Stephenjohn Holgate
​Image by Redd from Unsplash                                                                                       
Stephenjohn Holgate was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica and moved to the UK when he was eight years old. After reading English Literature at Oxford University, he completed an MA in Classical Acting and worked as an actor for a number of years. He is a member of Writing West Midlands Room 204 development scheme and is one of the winners of the Bridport Prize's first Black Writer's Residency. He lives just outside of Birmingham and is currently tidying up some short stories and finishing a novel.
Delroy and the Boys

Boy, I laugh so til. Was supposed to just be a little show up at the hotel, nothing too
too serious. Cultural thing. Me, Bongo Barry, Tony and Earl. Wasn’t any problem for
me, my work down at the factory finish four o’clock sharp and that give me enough
time to go home, iron shirt and pants and pick up my guitar. Bongo don’t care either
because him just going to ride up the hill to the hotel with him old motorbike him use
to go beach and sell him merchandise, rumba box tie up on the back. Earl? Earl
dependable as long as you say the word rum. But Tony, Tony always in some kind of
trouble, usually with a married woman or two. So, the first thing is to find him.

I finish at the factory and cycle down to the house, set meself up and gone again
to Tony house. I figure it worth a shot, sometimes him surprise me and worse come to
the very worst we put Earl on banjo and don’t use no maracas tonight. The hotel boss
is a man named Utchinson and him rather you turn up and do a bad show than no
show. Him also pay quick and give regular work and in these hard times you can’t
overlook that. Him also have a piece of wife there. Father God, pure headache.
Morning, noon and twice a night time. Headache. Rumour was having it that Tony did
have thing with her one time, but she make it out of board house and into big house.
And although she reach up she keep looking down and no man with black skin safe.
Some people only looking away and never looking around.

When I reach out by Tony his mother sitting on the verandah singing Give Me Oil
in my lamp really sweet. I surprised that bird and beast not congregating round like in
one of them cartoon movie because is the nicest sound I hear all day. I don’t know why
Tony sound like S-90 engine that going to conk out anytime soon. I mean he in tune,
but it is not a smooth sound that this man produce. After I listen for a while I say, Miss
Joy, Tony about?

That worthless, good for nothing, johncrow? That disappointment? Him up at the
hotel. Or at least that him tell me. That boy bring more crosses into me life than I think
I can bear. And him never think about him mother yet. When I dead is then him going
to start worry about me and then it too late. Too late.

I know she ready to carry on with full force, so I make my excuses and tell her that
I meeting Tony up at the hotel. When Miss Joy realise that Tony telling the truth she
look even more upset, like she was getting ready for a real fight and now she going to
have to find something to vex with him about. I don’t stay to find out and I tear up the
hill so we can have a quick tune up and practice before we out in front of the tourists.
Just because them don’t know the difference between calypso and mento don’t mean
they don’t deserve the real thing.

The hotel, if you never see it yet, is one of those old estate style house with a few
cottages dotted about the place. You wouldn’t believe this bit was never a plantation,
unless you realise say it a little bit too close to the sea and there’s not that much good
farm land around it. These people not try to get nothing too real all the same, them
looking for a little escape. Them escaping here and a whole bunch of Jamaicans
looking to escape there. On the private road leading up to the hotel they have a little
hut with a lonely guard that sit there. If you come late at night the guy there usually
catching a quick sleep but as is early him looking wide awake and bored. One look at
me in bright print shirt and him know that we a part of the cultural show tonight: what
passing for kumina dancing, a little fashion show, some idiot doing limbo and mashing
up his joints and us playing little music. Once in a while they have a little reggae thing
as well and Bongo usually try to get pay twice by playing rumba box for us and then
drums for whoever playing after. That don’t usually work and more time him only get
a pay for the night.

When I reach round to the ballroom where everything taking place I see Tony and
Earl lean up against one of the pillars looking into the main area and Tony smiling big
big. So I lean up my bicycle by the coconut tree and go over to them. When I look in
is a troupe of dancers doing something that I think is supposed to be kumina. Black,
gold and green costumes, woman with their hair tie up and hands holding up their
skirt. But they look bored. Really bored. And I can see why. The musician them just
going through the paces, no liveliness on the drums at all at all. Like the drums
themselves drink a white rum and done for the night. When I look over on the
musicians I see Bongo there betwixt everybody, looking foolish. Him trying the double
pay thing and it might even work if Utchinson feel in a good mood.

As I look at Bongo I notice sweat peeling down his forehead. I mean, the man look
like him just come out of a river: head, nose, chin, even the shirt look like him been
walking through deep water. And him eyes bouncing up and down and looking every
damn way. I hope him don’t smoke too much ganja before tonight because I can’t
have us sounding like this mausoleum music, this dead house disco. No Boss.

