author: Carl – Anthony Hines
Darren hustled quickly, his long strides echoing in the pre-dawn stillness. It had been a gratifying night out with his friends, and though high on the release at attending the very rare indulgence of a party, he was acutely aware of what it would mean to be discovered out of bed come sunrise.
He gingerly entered the old colonial era boarding house, a single storey clapboard structure with just enough concrete to make it habitable, crowned with a rusty prism of corrugated sheet zinc. Praying that the old wooden floor did not betray his return, he took tiptoeing skips down the corridor to the rooms he and Mama shared. He pressed first ear, then eyes to the keyhole before opening the door, ever so slowly lifting as he pushed to lessen the creak and twang of the old hinges. A particularly loud squeak just as the space was large enough to slide in made turned his blood to ice. For several heartbeats he held his position, not daring to look around. With a dull rushing exhale, convinced that he was undiscovered, he entered and swung the door to within an inch of closing, at last moment stilling the momentum as he carefully joined the jamb and door into their fitted seam and engaged the lock.
“Darren, why you won’t leave them loose gal and stop the bad living? You don’t think I getting tired of worrying ‘bout you?” the lamp by the couch, his bed of sorts, flicked on to reveal the comfortably appointed living room; casting shadows on the walls where his books, stacked on the dining table. The slight movement of recoil from the light brought his gaze to his mother, nightgown clad with a forbidding scowl. Crap.
“Mama, me’s a man now enuh, and is not like me a shame you, me don’t disrespect you, go a church wit’ you, all dem tings, and still you act like man cyaa go enjoy dem self?”
He hoped futilely that she would be derailed. Behind her large round bifocals, he saw her eyes and nose flare, then impossibly narrow. Why did he respond? He kicked himself mentally: he knew better than this. Stifling the sigh that was almost reflexive, he looked just left of her face, seeming to meet her gaze while really focused on a point just beyond her right shoulder. After a lengthy standoff, Darren’s defensive stance relaxed as she shrugged and lifted herself out of her perch. With a sigh and slow stretch she moved through the open door to his left that entered her bedroom.
Having shucked off his shoes, Darren threw himself into the couch. Burying his head into the overstuffed armrest that was his pillow, he closed eyes dry and scratchy from exhaustion.
“Oye fish, beg you move from mi gate deh!”
A greeting and admonition shouted at some distance away, from within the sweaty ranks of the men ambling down the street. A facial tic was all that indicated that he heard the jibe, and Pancho continued his conversation with Marie, not missing a beat. Her demeanour however had changed, muscles in her neck and shoulders coiling.
The group stopped several paces from the duo, and the speaker emerged, closing the distance with a self-confident bandy legged swagger. He planted a kiss on Marie’s neck before playfully rubbing a sweat soaked arm down the front of her blouse. She shrugged him off with an exaggerated grunt of disgust, to the catcalls of his mates who had resumed their progress. Laughing it off, he turned to Pancho and good-naturedly, if not too warmly, inclined his head in greeting.
“Evening Omar,” Pancho responded with an answering nod. “Marie, me going to go find my yard, tek care and layta.” With a wave of his long elegant fingers, he was off in a hip swinging strut up the street.
Omar curled his arm around Marie’s ample waist, and led her back into their tenement from behind, he inhaling the scent of her shampooed auburn hair; she glorying in his musk.
“Darren! Di rug dem want to wash, and you said you doing dem today. Come while the sun can dry dem!” There was a good deal of pleasure elicited by his pained groan of a response. She had only allowed him three hours of rest. He shed his shirt and jeans, and went to the clothes barrel behind her door to retrieve and shrug into oversized basketball shorts and a slim vest.
Barefooted, Darren walked into their dustbowl of a yard, rolled area rug hoisted on his shoulder. As he walked along the front fence, he heard the musical jangle of bracelets, and turned in time to see Pancho round the corner in full ‘gumption gait’ as Darren called it. A soft chuckle escaped at the thought, derailing the progress of the passing musing’s subject. Turning to the fence, Pancho’s plastered smile became a sneer.
“Morning Darren. What you find so funny in dis sun hot?” Darren looked up and then immediately away.
“Morning. I was just remembering something. Sorry.” He hung his head, wanting to retreat to the house, the backyard, to anywhere. He remained rooted to the spot, and berated himself for uttering the apology, to him an admission of guilt.
Pancho peered down at the embarrassed youth from his considerable height. He was not a hard sight to get lost in: short and stocky, his muscular arms roped with pulsing veins, and a wide torso that tapered to a narrow waist; all supported by legs and calves of defined, almost hairless black marble. He loosed a feral smile, before schooling his face into a more pleasant expression.
“Look up man, you’s big man now, no reason to hang head, and no reason to feel no way for that.”
Slowly Darren lifted his head, to meet his scrutiny, taken aback by the warmth of the response and of the smile he saw.
“Darren, di rug not going get clean resting on your shoulder boy!” Mama’s voice sounded from the veranda a few steps away. Self-consciously, Darren jumped back and turned to her, to find her narrowed eyes which were trained on Pancho.
