She cracked a smile. “After all that’s happened, thank god a Grandson.”

The news overriding; Mum gathered everyone round they charged their glasses and made it official.

After the fuss died Jimmy sat down besides Mum gazing across the cityscape reflecting on the trip.

“Why did you leave?”

“For you, for us.”

“I was speaking to Sonia back at the farm, she wants to leave.”

“Well who can blame her. What she got here?”

“Identity.”

“Cha, what identity. You think anyone gives a damn about that?”

“I do.”

“It’s a luxury. You never had to struggle to get what they don’t have. The basics, electric that stays on, a house that doesn’t flood.”

“But she is Guyanese, what am I?”

“British.”

“In America I’m British, in England I am the son of immigrants, that’s it.”

“No you are British Jimmy, some would have you believe otherwise but it’s

not true. I never told you this, as I didn’t think it important but I was wrong.”

“What?”

“Don’t be alarmed but you’re not a Bramble.” Jimmy shook his head. “Calm down, it’s not what you think.” Jimmy drained what was left of the Rum. “Your Great-Great Grandfather was Chinese, an indentured worker. The Brits bought them over after slavery was abolished. Your real name is Phang,”

“Phang?”

“Christian missionaries gave him the name Bramble after he converted to Christianity.”

“I always thought Bramble was our slave name.”

“No your ancestors were free and paid to work. They were hard times. He converted to receive help, a square meal and a bed that’s all. When you got nothing to eat, identity is the last thing on your mind.”

“Phang from China, Christ. How did he wind up in Guyana?”

“Repaying a gambling debt. The Brits kidnapped him, gave him a dose of opium, when he woke they had already set sail.”

“Phang? My name is Jimmy Phang, but I don’t look Chinese?”

“He married an African, then your Great Grandad an Indian; you’re an eighth

Chinese. You’re unique, be proud.”

Jimmy felt the same but different; a special class of citizen, rich in heritage and bursting with pride. Guyana was no longer a dirty secret. The birthplace of his folks, land of his forefathers defined him made him who he was. The trip left him fulfilled and invigorated, eager to return to the States and make a go of it.

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