Authors: Anthony C. Winkler
Tags: #General Fiction
Barely conscious, I was awash in laughter, giggling, cries, whistles, and exclamations of astonishment and joy. Women squealed, reunited family members chattered, long-dead husbands and newly-dead wives hugged and kissed joyfully, and old mothers greeted their arriving grown children with noisy merrymaking. And all this public commotion broke over me in waves of sound as I wallowed ecstatically on the grass, shivering from the sweetness of a busted head.
Hopeton shoved between me and my attacker, who gaped down at me with bewilderment.
“Miss Daisy!” he bawled. “You lick down de wrong man again!”
“Sorry, sah!” she apologized to me, helping me regain my feet. “Me did think you was me husband.”
Reeling and groggy, I asked her if I was dreaming or if she’d really licked me down with a rockstone.
She looked embarrassed and said that she had indeed licked me down. She explained that she had mistaken me for her dirty, lowdown husband who, no sooner had she been buried last year, began carousing with nasty women all over St. Mary, and when the mangy dog got to heaven she was going to teach him to grind other women in her matrimonial bed while she is rotted in her grave like a respectable wife.
Hopeton grumbled at Miss Daisy about her habit of licking down strange men at the culvert of heaven, saying that it wasn’t her first offense and he was getting sick and tired of her assault on decently deceased people, and what kind of impression was-she making for heaven when the first thing a newly arrived soul felt was her rockstone cracking open his skull. The woman-growled that she had already said she was sorry and body could do no better. Then she scuttled back to her post at the mouth of the culvert where she could scan the souls who were periodically oozing out of it and puddling onto the grounds of heaven, her rockstone held menacingly aloft as she prepared to ambush the gallivanting husband.
“Mr. Baps!” Hopeton called at me to follow him.
I told him that I was coming and paused to take my first look at the land called heaven.
I beheld before my eyes a land whose every leaf, twig, and grass-blade glittered with a spanking shininess as if all the shimmering earth had just been carefully buffed. Throughout the grassy hillside were trees and shrubs and bushes that sparkled like Christmas ornaments, and all the land looked as new as a just unwrapped toy.
“Come, Mr. Baps!” Hopeton urged again, for I was standing dumbstruck by the scenic loveliness and savoring the coolness of the mountain breeze that swirled and fanned against my cheeks. Reluctantly I ambled after Hopeton along with other recently arrived souls who also gambolled down the rolling hillside chattering to their guides as excitedly as children at a birthday party.
“What a way dat rockstone lick sweet, Hopeton!” I marvelled, scampering to his side as we headed briskly toward the distant green valley.
Hopeton grunted. “Wait till a madman chop off you head with a machete! Now if you want something sweet, dat is
“You mean you have rampaging madman in heaven, too?”
He chuckled. “Mr. Baps, everything you have on earth we have up here, too. Only better.”
We were halfway down the slope leading to the valley when behind us we heard a hollow blow explode and a guide’s voice indignantly bellowing, “Woman! You lick down a Jehovah Witness!” followed by the now familiar apologetic mumble, “Sorry, sah. Me did think you was me stinking husband!”
We trekked through the bushland of heaven. Prickle raked at our bodies but drew no blood. The sun gleamed overhead, the land smelled robust and earthy, and my heart brimmed with an indescribable gladness. I kept scolding myself for having wasted forty-seven years of life on frowzy earth when all along I could have been revelling in heaven.
I kept repeating to myself, “Baps, you not really dead, dis is a dream!”
But then I would immediately answer myself, “Woe, Baps!
You well dead! Dis is no dream!”
I tried to make conversation with Hopeton as we glided through the bushland but he was intent on getting me to the registry station so he could return to Jamaica to fetch another soul. He mumbled hurriedly that he had at least two other souls due for pickup today, and that one of them was a politician from whom he anticipated difficulty.
As we followed the winding country path I noticed that I was acquiring solidity, that my belly was returning to its usual robustness, and that my complexion was once again regaining its rich dark fleshiness. I asked Hopeton what was happening and he said that I was experiencing heavenly clumping and regaining my solid form.
I lifted up my shirt to examine my body for signs of clumping. My belly was smooth and solid and a bushy patch of hair again sprouted in a thick row from my groin to my chest. But there was one thing peculiar that I immediately felt as I ran my hands over my front: I had no belly button.