“Morning Miss G!” Pancho hailed in a modulated, sweet falsetto. He saw her barely repressed recoil as she greeted him coolly with a wave, before retreating into the corridor. It stung, but ever quick to recover from such daily exchanges, Pancho rounded back on Darren.
“Go do what you Mama say sir; soon midday.” And with a chiming wave of bangled wrist he sauntered away, easing back into his power stride.
Mama observed from the cover of her vantage point as her son watched Pancho leave, surprised to look at his face and see…longing? No, it must be the heat, and blinking she looked and saw the grit teeth scowl that was his work face, and shoved the silly notion of there being any other expression.
Darren mercilessly whacked the area rug, each muffled “thwack” of the beater sending grey dust eddying in little whirlwinds. He was covered in it and inhaling ragged breaths through his mouth when his mother came silently around the house with the hose and bucket. She passed between him and the suspended rug, and placed them on the small square of asphalted ground where the scrubbing would take place, then just as silently returned to the front.
She had begun to feel the niggling of guilt as she saw him haul the almost threadbare piece of flooring to the ground and, hose screwed and pipe on, began to soak it for lathering. I should have let him sleep in, she thought to herself, wishing she had the courage to apologise for insistently treating him like an errant child. As she squinted at the sun baked grimace of a boy wresting with manual labour, she lovingly noted how the line of his jaw and set of his forehead reminded her so much of his father. With a heavy sigh, she returned to the kitchen.
“It is completely unfair that he should be so free, so, so…so damn comfortable!” Darren fumed as he scrubbed at a gravy stain, venting in an intense whisper.
Several minutes later, grudgingly succumbing to fatigue and hunger he headed for the shade of the large Ackee tree in the centre of the yard. The only respite in the hot, dusty and pebble filled space, the tree was the hub of all outdoor activity. He settled onto a cardboard topped juice crate, tilting a mason jar of ice cold water to his lips and enjoying its unimpeded flow down his throat as he guzzled. Nicholas, the seven year old son of the family who shared their tenement stared at him, transfixed. It was a gaze brimming with the stark innocence of youth, and Darren, discovering his audience, found himself very unnerved at being its recipient.
“What you want Nick? Where you mummy?”
The little boy grinned warmly, shook his head vigorously and ran off to another quadrant of the yard. Behind and some distance off, Marisa, the child’s mother had watched the exchange, a slow smile playing across her features. Her gaze lingered on the bits of Darren’s torso unprotected by the cotton vest, a tingling heat uncoiling at her core.
“Are you sure about this?”
“It is the last party for the year Darren, don’t be a punk.” Omario said, admiring his handiwork over his canvas’ shoulder as he turned him to face his full length reflection.
“Yea…but… these are so…close.”
Darren gestured to the close fitting pants and sleeveless bejewelled pullover that currently left no part of his body’s contour to the imagination. He watched his friend’s reflection roll its eyes dismissively as he turned to retrieve some other complimentary article to the ensemble.
“Darren, you are a single sweet and considerate guy, who severely needs to get out there!” A dramatic flourish of purple as he brandished a cable knit cardigan. He rejected the piece and it joined the growing heap on the left of the wardrobe.
“I don’t know about all that, but I’m a content hermit. Do I have to come?”
Darren’s plea had been met with no response.
“Aha!” was the victory cry as Omario emerged from his task clutching a white shirt that looked made of Lycra and accented with stainless steel detailing and zippers.
In companionable and anticipatory silence they got into the waiting cab and, directions given, waited while ferried to Sunkist Planet: Apocalypse; the final event of the alternate lifestyle calendar.
As they disembarked at the dimly lit and well decorated venue, Darren became rigid with tension. Barely tamping down the urge to panic and flee, he resumed breathing when Omario squeezed his bicep reassuringly and offered a calming smile. Meeting and holding his gaze, Darren supplied his own shy mimicry of one. They presented their tickets and entered.
Darren was completely floored by the vista laid before him: couples of various assortments danced erotically; groping and gyrating in time to the steady thump of a playlist of bass driven mindless pop love-anthems. His eyes adjusted, he watched as others mingled, ate, drank, or holed up in dark spots passionately devouring each other. He was led to the bar, and after being presented briefly to the host, was plied with three shots of an almost phosphorescent green drink, which went down smoothly to settle as a tantalizing burn in the pit of his stomach.
“I’m going to go find the other guys D, you stay by here.” He nodded in agreement as Omario sashayed into the growing melee, hips swaying in his rhythmic confident gait.
“Darren? Wait deh…Darren?!”
An ominous clang of bangles and bracelets made him very slowly turn to face the source of the voice, and locating it, was rooted in position. Lithe arms flailing excitedly, Pancho made his way over to where Darren stood by the bar counter, towing – to his added horror – Marisa, who, on seeing him, shifted expression from giggling humour to a mask of absolute shock, then revulsion (or was that hurt? he briefly amended).