Now this time I hear Earl with one piece of belly laugh and Tony looking grey. Tony
scratching him head like him have chigger and bouncing up and down. Well, with Tony
is always something, so I don’t even bother myself because we have to sort out what
songs we doing. So we peel down behind the gazebo they have on the other side of
the lawn to at least tune up and make some decisions. Whatever going on with Bongo,
him know all the songs and is probably the best musician so I don’t have any worry
about him being able to fit in. We start up with a few of the classics you know, Iron
Bar, Rookumbine and Solas Market. In the end we make a decision that, really, is
slackness and liveliness that the tourist them want so we plan to do Big Bamboo,
Talking Parrot, Day Oh (because for some reason is the onliest one that the tourist
them seem to know) and finish with Shaving Cream.

While we working through Rookumbine this white man sidle up next to Tony,
nodding him head and bouncing up and down like him have some kind of foot

You fellas sound alright. I mean I really like your whole vibe, the whole island thing.
You want a cigarette? I really, really like the sound and all, y’know, reminds me of my
honeymoon, my wife passed on a couple of years ago, y’know, but we stayed at a little
place out in Ocho Rios and they had a group that sang that song and we just loved it,
y’know, and you fellas sound so good, I just wondered if you know any Jim Reeves?
My Celia used to love Jim Reeves and these guys in Ocho Rios played a couple of Jim
Reeves songs and we danced to them, I’d really appreciate it if you fellas could play
one of his songs, I mean if you know any, y’know.

This man clearly under more than two, but he friendly nuh backside and handing
out cigarettes like candy. Even One-Foot Trevor pass by and get one. Well, me and the
boys only know ‘He’ll Have to Go’. Personally, I prefer Conway Twitty and Hank
Williams, but that’s another matter. Well, when we say we going to play a Jim Reeves
the man start bawl and shake hand and handing out more cigarette and putting money
in everybody hand. One-Foot Trevor pass by again and get a five hundred dollar even
though he don’t have no music in him soul.

Next thing Bongo run over to us and start with how him need to leave and go
home and how them going to murder him. Well, we done take this white man money
and just because Utchinson pay him don’t mean the rest of us can go back home with
only we two long hand. So I give it to him and call him every name I know from ginnal
to johncrow. And still Bongo sweating. Heavy sweat like rain drops dropping off the
end of his nose.

Look star, is Hutchinson. Him not going to pay me. I lucky if I escape with all of my
bone intact. Jah know, star. Look, is me and Claudette, Miss Hutchinson, I was dealing
with the thing and then she find out that I was also dealing with her sister, Marcia, so
she take it upon herself to talk with Marcia and who should she catch with Marcia but
Hutchinson so then she go say is alright because she done give him bun with me and
Tony, so now him ready to deal with the two of we.

Earl just skinning teeth the whole time. Now the whole of we in one quandary. Me
and Tony need the money. Plus, we done get paid for the Jim Reeves song so we have
to go on. Finally Earl finish the drink of rum him been holding the entire time and say,
I go handle this, but all a unnu owe me. And, laughing like a jackass, him wander off
towards the main reception.

Now, Bongo still looking nervous and Tony smiling, but smiling like is not really any
kind of happiness him feeling. I make them finish the warm up and we go and wait for
the fashion show to done. I can’t even enjoy the girls them in their dresses because of
these two fool-fool friends of mine, so I look over at the table that Utchinson sitting at
and I glad is not me him vex with.

Utchinson is a big, big man, and he used to do little wrestling or something when
he was at school in America. Not that foolish wrestling that you see on the TV. The one
that look like you could really murder a man with. Sure, him have that sort of softness
that come from being one of those high colour business running Jamaicans that never
have to worry about whether light or water going to get lock off, but that is just a soft
layer over a hard object. Rumour was having it that one of the reasons him come by
the hotel was that him did go sailing with the business partner and when him come
back is just him one and the boat. I don’t know, but is so the story go. Utchinson sitting
there looking like he want to bruck something up and next to him Claudette pursing
up her lips and smoking a cigarette and looking like she having a great time. Clapping
loud loud when the models walk by and completely ignoring the time bomb she sitting
next to.

Earl come back and push money in everybody pocket. Was Vivette controlling the
payment tonight and she owe me a favour so we get cash up front. When show done
I not staying around for no after party and entertainment. Straight home. My domino
partner Derrick have space in his car for me and I leaving straight afterwards. Delroy
you have your bicycle?

I nod.

Well keep it close by. Unnu two have to find a way out, me do more than enough
for you. And with that Earl smiling again like what about to happen is no problem.

Oh, by the way, we have to do that Jim Reeve’s song. You know the one where him
call up the woman and tell her she must left her man. Yes boy, glad me name Earl and
not Tony or Barry. And with this Earl popping big laugh and rubbing him head.

