Winter 2012, #18



     by Jacqueline Bishop

Dear Sister Lorna,

You don’t know me, but I know you. At least I feel as if I know you. To me, you are good, honest and loving. You would have to be that way to spend thirty-five years of your life with one person. I heard he called you his queen and that in honor of that title you started to grow the locks that he loved seeing you in, the locks that are now mostly silver. Then you started wearing bright colored tams in such colors as red, green and gold. Rasta colours. I want you to know that I am a rastaman too. A rastaman who is on the lookout for a nice queen like you. I know it has not been that long since your man, I know they called him Pencil, passed. I followed his case closely in the newspaper. How Pencil died of an asthma attack after he was left untreated in the Kingston Public Hospital. How for days, then weeks, no one in your family knew what happened to Pencil because no one at that public hospital we have here had the sense or decency to know that perhaps it would be a good idea to contact his family. I read about how day after day then night after night you went out looking for him, your man of thirty-five years together; how you searched all over Kingston, all over Papine and Mona, thinking that perhaps Pencil had not gone to Kingston Public Hospital to get treated but to the University Hospital in Mona, which everyone knows is better. Sister Lorna, I followed your story as you appealed to the public for anyone who might know the whereabouts of your common law husband. That you didn’t have much but you could give a little money. I tell you sister Lorna, I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, a really bad feeling the first time I read your story because you really do not want to go missing in Jamaica these days, especially in Kingston or Spanish Town or Montego Bay, because that is usually the last anyone hears from you. So many mothers never even get the chance to bury their sons and daughters. Bodies never show up. People just go missing. We, as a people, have sunken mighty low, Sister Lorna, mighty low. But maybe you were one of the lucky ones because day after day the papers would report on you looking for Pencil and you never stopped until Pencil was found in one of the many morgues of the city. Those idiots at the hospital did not have the common decency to tell you that Pencil died. But when Pencil’s brother, the big time university professor from the United States went down to the Kingston Public Hospital and started speaking in that American accent and started talking about investigation and American lawyers, it was then that one of the doctors came out and looked at the flyer that you had and nodded and said, “Yes, this is the chap.” Pencil had died of an asthma attack close to three weeks earlier. That was when some idiot at the hospital told you that because of the constant killing in Kingston, the morgues were forced by the government to divide up the work among each other. If you died of gunshot wound, you went to Morgue X. Everybody hated Morgue X you found out, because they were doing so much business. If you died of a stab wound or were a child or very elderly you went to disgruntled Morgue Y, who felt they were not getting enough business and that gunshot deaths should be divided into two categories, those killed by the police and all others. They would be quite happy to take only the ones killed by the police, because, despite the public outcry that sometimes happened, the police only killed about 500 people per year, mostly young men from around West Kingston, and everybody know that those same young men are busy killing each other to the tune of about 1,700 murders per year. So if Morgue X just gave Morgue Y the police killings, then everybody would be happy and Morgue X would still be making more than everybody else because they got that much more bodies. As for poor Morgue Z they got all the “natural” deaths and have declared over and over again that if it wasn’t for accidents they would be long out of business. For how many people you knew who died of an asthma or heart attack or any kind of illness anymore? At one point they weren’t doing so badly with AIDS-related deaths, but the government with the aid of foreign people and organizations had stepped in and managed to stabilize the AIDS crisis to 1 - 1.5 percent of the population, and while still high, the number of AIDS-related deaths were now under control. So there was not that much money to be made there anymore. In any case everybody knew that only certain people, loose and dirty people, catch AIDS. So Morgue Z was for a further division of the death by gunfire into two camps, those by head wounds and all others. They were fully prepared to take all the others because most of the shootings were head wounds and Morgue X and Morgue Y could share those amongst each other. Well, as it turned out, Pencil was among the natural deaths and he was in Morgue Z. Sister Lorna, I read how you fell to the ground when the doctor confirmed that Pencil was indeed dead. That when you got to Morgue Z, you did not go up to look at Pencil, but rather you let your brother and Pencil’s brother go up to identify the body. I guess a part of you was hoping against hope that it would not be Pencil after all, because I heard you had been telling some of his close friends that Pencil had just taken off to go spend some time alone in the country, like he had been saying he wanted to do for a long time now, he was tired of all of the needless killing and violence in Kingston; even though you knew that Pencil was not the type of person who would just go away for days and weeks at a time without telling anyone where he was going. But perhaps, you kept telling his friends, Pencil had lost his mind and was walking around deranged, for just days before he died Pencil kept saying he could not make any sense of the Jamaica before him anymore. People just killing each other like it was nothing. Young people especially. You and Pencil lived all your life in what we now call a ‘garrison community’ and over the years you two had seen how things had declined in that community. There was a time, I heard that you and Pencil used to say, that people were fighting political warfare, the PNP were fighting the JLP, and you would go into each other’s community and fire shots and kill people. But after election day all the violence would end.  