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Lergon Parris is an award-winning Jamaican writer

The night, with its darkness expertly lends itself to a man’s need for pensive solitude, a characteristic that in a Jamaican summer, drives the sun into a jealous display of scorching retaliation when the vengeful ball of fire holds subsequent dominion over the sky. If there was a time when Joseph Fisher needed this pensive solitude, it was this night as he walked along the static shore wrestling with his thoughts. It was an almost virgin and soundless walk, a perfection unreachable by the far-off man-made intrusions, leaving him alone with nature. But nature still exhibited a man-inspired behaviour as the extortion-minded waves repeatedly assaulted the sand for its loose contents, if any, and greedily lapped against the stationery rocks with slovenly tongues.

Where lesser men would have dulled their painful thoughts with ritualistic inebriation, Joseph did not, choosing instead to face his anger soberly. This discipline was strongly advised by his father Joseph Fisher Snr, though it was not so much advised, as condescendingly drilled into his very epistemology. Ironically, it was this and other utterances from the elder that prompted the need for pensive and solitary contemplation.

By profession, Joseph had followed in his father’s footsteps and was now a fledgeling police officer. This career choice, like the choice to face life with a glaring sobriety, and many other aspects of his being was in a seemingly ill-fated lunge at approval. Yet, Joseph, with all his exuberance towards this was always met with more malignant condescension. Take for instance the choice to face life sober. He had adopted his father’s suggestion, and flamboyantly so. This after all would preserve the sharp instincts needed to walk in the shoes of the celebrated and respected retired police officer. Sadly, like every other lunge, this was tossed aside and scoffed upon.

“You know what you lack, boy?” Joseph Snr. had said one evening as he sat staring at him from his armchair. “Discipline. You lack discipline. It is the trouble with you young people, I suppose. Too bad you did not start out in the military before becoming a police officer. That would have given you the discipline. Take Ed’s boy for instance, Stanley. Now there is a boy with discipline!”

Joseph involuntarily gritted his teeth against the memory, swearing wordlessly so as not to spoil the tranquillity. He found it condescending for his father to praise Stanley in that aspect, as the elder had never started his own career by serving in the military.

“You know what you lack, boy?” he had said one other evening from his armchair. “Athleticism. In the military, athletics are encouraged. Now, take Ed’s boy, Stanley. That boy, bless his heart can run for miles without getting shortness of breath. Now, that takes some conditioning, does it not? He dabbled in boxing while he was in the military, even has medals. You don’t even play a sport, do you, Son?”

Again, Joseph gritted his teeth against the memory. For was it not the same father, this critical, condescending, yet contradictory man that had always admonished him for ‘wasting his time’ playing football with his friends, vagabonds though they were? Is football not a highly physical sport?

But it was the utterance earlier that night that proverbially broke the camel’s back and sent Joseph on his walk. Sitting in his armchair after dinner, as the house was silent save for the methodical tick of the clock on the wall he faced, the old brute had the nerve to say this: “Now, Ed’s boy, Stanley. There’s a good lad! He seems to be getting awfully sweet with that girl up the road, Jenny. Everybody in town is talking about them getting married. Tell me, Son. Didn’t you have a thing for Jenny at some point?”

Then, the man had laughed – a rarity of course. Because the man only laughed when the laugh was to be weaponized as in this case, and Joseph, a victim of the weaponized snicker had slammed his fist against the table, bellowed something incoherently, and rushed out of the house slamming the door behind him.

Of course, he had pursued Jenny. Of course, she had turned him down. And, more importantly, of course the old man had known about it, rendering his question hurtfully rhetorical.

Yet, as overbearing as the old man was, some of his stabbing comments held catchments of useful advice. Because it was this aversion to inebriation that kept his senses sharp, and it was that sharpness of his senses that allowed his detective gaze to grab an opportunity, fleeting though it was, to arrest him to a rather macabre scene.