“Wow man Darren, if I did know…why you never say nutten boy?! Marisa, you did know?” oblivious to either party’s discomfiture Pancho ploughed on good naturedly, ordering drinks for himself and Marisa, who snapped up in time to refuse the offer and, claiming claustrophobia, retreated to just outside the venue.
“I still cyaa believe though Darren – a how long since you deh ‘bout?” Pancho, in typical animated fashion did a sweeping wave over all Darren’s features.
“I have always been gay Pancho, I also have always valued my privacy. I feel I have made a terrible mistake in coming here. I am very sorry.” Ever courteous, Darren excused himself, slowly being loosed of his sensibility as a walk became a shoving brisk march.
He felt the walls closing in; the artfully draped cloths menacing serpentine restrains coiling around his limbs and crushing his neck. Free of the enclosure, he broke into a flat out sprint, ignorant of and uncaring for the concerned glances that followed his pell-mell scurry down the steep mountain road.
He frenetically hailed the first bus that came, and jumping in, sat in the darkest corner of the vehicle. As they pulled away, his breaths slowed, and the drop in adrenaline reawakened him to his current state of dress. His clothes were still at Omario’s apartment. With great effort he managed to avoid panicking, and remembered his laundry, which should still be hanging and somewhat dry on the clotheslines in the backyard. Hopping off the still moving coaster, he stealthily made his way down his street, staying mostly in shadow.
Making it to his gate unnoticed, he bolted around the house and quickly donned a pair of his loosest denim shorts, hastily trading the top for a white slim vest. Calmed by the act, he retrieved a hamper from the shadowed foot of the Ackee tree and removed the rest of his laundry, folding them and filling the container. Aroused by the rustling in the yard, Miss G shifted her room curtain, surprised to see Darren diligently folding as he unpinned the pieces off the line.
He really is a good boy, she mused, before settling back into bed.
An hour later, awash in cold sweat and with no more reason to defer entering, Darren made his way down the corridor and opened his door, hamper resting on a hip. He gingerly engaged the lock, and fell hard onto the couch, where almost immediately he fell into deep troubled sleep.
Waking a little past sunrise, tense and awash in sweat, Darren rose with an urge more pressing than usual to empty his bladder. Not wanting to pass through his mother’s room to the toilet, he made his way instead outside, to find some corner or fence post to relieve himself. As a steady streamed poured from him, his head snapped around at the sound of fast approaching footfalls. It was Nicholas, running toward him, a beatific, unnerving expression on his sweat shined face. Without slowing he ran right into Darren’s thigh, gripping it with arms and legs, narrowly avoiding the still spouting stream.
“Get down Nick, go back inside. Where you mummy?!” Darren stamped the imprisoned leg, to the gleeful shouts of an entertained Nicholas, delighted at the discovery of this new game. Darren’s pleas to be left alone and attempts to remove his fiercely clinging assaulter all met with failure as Nicholas hung on for all he was worth.
Hearing the subdued rustling of activity just outside her window, Marisa started awake, and felt the cool spot on the bed where her son usually lay. She moved her curtain aside to investigate the source of the disturbance and shot out of bed, unhinged.
“Leave him alone, nasty pervert, move fish and leave mi son alone!”
She descended upon the pair, and began to frantically pull at her child, eventually prising him from Darren’s leg to hold him tightly to her torso.
Finally relieved of his captor, it took a moment for the shouted words and the expression on Marisa’s face to truly permeate his thoughts… and to realise that persons, hearing the din had slowly emerged from their homes or peered through windows at the scene. Incredulity turned to panic when, as he faced her to rebut her accusations, he felt the cold sweep of air on the wet skin of his groin. In his preoccupation with the tussle he could not really have…forgot? His face drained of all blood at the full extent of what the scenario presented. He only had seconds before one shout then another erupted, and then the clang of missiles being launched spurred him to flight, speech deserting him, and indeed purposeless at this point.
Babbling incoherently, zipper still undone, Darren sprinted past a bewildered Pancho, who staggered slowly up the street. The mob rounded the corner just as he was about to call to the fleeing man, and he stood rooted as the throng advanced on and then past him, parting and reassembling as they chased their quarry. Bringing up the rear was a livid Marisa, son in hand, his face set in wide eyed terror.
“Pancho, Hold Nicky for me, carry him to Marie and Omar tell them fi keep him, mi jus’ catch Darren a – him –“
Breathless with rage and exertion, she gave up all attempts to continue, shoved Nicholas into his arms and, lifting the skirts of her dusty nightgown jogged to catch the ranks of the mob. Pancho stood transfixed as the unit gained slowly on the lad.
Shock abating, Nicholas leaned into Pancho’s neck and his breathing settled. The boy had been exhausted by the ordeal and was falling asleep in his arms. Pancho opened the metal gate to Marie and Omar’s tenement, an unsettling dread forming a knot in his stomach.
 Bangled – from bangles, bracelets made of metal