Heat releases rivers of sweat from Jonathan, pouring into already soaked sheets that cling to his half-naked body. A recurring nightmare plagues his mind. He tosses back and forth. It’s the third time this week that he has been attacked by nocturnal replays of his own memories. Mosquitos exacerbate the situation, swarming his ears with persistence and jabbing at him in between his violent body shifts.
“Gimme di shoes,” The man in his dream says; the one closest to him. His name is Ryan. Jonathan recalls his face with vivid detail: skin dark and shiny like they lathered him in baby oil, the whites of his eyes contaminated with brown spots and a keloid scar on the side of his face. His companion, Dino, lurks in the background, fidgeting with a rather long knife.
Jonathan looks down at his new shoes, black Reebok Classics with cartoonish doodles on the sides. For the first time in his life, he has a pair of shoes he’d be the first to wear; bought with money he toiled for all summer break.
He weighs the odds; looks back up at the faces of his assailants.
They stare back at him in anticipation.
A split-second decision and he makes a run for it.
A chase ensues through an abandoned dust field behind his old primary school. The more he runs the darker it gets until he’s swallowed by an expanse of nothingness. His chasers grow larger with each stride until two giants—three times their normal size—chase him.
Eventually, Ryan uses his oversized limbs to scoop Jonathan up, then pin him to the ground.
The dream has Jonathan prisoner. He tosses and turns. He pushes at the edges of his invisible cage to regain control of his body and his thoughts. He tears the sheets from his bed and displaces most of them to the ground. Groans escape his lips, growing more and more intense until he is screaming. “No, no, no!”
Dino holds his arms with one hand and the knife to his neck with the other.
“Hold still,” Ryan says. He fights to restrain Jonathan’s legs.
Dino pushes the knife harder against his throat. The sharp blade breaks skin.
Jonathan’s body relaxes and Ryan pulls his shoes off his feet.
But Ryan doesn’t stop there. He pulls off Jonathan’s pants and then makes for his boy briefs. “Fucking sissy boy, ah gonna show yuh something today. Straighten you out.”
Jonathan’s embarrassingly loud screams reverberate through his apartment. Being self-aware in these dreams makes them even more frightful. Try as he might, he cannot free himself. He is never able to free himself until the full memory has played out.
In renewed resistance, Jonathan kicks at Ryan, landing one on his chin.
Ryan hits him hard in the abdomen twice. “Yuh hear me seh you mus’ keep the bwoy steady,” Ryan shouts at Dino in a strong Jamaican accent.
Dino’s face has a look of uncertainty. His grip on Jonathan’s arms and neck loosen.
Jonathan snatches the knife from him and in one swift move plunges the knife into Ryan’s stomach.
Ryan’s eyes show more shock than pain. He falls back into the blanket of darkness. Blood erupts from his wound.
At this point, Dino simply disappears from Jonathan’s dream and Ryan shrinks to half Jonathan’s size.
Jonathan removes the blade from Ryan’s stomach and stands towering over him.
“Help.” Ryan mouths the word.
Jonathan’s nose flares with anger as he looks down at the pitiful sight. It would be so easy to leave Ryan for dead; simply drop the knife and walk away.
He does drop the knife but follows that with a different action. He calls out for help, as loud as he can.
Sirens from an ambulance jolt Jonathan from his sleep, but even a minute later, the imagined sound plays on. Lying awake with his eyes to the ceiling of his apartment, he stays still until his heart rate slows, his breathing calms and his mind can hold a coherent thought.
Don’t fall back asleep. Don’t fall back asleep. Don’t fall back asleep.
The yellow neon light of the digital clock next to his bed blinks insistently, like a ticking bomb. Jonathan is surprised to see the time. Glimpses of a bright morning escape from behind his dark bedroom curtains. There is also the pitter patter of rain on the outside. The odd combination has him discombobulated until he pulls the curtains. What he sees startles him. It is indeed raining, but the sun shines intensely in the sky.
In the dark, his fingers feel for the remote in the pile of sheets tossed to the side of his bed. They discover the remote and he turns the TV on to find National Geographic playing—his favourite channel.
It is a documentary about ants. The TV show host says, “When Megaponera Analis ants are attacked outside of the nest, they cooperate with one another in an attempt to defend themselves. During a battle against termites, some ants get injured. After a battle, injured ants ‘call’ for help with a pheromone in their mandibular gland. This attracts nestmates which then start to investigate the injured nestmate.”
Jonathan watches the TV closely as the camera zooms in on a large column of black ants marching on very arid looking earth The bright lights from the screen dry up his desire for sleep.
The host continues, “This mechanism is a relatively simple two-step process. After an ant is injured, the first step is trying to stand up on its legs again and return to a resting position. Step two then is to call for help and cooperate with the attracted helpers. If step one cannot be achieved step two does not occur. Heavily injured ants are therefore in a constant loop trying to achieve step one, making it a very simple mechanism of only rescuing ants that are still useful for the colony.”
