Friday nights are festive in Rockfort.
The street music in the distance can be heard from every corner of the neighbourhood. The music can begin from as early as 6PM each Friday and it doesn’t stop until earliest 6am the Saturday. As deafening as it may be, nobody ever complains because the music is jubilant and adds a pleasant ambiance to any Friday evening gathering.
Its tradition not to cook on a Friday and so the tiny, overheated corner food shops are swarmed by dozens of hungry clients who don’t form lines. Orders are yelled from the counter to the kitchen. The sounds of clanging pans, pot scrapping and sizzling hot oil is a sign that business is good. Once orders are complete, the clients push their way outside the food shop and desperately gasp for fresh air like fish out of sea. They carry home in their hands, white or blue plastic bags loaded with food boxes to be shared among their families. They must, however, cross the intersection at Base One, decorated with meters high sound systems which blast Dancehall music.
There are usually groups of young adult women sitting on verandas laughing, chit-chatting (most likely gossiping) and doing hair. They are preparing each other for the street party at Base One later in the night. On some of their hips there will be wailing babies hungry or annoyed at the young mothers’ nagging about the young fathers’ indolence and inability to win bread. This gathering will be dotted with the occasional bitter shouts of “little Girl! Come and sit down”. “Little boy you think me playing with yuu!?” and “Kevin! Mi say to come and wash up di plate dem!”
Some older women not far away will be finishing up the week’s laundry. They go squish squish, brush brush as they hand wash every last piece of clothing. They would sit very low, with thick thighs wide open. Their lady gardens would be covered by an item of clothing (like a shirt or something not yet washed) and you’d also find a large “washing pan” positioned between their legs filled with either whites or colours. Their wash time is seasoned with “hey heys”, “hoo hoos” “wooiies” and “no sahs” as they laugh while listening to the day’s gossip. If necessary, they will shout at a pikney –a child—who runs too close kicking up dirt and dust, “Hey boy! I washing my whites! Don’t come here so!” and the end of these utterances are naturally punctuated with the sucking of their teeth and the cutting of their eyes. If the pikney carries on then you’ll hear a thump, a scream and a final thud as the child would have been floored by a washing brush catapulted into his back.
Other mature women prefer to play bingo down at Big Yard; gambling to finance Saturday morning’s visit to the market. The bingo tokens are shaken in a bag made out of cloth that never gets old. The women age but the bingo bags don’t. Very loudly and clearly an overgrown woman will scream the numbers as she removes them from the bingo bag one by one.
“twenty-seven!” “Nineteen!” “Thirty-seven!” As she screams, the other women drop tokens—on their bingo cards—red money, clothes buttons, polished stones, corn seeds or whatever else they can find that no other lady would possess at that bingo sitting (they can be very creative). They would take turns commenting on the game, saying things like,
“bwoy mi salt!” Which means they have no luck and
“mi deh ova yah a sweat” which means they are one number away from winning but the lady reading aloud—somehow on purpose, though it’s a game of chance—is refusing to call that one number. Sometimes, the numbers are worn off and not easily read which causes misunderstandings like,
“number tw—! What numba dis yah? Oh.. Numba twenty-tw—” and before she finishes, two women would emphatically shout “Bingo!” Then loud chatter would ensue as they dispute whether the number was 2 or 22.
The Domino tables are choked by men in their 30s and up, who violently slam and slap dominos vying for the title of best player or reader of the game. The table shrieks each time it’s slapped and suffocates from the puffs of smoke that it is forced to absorb. These tables are well made because they seem to get sturdier despite the rough treatment they’ve withstood– over many years—from the stoned drunk men.
At the end of each round (maybe every 20 to 30 minutes) if you listen carefully you will hear men shaking and banging their hands on the table, you will hear the uproar of what seems like hundreds of men—protesting or celebrating a player’s victory—you will hear laughter and applause as the champion recounts how he crossed the Sahara, scaled Mount Everest and fought with crocodiles in the Amazon Rainforest in order to win this round and you will most definitely hear “man get off di table!” accentuated with a “Bombo-claaat!”
The screams of happy children playing in the street, are accompanied by constant dribbling, booms and thuds and deep heavy shouts of Goal! That would be the large assembly of school boys playing football on a dirt field or concrete court somewhere. It’s Friday and they are not ready to go home.
If its mango season, boys will sneak onto private property and fling large stones to the top of the highest trees aiming for the most prized mangoes which take refuge there. Nine times out of ten they are going to miss and you’ll hear branches and leaves breaking and falling along with undesired green mangoes on zinc rooftops. A disturbed old couple –If the boys are unlucky— will holler from their window, “leave our mangoes alone and get out of our yard!” However, they always are lucky enough to be chased away with big barking dogs and this gives the boys something to laugh about and exaggerate to their friends further up the road or the following week when they are passing the very same house.
This may all seem chaotic but it all comes together like sweet chorale music. The forty percent of inhabitants in Rockfort who might have hated this sweet chaos would come to miss it when the turf wars began. Turf wars and gang violence are marked by heavy deafening silence. At this time no one feels safe; there are no Friday night parties, no dominoes, no bingo, no football and kids hurry home from school as soon as 2:30. The town becomes a ghost town where only dogs and dawgs roam the streets.
You’ll most definitely hear Fireworks from time to time – only when the gangs meet—but no one dares take in the view. Once the fireworks are over the silence returns and it’s hard to decide which one you prefer—the silence or the fireworks?