A fateful bolt of lightning tore through the sky, flickering like the dying hurrah of an exasperated flashlight. It revealed before the police officer a hooded figure, knife in hand standing over a motionless mound.

“Hey!” Joseph barked, uninhibited by shock, lending himself purely to training and honed instinct. “You there!”

The hooded figure snapped to attention, and like the police officer before him did not hesitate in any way. He simply erupted into a bout of running. Joseph gave chase, distance getting the better of the latter who seemingly calculated exponentially. Just like that, the murderer had escaped, and not choosing to dwell on the failure that this escape represented, Joseph returned to the motionless body.

After instinctively calling for backup with his phone, Joseph used the built-in flashlight of the device to inspect the body. It was that of Spongie, the local drunk, a staple of every small village such as his. Spongie was a harmless man, a man with harmless yet uncontrollable words when the liquor took hold of his lips. Everybody in the village knew not to take him seriously whenever he spoke. Yet, this mysterious hooded figure decided to inflict a stab wound to his abdomen. There was no way this person was a resident of the village, and Joseph based his entire investigation around this bias.

It always came as a shock to Joseph when he learns a person’s given name, as in his small fishing village, one usually spends his or her life denoted by an alias. In Spongie’s case, his real name was Terrence Tapper. News of his death was a kindle, and its flames rapidly spread, burning both truth and exaggeration into the gaping maws of each resident’s consciousness. This fire ignited the village long before the sun peeked over the horizon, then cast its inquisitive gaze upon the buzz of activity around the crime scene. Some of the police officers had their hands full protecting the sanctity of the crime scene as they formed barriers beyond the yellow tape, a further defence against unruly or even grief-stricken residents. Spongie had a family, and this was denoted by the mournful wailing of a robust woman and extra effort towards restraint by police officers. By this time, Joseph had given his report countless times – verbally of course. He had to retire to the police station to provide a written account of the incident, complete with a rather vague description of the murderer. After all, he did not see much of the person.

It was long after the morning evolved into a scorching day that he returned to his house to get some sleep. But of course, the news of Spongie’s death had reached the suckling ears of his father. And of course, those suckling ears were connected to a head, which was itself the host of condescending lips.

“So, you gave chase and did not catch the man who killed Spongie. Tell me, boy, why do you think that is? What could you have done differently?”

“Dad,” came Joseph’s exasperated reply. “It has been a long night and I am dog tired. I just want to get some sleep. Please.”

After a few long seconds of silence, Joseph’s father seemingly ignored the response and continued his lecture.

“I have spoken to you several times about your fitness,” he croaked. “Several times. Now, take Ed’s boy, Stanley. Bless his heart, that boy is a runner! Do you think Stanley would be standing here now unsuccessful in apprehending this murderer?”

“Stanley is not a police officer, Dad,” came the reply. “I am! It was dark! He ran very fast. Now, I’m really tired and-.”

“Bah!” came the old man’s reply accompanied by a dismissive wave of his wrinkled hand.

“Excuses, excuses, excuses. That is all you are made of. Then if you were so unfit, why did you not fire a warning shot? Don’t tell me you left the house last night without bringing your firearm.”

Joseph did not bring his gun, and his father knew it. The latter part of the comment was said with a mocking tone, and as his son, with a final sigh of exasperation walked off towards his room, he was chorused by mocking laughter – again, weaponized laughter.

The laughter was extremely effective, complimenting Joseph’s racing thoughts and preventing sleep, tired though he was.

Who on earth would want to kill Spongie? The man was harmless. Joseph needed to solve this crime, not only for the main reason of bringing the murderer to some semblance of justice and bringing relief to the shrieking woman, but to prove his worth to his condescending father. The man’s criticisms haunted him, taunted him at every turn. This resulted in a lack of confidence, with Josphe second-guessing himself at every turn.

