Chapter 1: Wata Momma
If one were traveling from New Amsterdam down the Berbice River, eventually on the eastern part, they would pass a small section called Ebini waterfront. Not far behind it, there was another place that for decades to come would be called Natchi after a branch of the National Service under the Burnham regime had been set up there. Despite it being the only port within several miles and housing the only school too, not many lived to the front. There was something there, said the people. Something that called out to you in the night and said, come.
PePe had lived at the waterfront for most of her adult life, moving there from North West after marrying Beardman as he had a small job with some landowners planting crops. They had given him a modest two bedroom home to live in and it was there that PePe would raise her three daughters. When it had just been the one child, PePe would have it tied securely to her bosom, or if the day’s work would require too much bending, she would have it wrapped around her back. Then, she’d head in to the back-dam where she would hoe, pick or plant, humming soft songs to calm both her and the itchy child strapped upon her. But before the first child met one year, Beardman cut the child’s nose and out came another. PePe, after ensuring the baby could be tied without injury, had tried balancing the two, but it wasn’t long before her belly again began to swell and she had to retreat indoors.
Beardman would come home now most afternoons, bowing as he entered so as to not hit his head against the doorframe and settle quietly next to her for a few minutes. Then, he would demand water, food, sex and PePe would go without hesitation, pouring out the dark river water into a cup, dishing out his food and settling beside him again. She would listen to his careless breathing and look at the way his dark face lit up when he talked about how much work he did today and how soon, they would be able to move out of this graveyard that had no one. Maybe, he said, they might even move to town. Yes, town, where you don’t even have space for yourself ’cause there’s so much people and so much things happening at once that you don’t even have the time to figure out what the word ‘boredom’ means.
PePe would set her sights on that, ignoring how no money ever seemed to reach her hand to save or how often she never saw his bending figure in her doorway. She’d try to shut down even the desire for the aches in her joints from the fields and the absence of the ache in her belly from him, satisfied that he would eventually come, eventually and everything would sort itself out.
The first time he took her to town, the first child was seven, the second six and the third had now learnt the art of walking. She walked with the three in tow, showing them how the fruits here were not necessarily on trees, but in boxes, pans and lying on sidewalks all bruised and battered. She’d watch with amazement, the reluctance of the average citizen to say hello and would tell the children not to fret, their ways are different from ours. She had never seen so many things in her life that she had wanted just for the sake of wanting and being different, but for once he had indulged rather than fretted so by the time they had travelled up back with the banana boat, PePe had too much things to fit into her small space.
He loved her, she knew, despite everything she knew he loved her and that was all that mattered, for a while at least. By the fourth and final child, PePe began to feel strange. She had long since loved these children because they were his, but now looking at them, she found them by and large to be merely obstructions in her way of life. She needed to hoe and weed and plant, but she could not take them for fear of upsetting the earth that had long belonged to her and him. Her life became an extension of theirs and she hated that when she thought of herself, she thought about what they would want from her. She would wake every morning, overseeing their baths while cooking, talking to them about what had happened the day before and letting loose one final smack for each of them as they ran past her to the school that stood within her eyesight. Then, she would retreat to the now empty bed where she would lie in silence until sleep took her, only to rise, cook and wait for the children. She’d feed them, play with them, be with them and then, she would return once again to the empty bed, sensing a hot figure beside her only when she had long forgotten about it.
By her first child’s fifteenth birthday, PePe had taken to drinking the Paiwari she had begun making to sell and Beardman with growing concern would attempt to hide the bottles from her. During one of her visits to the shop, PePe, deciding to head to the Jamoon tree close to the river heard something that day. It wasn’t a voice as much as it was a thought, but the thought seemed to have sprung from the river. Climbing up into the tree, PePe sat atop a limb and looked across the large expanse of black shimmering water and wondered how it would feel to go that far out. She could swim, but she had never been a good swimmer, so she had never ventured further out than the first pole erected at the stelling. Gathering the Jamoons into the bag she was carrying, PePe scuttled down from the tree and began heading to the stelling, popping a lone Jamoon into her mouth with every few steps.
Standing on the first step that led down to the water, PePe still popping Jamoons into her mouth, stared upwards to the horizon, looking at how the purple mixed with the red and yellow, watching at how beautiful the water looked in the distance. Could she reach that far? She wasn’t sure. She would sure try.
One Jamoon, two Jamoon, three Jamoon, four, PePe had never felt so sure of anything in her life. There were no voices that questioned what she was doing, nothing to make her realize that she was no longer shoveling Jamoons into her mouth but was now stroking. One stroke, two stroke, three, four five, while the Jamoons slowly sank sank to the bottom, while she, continuously stroking became ever slowed and sank, much slower, but sank all the same, long before she reached the horizon.
Close to a week later, a man on his way to church in Hariculi saw the bloated blue body floating behind his petteh. Later on, he would sit with his wife at the waterside and tell her of the blue woman he had seen with legs of vines and leaves. The wife would touch his forehead for fever before staring out at the water, willing herself to see.
Sometimes, PePe’s eldest child would walk to the stelling and sit, marveling at how wide, still and clear the water was, gazing ever so steadily at a figure too far away to identify properly, waving, her vined legs making one final flash into the water before disappearing beneath the surface.