Baby Ras is dead now—murdered before he was in his nineteenth year. Ashby is destitute and mentally unbalanced, aimlessly walking the city’s streets where he has become a permanent fixture. Miraculously, Talker has managed to stay out of the Castries hellhole prison—built to accommodate eighty inmates, but which, until recently, housed over three hundred—for the past six years. He continues to live in New Village with a pretty, common-law wife, and their two children.
They were all children once; each with his own childish dreams interwoven with his parents’ expectations. They were once blissfully unaware of the knife-edge reality that lived just beyond their childish comprehension—until it violently reached out and seized them the instant they set foot in its dread, dark domain.
The street had always fascinated Ashby. Its compelling aura repeatedly seduced him into disregarding his adoptive parents’ warnings of the frightful dangers that lay thereon. Mister Kenneth Ashby and his wife, a store clerk and a school teacher, childless, and getting on in years, had adopted the boy whom everybody subsequently called Ashby, in his infancy. They provided him with shelter, food, clothing, education, and unconditional love; all the basic things they thought he needed to fulfill his role as a human being. Only one thing was lacking—companionship. Initially, the faithful presence of his parents satisfied the child’s yearning for interaction with other humans outside of the school environment. In his seventh or eighth year, the sights, sounds, colors and constant movement on the street just outside his parents’ house, coupled with what he perceived to be the unlimited freedom enjoyed by children his own age, produced rebellion in Ashby’s heart.
It was a quiet, secret rebellion. Whenever the boy’s parents left him home alone to attend to a weekend obligation, Ashby would take to the street. The rarity of those ‘home alone’ occasions, which always occurred during daytime and never lasted longer than two hours, made Ashby treasure each clandestine activity as if it were his last. The street was a wonderful revelation—a whole new world with different rules and language where friends such as Baby Ras and Talker waited. It was a place where adult restrictions and supervision did not exist, and where respect was earned through deeds that were frowned upon by a civilized society. In its exciting embrace, he and his newfound friends would keep a watchful eye for his parents’ return, and Ashby would be back at the house and radiating innocence long before their slow gait brought them within hailing distance of it. One day, his parents discovered his secret life and confronted him.
Baby Ras was trouble from the start. Loud, cantankerous, and ugly as a nightmare, he displayed early signs that he would never become a model citizen. Raised by his paternal grandmother, Miss Rosita, Baby Ras proved to be uncontrollable. The interventions of his truck-driver father, “Motor”, proved unhelpful in curbing the boy’s ruinous inclinations. No sooner did he get a beating for some transgression or the other, than he was already planning or engaging in more mischief that was sure to make his grandmother hold her head and howl like a demented banshee.
School life had very little influence on Baby Ras. He was, though, better behaved within the school environment, possibly because he had a healthier respect for the no-nonsense authority wielded by the teachers than for what existed at home. When he left the Canon Laurie Anglican Primary School for the Seventh Day Academy, a secondary school mainly for Seventh Day Adventists, he became enamored of the Rastafarian way of life within his first year of attendance. The rebellion against “Babylon,” the dreadlocks, the “dreading up” of “baldheads,” the ganja and the notion of being accountable to no one except Haille Selassie, the Rastafarians’ Ethiopian God, found immense favor with him.
Even before he got into form two, Baby Ras could no longer bear the restrictive atmosphere of school life. One day, he decided he had had enough of the classroom and quit school. The tearful entreaties of his grandmother failed to move him; not even threats of physical harm by his father were enough to sway him—he was adamant he was not returning to school and that was that. Consequently, Baby Ras was left to his own devices. He grew dreadlocks, started smoking marijuana, and indulged in the unmistakable ‘anti-system’, “back-to-Africa” rhetoric zealously promulgated by Rastafarians. One or two years later, the rumors started.
Talker’s parents did everything possible to protect him. His mother, in particular, tried her best to shield him from the “evil” influences of New Village’s “young criminals,” such as Arpato, with whom he was forbidden to associate. Determined to have his own way, Talker often ignored the admonitions of his parents, sure in the knowledge that retribution from them was as alien to his upbringing as was green cheese falling from Mars.
Like his friend, Baby Ras, Talker was not fond of school. His uncontrollable stammering often made him the butt of ridicule from his Canon Laurie Anglican Primary School classmates; as a result, he felt severely disadvantaged, and hardly participated in class discussions. The street was his refuge. On the street, nobody made fun of his impediment, he didn’t have to conform to any strict parental or school rules, and he could assert himself in whatever way his lively imagination found expression. And, of course, there was always the presence of kindred spirits Baby Ras, Ashby, and Pimpo to spice up the street and spur him on to greater excesses.
At fourteen or fifteen, Talker’s stint at the Canon Laurie Anglican Primary School ended. He had made two or three unsuccessful attempts to gain entry to one of the island’s secondary schools by taking the annual common entrance exam—a requirement mandated by the Ministry of Education. So with no formal qualifications, unskilled, and hindered by his speech defect, Talker gladly welcomed the additional freedom to continue the pursuit of his street education.
Author’s note: The preceding is an excerpt from the story Ashby, Baby Ras, and Talker from the novella New Village, now on Amazon kindle.