For days, even with the more experienced detectives combing through every inch of the case, Joseph remained haunted by the question. It was personal, and Spongie might as well had been his own brother. For he needed to bring his father to shame. He was always talking about “Ed’s boy, Stanley. Ed’s boy, Stanley! ED’S BOY, STANLEY!” What was so perfect about him? Why did the old man admire him so much, and why was Joseph always seemingly insignificant when compared to the hallowed Stanley?

Many times, wrapped in his consuming thoughts Joseph found himself frantically pacing like Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. There were no leads. Everything pointed to somebody who was not a resident of the community, and Joseph needed to be the one to solve this case. He simply needed to. What did he know about the murderer? Surely being the first one at the scene should give him some advantage. He had shouted at the man. He had given chase to him, and yes, he was not successful in catching him due to…his…superior…

 _____________________________________________________________________________________

 

“Oh, please!” came Arthur’s trembling voice. “Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt my family. Please!”

“I came to you as a matter of honour,” Stanley’s voice was intimidating, dominant as was his body as he stood over the feeble man trembling before him. “Is that not something to be commended? Am I not a man of honour?”

“Y-yes, Stanley,” Arthur stuttered. “You are an amazing young man, and a man of honour. L-look, I-if you walk away now, we can forget about all of this and move on.”

“There is no moving on!” Stanley snapped. “I never leave a task incomplete. I was a disciplined soldier. Now, I’m going to ask you again, and I want you to remember that it is I, Stanley, MAN OF HONOUR, who is asking you. Arthur Noble, may I have your daughter’s hand in marriage?”

Arthur swallowed hard before responding.

“It…w-well, as I said, it is h-her choice. She has a mind of-.”

“She doesn’t know what she wants!” Stanley snapped. I asked her and she turned me down. Now, I am coming to you, as the man, as the father, and once I have your permission, then it supersedes anything she might say.”

Joseph would certainly not deny that it gave him a personal feeling of pleasure when he kicked in the door and realized that his theory, seemingly farfetched and motivated by his own bias was right. At first, Stanley’s stance was somewhat mocking, something akin to his own father’s condescending scowl. But when the other officers, Joseph’s back up, came in behind him, the celebrated ex-soldier’s disposition changed.

Stanley, Ed’s boy, Stanley, had murdered Spongie because the inebriated man had spouted some criticisms about his interest in Jenny. He had then, himself drowned in the embrace of liquor, found himself at Jenny’s place of work, where he asked for her hand. Furious with her answer, the man had stormed off, waited a few days, still fuelled by liquor, then confronted her father.

Perhaps it was fate, just like the lightning that had illuminated Spongie’s murder, which had led Joseph to his absurd hunch, and compelled him to act on it. Undoubtedly, the clearly deranged Stanley would have turned his attention back to Jenny after he had killed her father. But Joseph forced an inward smile at the ramifications of his actions. Arthur on the other hand was a mountain of gratitude. For it was not lost on the old man that they were lucky to escape.e

alive.

Lergon Parris' Winning Entry- Easter Short Story Competition, 2024

Immaculate Onyinye
was the winner of Ella's Poems Christmas 2023 short story writing competition. She's an English Language graduate from Jos Plateau state University, Nigeria.

My First Relationship

[Winning Story

By

Immaculate Onyinye

“Tawai”, the slap landed on my left cheek “isi na ishi ebe’’ my mother thundered. Eyes wide open, bloodshot, she was angry and ready to pounce on me if I made the wrong move.

 

“Mummy ndo”, I whimpered as I ran to seek refuge from my aunt. I wanted to cry but tears eluded me.

I was not sorry.

 

“They” said I had done something terrible - according to African parents- I was seen in a compromising position with a boy after school hours, when I should have been home, doing chores.

 

A neighbour who was a staff in my school, had seen me with him and ratted me out to my mother who in turn called her sister and they were on their way to this secluded place they heard I was, to catch me “red-handed”.

 

Unfortunately for them, I was already on my way home.

 

We met midway and my mother pounced on me almost immediately.

