At the rear balcony of Annie’s house, Ryan sat on a turquoise, plastic string-weave rocking chair. Annie, stretched on a nearby recliner, propped her long legs on his lap. She wore a loose blouse
and hot pants. If he missed tonight’s prayers, it’d be the third consecutive Saturday he’d done so. No doubt cause for suspicion in the Society--where he lived with his spiritual brothers.
She emptied a glass of water. “There’s something I ought to tell you, but I dunno how you’ll take it.”
“And what’s that?”
“Err, do you know Fred?”
“Ah, forget it. Just asking.” She set the glass down. “Ok, well, he’s trying to hit on me.”
He realized she was trying to make him jealous. In response, he moved his fingertips up and down her smooth, chocolate shin. “I’m not surprised. You’re so pretty any man would want to be with you.”
Perhaps expecting a different reaction, she frowned. “What should I tell him?”
“I dunno what type of guy he is, but, if you love him, maybe you should let him know.”
She pouted in silence, then raked her dreadlocks and gave him a sharp look. “It’s obvious I’m fooling myself. You don’t love me.”
Smiling, he fiddled with her knee cap. “C’mon, have you lost your sense of humor? Of course I love you.”
She pinched the dense sinewy calve on his wrist, so lithe. “You need to work on your jokes.”
“I’m sorry, don’t bite my head off.”
She bit her lip, half smiling. “Next time I’ll shoot you if you dare pull such a prank on me. I just couldn’t imagine my life without you.”
Oh, boy! She just made things so difficult. How could he tell her the truth without hurting her? What he’d been painstakingly planning all week long to tell her–that all he wanted was to be
faithful in his vocation to celibacy.
“So, what are you planning to tell Fred?”
Annie blinked rapidly, something he’d seen her do over the years whenever elated. God, she was in love with him. “I already told him about us.”
A stab of guilt, mixed with a sense of pride, washed down his gut. “What did you say?”
“The truth—that we’ve been sweethearts from when we were… Come to think of it, how old were we then? Six?”
He swatted at an insect buzzing about his face. “Eeh, honestly, I can’t remember. Our parents became neighbors even before any of us were born.”
She weaved her locks into a single rope at the back of her neck. “Someone needs to write a book about us. I look forward to the day we’ll walk down the aisle.”
“I know…” He looked at his watch. “Oh, I got to go.”
“What the heck?” Her eyes went round. “It’s high time you choose between your fucking Society and me. Spare me the heartache. Does it make you happy to hurt my feelings?”
A corner of his mouth lifted, and absentmindedly, he continued cuddling her toes. “I know what’s happening here. It’s about Fred, yeah?”
“I’m just tired of your indecision.”
“Honestly, what am I supposed to do? Can’t just walk out of the Society like that. Gimme time.”
She ran a finger over a vein that’d popped out her lean neck. "You've been saying that for three years."
“Can we talk about this tomorrow? I’ll come over after church. Right now I got to go.” He again looked at his watch. “Prayers start in an hour.”
“If you love me, stay the night.” She lowered her feet and leaned forward. “I don’t understand. Why don’t you tell your spiritual director the truth—we’re dating?”
Ryan hung his head. “It’s not that easy.”
She ran a hand over his upper arm--she always liked stroking his bulging biceps. “Sorry for my tone, but really, we need to talk about this. Your spiritual director knows better—one doesn’t have to
be celibate to serve God.”
He wiped his face and folded his arms across his chest. “Of course.”
“It’s not a sin to fall in love. Tell Mark the truth, he’ll understand.”
They were both quiet for a while. Then he dropped back in the chair and twisted his beard. “You’re right. I also don’t like the double life I’m living, but—”
“You’re afraid to disappoint Mark.”
Good lord! Yes, he was afraid to disappoint someone—not his spiritual director, but her. God help him. He just couldn’t bring himself to tell her the truth.
Angela, the maidservant, showed up with a tray of teacups in one hand and a kettle in another. She set the tea things down, but before she could pour, Annie raised a hand. “It’s okay, I got this.”
Angela left. As Annie decanted two cups of tea, she said, “Come out clean and tell Mark about me.”
At the nudge to his conscience, he sighed. “Lemme sleep over it.”
