The weather had hastened the dusk to night, and the savannah was a pool of mud. Head bent and bare feet, Jorgee trudged across the field while trying to maintain his balance. It hurt in places where the boys had kicked him. He looked up briefly, but couldn’t see his house in the distance – the torrential rain, tears and lack of glasses blurred his vision. Jorgee’s clothes stuck to his body despite the plastic poncho his mother had made him. He hated wearing those things. The Jenson brothers said his long limbs stuck out from them like a scarecrow. His stomach growled and he thought about the bakes and cacoa with bay leaf and spice his mother, Pauline, had promised to make. He hoped it would be ready when he got home.
A flash illuminated the heavens and the deafening crash that followed made Jorgee yelp. He lost his footing and the grip on his schoolbag loosened. Sitting in the mud, cold and in pain, he wiped his eyes on the wet poncho with the crook of his elbows. He stood after a few attempts and stretched out his hands trying to get them clean as he walked. When Jorgee finally made it across the savannah, the poncho was torn, and his feet were aching. He struggled up the slippery path to his house, relying on the overgrown plants for support.
The house was in darkness. Calling out to his mother, Jorgee wearily climbed the five concrete steps that led to the front door. It was a wooden Dutch door, the type where the bottom half could remain shut, while the top half was open. He banged just as another flash of lightning lit the sky.
“Mammy!” The booming thunder rattled the wooden house. “Open de door!”
Rain pelted his body like little darts where the thin poncho didn’t cover. Jorgee looked back at the savannah. The large trees surrounding the flat land looked ominous. He banged furiously on the door, slowly realising that every knock was futile. Frustration swept over him as he dejectedly sank to the step. Where was his mother?
Jorgee heard his heartbeat like a loud, off beat drum. He contemplated going into the cellar but was afraid there might be rats or other crawling animals down there. He decided to brave the darkness and walk to the back of the house to the bedroom he shared with his mother. Maybe she had fallen asleep. It was unlike her to go out in the evenings. By that time, the torrential showers had ceased leaving in their wake a light rain. He held out his hands to keep his balance.
Once at the back, Jorgee climbed the few steps and pounded on the rear door. “Mammy?” Hearing no answer, he bent to look through the gap in the bottom part of the door. Usually, he could see the foot of his mother’s bed from that vantage point. Now, he saw nothing. She must have blocked it with a cloth.
Jorgee returned to the front and craned his neck to see if there was light in the neighbour’s house further up the hill. He wanted to go there but was afraid she might be a soukouyan like people said. He remained on the steps, gripped by uncertainty and fear.
Jorgee made up his mind to tell his mother about the Jenson brothers, her boss’ sons. She had been the Jensen’s housekeeper for as long as Jorgee could remember, and he didn’t want to cause any trouble, but the bullying was getting worse. Mrs. Jenson was an eye doctor and Mr. Jenson was an important man in government. Jorgee knew the boys bullied him because of his stupid name. If he had a father, nobody would tease him. As a matter of fact a father would have never named him Jorgee. Georgie Porgie pudding and pie. He hated the stupid rhyme, and he hated his stupid name.
Jorgee felt someone shaking him. His entire body ached and he fought to get air into his lungs. He opened his eyes slightly then shut them, fighting off the glare from a lamp.
“Jorgee.” It was his mother’s gentle voice.
“By dose block,” Jorgee wheezed. His congestion affected his speech. His chest heaved in discomfort, and he coughed uncontrollably.
His mother was sitting in a chair next to him wearing an oversized t-shirt, and dabbing his bruises with rubbing alcohol. Her head was tied in a forest green scarf, and there were creases of worry across her forehead. Her eyebrows furrowed, and instead of the twinkle in her brown eyes, he saw an expression of concern. The lamp cast a glow on her dark skin forcing the hollow of her cheeks to appear deeper. Her small mouth curved downward.
“You want some water?” She stood, thin yet strong.