His mind wanders away from the flashing images and soothing voice of the TV show host until there is a loud knock. A few seconds pass before he realises that the noise isn’t coming from inside his head and that there is someone at the door.
The blinking yellow lights show that over half hour has passed. His mind has been in a restless limbo of free thought somewhere between being asleep and wakefulness.
Being it’s a Saturday morning, he doesn’t even have to think twice about who is at the door. “Who dat?” he asks anyway.
The person responds with more knocking.
That confirms it. He must be ‘fraid of hearing his own voice.
Jonathan turns the doorknob and, without looking who is behind the door, starts walking in the opposite direction towards the bathroom. “David, you must learn fi answer when mi ask who it is innuh,” he says.
There is no response.
Jonathan continues walking away and into the bathroom. He re-emerges with his face washed, teeth brushed, splashes of water on his chest, and clad only in boxers and male confidence.
“Yuh not answerin’ mi?” he asks his guest.
“Who else always comes here on a Saturday morning?” David says rhetorically. His voice is void of the lust evident in his eyes.
Jonathan smiles inside at how his physique elicits a favourable response in David. No sign escapes his stone cold face. “Don’t worry, next time mi gon just leave yuh outside.”
“I shouldn’t even have to travel here in the mornings,” David jests. “By now you should just let me move in with you.”
The silly look on David’s face as he says that makes Jonathan work hard to conceal a smile. “You can continue joking ‘round. When yuh move in here and the church throw the two of us out ah dem charity apartment, then wah mi do? Live pon the street?”
David laughs. “Don’t worry, I will keep you in my room if they throw you out.”
Jonathan works hard to keep his jaws clenched firm and his face looking serious. “And send mi ah school too?”
David’s overgrown jet-black hair and smooth, even dark skin make Jonathan want to walk over to him and seek refuge at his beautiful petite body. Instead, he digs around in his kitchen cupboard for a frying pan.
Thick red curtains prevent sunlight from flooding the apartment. The kitchen, where they stand side by side, is dark with the perfect amount of warmth. Light escapes through holes in the old curtains.
“Why is the TV so loud?” David asks.
“Is it your TV?”
David rolls his eyes. “What kinda documentary are you watching?”
“Go look for yourself nuh.”
David moves around to the bedroom. “Oh, I was watching this one,” he shouts to Jonathan. “It’s the one with the ants that can heal each other right?” Then he comes back around and asks, “So, what will happen after you graduate high school? The pastor man will kick you out?”
“Dem coulda kick mi out when mi turn eighteen, but one year later and mi still deh here.”
“That’s because you’re a good behaving church boy.” David chuckles. “So when you graduate you’re thinking to rent your own place, right?”
“You can ask nuff questions though.”
David goes silent.
Jonathan stares down at his frying egg until he drifts away again.
David’s hands grip his waist from behind. “Turn off the stove,” the smooth voice says.
The egg is almost burned to a crisp. He turns off the stove and they linger there.
David seems to take Jonathan’s inaction as a good sign and takes whiffs of Jonathan at the tender spot below his neck.
Jonathan feels a hardening in his pants.
David progresses to a beautiful tongue assault all around his neck.
This feels even better to Jonathan, like David’s tongue belongs there, its second home. Stop, I don’t want to do this right now! I don’t want to love you. The warmness of David pressed up against him feels blissful. “Hey, what are you doing?” he says.
“Nothing.” David’s voice registers as pure innocence in Jonathan’s ears, but he continues his offending action.
“Yuh nuh see mi trying to cook?”
“I just want to hold you for a bit.”
Jonathan elbows David in the stomach and escapes from his grip. He connects harder than he intends—if he even intended at all.
He turns around to face David. Hurt eyes look back at him. Guilt overcomes him and he smiles that smile he knows always thaws David out and makes his eyes light up.
It doesn’t work.
He then puts his forehead up against David’s and playfully presses against him.
David walks away. He goes over to the small dining table, occupies one of the two chairs and buries himself in his phone.
Jonathan follows him with breakfast in hand—burnt eggs, bread and orange juice. Smiling eyes beam at a pouting David who maintains a determination to ignore Jonathan.
“So what you gon do now? Stay over dere and vex wid mi the whole time?”
David doesn’t respond.
“Alright. Stay dere and don’t talk to mi.” Jonathan pinches a piece of bread and throws it at David. It hits him on the nose.
“Fuck off!” David says.
Jonathan can see just the slightest change in David’s expression. He continues the onslaught of bread pickings. When that stops getting a rise out of David, he dips his two fingers into his glass and splashes David with juice.
“Take vitamin C,” Jonathan says, with a laugh.