She just wasn’t getting the cue. Was she? Could the occasional moments of weakness when they’d kissed be called engagement? Granted, they’d had sex, probably twice or thrice, a couple years ago.
But that had been just... childhood infatuation. A nightingale, pursued by another, swooped past her head. She flinched, screamed, then laughed. A distant dog’s bark—most likely from Justin’s
compound, floated in with the evening’s cool breeze.
Martha shouted from the kitchen. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” Annie shouted back.
“You scared your mother,” said Ryan.
She passed him a cup of tea. “I don’t see why we should wait any longer to be married. I feel like I’m forcing you into this.”
Damn! An hour to prayer time. Of course, you’re forcing me.
He held the cup to his mouth. “No, you’re not forcing me.”
Suddenly, she started coughing. He patted her back. "Whoa! Easy. You okay?"
“Oh, no. He’s at it again,” she said, gasping for breath.
Ryan finally caught a whiff of the familiar pungent smell coming from Ken’s window. “They say it calms the nerves.”
She frowned. “I just don’t know how to help him. Sadly, he sees nothing wrong with pot.”
He again patted her back to ease her coughing. “Give him time. He’ll come round.”
She stomped into the house, her rapid steps echoing behind her. Ryan followed her to her brother's bedroom and snatched the dope from Ken's hands.
Jaw clenched, Ken turned on him. “What’s wrong wid yuh?”
“I’ll call police on you.” Annie stepped between them.
Ken pulled another blunt from his pocket and held it between his lips. In a slow and bouncy gait, he walked out.
“I’ll check on him,” said Ryan, and he followed Ken outside.
The leaves scud over the ground and took small flights into the air by each step Ryan made towards Ken. Yet, he thought not of Ken but Annie. The same thoughts rose to defend his actions. Annie was
just a friend, and this didn’t taint his calling to celibacy in any way. But still, it bothered him. She didn’t see him as a mere friend but a fiancée and he’d not the nerve to put things straight
when she gave him a chance, a few minutes ago. Leaving him feeling cowardly. Indecisive. Spineless. Guilt churned inside his chest and stung his brain with a razor-sharp pain. Should he go back and
tell her the truth and deal with the consequences later? He stopped, but the hissing sound Ken produced as he sucked in the cold air while holding the blazing weed between his teeth roused
Ryan from his stupor. He stood next to Ken and remained silent for a while.
Finally, he asked. “Why torment those who love you?”
Ken exhaled a puff of smoke into the air. “When did yuh git here?”
“I’ve been standing next to you for the last two minutes,” said Ryan.
Ken rubbed his eyes. “Mi didn’t see yuh.”
They laughed it off, but Ryan understood how seriously his pal needed help with his addiction.
“Man, dope ain’t good. It’s dangerous and its effects last for years,” said Ryan.
Ken shook his head and brushed a stray dreadlock off his face. “Weh yuh ah seh, that’s a big lie hawked by the authorities so you don’t become wise. D’you know dem found weed in the grave of the
Wise King Solomon?” He chuckled. That drawl, coupled with his Jamaican accent whenever he was high on weed, always made Ken fun to listen to. “Nuh romp wid mi, stop worrying ‘bout bhang en worry
for the legalized causes of cancer… dem cigarettes en processed foods you consume daily.”
“Okay, you win. So, how did it go with Gisela? You went out last Friday, right?”
He sat on the grass and motioned Ryan to do the same. “Damn her, dis gyaI a cheating pan mi wid ah boops.”
“Sorry, whaddya mean?”
“Gisela’s cheating on me with Olivia’s dad. Mi hate mi luv har suh much.”
Ryan pressed his shoulder. “Loving is the noblest thing to do and you can’t regret it. But how d’you know she’s cheating?”
Ken took a long puff of his joint and slowly hissed it out between clenched teeth. “Mi did si dem.”
“No ways. As in red-handed?”
“Yeh, inna club. We were seated pretty cool but when she saw Justin, she ran off to greet him and man, you should have seen how tight they hugged. Mi just walked aweh and left dem.”
“No, man. You don’t do that. What if they get drunk and behave silly?”
“Nuh, mi kno fi mi gyal. She can’t stoop that low.”
“Exactly, and I think you mistook her. Prolly she was just pleasantly surprised to meet Olivia’s dad.”