Jorgee nodded. He was wearing a clean t-shirt, propped up against yellow pillows on his mother’s bed. The mattress he normally slept on was leaning against the wooden wall, away from the buckets that were catching errant raindrops from their rusty corrugated zinc roof. Mr. Jenson had promised to replace their roof and add a room for Jorgee, since the last election four years ago.
His mother handed him the water and felt his forehead with the back of her hand. Jorgee sipped a little from the plastic cup and gave it back to her.
“How – I – reach – ?” he asked in between coughs.
“You passed out on the step and I carried you inside,” Pauline said. “Here’s some pumpkin soup.”
Jorgee shook his head in protest but his mother insisted.
“Where were you and what happened to you?” She asked as she spoon-fed him.
He opened his mouth to speak, but tears rolled down his cheeks instead of words leaving his mouth. Pauline put the food on the nightstand and held Jorgee, and he felt her sternum pressing into his chest. As he struggled to breathe, she stroked his head, her hands calloused but comforting.
“We’ll talk about it after,” she said. “The ambulance coming to take us to the hospital.”
Not long after, Pauline covered Jorgee with a thick blanket. The paramedic carried him down the hill and across the savannah on his back, while she held a flashlight to guide them. The sky had already cleared.
A ward aid wheeled Jorgee to the Children’s Ward. It was dimly lit, painted light blue, smelling of medication and disinfectant. Most of the children were asleep. Jorgee’s grey metal cot was flanked by a tall green oxygen tank and a small metal table. On the opposite side of the room was a pretty Kalinago girl he had seen in the Emergency Room, while enduring three rounds of nebulizer. She was buried under a yellow sheet and only her long black hair was visible. A radio was playing somewhere and the nurses’ voices found their way to Jorgee’s ears. He already longed for the quiet of his home.
His mother was on her cell phone at the foot of his bed talking to Mr. Jenson, her boss, telling him that Jorgee had caught a pneumonia and she would be late for work. A fit of coughing overtook Jorgee, leaving him weak and breathless. A nurse hurried to his side and placed a small tube just under his nostrils.
“Some oxygen will make you will feel better, sweetie,” the nurse assured him as she checked her watch. Her complexion matched her eyes, same color as his favorite snack – dark chocolate. After she left, Pauline rubbed his forehead, between his brows to his hairline – up and down, up and down. He’d always liked how that felt.
“How you feeling now?”
“Sleepy.” He wheezed.
“You’ll feel better in a few days.”
Jorgee nodded and closed his eyes. The hum of the ward was loud. Machines. Voices. He asked his mother why she wasn’t at home when he got there.
“I didn’t see you coming, so I go and look for you. Now I need to know what happen.”
“Kalid ad Krisan beat be up. They take by shoes. Lose by glasses.”
He heard his mother gasp. She stopped rubbing. “Jenson children hit you? And they take back the shoes?”
He hadn’t known the shoes were hand-me-downs, but he wasn’t surprised.
“I pay plenty money for that glasses, Jorgee.”
“They always troubling be at school.”
“How comes you never tell me that?”
Jorgee sighed. He’d wanted to, but he didn’t want to cause problems between his mother and her employer. Another bout of cough racked him. His mother adjusted his pillows.
“You going to be twelve soon, you have to learn to defend yourself. And you mustn’t keep things from me.”
Jorgee nodded as tears dropped from his lids.
“I slaving for Jenson children and they abusing you like that?” She sucked her teeth. “I will let their father deal with them.”
“So what about by father?” Jorgee looked at his mother. “I want hib to deal with theb too.” Pauline inhaled deeply, as if it was her last breath. She looked away.
Jorgee thought about comments Kalid had made about their grandfather, Lawyer Jenson, being Jorgee’s father. He was aware of his uncanny resemblance to the man and wondered if this pleasant, generous lawyer was truly his father. This man, who always gifted him at birthdays and Christmas.
“We’ll talk about it another time. Try to sleep.” Pauline resumed the gentle massage of the space between his eyebrows.
