The path soon started winding downwards at a steep incline and I followed the women stumbling on lose mud. We walked for bout ten or so minutes before they disappeared ahead of me as the bushes became thicker, I mean, I could not even hear they voices anymore. I hurried up trying to catch up to them when suddenly the trees gave way to a clearing and in the distance there was a river with a whole lot of women talking as they washed they clothes, hitting the rocks with the garments while others used small rocks as scrub brushes. I took me shoes off and waded into the crystal clear water its coolness sending a shiver through me. It was real rocky, water swirled round the smooth stones creating whirlpools round smaller rocks, I jumped from rock to rock slipping and sliding like crazy, the women did not see me coming they were too busy talking and tending to they laundry.
“De boy maga, maga for so,’ said one of the women as she tossed she clothes into the water the rocks stopping them from floating away. I jumped onto another rock, slipped and had to put me hands down to stop meself from falling. They all turned round at the same time with surprised expressions on they faces, man I tell you what, I felt like I had intruded and turned to walk away but stopped when one of them called me name.
“Mr. Dickens, you wanting sumting?” I turned round and looked at the woman, it was Alison’s aunt
“No thank you, I was walking and I saw some women coming this way so I followed.” She had a smile on she face making me feel a little more comfortable. The other women were all smiling too some of them were teenagers, but most were in they thirties.
“You wan help?’ One of the women asked and they all giggled, I looked round Alison’s aunt to the woman who spoke, she big brown eyes sparkled she white teeth gleamed, I smiled back.
“Why not?” I said and walked over to them, picked up a pair of jeans that sat between two medium sized stones and began hitting it against the rocks, man, I tell you what, them women was real surprised, I mean, they just stood there watching me, little did they know I used to do this with me Grandmother all the time. The minuit I got to she house she would be waiting for me with baskets of clothes that needed to be washed, we would go to the river and spent the greater part of the day laboring with the laundry. I stopped swinging the jeans and stood smiling back at them, yeah man, I showed them who they dealing with, I mean, I am not just some educated city boy. The woman that had asked me to help shook she head and went back to she own laundry, the rest of the women laughed and went back to their washing. I set the jeans down next to one of the pile of clothes as the women started to sing.
“Down by the river side, down by the riverside, down by the riverside” I remembered that song me grandmother used to sing it every time she was doing a chore. Further down the river there was a group of children playing, it was deeper down there because one of the boys was waist deep in the gently moving water. He was holding a crayfish in his hand and the younger children were looking at it too afraid they would be pinched. Up on the hill on the other side of the river, banana trees swayed in the slight breeze causing the big leaves to whistle like farmers on harvest day. A shirt escaped the rocks and floated towards the children, one of the women, she was bout me own age, skipped from rock to rock until she was able to retrieve the run away garment. She skipped back to the other women and we eyes locked for a second but she looked away with a shy smile on she face. I thought of Jane, man, I wished she was here because I knew I would be able to find a romantic spot round here for sure. The children had left the river and were disappearing into the bushes so I got up and walked past the women.
“It was nice helping you ladies,” I said as I walked away.
“Wha,” Said the woman that had asked me to help. “All Ah saw was you standing dere daydreaming while de rest of we work.” The women all laughed they voices echoing down the river valley. I smiled and waved being careful not to fall into the river, they were still whispering when I reached the banks, damn women, I bet them gossips were talking bout me.
I walked back to the house and into the backyard, there was a bench under a skinup tree so I sat in it and looked down into the valley, birds flew by, they wings flapping loudly as they went, a donkey brayed in the distance as it hauled bunches of bananas. I sat there thinking bout what had happened to me in the last three weeks, who would have thought that I would turn to an Obeah woman to help solve a problem, me Mr. Big shot teacherman, maybe I was searching for something, maybe I was not satisfied with who I was, who knows man, but I tell you what, I had to stick this out and if anything it will be a learned experience.
I heard laughter at the front of the house so I got up and went to see what was happening, two of the boys from the river were out there with three other children playing with marbles. They saw me standing there and immediately started whispering among themselves, then they stopped, looked over at me as if they wanted to say something. One of the bigger boys was pushing a little girl towards me, she was wearing a pair of shorts with patches on it she long hair tied back in a bun and she blue blouse hung loosely above she navel. She looked no more than seven year’s old, poor little thing walked over to me visibly afraid, she stopped in front of me she big brown eyes shifting from side to side.
“Mister, Sylvester want to know if you go play wid us?” she asked pointing to the tallest boy, I smiled at she and she turned and ran back to she little group, so I walked over to them and one of the boys handed me some of his marbles.
“You boys better watch out, I used to be the greatest marble player, schoolyard reigning champ.” The tallest boy smirked,
“Well lets go den, ole mon” he said rolling he marble towards the ring on the ground in front of us.
I spent the rest of the day playing with them children stopping only to eat, I mean, I felt rejuvenated, like a child again. They became more comfortable and with their comfort came wild arguments bout who was winning, or losing or any small reason to scream at each other. I did not see Alison or any of the adults for the rest of the day and that was fine with me because I did not want to worry bout what was in store for me that night.
The afternoon wore on and the children finally grew tired so we sat in the yard eating plumbs and mangoes until they parents began calling them they voices echoing through the valley causing dogs to bark, each child scampered to their feet and ran off. Soon I was alone watching the sun disappear behind the mountain, a Bob Marley song was playing loudly on a Hifi down the street, ever so often laughter and the sound of dominoes hitting a table disturbed the peace. I started thinking bout the woman in white, would she appear to me here, or would the chance of fighting with the Obeah spiritualists keep she away? I mean, despite me skepticism I felt safe here, that disturbed me a bit because in the back of me mind I still thought what I was doing was uneducated and counter-productive.
I was deep in thought when Alison walked up to me, the late afternoon sun had given way to the early evening and the moon hung over the peak of the hillside, Alison looked down at me,
You better get ready,” she said and turned and walked away, that girl puzzled me, all this time she spent trying to get me up here and now that I was here she rarely said a word to me. I went into the house and changed me clothes, it was a new suit, creamy white and starched stiff for so. The drummers had already begun playing the rhythmic beat came and went as the wind whipped through the valley.
I sat there for what seemed like forever thinking at first it was bout me mother and then bout Jane, man, I sure miss seeing she smile, feeling she fingers touch me face, I tell you what just thinking bout she made me relax. The chickens in the backyard clucked and flapped their wings as a dog went through the yard, the mutt was panting and growling, it sounded like he was just as afraid of the chickens as they were of him. The door to the bedroom opened and Alison walked in she was wearing a white dress as milky white as me own outfit.
“Come Mista Dickens,” she said and walked out of the room. We trekked up the hill and I was afraid as hell but at least this time I was more sure footed.