It was the time of night when the sounds of life no longer could be heard in The Valley or beyond. Not many people would have slept through the tense expectation of those uncertain times but not many either would have dared to be caught outdoors after dark. Only the isolated blast of the stones crashing against the wooden table interrupted the loaded silence of the night, sending through the blind alleys of Stoney Ground a shrill soundtrack that grew louder with every slapping of the dominoes.
Is a dangerous game dat rat playin’ goin’ ’round talkin’ to people about we like dat, and the whack of the final stone reverberated in the forced stillness of the evening. Maybe he forget he house made ah wood, or he don’ know oder wooden houses burn before. It wasn’t the end of the game; it hadn’t even been a shrewd play, but the pause that ensued made it seem like the next move already belonged to a different chapter, to another life.
The words that had just been spoken cut through the fumes of the rum, crawled beneath the table, furled between four pairs of legs, rolled along the dust road and ran into the night as a thick cloud of fear and sand. One by one, they spiralled up the trees – the cedar trees, the neem trees, the flamboyant trees – of Stoney Ground road, pleaching their way to the tamarind tree that made corner with Albert Lake’s store. From there they spread to the farthest reaches of the island: eastward, through the narrow aisles at Proctor’s shop, onto the Long Path, overflowing both sides of the road, flooding the fields, waking the goats on their way to Sandy Hill; westwards, through the dense forest of Rey Hill, to the perfect flatness of Wallblake and over the subtle rise of George Hill, enveloping the low houses, filtering through the floorboards, seeping through the roofs, filling the spaces left opened by uneven planks of wood; northwards onto The Valley, seizing the old stone tower of St Mary’s Anglican church, climbing the branches of the centennial oak trees, lighting the gas lamps of the factory, the bakery, the Warden’s house.
Before the end of the night, the swarming presence of words ill-spoken ambushed the thin strip of land that is Sandy Ground: a dense, impenetrable mist approaching over the salt pond from the south; the same cloud closing in from the north, over a sea that was neither deep nor blue. Through window panes and thresholds, railings, nooks and hinges came the words that hidden eyes and ears had witnessed that night.
The break of dawn lingered.
The sun stood still, the sky remained dark and not a single soul in Anguilla stirred. Except for an ill-mouthed man bound by a twist of fate to open his shop slightly earlier than usual. On the parking lot before his storefront he found an old truck and a man more determined, more purposeful, than any rodent he had ever seen. We need to talk – but the shop-owner walked past him without setting eyes on his early visitor.
After I open my shop.
Dat can wait, and this time the intent in his interlocutor’s voice forced him to look: he held a shotgun by the receiver on his right hand and two rounds of shots on his left. One ah these have no name on it, yet – dat one for de man who dare bring fire anywhere near my house. The oder have your initials carved on it already. Eyes locked, lips quivered, drops of sweat ran down temples. Both men saw the dead of night reflected in each other’s pupils.
A dismissive wave of his left arm broke the stale-mate, while the shop-owner opened wide the doors of his business and sent his foe back to you wife and children. An’ don ever show you face ’roun’ here again.
I’ll do dat. But you better pray no fire find my house by accident, you know. For I never yet miss a target wit’ dis shotgun, yet.
Outside, the sun had risen as the men and women of the island got ready to face another day.
This piece was conceived in 2009 as a sketch for a longer section in The Night of the Rambler. It was first published in the WEEKender supplement of Sint Maarten’s The Daily Herald on July 30th 2011 and then appeared in the online magazine The Island Review on January 22nd 2014.