On his fifth day at the hospital, Jorgee was talking to the Kalinago girl when Pauline walked in with Mr. Jenson. Jorgee’s stomach flipped. He couldn’t place whether it was the man’s imposing height, deep voice or piercing grey eyes that unsettled him. He made small talk with the nurses and stopped by several beds before motioning for Jorgee to join them.
“I see you’re feeling better, boy,” Mr. Jenson remarked.
“Good.” He asked a few more questions then brought up the fight. “Are you sure my boys attacked you?”
Jorgee looked at the floor, his heart hammering. “Yes, sir.”
“They said you’re lying.”
Jorgee wasn’t surprised. He shifted his gaze to the man’s face. “It-it was them, sir. They always troubling me.”
“You need to be careful with those accusations, boy. My sons are not troublemakers.”
Jorgee swallowed, hoping to untangle the knot forming in his throat. “It was them.”
“You also need to remember your mother works for me. I’m the one who feeds you. Understand?”
Nodding, Jorgee’s eyes found the floor.
Pauline interjected. “You need to tell the truth, Jorgee.”
“Mammy I not lying!”
“Lower your voice, boy.” Mr. Jenson admonished.
There was an awkward silence. Jorgee looked at his mother, soundlessly pleading with her to side with him.
Mr. Jenson spoke. “I hope you get well soon and we find who attacked you.” He lingered a while longer, then nodded at Pauline and walked away.
Both of them watched him leave. Pauline spoke to Jorgee. “You make me pass like a fool and it wasn’t those boys that hit you.”
“Why you believing them and you not believing me?”
“Because I never see them ill-treat you.”
“They fraid their father. In school, they different.”
“So nobody never report them, Jorgee? You hear the man talk about my job?”
Before Jorgee could reply, his twin friends, Brent and Slim, sauntered in with their mother, to visit. Physically, they were as different as cat and dog, but they both backed up Jorgee’s story.
Too quickly, Jorgee had to return to school. Pleading with his mother to change schools had gotten him nowhere. It was a sunny day and children were playing in the yard when he arrived. Jorgee sat on a bench near his class and was pulling a comic book out of his new bag when someone slapped his head. Dread descended upon him. Two voices erupted in laughter and he smiled with relief.
“Come let’s play football,” urged Brent, the bigger of the twins.
Jorgee, still feeling dispirited, declined, but they convinced him soon enough. He put the book into his new bag and joined them. They were still caught up in the game when the bell rang. Sweating, Jorgee dashed towards his classroom for his bag. It wasn’t on the bench. It wasn’t in the classroom.
He shuffled to the assembly area and took his place in the line, thinking about what his mother would say when he told her his bag was missing. A commotion disturbed his thoughts and Jorgee turned to see Kalid brush another boy to stand exactly behind him. Jorgee groaned inwardly and faced faced forward.
Not a minute had passed when warm breath tingled his neck. Kalid. He chanted in a low tone, so that only the people around them heard.
“Jorgee Porgie, cry-cry and poor
I’ll tell my father you careless for sure.
You lose de bag he buy for you
And see de state of de brand new shoe.”
Children snickered and tried to get a glimpse of Jorgee’s dusty shoes.
“Those shoes were too ugly for me so I gave them to Jorgee’s mother, our housekeeper.” Laughing, he pushed the back of Jorgee’s knees and Jorgee lurched forward causing a stir.
Jorgee’s eyes welled, but recalling his mother’s words to defend himself, he spun and lunged at Kalid. They rolled on the courtyard, long limbs entwined. Grabbing. Punching. Scratching. Grunting. Jorgee soon found himself warding off Krisan too. Students circled them in a frenzy, some screaming fearfully, some in excitement. “Fight! Fight!”
Later, in the principal’s office, Jorgee sat on the plastic chair next to his mother, his heart galloping like a frightened horse. His skin burned with scratches; his shirt was missing buttons; his collar was halfway torn; but he was proud.
The Jenson boys, equally disheveled, stood next to their father. Kalid sneered at him in contempt, his nose flaring.
Mr. David, the principal, sat behind his desk and gave a synopsis of what happened, then addressed the previous attack on Jorgee.