Well now, when the fashion show done and it come to the other cultural part of
the evening we take up our position in the middle of the room: Bongo have the rumba
box and sitting on it, me with the guitar softly in my hands, Tony with banjo squeeze
up in him hands and Earl smiling under him felt hat with the two yellow maracas in
him hands.

Good evening ladies and genkle men, Earl start with him sweet tourist voice, we
are here to give you a little mento. Mento is the ancestor of reggae. Some people don’t
know that it’s different to calypso, but that’s alright, we going to give you the realness
now. One, two, three.

And so we start with Day Oh, because that have a nice feel and the tourist them
will feel safe singing about banana and rum drinking. Tony looking a little nervous on
the banjo, but he covering it well and it don’t seem to seize up him hands. Bongo still
sweating like hell and I worried we going to wash away with the amount of perspiration
falling off his head.

Then I take a peep at Utchinson. Backside. The man look like him ready to murder
everybody in the place. Claudette next to him smiling and clapping as we launch into
Big Bamboo and I start to wonder if we really make the right choice with the songs or
if we making things worse in the long run. People in the audience laughing along to
how the big bamboo stand up straight and tall and how it pleases one and all but
Utchinson not looking too pleased. Utchinson look like when you pass one of them
bad dog and them wonder whether or not to rush you and bite up you foot. Or how
bull look before them charge. So now I get really frighten because I can’t afford to be
no innocent bystander in whatever going to happen. I start to look at my bicycle by
the coconut tree.

Alright, who singing the Jim Reeves song? Earl ask. I know for damn sure I am not
singing anything like that. I’m just looking at my bicycle and thinking about how quick
I can ride home. Coward man keep safe bone and I like my bone them.

Me can sing that one, Bongo say. And I really start to wonder about the state of
this man brains. Bad enough that him turn Joe Grind with Utchinson wife, but now him
going to sing about it? I was just about to raise my objections when Bongo start sing
about sweet lips and phone. Him hands slapping the rumba box and Tony join in
prompt on the banjo. Well, now I don’t have no choice but to strum the guitar and
keep the rhythm going. I take another peep over to the boss table and see him
changing colour. Two minutes ago him was just another brown man, now I swear the
man turn devil red. Claudette stop smile now, which even worse because she looking
at Bongo like the man is only singing to her. And the truth is Bongo sound like a real
crooner. But that not helping the situation. If them catch you with a next man woman
you can’t stand up in front of everybody and sing about how him have to go. I start
sweat now, so if you look up on stage is only one person keeping them cool. Earl
smiling and shaking maracas and working the crowd still. Everybody else look serious
or sweating and I wonder how the hell we going to get out of here without problems.
I know what Utchinson is like. Him is a man that look at what him do and judge whether
it was the right decision long after everything mash up and done.

Alright, Earl whisper to us, we do the Talking Parrot and straight into Shaving
Cream. When we singing as we come to the last verse I want you to stop playing,
Bongo, and take the rumba box out that way. Him point towards the opposite side of
the concourse. Tony, you go out the same way but keep playing. Before the last chorus
you can stop playing as well Delroy. Go to your bicycle and take off down the hill. I
going to get these tourists to sing along with me and the maracas and I going over to
Hutchinson to talk to him about some things. That should cover enough time for all
the rest of unnu. He don’t have no problem with me and everybody done get pay. All
of you owe me a rum.

I don’t owe nobody a raas. But before I can raise my objections them take off with
the talking parrot song, Earl singing sweet sweet about how him nearly lose him life in
Spanish Town because a talking Parrot reveal him relationship with a married woman.
I mean we really should have changed up the playlist when the problems make
themself known. My eyes catch the American we talk to earlier and he smiling and
crying and giving me thumbs up, so at least one person leaving tonight in a good
place. Next thing I know Earl singing Shaving Cream and I know I have to pay attention
and can’t just let my fingers follow while my mind is in other places. The crowd really
getting into it and them laughing and clapping. Them wouldn’t believe that this not a
real traditional song and is actually American. From they hear the Jamaican accent
them don’t know which way is up and what come as truth. Some people easily
distracted like that.

Before I realise Bongo and Tony peel off and trying to walk like is part of the
performance. Only the trail of sweat from Bongo big head is a giveaway. Earl reaching
the end of the song and I start tiptoeing my way to the bicycle. I moving slow. I want
to move a little faster. But I take my time and swing the guitar across my back and get
ready to take off. I hear Earl and the whole crowd singing Shaving Cream. I can hear
the happiness them feeling and for a second I feel really good. As if, despite the stress
and foolishness, something beautiful happen tonight and before the feeling can go I
jump on the bicycle seat and scatter down the hillside.

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