Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sista Bessie

Sista Bessie

© Hazel Campbell 2105

 ( This is exactly how the sister presented herself. She liked to laugh at her adventures.)

Jamaica has the most 'churches' per square mile of any country in the world. (Source: Guinness Book of World Records) Lots of churches. Lots of preacher men. Lots of followers, mostly women.
Sista Bessie was one of the followers. She was a card. A real joker card. If she got a lift to the crossroads after church, she would keep the passengers in the car laughing so much it was almost sinful. Mostly she talked about her exploits as a roving preacher woman. Her assigned role was 'street warrior'. She preached at crowded bus stops in the densely populated areas of the city, and woe be unto any lurking pickpockets hanging around. Her nose could smell them out like rats and if they gave her any lip, she would use her 'sword' to slap them. Her Bible-sword was large, thick and could give a good clout. A youth slapped by a Bible is hardly likely to carry out his plan to rob, sometimes at knifepoint. Her targets would slink away cursing (under their breaths). For Sister Bessie could call down fire and brimstone on them, she would plead the blood of Jesus against them and although many didn’t exactly know what that meant, it didn't sound like something they wanted to experience.
Regular commuters welcomed her presence and put up with her preaching and even humoured her by listening and nodding and murmuring amen and singing a chorus or two with her.
When the transvestites, who travelled in groups of four or five, exaggerating their eccentricities to annoy or disgust the people at the bus stops – when they saw Sista Bessie they tiptoed past on the other side of the road, hoping she wouldn’t get on their case, for her voice was loud and authoritative and self-righteous and shaming and always spoiled their fun.
And she was only five feet tall.

So, when a new hustler at the bus stop saw this tiny woman carrying the big bible, he ignored her. Nobody had warned him about Sista Bessie. Clive had no affiliations to any criminal group. He was just a disgruntled youth, out of work too long, and desperate to feel some money in his hands. He was passing Sista Bessie's bus stop and seeing the people, all of whom looked well fed and prosperous, a sudden wave of anger overtook him. He didn’t stop to lurk and stalk a victim. He just walked up to the nearest buxom woman and grabbed her purse.
The cries of "Tief! Thief" scattered the crowd except for a tiny woman who put out her foot and tripped Clive. He jumped up, pulled out his knife, flicked it and lunged at this audacious woman who held up a book to shield herself from his assault. The knife plunged into the book and Clive watched in shock as the blade broke off and fell to the ground leaving the handle in his hand. Only then did he see the words Holy Bible on the book Sista Bessie was still holding up. There wasn't even a scratch on it.
Clive threw away the purse. Clive fled. The people cheered while Sista Bessie did a kind of victory dance as she sang 'No weapons formed against me shall prosper. Halleluyah!'
There was a tent church near to where Clive lived. When the gospel music started that night, it seemed to pull him towards it. He crept into the meeting and sat in the semi-darkness in the back, which was empty. He hoped nobody would notice him. He didn't  know why he was there. He didn’t even see her until she was standing right before him singing and holding out her hand to lead him forward  - a tiny little lady not more than five feet tall. Sista Bessie was a regular visitor at the tent meetings on Sunday nights.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Valentine's Day Lunch

Valentine's Day Lunch  

©  Hazel Campbell 2015

If you are married or in a close relationship, you know the signs that someone  might be moving in on you. Suddenly he is cutting back on meals and wanting more vegetables and fruits in his diet. He is exercising 'for health reasons as he is not getting any younger' etc. He is paying more attention to what he wears – unmistakeable signs he wants to impress somebody.

That year, Valentine's Day would be on a Wednesday. Both of us had grown up in the pre-Valentine's Day outpouring of sentimental gifts and cards and outings. That was something they did in America. But it had started catching on in Jamaica, and the stores and media were trying to make a big thing out of it here.

On Sunday afternoon, as we usually did, he and I went over the coming week's activities. It was a ritual we both enjoyed, discussing meetings and strategy in our different occupations. He was in real estate and I in journalism. We bounced ideas off each other with usually very rewarding results.

Well, that Sunday, he mentioned that he had a lunch appointment with a woman from another agency on Wednesday. Something clicked in my thoughts when I remembered that Wednesday was Valentine's Day.

