The quarrel

Quarrels were commonplace in New Village. They were even more so in crowded areas of the community where people lived cheek-by-jowl. Usually, a quarrel was conducted in Creole and lasted more than twenty minutes. Once the quarrel began, the goal was for one of the parties to achieve a kind of one-upmanship over the other by shocking or shaming her into silence through the revelation of some scandalous misdeed that had hitherto been a secret.

The quarrel had to have an audience for the objective to be fully met. The audience was the passersby or the neighbors in or outside their homes. Ordinarily, the neighbors didn’t gather while the quarrel lasted, but listened attentively even while they pretended to be minding their own business. The information gleaned from listening would be gleefully and shamelessly spread and used as a weapon against one or both parties to the quarrel when the occasion arose. And the victor would enjoy the dubious fame of being someone not to be trifled with but, rather, someone to have on your side because of her superior “knowledge” and the way she used it.

There was an art to this kind of scandal-mongering. Body language and facial expression were frequently used for added emphasis, and one had to know when to raise or lower one’s voice for maximum effect. Sometimes, rather than addressing each other, the parties would address the audience directly to solicit audience support for their cause. Sometimes, too, the quarrel would take the form of a court drama in which the parties to the quarrel would put questions to each other, and revelation upon shocking revelation would follow the questions.

The quarrel that was now in progress between two women living in the upper area of New Village had the hallmarks of a classic. Both in their thirties, their wooden houses were separated by a mere strip of land less than four feet wide. They had not been on speaking terms for three weeks over a trifling incident and, today, one had accused the other of depositing her urine of the night before between the two houses, making it impossible for her to remain indoors.

 

Author’s note: The preceding is an excerpt from the story, “The quarrel”, from the novella, “New Village”, now on Amazon kindle

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2 thoughts on “The quarrel”

  1. This almost sounds like a Greek drama, with the villagers and neighbors serving as the Chorus. That business of listening in and eavesdropping, while apparently paying no attention whatsoever, is a real art. I confess that I sometimes work at it in restaurants.

    1. It really is an art! Whether or not one is successful at it is not the point; the point is about the need to fill our human, non-physical needs: inquisitiveness, a juicy scandal, information on someone else – good or bad (whether or not it will ever be used), etc. All of us, in one way or another, “work at it”. It is so much a part of us that we do it sometimes without being aware that we’re actually doing it.

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