ACE moves through the village like a fox on the prowl; agile, aware, cunning.
It is early. He wakes with the day, eats a banana and drinks coconut water. “It’s medicine, man”, he told me once. “Coconut got to be young, picked long before they get hard with jelly, still small on the tree, no bigger than a cricket ball. Full of nourishment then, better than medicine: Keeps the system clean and fresh, good for the kidneys too. Plenty of iron, make you strong like a lion”.
At 6 am ACE heads out into the day and strides, with purpose, down Horse Hill, his hard feet stamp a rhythm onto the cool asphalt. The village is quiet, the dogs eye him sleepily from their beds under the raised floors of the chattel homes along the road.
“Got to pay 700 dollars or they throw me in jail”, he thinks. “Got to find the money, man, or I’ll be sitting in a damp dark cell, with no unripe coconuts to keep this mind and body well”.
He knows every corner of the village and its people. He takes stock of its workers, residents, visitors, tourists and strangers. This is his trade. He knows that newspaper writer Griffith, is away teaching in America, a young girl, Ella, is staying there, taking care of it in his absence. He scouts for new faces and opportunities: Tourists will give him a few dollars and offer drinks in bars. Surfers and weekenders buy coconuts. Residents have houses, gardens and cars to repair. Jobs are scarce and the pay is poor. It could take months to raise the $700 he needs.
Seven Hundred Still to Pay.
“Seven hundred still to pay.
Just two weeks to judgement day,
seven hundred months away”.
“Rass man, should never have happened, ACE don’t have no truck with the law. Live outside it. Not me they ought to worry with. There are bad people, lazy people and crazy people man. I don’t do no harm. Man got to live, fetch a pile of coconuts, sell some bananas, do a favor for a man, borrow some food. Ain’t no harm in that.
So Little Time to Pay
Ain’t me they should worry ‘bout. Sure I took a little dope, had a little snort of coke. Trouble man! Coke brings trouble with the law!. But I ain’t no pusher me, never done no truck with dope, just a snort, a swig, a smoke, just for me and friends I know. Possession’s what they say, when they take my coke away, and give so little time to pay”.
He is tuned to the sound of movement, the music of motion. Flip, flap, slide, and slap. His loose oversize shirt flaps in the wind, in time to the rhythm of his feet on the street. He breathes steady, heart beating like a base. A harmony:
No Such Thing as Jail House Rock
“Flip, flap, slide, and slap. Got a monkey on my back. Seven hundred fine for crack. I am a symphony. Man in motion, power walking down my hill. Got to find the money man. Flip, flap, slide, and slap. Moving forward, never back. Ain’t no rhyme in the jail house block. No such thing as jail house rock. Got to keep the music live. Ain’t going to no jailhouse dive.”
A breadfruit tree extends over the road, he picks a ripe fruit and puts it in his sack. He thinks Round House may buy it for their breadfruit chips. He takes a detour through Joe’s River tenantry, past the chattel houses on the cliff. Off in the distance, Atlantic waves roll to the shore.
No one Putting Ace Away
“Got to see those waves each day, Bathsheba is where I stay.
Got to find the money man. No one putting ACE away. Flip, flap, slide, and slap. Get this monkey off my back.”
Voices bounce in his head like echoes in a cave. His mind is a fog of thoughts, arguing. “Time if I steal and no time to pay. Time if I don’t and time if I do. Time for a time whatever man. Got to get clear, got to stay clean, got to figure it man.
A little for the Magistrate
Ain’t doing no time, no ACE in no cell, no ACE in the clink. Got to figure a plan, find some time to think. Borrow just a little time, take a little for a time. Plenty time and money here. Movie cameras, laptops, fancy cars and stereos, fetch some dollars on the street. Ain’t gonna steal, just got to take, a little for the magistrate”.
Sort Cut through the Bananas
He takes a short cut over the hard dry valley, and crosses the yard of a new house. Pulling some lemon grass from a herb garden, he puts it in his sackcloth bag. Further down he turns into a banana grove. It is cool, dark and comforting.
A dappled light peeks through shabby, torn banana leaves. Friendly banana trees speak to him. Close around him on the hard red earth, they look like tramps in tattered clothes, chatting in a market square.