"You realize," I said, "that anybody seeing you having lunch with a woman on Valentine's Day will think you are a couple."

He gave me a slightly startled look, then sucked his teeth. "You know I am not into that pickney nonsense," he said. "You mean all over the city a man and a woman can't have a lunch appointment without stupid people ...... Jesus!" he exclaimed.

"I would change it," I advised him.

"Come on, darling," he purred. "You can't be serious. We're too old for that nonsense."

"You mean the fire burn out," I teased him.

"I soon show you," he teased back.

But I had been alerted.

On Wednesday morning, I asked, "Did you change your lunch date?"

He gave me his startled look. "It's not a date. And no, I didn't change it."

"You forgot it's Valentine's Day"

"You can't be serious!"

"I am. I better come with you to prevent gossip."

I knew him well enough to know that I thrown him the proverbial curved ball.

"I...I had to make reservations," he stammered. ..."It's at ..."  He mentioned the name of the restaurant.

"Oh, I can get a table for three instead of two. You know I have influence."

"You will be bored," he warned. "It's business. A new deal our agencies are planning."

"I am never bored hearing what you are up to." I smiled. "In any case, the food there is good. I'll be eating and watching the love birds at the other tables."

He left before me. I dressed very carefully that morning, a mixture of office wear with a blouse with a flirtatious look that I knew another woman would notice. I knew I had got it right when I reached the office and members of the secretarial pool exclaimed, "Valentine's date?"

"With my husband," I replied, with a smirk, just in case any gossip had already started. In a small society, you never know.

I left my car and took a taxi to the restaurant. It was, as I had expected, decorated with red hearts and cupids and other paraphernalia of sentimental lovey-dovey stuff. I was early. I went in and sat at the bar and ordered tonic water. I needed my head to be clear for this luncheon.

He came in with her, and I waved at them. The expression of surprise on her face told me he had not told her he was expecting me to be there. Coward!

"This is my wife, Melva," he said to her. "Melva, this is Carol from the Arakan Agency. As I told you, we are hammering out a business deal."

I smiled my sweetest smile. She barely managed to conceal her confusion and he was sweating.

This should be interesting, I thought.

We were shown to a table for three, which raised a few eyebrows. The restaurant was full of intimate tables for two. Even the waiter looked at us strangely.

"I pre-ordered." he said.

"I know," I replied. "I added my order. Drinks?"

I could see him trying to pretend that he didn't know what she wanted to drink. It was really quite funny. I had him by the balls and he knew it. I think he didn't believe that I would have carried out my threat to join them.

After a while, they began to pretend to be discussing some real estate issues. I took out a notebook in which I scribbled from time to time. From the curious glances at our table I could tell that there was speculation about whether we were ménage à trois. When I caught the couple at the next table looking at us, I winked at them and they hastily looked away.

Halfway through the meal, he asked."What are you scribbling?"

"Just some ideas for a story," I replied. "I'll tell you later." Later would be all mine, I knew.

They kept up the pretence of discussing business while the meal limped to a close, their food half eaten, their wine barely sipped. I kept up an encouraging commentary. "This is good! Isn't it?" When the dessert tray came around I ordered the gooeyest, red and white cake and ice cream concoction. Neither of them wanted dessert and sat uncomfortably making small talk while I enjoyed myself.

After he paid the bill, I threw my final cup of cold water on any simmering fires between them. "Darling," I said. "You'll have to drop me back at the office. I took a cab here."

I wondered if he would be barefaced enough to admit that he had picked her up.

"Something wrong with your car?"

"No," I simpered at him. "I just wanted to spend a little more time with you."

He wasn't fooled. He knew exactly what I was up to. He turned to her, "I'll go over those figures and get John to call you, Thanks for having lunch with us." I held on to him as we walked away.

She couldn't manage a smile. She also knew that their cover had been blown. I smiled in triumph as I imagined her annoyance at having to call a taxi. I wondered if he would try to explain away my presence and whether she would be placated. Somehow, I doubted it. I rather enjoy these games we have to play from time to time - better than kicking up a fuss and issuing threats and ultimatums.

Game over.