David’s face is working hard to conceal a smile; Jonathan smells victory.
Another splash and David says, “Nasty boy, you hear I just tell you to fuck off?”
“Yuh love talk ‘bout fuck? Wait till mi finish eat and see what yuh get.”
“Better I just go back home.” David rises from his chair. He manages a few steps towards the door before Jonathan overtakes him and blocks him from leaving.
Jonathan leads as always. He moves David slowly to the sweat-soaked bed and David follows without resistance. There they melt perfectly into each other. Gone is the resistance and discomfort of previous sexual encounters—replaced by the complete synchronicity of movement between them both. They work themselves tired until they retreat into the firm hold of each other’s arms.
Jonathan is relieved to feel the stress leave his body under David’s protective hold—even if just for the time being. The sweet smell of their bodies together makes him relax. In no time he is off to sleep. No nightmares of past memories invade his peace.
Later, he wakes to his dark room; the blinking neon clock is his only light source. He feels around in the bed, but David isn’t beside him. A sigh escapes.
He grabs his phone from the side of his bed and sends a text:
David: For what?
Jonathan: Just thanks.
He goes back to sleep.
The devil an’ him wife a fight. The old Jamaican saying comes to mind as David stares out his bedroom window where the rain pours while the sun blazes. This kind of weather occurrence isn’t uncommon, but when it happens it makes people uncomfortable. Everything has its proper place and time. When it rains, it rains. When it is sunny, it is sunny. This occurrence is a slap in the face to that. In their minds, the mixing of the two is something devious, David supposed. Devious enough to warrant comparisons with the devil.
David hates this weather too, but for different reasons. It makes him melancholic.
His phone vibrates in his pocket as a text message comes in.
David: For what?
Jonathan: Just thanks.
This boy is an enigma, David thinks. Still, a smile forms on his face and, if only for a second, he forgets the melancholic weather and remembers his time with Jonathan.
Whenever it rains like this David thinks of his mother. Barbara was 100% Christian by religion, 100% nurse by profession, 100% wife by marriage and whatever little remained she reserved for mothering. She left their family home when he was still very young—nine years old to be precise.
Since her departure, David has lived with his father, John, and John’s revolving door of women. Technically, Barbara and John are still husband and wife. David has never heard either of them speak of divorce. To say his parents were never in love would be unfair, given that they shared a life he knew nothing about before he came into the picture. What he can say is that he’d never seen them in love.
For a long time, all David wanted to do was please his father, or at least grievously injure himself trying.
It was an unwritten rule: You must supersede all societal expectations of masculinity at all costs. Else, your father, brother, uncle, or any male of your acquaintance for that matter, must ensure you do. There isn’t much time; it must be done quickly to save the young man in training from irreversible damage. You could hear the time ticking away; tick-tock-tick-tock-tick.
His father did try. John’s pungent mist of machismo stifled all David’s individuality, but somehow David still came out wrong.
It was almost eight years ago. David and John were in the backyard playing catch with a tennis ball when John had the great idea to play with a real cricket ball—you know the red one with the really hard shell.
“If it wasn’t fi mi father who want mi turn police officer like him, I would turn a cricketer. Better than Chanderpaul or Tendulkar,” John said. “I gon make a cricketer out ah you boy.”
That would be a God-like act on John’s part since David hadn’t enough hand-eye coordination enough to be anything but an embarrassment on a pitch.
John threw the ball with gargantuan force and it, expectedly, evaded David’s grip, but continued on and landed on his forehead, right above his eye.
David woke up in a hospital bed, in a room made of blue curtains and the smell of a too-clean bathroom. The doctor on duty came into the room and sat beside David on the hospital bed. She told him he had been knocked out for over an hour and was suffering from a mild concussion.
Barbara sat in a corner sobbing and John paced around the room.
The doctor shone a bright light into David’s eyes, then put it away and asked, “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Two,” David said.
“Now, how many?”
She turned to his parents, “He seems fine. His x-rays show no noticeable damage. Just a mild concussion. However, watch him carefully over the next few hours—”
“Thank God,” Barbara interrupted.
“If it’s anybody fault, it’s your fault,” John said, hardly waiting for the doctor to leave the area. “Yuh growin’ di bwoy up like ah big gyal.” John’s Jamaican accent was strongest when he was mad.
David sat in the car the entire ride home as his parents bickered back and forth about him as if he wasn’t there.
Later that night, he dreamt he was standing in complete darkness. He could hear what sounded like a steam train coming. In fact, he knew it was; in that weird way you know everything in your dreams. It was coming for him at top speed. For some reason, it felt as if he shouldn’t move; like this train somehow was meant to run over him. The rattle and whistle drew closer. The lights got intensely brighter, totally annihilating the darkness and everything else, leaving only a sea of light. As soon as it got close enough, he woke up.