“This young man is accusing my sons falsely and I will not have it! My boys told me they do not know who is attacking Jorgee. And what is in a song? He lost his bag and even tried to destroy the new shoes we gave him.”
Jorgee heard his mother gasp. He hoped she didn’t believe those lies. Breathing heavily, he cried, “I wouldn’t destroy my shoes! And somebody take my bag!”
Mr. Jenson shook his head and addressed the principal. “This boy is a liar and that cannot be tolerated at this school. I demand an apology.”
Pauline and the principal objected at the same time. Mr. David raised his palm. He said, “to be fair, Mr. Jenson, other students saw your boys attacking Jorgee the other day and taunting him this morning. They are the ones who should be punished.”
“It wasn’t us, sir. It wasn’t us.” Kalid vehemently denied. His narrowed eyes darted aimlessly.
“It wasn’t us.” Krisan backed him up, sniffling with his head bowed and blowing on his knuckles to ease the sting of bruises.
Just then the janitor knocked the door. He held up a bag, soiled and sooty.
“That’s mine!” Jorgee exclaimed.
The janitor raised his chin at the Jenson brothers. “I saw these two throw it earlier, and I thought it was garbage.”
“It wasn’t us!” Kalid’s chest rose and fell. Krisan continued blowing his knuckles.
“I saw you, Jenson. Plain as day. Just before the bell rang. Plain as day.”
“It wasn’t – “
“The gardener was with me,” the janitor turned to the principal. “He saw them too. Should I get him, sir?”
Jorgee looked at the brothers. Their eyes were glued to the floor.
Mr. Jenson cleared his throat. “Boys?”
“Boys!” Mr. Jenson’s voice boomed across the office, his grey eyes blazing.
The floodgates opened. “Sorry.” Their voices shook and their heads remained bowed.
Mr. Jenson pointed at them. “Let this be my final warning to both of you!” In a softer tone he addressed Jorgee. “My apologies.”
Mr. David asked to speak with the Jensons privately, and Pauline and Jorgee exited the office, into bright sunshine. She said, “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you sooner. working on something Jorgee. Things will get better.”
When Jorgee got home that evening, he was about to shift the curtain to enter their bedroom, but retracted his hand when he heard voices. The man sounded like Mr. Jenson! He hardly came to their home. Jorgee stood still in their small living area, listening intently.
“Today is the last day you’ll treat us like dirt, Jenson. We deserve better.”
Mr. Jenson muttered something.
“I’m done with the secrecy, done with working for you.” Pauline’s voice was triumphant. Intrigued, Jorgee leaned on the partition that separated their bedroom and living room.
“You’ll be sorry.”
“Your father got me a new job and he’s my lawyer, so you will be sorry.” This piqued Jorgee’s curiosity even more.
“Yes the man you don’t like. The one you see when you look at Jorgee.”
“Why do you need a lawyer?”
“To take you to court for child support.”
Jenson scoffed. “W-w-where is all this coming from?”
“I’m sick and tired of your treatment, Jenson! You want to keep this a secret but I’m going to tell your wife.”
Jorgee jumped as a hand struck the partition, causing it to vibrate.
“No! No, Pauline, you cannot do that! You want to destroy me after all I’m doing for you?”
“Doing what? Making empty promises? The way you treat Jorgee hurts me. He deserve better! See what’s happening with the boys; they need to know the truth!”
Jorgee’s body froze but his heart accelerated. What truth?
“In time, Pauline. In time.”
“Eleven years is enough time. You need to admit that Jorgee is your son and accept responsibility as his father. Either that or we are going to court.”
Jorgee sank to the floor, his eyes wide and misty, and his heart exploding. This man, his father? These boys, his brothers?
“Noooooo!” He howled, pounding the partition.
Footsteps rushed towards the living room and the floorboards cried, as if feeling Jorgee’s pain.
“Jorgee.” Pauline reached out to him, circling his waist with her thin arms. “I’m sorry.”
Teary eyed, Jenson looked on.
“Noooo!” Jorgee brushed his mother aside and ran out the front door.