 

“Tawai, tawai, the resounding slaps rained, “who did I hear you were with and doing what eh?”

 

My aunt then dragged me by the hand, home to give me “the talk”, I presumed.

 

What would be new I thought, it was still going to be the usual “you -are -too -young- to -have -a -boyfriend or if -a -boy- touches -you, - you’ll- get- pregnant talk.”

 

I know this already.

 

I just wanted to get home so I could read the letter Emmanuel had slipped into my pocket when we parted.

 

While she talked, I drifted away in thoughts:

Would he be thinking about me right now?

If not, why does he have an already written letter waiting for me?

Was he missing me like I did?

 

Earlier:

Emmanuel and I were the only ones remaining in class. I pretended to be copying notes.

 

He came to me and asked why I had not gone home. He said it wasn’t safe for me to be in that classroom all by myself because street boys often came in there to smoke.

 

He offered to stay with me while I copied the note, in case…

 

And that was the beginning of the conversation. We talked and laughed about our other classmates and one conversation led to who liked who in class.

 

It was at that moment that I realized he, too, liked me like I like him. He begged me to be his girl.

 

After a show of coyness, I agreed. He asked us to consummate the relationship with a hug.

 

I reluctantly leaned forward and hugged him. He stole a peck almost immediately on my lips.

 

I liked it and I wanted more,so I shut my eyes like I see them do in the movies and let love do her wonders.

 

Did I kiss him right?

Maybe I should have rolled my tongue in his mouth like the way they do in the movies.

Wait, what if he is thinking right now that I don’t know how to kiss?

 

It was my first time kissing anyone. Even more, a boy I really liked.

 

What if…

 

Ouch! My aunt hit me, snapping me back to earth.

 

Finally, after the long talk, she told me to apologize to my mother.

 

I didn’t want to, but I had to. When an African aunt says you are wrong, then you are wrong.

 

****

Apologizing to my mother would mean conceding defeat. It would mean that whatever she says I do about this situation, I have to do it, and knowing my mother, she would want me to cut off all ties with any boy —at least for now—.

 

But I liked Emma, I liked him a lot and I wouldn’t want to stop seeing him. Especially not after that day. I had just agreed to be his girl that day and we sealed it with a kiss.

 

***************

Emmanuel was the first boy I ever liked.

 

We stole looks at each other in class, while the teacher taught. I’d always pretend I didn’t know he was looking at me when I talked with my friends.

 

During lunch breaks, he would go before me to the school shop and wait for me, while I pretentiously went to him in the guise of wanting to buy snacks.

 

After school, I would purposely delay in copying notes just so that every other person would go home leaving he and I behind.

 

 

I loved the way he smelt- like a sprinkle of cherries or was it strawberry…I can’t remember.

 

He was taller than I was, so my head sat perfectly on his chest when we hugged.

 

When he kissed me, I floated away. His lips, soft and wet. His breath minty. When his lips touched mine, I went into sublimity. He had the most succulent lips you can ever imagine.

 

 

This person I felt so deeply for had just asked me to be his girlfriend and I had agreed.

 

So how can I give all these up? Never!

 

I walked confidently to the kitchen, determined to explain to her that I was going to be careful not to fall pregnant out of wedlock and bring shame to the household, but I would not stop seeing him -if that was what she wanted.

 

Immediately I walked into the kitchen and saw my mother, I cowered, words failed me, my confidence draining away with the rice water I saw draining in the sink; fear gripped me.

 

I stood there for what felt like eternity before I was able to mutter the words “mummy, ndo”.

 

My mother dropped the bowl she was holding and turned to look at me.

 

Her eyes were red and swollen, she’d been crying. If there ever was a moment of remorse, I felt it then.

 

She said to me “thank you for what you are putting me through oh, but heaven knows that I’m trying. It’s been me, only me taking care of all of you and THIS is how you want to pay me back? Thank you. I have nothing to say to you “.

 

And that was how my first relationship started and ended that day.

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