To this day, no one can say with any reliable degree of accuracy exactly what started the fight. As far as anyone could tell, no prior history of rivalry or bad blood existed between Arthur and Georgenel that could have initiated the violent encounter. In fact, no one could even recall an exchange of words between the two to indicate or suggest that there was trouble brewing.
Georgenel lived with his mother and five sisters on a piece of land overlooking a short length of road badly in need of repair. He was a quiet boy, who I had never heard say anything in anger. Although he appeared unhurried in his speech and movement, he was not awkward. The single, most conspicuous thing about him was his size. Georgenel was powerfully built for his age, and his tree trunk legs, thickly muscled arms and small-barrel chest had an instantly sobering effect on some of the older boys who loved to pick on those they considered younger and weaker. Georgenel was, to use our local Creole, “manbwé.”
Arthur lived with his mother and siblings on one side of a long stretch of road that began near Mister Oliver’s house at its northern end, and went all the way up to Mister Montoute’s house where it came to an abrupt halt. He was a daredevil of a boy whose sense of adventure was hardly appreciated by New Village parents, and his nonchalant response to how they felt about him infuriated them all the more. He was always blamed for something or the other, whether or not he was guilty of it, and most mothers tried unsuccessfully to keep their sons away from him. To my brother Marquis, and I, Arthur was something of a local legend. Although he could sometimes be a bit of a bully, Arthur had a way of making you see things differently. He could, and most often did, turn situations on their head or, at the very least, produce a laugh with his interpretation of things.
It was Saturday morning and Marquis and me, like most of the other boys in the community, were looking forward to a full day of unreserved frolic. We were in a desperate hurry to complete our household chores; those included filling a huge metal tub, which sat on a wooden pallet just outside our house, with water from the only public standpipe in the community. We wolfed down our meager breakfast when we finished our last chore, and sped down a narrow, earthen track on bare, hardened feet to the street.
We were at Arthur’s house in a few minutes. Although it was only a little after nine, the heat was already unbearable, so Arthur, Marquis, and I sat in the shadow cast by Arthur’s home from where we had a commanding view of the street.
Midway through planning our activities for the rest of the day, Arthur suddenly looked up and motioned toward the street. Georgenel was approaching from the north, and he was already past Stanis’s parents’ house.
It was strange seeing Georgenel walking in this area. He was not known to stray too far from his mother’s house, and this was the first time we had seen him in this particular area. He looked neither to the right nor left as he advanced in his unhurried way, and appeared unaware that he was under observation although we were not too far away.
Arthur had grown uncharacteristically quiet, and his eyes had narrowed considerably. He had moved a little away from us and his usually animated face now looked like stone. Marquis tried to get him to rejoin us so we could complete our plans, but he merely held up his right hand for us to be quiet. Intuitively, I knew something was wrong. Something cold and primeval had insinuated itself in our midst, and the air had become charged with it. The laughing, carefree atmosphere of moments before was gone—replaced by a tense, alien hostility.
And still Georgenel advanced, unaware of the glare from a pair of unfriendly eyes directed at him. The dark side of human nature, with its age-old penchant for conflict and conquest, was violating the purity of the morning, and I felt powerless and saddened in the face of it. Looking at Arthur with his hard eyes fixed on Georgenel, I experienced a sense of loss—a loss that manifested itself in a yearning for what we should have been doing.
Taking his eyes off Georgenel for a brief moment, Arthur bent forward and picked up a piece of wood no longer than six inches from off the ground. Then he ducked beneath a wooden post nailed horizontally to two other wooden posts four or five feet apart in a straight line and which were securely stuck in the earth in a vertical position. When Arthur walked onto the road, Georgenel was less than twenty feet away. He crossed his arms over his chest and waited for Georgenel to reach him.
Marquis and I walked up to the outside edge of the road, and we, too, waited. The sun was hot on my face, making me squint against its glare. Our surroundings had assumed a surreal quality characterized by a deathly quiet like the proverbial calm before the storm. I felt like I was holding my breath and bracing for the impact of something unstoppable; something gathering speed and racing toward a prescient ending.