It took a minute for David’s mind to acknowledge the waking world, and even to understand that his eyes hurt because a wash of sunlight was streaming through the white silk curtains draped before his bedroom window. There was also the sound of raindrops like tiny feet running up and down the shingles on the roof. Through that noise, David also noticed the whistling from the train hadn’t disappeared. His brain had a hard time understanding how that was possible.
When the confusion waned, only one line of thought survived. Downstairs. Kitchen. Kettle. Whistling. Turn off.
He headed down the stairs but stopped three steps short of the kitchen. His parents were arguing so intently that neither noticed the build-up of steam from the kettle.
Barbara eventually made a step towards it.
John grabbed her arm and pulled her back.
She resisted, something David had never seen her do before, but he won.
He shoved her into the sink.
She winced and moved quickly.
Again, he shoved her into the cupboards. The back of her head hit it with a loud thud.
She gestured towards the kettle.
He took it up and flung it. It landed on the spot her head had ducked from a millisecond before. Luckily, there was hardly any water left inside.
John took a knife from the counter and held her up against the wall with the knife at her throat.
John’s arms were trembling heavily.
Barbara was steady with eyes fixed on him.
He dropped the knife and freed her after a few minutes of intense staring and cursing at her.
She ran upstairs, right past David.
John looked at David. It seemed he was about to shout at David. His mouth opened wide. His nose flared. Then something else took over his countenance and he walked on past David.
“Let me go, John. Let me go,” David heard his mother say from upstairs.
There was a lot of loud stomping around too.
David walked over to the stove, turned it off and looked around at the awful mess. He’d started to pick up a few shards of glass, but stopped when he heard the hurried footsteps coming down the stairs. Then heard the roll and tumble as Barbara fell from halfway down to the floor.
Fortunately, her landing was cushioned by the small suitcase she was carrying. Still, there was no way she had escaped that fall unscathed. The house shook from the intensity.
She quickly got up and started screaming for help.
David was glad for the shouting. The neighbours could hear and come to his rescue.
John ran behind her down the stairs. He began kicking her repeatedly while she struggled to get up from the floor with her bag. “You’re not leaving here with anything that I spend my money on,” he said.
They both held on to the bag she’d packed and, with his superior strength, he hauled her along with the bag. Then he stood on her fingers and she screamed in pain.
After he managed to wrestle the bag from her and she ran through the door.
John and the bag went right upstairs.
David didn’t see him come out of his bedroom till about three days after. There were a few times David thought he might have been dead but was not brave enough to check. He just stayed in the house all day, watched TV occasionally and ate sweet treats from the cupboard.
When John finally came out, David was relieved but only for a minute.
John’s first move was to burn everything. He burned her clothes, David’s clothes, his own clothes. He burned the furniture. He burned the pictures on the walls and all the photo albums. He even burned their dog. What he didn’t burn couldn’t have been burned and so he gave it all to the garbage collectors. It was a month before he started talking to David again.
Reflecting on these memories brings David back into the centre of those difficult emotions. He turns the TV on to distract himself. There is a documentary on National Geographic.
Jonathan’s favourite channel.
He watches with a hint of a smile on his face as a smooth-voiced TV show host gives details about a trail of ants on screen.
The TV show host says, “Observations inside the nest revealed that Megaponera Analis ants treat the wounds of their injured nestmates. Making them the first animal species to consistently take care of the wounds of other individuals. Nestmates grab the cut off limb of the injured ant in their mandibles and hold it in place with their front legs. They then start to ‘lick’ into the wound for numerous minutes.”
David’s temporary peace is broken by the sound of his father hollering for him from downstairs.
David peeks his head out his bedroom door. “Yes,” he says.
“Your mother on the phone for you,” John says. “Come take this phone from me.”
It’s their routine Saturday morning phone call. His mother calls from her home in London and they talk about small nothings for about fifteen minutes. Their conversation starts simple enough then, as usual, progresses to inquiries about John.
“Your father treating you alright?” Barbara asks.
“Yes, mommy.” Does she really expect me to say anything else?
“Don’t worry yourself. I will soon send for you, alright.”
“I’m still getting myself sorted out and then you can come live with me.”
David finds it funny that even after so many years she still makes that promise when after only a year he knew it would never happen.
As soon as he hangs up John asks, “She say anything ‘bout me?”
“If she did say anything about mi you wouldn’t tell me anyway,” John says and hisses his teeth.
“I have an assignment to do. I have to go to the library,” David tells John.
With a wave of his hand, John dismisses him and he happily takes his leave.
Clothes change quickly, shoes fly on even faster and David is out the door.
At Jonathan’s apartment, he delivers three firm knocks on the door.
“Who is it?” says a voice from inside.
A smile forms on his face and he delivers three more knocks.