Arms full of bananas, like fingers on a hand, reach down to him. Shake my hand they seem to say. “Shake my hand and take a hand, a banana hand for ACE today. Take a few while on your way, we know you have to go but would so love it if you’d stay, so stay awhile and play”. With his eveready, eversharp knife he cuts an arm with many hands and puts it in his bag. They are banana-figs, much prized for flavour. They are smaller and sweeter than the normal banana and fetch a better price.
700 Soon to Come
“Da la, lo la, dala lum.
Beating music to my drum.
A symphony in motion man.
Seven hundred soon will come.
Flip, flap, slide, and slap.
Get the monkey off my back”.
“The Canadian with the skateboard, skating down Horse Hill. Seen him playing music with the headphones on. Cash in his ears. The newsmans gone away. Only the girl, Ella sleeping in the house. Safe to enter. The guys from Pittsburgh come last night, spending big time in the bar. Drink some rum with them tonight, help them off to a deep sleep, as into bedrooms I may creep: And if I steal into the night, a shadow in the pale moonlight. Take a little they won’t miss. And give my magistrate a kiss.”
He turns the corner to the beach. Thirty people move along the shore with cameras, taking pictures in the morning light. They are not like sightseers, they angle up on rocks for fancy shots. Lying belly on the sand, they shoot along the water edge to catch the ripple of a dying wave. Cameras point at palm tree roots; tangled and twisted on each other like eels in a nest.
“Hey man, What Everyone Wearing Cameras for
Yeh!. All you learning to tek pictures, on location in Barbados. Man that is some smart holiday. You gonna keep some fine memories, have your holiday, make your postcards and learn picture taking from a pro. Great man, great holiday. Hey, I climb the coconut tree for your picture man. Cut some coconuts for you. Money! no problem man. Just give me what you want. $50 is plenty. I’ll roast some breadfruit, you can photograph that too. How much?. I do it for you man – no problem.”
”Humble crumble, got no shame. I know their nature, take my aim
Feed their need, to give not take. Save it for my magistrate.
Ain’t gonna steal, just got to take, a little for the magistrate
Da la, lo la, dala lum. Seven hundred soon will come”.
Mid Night Break
It is midnight, Ella wakes, gets sleepily out of bed and walks slowly to the bathroom. She thinks she sees a movement by the French doors and stops, looking through sleepy eyes. Across the sitting room she thinks she sees the French doors move. A shadow is crouched down in front of the doors, its back to her. It is gently closing the door from inside the house. Ella screams.
The shadow, does not turn, it flings the doors open and bolts out. Ella screams more. From where she is she can see the shadow. It is a tall slim man, wearing an oversize shirt, long shorts and no shoes. The shadow does not turn to her and she sees no face. The shadow jumps over the balcony and drops eight feet to the ground. It runs and vaults a five foot wire fence, still running on the hard and jagged coral rock it disappears from view into a gully and off into the hills. Ella calls the police. She does not know who it is but thinks it could be ACE.
No one sees ACE for a few days. He is conspicuous in absence. The village is a buzz with talk of who the thief might be.
“So ACE, you heard there was a burglar next door”, I tell him when he finally appears with a load of coconuts. “You know some think it might be you”.
“Not me man, the police know me. They know I don’t do it. Had my trouble in the past. People always saying ACE this and ACE that, truth is ACE walking straight on the cool and narrow. Man Oh man. What this place coming to. Well let me take your garbage out, need the car washed?. I do it for you man, before I fetch the breadfruit for Round House”.
“How you doing with the fine” I ask him the next day.
Going Dig the Ground and Pull Some Weed
“Man Oh Man”: he says, “I done get some lucky. Guy from Pittsburgh, give me four hundred straight. Don’t need we dollars where he gone. Gonna get the rest from some guys I know, for future services, plantation work. Horticulture man!!. ”
Dig the ground and pull up weed, plant some stuff that people need. I’ll have the cash by Judgement day. No one putting ACE away. Bathsheba is where I stay“.
The characters in this story are fictitious.
While aspects may be based on individuals,
most is speculation and imagination. Resemblance to any one character is accidental.
None of the events are necessarily true.
Source: Ian R. Clayton, Originally on Barbados.org