“Mi got no beef wid Olivia but her faada. Suh don’t worry, Mi know she likes yuh. Mi see how she luk at yuh whenever Gisela hap’n to come roun wid her.”
“You’re out of your mind. Stop smoking that thing.”
Ken exhaled a thin jet of smoke from both his nostrils. “But nuh bruk up fi mi sister’s heart. Annie loves you so much.”
Ryan’s brow creased. “Yeah, I know.”
Ken patted his shoulder. “Yuh beta move wid speed doah. There’s a new sheriff in town who’s got his eyes on her.”
“Fred. She told me about him.”
He lit another stick of bhang. “Wen a yuh quitting from the Society? At least now yuh nuh haffi depend pan dem fah anyting.”
“In the first place, I didn’t join the Society so my needs could be met. I did it for the love of God.”
“Mi kno, buh you can’t suppress legitimate feelings of love.”
“Unlike an animal, a man can subdue his lower passions and live in celibacy to serve God. This is not suppressing love.”
Ken twitched his head, and a dreadlock strayed to his eye. “Mi doubt a mon can live widout di longing to have sex fi di rest of his life.”
Ryan rubbed his hands together. “It’s getting cold out here, man. Anyway, celibacy is difficult for those who live by the flesh, but it’s the normal life for those who live in the spirit.”
“Eh betta to marry dan to risk falling inna temptation.”
“It’s even more pleasing to God to dedicate your entire life to serving him.”
Ken inhaled his last puff, then pinched the last splinter of dope between his fingers as he exhaled a thick cloud of smoke. “Mon shrink jah inna fi dem small brains. Bikaaz dem nuh undastan
bhang dem call wi sinners convinced dat a how jah sees wi.”
Ryan burst into laughter. “C’mon man, I n I not a Rasta man. I don’t understand nothing.”
“Y’know people see us smoking weed and label us sinners, convinced Jah sees us the same way.”
“But what has that to do with our discussion?”
“Yuh too hab fallen inna sed error by resisting legitimate yearnings of love God put in your heart.”
Ryan plucked a blade of grass and twirled it in his fingers. “How come it’s pleasing to God when people fast yet he’s the one who created the desire for food?”
Ken rummaged through his jacket and pulled out another splint of joint. “Fasting pleases God but starving doesn’t.” He lit a match and cupped his hands around the flame until he’d lit the dope.
Then, he exhaled curls of smoke into the air. “Yours ain’t a case of fasting but starving. Dem ahuu faas nuh drop out bikaaz jah sustains dem buh dem ahuu starve drop out bikaaz starving a
evil. Lowe yuhself tuh fall eena luv.”
“Man, just drop it, if we’re to have any serious conversation. I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“Those who fast don’t die because God sustains them but those who starve die, because starving is evil. Allow yourself to fall in love.”
Ryan remained silent for a while. Ken’s remark troubled him. What if it was true he was denying a fact of life that might haunt him in the future?
“Suh now dat yuh hellbent on living as a celibate, what’s your plan wid ma sister?”
Ryan took a deep sigh. “She knows I’m celibate.”
“Buh yuh giving her false hopes. Why? Doesn’t it badda you?”
“Yeah, it does bother me, but I’m not giving her false hopes. I genuinely like her.”
“Love or like?”
Ryan looked at his watch. “Damn, I’m already late for evening prayers. I got to go.”
When they came back into the house for Ryan to say goodbye, they found Annie and Martha at the table.
Annie came over to meet them. “This is the last warning. I’ll call cops on you.”
"Mi a duppy conqueror," Ken said. "Call the cops right now."
“God, who bewitched you? Can’t you see how you’re stressing mama?” Annie wiped her eyes with the back of her hands.
Ryan put a hand over her shoulder. “Sorry, I got to rush. I’m so… late.”
She peered in his eyes. “Stay for the night. Dinner’s ready.”
“Not today. I’ll come over tomorrow after church.”
She removed his hand from her shoulder and clicked. “Don’t bother. Goodnight”
Martha shouted from the dinner table, “You better hurry, otherwise those missionaries will kick you out.”
“C’mon mama.” Annie spun to her mother. “Must you?”
Ryan leaned in towards her. “Can I see you outside for a minute before I go?”
“No. We’re done.”
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