As stupid as it seemed to you and Pencil then, it now came to make more sense to you, than the gang warfare that was now taking over the island. For at least with political warfare people would come to expect something if their Member of Parliament got elected -- a bag of flour here or a pound of sugar there -- but with this gang warfare mothers were only left with the dead bodies of their sons to bury. You and Pencil could not believe that you could be longing for the 1980’s because that 1980 election had been particularly bloody. But here it was that boys that grew up with each other thought it alright to shoot and kill each other, over the simplest of things, which never happened in the 70’s and 80’s -- then people only killed outside of their community and would be killed if they killed in their own community. Plus, at least with politics people could tell themselves they were fighting to put some food on their table. Ah, Sister Lorna, this little note that I plan to write to you is turning out into one long letter. So after the body was found Sister Lorna, the body of your beloved Pencil, there was the whole business of preparing for the funeral. First you had to pay for the plot of land at Dovecot that cemetery everybody says is getting bigger and bigger every year. Sister Lorna, I hear that if you go out to Dovecot all ten or twelve funerals going on at once and some of the funerals come like party, with loud music and people dancing and carrying on and somebody selling food. Is like in Jamaica now funeral turn into celebration. I don’t go to Dovecot because, like I say, I am a rastaman at heart and rasta don’t mix up in dead business. Still this singing and dancing that going on at funeral, like funeral is some kind of party, is really too much for me. I am with the Pastor who I read about in the newspaper the other day who stopped the funeral of the ‘Area Leader’ and tell them all to cart out of his church with their indecent old naygah behaviour. Ragga Ragga dancing in church? They were to get out of his church with their singing and dancing and the clothes that more fit for nightclub and weddeh weddeh than in his church that is a holy place. That man was right on. But I know that you are a good woman and you would never let that happen to Pencil. The first thing you told a news reporter that came to interview you is that you had to decide on the funeral home that handled Pencil’s body. Depending on the funeral home you chose, that would decide what kind of funeral that Pencil would have. Naturally you weren’t going to go with Funeral Home A, because that was the home for politicians, celebrities and big time shottas. This was the home you go to if you want a glass casket drawn by a horse and buggy and if you had a lot of money. You also didn’t consider Funeral Home B who get some shottas, but usually these were the ones that didn’t have that much money. Still, with Funeral Home B you got a glass front casket and your body goes to the cemetery in a nice gold Lexus. Funeral Home B denies this, but they can also provide you with a whole bunch of dancehall queens to cry and carry on at your funeral. After that there are all sorts of other funeral homes for you to choose from, because, let’s face it Sister Lorna, the funeral business is one of the most thriving industries in all of Jamaica these days. In Kingston, Montego Bay and Spanish Town especially. The last time I pass my place and ended up at the Kingston Public Hospital I was surprised at the number of funeral homes around the hospital and all the people outside the hospital gate enquiring if I was looking for services for the dead. Oh my dear Sister Lorna, I just don’t know what is happening in this country that we call Jamaica. The Sunday Gleaner did carry a little part about Pencil’s funeral in a nice small Seventh Day Adventist Church, not far from where you lived, and I hear that even people from foreign came down to pay tributes to Pencil, for he did sound as though he was a good man and he could draw well and that is why people called him Pencil. I hear that after that Pencil was driven through the garrison community where he lived one last time, and Sister Lorna, I know it must have moved you to see all the people who came out to wave and sing and say goodbye to Pencil. Sister Lorna, I hear that they had to hold you up at Dovecot when they called for the last look on the body, before it went into the ground, that you didn’t want to go but then you found the strength ... yes, you found the strength Sister Lorna ... to say, unno all let me go ... I can stand up on my own two feet ... I have to fix something on Pencil’s lapel, because this is the last thing I will do for my Pencil. And you went over and you did fix the lapel and you stood there for a long time just looking down at Pencil. Since you were fifteen years old that man had been your life. That man would always bother you and throw pebbles after you to get your attention and tell you that when you flat iron your hair you look like Chiney. I hear that Pencil never talk to you for one whole year when you get pregnant for somebody else but when police kill your baby's father over foolishness, him take in you and your baby and raise the little girl like she was his own. Sister Lorna I hear you and Pencil use to play sometimes as if the two of you were children, people looking at you both and shaking their heads and saying, but look those two grown people behaving as if they was children. Well, Sister Lorna, when I done followed your story in the newspaper and on the radio, I say to myself, that Sister Lorna must be a good woman, and for years now I looking for one good woman. I know that it hasn’t been that long since Pencil died, Sister Lorna, but I couldn’t wait and I decide to write you this letter. I don’t know if you have any plans to see anybody and like I say it all a little bit early, but I putting in my word early Sister Lorna, because, believe me when I say, I am looking for a woman just like you.