Going Home to Teach- By Anthony C. Winkler
In Jamaica, nothing technical was every simple. There was a labyrinthine complexity to virtually every chore. One trail led to another. You started here and ended up there. Sometimes you wondered how you came here when all you had set out to do was to go there and get your radio fixed.
I began to glimpse with Oriental clarity that at the core of my native land, at its very heart, was not parliament, not the governor general, not a pale, dewlapped English Queen, not even the prime minister and his incessant homilies: but one indispensable little man planted by a mischievous providence in a farflung place and endowed with exactly the missing part you desperately needed. No matter where you started from or on what technical errand, sooner or later its successful outcome brought you pleading at the feet of this unlikely goblin.
You wanted your car fixed. It blew its horn every time you turned the steering wheel, and since you customarily travelled on serpentine roads, you were quickly becoming a laughing stock and neighbourhood nuisance. So you drove to Kingston and took the car to a shop. After keeping you waiting in the hot sun for a tiresome interval, the shop mechanic finally poked under its hood and reported that the car needed a certain part which was very scarce. But he knew where one could be had “down de road” and if you wanted to run and fetch it he could fix the problem in a minute.
In your innocence you are gulled by this story, so you get directions and set out “down de road” to find the shop that has the necessary part. Fifteen minutes later “down de road”, you learn from a clerk that the shop indeed has the part, but it is kept in a locked safe, and only the manager has the key. But he’s down de road at a bar having a drink, and if you’d only drive there and tell him what you want, he’d come and get it for you.
So you drive down de blasted road again and find the bar and poke your head through the smoky doorway of a dingy rum hole, where the barmaid points out the man you want sitting on a stool and drinking in a dirty corner.
He did have the part you needed, but unhappily he didn’t have on him the key to the room where the parts were stored, for he’s given his key ring to a boy and sent him down de road to fetch him a clean shirt from his closet- this morning he’d had a accident that made his clothes smell like an old oil drum. He didn’t know why the boy hadn’t gotten back yet, but if I was in a hurry, I could drive down de road to de house and tell the maid there to send the boy back with the key and I’d get the part I needed.
You set out for the house. But it turns out not to be just “down de road”, but up on the edge of a vertiginous cliff tethered to the earth by a winding and perilous marl trail which requires you to use first gear and hug the hillside as you crawl at a snail’s pace. To your left, the abyss yawns hungrily for you as you inch your way up the mountain; to your right, pulpy outcropping spurs of the cliff threaten to claw the paint off your car. You begin to wonder how you got here, what had started this whole quest, then you remember as you negotiate a torturous curve and your horn blares.
The maid appears in the doorway, looking dishevelled and breathless, and you glimpse the miscreant boy timidly peeping over her shoulder as you explain why you are here. A few minutes later the boy shyly appears on the veranda with his fly half-open and babbling nervously that he doesn’t have the key on him because he lent it to a man who lived “down de road” and who needed the pocket-knife attached to the keyring to take a nail out of the foot of a donkey. Rather than pry the knife off the ring and lend it to the man, the boy had given him the whole set of keys. But the man would be back in a moment, or if you were in a hurry, you could drive down de road and tell him to give you the keys and keep the pocket knife.
All right, then, where’s the man?
Down de road. About two chains down de road. Follow de road to the fork, go left, until you came to a house on de side of de road. The man was there. His name was Massah Ezekiah.
Come wid me, you tell the boy, but the maid appears menacingly on the veranda to say tartly dat de boy had unfinished work to do and couldn’t be gallivanting all over de place just now. She has fire in her eye and glares from you to the boy, who is quailing behind her in the doorway.
All right. You’ll go down de road again, even though by now you understand that down de road is never down de road but is either down de gully or up de mountain or through de swamp or around de bog but it is never, ever just down de road and finally this is beginning to dawn feverishly on you as your car lurches and sways and rattles down a rutted and stumpy goat path that could be called a road only in a moment of malarial delirium.
But you soon come to the only house by the side of de road, and its appearance is so exact and expected that your spirits soar and you finally feel that you’re getting someplace. A bad dog comes out to greet you, baring its teeth wickedly and snarling, so you remain in the car until a toothless woman comes clopping out of the house wearing ill-fitted slippers.
Yes, Massah Ezekiah was just here, but he has gone into de bush for a minute to do a thing. If you just followed dat footpath over dere, you’d soon find him down de road in a clearing.
Would you please hold de dog while I get Massah Ezekiah, you beg the woman, who exposes her naked gums in a ghastly smile and assures you that the dog won’t bite, him just love to show stranger him pretty teeth.
Nevertheless, you get a little fussy about it and insist and she reluctantly grabs de dog by the scruff of the neck and holds him while you clamber out of the car and set out to follow the trail into the bush.
So you follow de trail and it leads through a tropical jungle where the thicket snags you as you pass, macca bush pricks at your shoes and socks, and an occasional mongoose scurries across the path and burrows into the undergrowth.
Massah Ezekiah! You bawl forlornly, looking often over your shoulder to be sure that the Hound of the Baskervilles isn’t hurtling murderously after you.
Massah Ezekiah, sah!
Who dat call me?
Thank God! A voice.
Massah Ezekiah, sah!
Is me, sah, Massah Winkler. Missah Brown send me for him boy who have him key. But de boy say him lend you de key chain because it have a pocket-knife.
Oh you need de key?
Yes, sah. We need de key to buy a part to carry to me mechanic to fix me car so de horn won’t blow when me turn a corner.
Oh, is so it go? I see. Well, I soon done wid de donkey. Me just have to take this macca outta me donkey foot. See how de macca stick him inna de hoof. Me trying de dig it out wid de knife. Hold up, dere, Rupert! Stand still!
Oh, you donkey name Rupert?
Yes, sah. Him name dat ever de day him born. Me name all me animal dem. Just like Adam and Eve do inna de bible. Me soon done. Sit down in de shade and catch you breath, den we go back to de house.
Lawd, sah, me glad find you, for me ‘fraid of you bad dog.
Him bad for true. Him bite a man last month and nearly eat off him foot.
True, sah? But how come de woman say him don’t bite?
She just jealous cause him have teeth and she don’t have none. You never notice dat when a woman only have gum in her mouth she always love to keep dog dat have plenty teeth?
No, sah, me never notice dat.
But so it go, me son.
I see, sah.
You laugh, but this is no joke. So you sit in de shade near the man with de donkey in the bush, the one on whom all technical mercies in Jamaica depends, the indispensable one for whom all roads eventually lead, and you wait while he works at digging a macca stick out of Rupert’s hoof with the pocket-knife that is fastened to the bunch of keys that you need to get the part the mechanic wants to fix your horn so it won’t blow when you take a corner.