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Stush




     Written by Camille Wanliss 
     Illustrated by Sam Viotty 

     Est. Reading Time: 5 min 





The way Stush Campbell sees it, they were all living on borrowed land. Nuh matter if it was passed down, generation to generation, or paid for with the sweat off their back. Like a man who find out him pickney a jacket, in the end what you thought was yours was never truly yours. Not since the first bauxite deposits were discovered. Not since the government declared that any property bearing the mineral belonged to the Crown.

There was a time when the old folks said the red soil got its color from the mass graves underneath. Said bakra broke ground to dash ‘way broken body after broken body. Piled flesh on high like burlap sacks filled with flour. All because the ancestors heard the drum call of Tacky and Nanny, and the whispers of Samuel the Baptist. Ol’ massa thought he could squash rebellion into the root, but him never anticipated soul turning into sod. Could not have known that marrow and sinew would one day become earth and ore. How many Sundays did they preach of the moon turning to blood? Imagine their surprise when it would be the very ground beneath their feet.

Now wherever the soil bleed, people disappear. One day you could be talking to the usher whose face favor common fowl or the bar owner you once box down inna bush when you were in fifth form, and the next day they’re gone. You don’t even realize it at first. Entire weeks pass before you notice the shuttered bar on the side of the road or the several church services Madda Inez hasn’t escorted you to your pew. All because what one conqueror bury, another decided to unearth.

For Stush, it take a little longer. She hadn’t been to the family farm in Myersville in years, not since Granny Bell went home to glory and her mother take sick. Her uncle Desmond had the title transferred to his name, so when the time came to make arrangements for her mother, Stush could think of no other place than the burial plot on the property. She leave all the way from Jones Town thinking she a go find the forty acres of yam and cassava, the one-story house with the swing bench on the veranda, the water well, and the pear trees her granddaddy plant out back for the baby born blue and the two God saw fit to blow breath into, but when she get there, all Stush see is a gaping wound in the ground.

If mothers are our first home, Stush nuh have nothing to run to now, so she runs past the open pit with the jagged rock stone. Past the places cordoned off with barbed wire. Past the boarded windows and overgrown grass and hollowed-out buildings. Past the ghost town until she happens upon signs of life. As Stush nears one home, she sees an old woman sitting in the yard, separating ackee seeds into a bowl on her lap. Another woman, possibly her daughter, emerges from behind the screen door in a house dress, her hand in military salute to block the sun from her face. The woman says a man from “the other BBC” – Berthe Bauxite Company – knocked on their door one day to buy the land for mining. She told him no, that her mother have a whole heap of medical problem and they needed to be near the clinic. Another time after that, an American stopped by saying the same thing and again she refused. They remain one of a few holdouts, though the woman admits she’d likely sell the land now ‘cause the company’s machines make all sort of noise in the ungodly hour, and with many of the farmers gone, she haffi travel further and further to buy food.

Stush shows the woman a photo of her uncle and asks if she knows him. The woman stares at it for a long time before shaking her head. Before she leaves, Stush is handed a piece of paper with the address of a man named Bruce Harrison. He relocated to a district called Pepper as part of Berthe’s resettlement scheme. She says he may know something.

When Stush arrives at Bruce’s cattle farm, he greets her like they’re old friends. He’s short with gray hair and even more peeking out of the top of his shirt. On the back porch, he fans himself with a khaki-colored cap and places napkins over the rum punch to keep the flies out.


“When dem first say ‘bauxite,’ mi tink dem a talk ‘bout s’maddy rass,” Bruce says, flashing a row of missing teeth.

His smile soon fades. He had heard of farmers before him who were forced off their land with nowhere to go and no way of making a living. Some given a mere two weeks’ notice to leave. He feared what would happen to his farm and his family, so when Berthe offered to compensate him with the same amount of acreage they were taking, he signed the contract right then and there. Figured it was better than nothing. Here in Pepper, his livestock have more grass to graze on, but his days are filled with regret. He says his wife decided to stay behind in Myersville with their children because, as he put it, “she never feel fi leave her church and her job and her friend dem.”

Stush asks about her uncle, but Bruce says he hasn’t seen the man in a long time. He then takes her to the bar where Desmond’s old girlfriend works. Trudi is the kind of woman who responds to your greeting by looking you over from head to foot bottom. “Him gone a foreign,” she mutters bitterly before Stush can utter a single word. It turns out Desmond took a cash payout from Berthe, paid off his debts, and purchased a one-way ticket to England.

Not long after that, Stush dream see the bauxite refinery in Nain and thick, gray smoke billowing from its cylinders. In the nightmare, the smoke gathers at her feet, then rises higher and higher until a sickening smell chokes the air in and around her. She drops whatever she’s doing and runs as fast as she can, but whenever she looks back, the smoke is right there behind her. Soon, it leaves nothing in its wake. Not Bruce’s cattle farm or the home where the old woman and her daughter live. Not the shop that serves cornmeal porridge or Ovaltine with sweetened milk every morning. Not even the Revivalists holding service along Marchmont Road. As they vanish into the fog, Stush can still hear the rattle of their tambourines and the raspy voice of the one they call Captain Owen singing:

Awake Zion, awake

Awake and trim your lamps

Stush wakes up all right, her nightgown drenched in sweat. She lies in the dark frightened so till she don’t know what to do. And just as quickly as the clock hand strikes the midnight hour, that same fear turns into searing rage.





 


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Published March 10, 2021
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.






Author’s Bio
Camille Wanliss is a Jamaican-American writer born and raised in New York. A 2021 Pigeon Pages Essay Contest winner, her work has also appeared in Raising Mothers, Anomaly, Kweli Journal, Weird Sister, The Feminist Wire, and The Indypendent, among others.
In 2016, she founded Galleyway, a site that champions diverse voices and spotlights opportunities for writers of color. Camille is the recipient of the Adria Schwartz Award in Women’s Fiction and her short story “Leverage” was shortlisted for the Small Axe Literary Prize. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York.
︎ @CamilleWanliss
︎ camillewanliss.com

Artist’s Bio
Sam Viotty is a designer, creative strategist, and illustrator based in Washington DC. Her artistic career has revolved around youth and community work as a teaching artist and now runs the Viotty Design Studio, a creative operations design consultancy. She gets excited about having conversations about visual art, museums, libraries, books, and data!
︎ @viottydesignstudio




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