“Where me belly button?” I asked Hopeton, who was leading us through a leafy grove.
“You don’t need dat in heaven,” he said over his shoulder.
I said, “Oh,” and put my hands into my pockets to see whether my hood was still made of duppy gas, and even as I groped I could feel with a thrill that my balls had once more been wholesomely clumped. “Merciful heavens be thanked!” I muttered.
My indoor parson bawled, “Baps, you dog! Don’t gloat over clumping of hood! Hood don’t business in heaven!”
We walked on through the dreamy loveliness of the countryside, my heart so strong and exultant that I bounded over rocks and roots like a frisky goat who had just gobbled down a wayside ganja bush. And as we walked I kept rejoicing that I was skipping through the bushland of heaven, while all around me sparkled the wondrous splendor of paradise.
Yet something bothered me, and as we walked down the shady woodland path I asked Hopeton, “Where de sheep?”
“What sheep?” he flung gruffly over his shoulder.
“How you mean, ‘What sheep?’ De sheep dat safely graze, of course!”
He said if I wanted sheep, I would get sheep, and I tried to explain to this former housebreaker that it wasn’t a question of what I wanted or didn’t want, but heaven without sheep was clearly out of order. “You need sheep, man, if you want a true heaven!”
No sooner had I spoken than I heard a tremulous, melodic baaing wafting from the underbrush.
“Listen!” I cried excitedly.
Hopeton pushed through the undergrowth into a spacious clearing, and on the fringes of the encircling woodlands I spotted a fluffy white sheep baaing sweeter than any barble dove. It wasn’t the nasal noise of earthly sheep that baaed with an American twang and made a man want to stew every one of them down into mutton broth, but a kind of birdlike cooing that made me feel to dance.
I was beginning to shake to the rhythm when a rockstone flew from behind a bush and clouted the warbling sheep on the head, licking it down onto the grass.
“Who lick down me sheep?” I bawled, rushing over to find a white man dressed in a business suit skulking behind a bush.
But before he could answer the sheep jumped to its feet, baaing as sweetly as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Hopeton broke into a broad grin at the sight of the white-man.
“Mr. Philosopher,” Hopeton teased, “you lick a sheep down.
You concede you alive and in heaven now?”
The white man sniffed and mumbled that he hadn’t meant to lick him down, for he knew the sheep didn’t exist, and that he didn’t exist, that nobody in this particular clearing existed— neither did the clearing, for that matter, nor the shrubs, trees, bushes, grass, and flowers—but his ears found no sound more gruesome than the baaing of sheep, even one that didn’t exist. When he heard the phantom baa he couldn’t control himself, he just felt to kill the ugly baaing bitch rather than put up with its noise in his ears, which, by the way, didn’t exist either.
All this the philosopher rambled in a listless monotone as he twiddled a twig between his fingers.
I was stunned. “You saying I, Taddeus Baps, who just dead and reach heaven, don’t exist?”
“Who is Taddeus Baps?” he wondered, peering up sluggishly at me.
“Me! Myself! I! Alive and up in heaven!”
“There is no Baps,” he said dispiritedly, cracking a twig between his fingers like the wishbone of a chicken.
“Dere is Baps!” I shrieked, feeling to kick the brute.
“Come, Mr. Baps.” Hopeton tugged at my sleeve. “We just need to climb dat hill and we reach. De politician get shot already and a doctor about to finish him off. I have to run.”
“There is no hill,” the white man mumbled. “There is no politician.”
We moved away, leaving him behind his bush. I asked Hopeton what a white foreigner was doing up here all by himself. Hopeton muttered that I shouldn’t get too vexed at the poor soul, for he used to be a famous American philosopher who had written books saying that upon death everyone evaporated into molecules, and now that he was dead he stubbornly refused to admit that he was wrong and in heaven, and all he did was roam through the bush awaiting his moment of evaporation.
As we climbed a sloping pasture and trudged toward a country shop sitting against a hillside, I sputtered angrily, unable to get over the nerve of the wretch, “De brute deserve evaporation! I can understand saying dere is no heaven! But to say dere is no Baps!”
It was a perfect country shop—in the sense a woman means when she calls a man a “perfect brute.”
Perched like a grass tit’s nest on the edge of the road, it boasted just the right mix of ramshackle, grime, and stink, and might have been glimpsed anywhere sagging pitchy-patchy against a hillside on earthly Jamaica.
We stepped onto the shaky wooden floor of the porch past a mauger dog who bared a dose of teeth at us as we skirted him and entered the smelly interior.
Inside, slouched behind the counter and squinting at a newspaper, was a big fatty woman whose frizzy head was bound with a calico wrap and speckled by a swarm of flies. She glanced up at our footsteps and beamed at Hopeton.
“You catch anodder one!” she roared boisterously, creasing the paper and laying it to one side as she prepared to transact official business.
“How you do, Miss B?” Hopeton greeted her courteously, adding with a nod that, yes, he was bringing in a newly dead Jamaican duppy for heavenly registration, but he was in a hurry and could she please look up the name “Taddeus Baps” in the official government book of arriving souls and sign a receipt crediting my delivery to his account.
Miss B plodded into the dingy back room and returned lugging a bulky ledger, which she opened on the counter and began scanning.
After scouring several pages, she stung me with a doubtful glance and muttered, “I have a ‘Daps,’ but no ‘Baps.’ Dis man not dead.”
“Kiss me backside!” I exploded indignantly. “I most certainly am dead! Nobody in dis shop is deader dan me!”
“You bring dis undead man to carry on bad in me peaceful shop, Hopeton?”
“I must carry on bad for I know dat I am well dead! So dead dat even me maid and garden boy pick bonus money outta me pocket dis very morning! And anytime employee bonus money flow outta me pocket into ole negar hand, it can only mean one thing: dat I am most definitely dead!”
A rind of silence intruded between us in the shop as we glared at each other. Hopeton scraped the creaky wooden floor with his shoe and mumbled, “Is true, Miss B. Dis is a man who would really dead before him pay bonus.”
I had a sudden suspicion. “What is de first name of de man-‘Daps’?”
Miss B sullenly turned the pages of the book and ran her fingers down the stack of names. “Taddeus Daps.”
“Of what address?”
She rattled off my address.
“Dat’s me! Dey misspell me name. Nobody live at dat address but me, Taddeus Baps. And nobody dead dere today but-me.”
She strained to read the floral script in which the name was written, turned the book and shoved it toward me on the counter for me to read that the “B” of my name was written to resemble a “D,” growling that a Rural Registration Officer certainly could not be held accountable for illegible government penmanship.
Seeing the misunderstanding on the verge of being cleared up, Hopeton hastily shook my hand and scampered out of the shop, saying that he had to run, for the dead politician had begun haunting Gordon House and the leader of the opposition was preparing a speech denouncing parliamentary duppy as the newest government dupe.
With that he scurried out the door, across the street, and into the hillside thicket.
I ran onto the porch and bawled after him, “But what am I supposed to do now?” to which he flung back over his shoulder, “Miss B will fix you up!” just before he skidded out of sight into the thick bush.
From inside the shop Miss B barked, “Come, Mr. Baps! Or Mr.-Daps! Or whatever you name! You have plenty paper to sign.”
I had to sign that I had arrived in heaven safely, that no injury had befallen me along the way, that my guide had been courteous and cooperative, that my passing had been altogether to my liking and that if it wasn’t, I would indemnify the Jamaican government from any liability in connection thereof and would file no lawsuit.
“Now, say dat dey hang me at Spanish Town gallows,” I put a case to Miss B, who had propped her unkempt belly roll against the counter as she pushed form after form under my nose, “how could I sign a paper saying I like dat passing?”
“Dey sign, though,” she rumbled like an old bus. “No matter if dey dead from ptomaine, rockstone, gunshot, or hanging.”
“Anybody ever refuse to sign?”
She nodded and said yes, there had been one man, a government surveyor from St. Mary, who had died while catching a grind from a young primary schoolteacher in the bush, and who had steadfastly refused to sign the paper, grumbling that to dead while riding a woman at the base of a breadfruit tree was not his idea of a satisfactory passing and he intended to hold higher-ups responsible for such shoddiness.
Finally the signing was done, or at least I thought it was, for Miss B began putting away the papers in a manila envelope.
“One final question,” she said gruffly, fumbling with a dogeared form. “You want to keep you hood?”