NAPTHALI: A FANTASY
I, Napthali, have come to live in Bronx-City: Mr Jones, he brought me here. He says to me, I--South American-Indian--belong here just like the others. But I say, No, it's not right that I come here to live; I belong to my people, Napthali-tribe in Amazonia. Mr Jones, well, he laughs, same as when he was in Amazonia with my people and calls himself an-thro-po-lo-gist.
Bronx-City is busy-busy; I not like, see. Mr Jones too is like that: he comes and goes. Thing called phone rings. Now Brenda Lee talks to me; she's also been to Amazonia, she and Jones together, see. She says, "Napthali, how d'you like America?" I say, "I no like." Now Jones walks in, with swagger-walk, and he asks the same. Yes, how do I like America? "No good." I glum. "You have to get used to Bronx-City," Jones smiles, putting hand on my shoulder. I no like his smell, like rotten herbs that Chief-Napthali says we put on bad wound. "I never get used to here," I say. "Why not?" Jones still has hands on my shoulder. Then he tells me again that this too is Indian country. "But this isn't Napthali-country," I say. Jones laughs and says I'm crazy; and maybe I have stake in this whole place, whole planet, like everyone maybe. So I shake head many times until it hurts. Jones laughs like he's crazy. And why I come with him to America, to this Bronx-City here? Maybe it's because Jones saved Napthali-tribe from Bandwaggas. Napthalis, you see, are gentle people, they no make fight. Bandwaggas, they kill-kill, chop off heads! At nights I still dream about Bandwaggas coming all the way here to Bronx-City to kill. Aaagh! They scare me, but they no scare Mr Jones or Brenda Lee. These two, they show Napthali-tribe how not to run away with fear. Last time Bandwaggas attack Napthali-tribe, Jones shows us how to use machine that go pow-pow! Then Bandwaggas run away into greenheart forest, just like that. Napthali-tribe no see them again, and Chief Duguay started laughing hard because of his gladness. Yes, Jones saved my life from Bandwaggas-chieftain who'd grabbed me, then let go when he heard machine-sound pow-pow. It is then that I decide to come with Jones to Bronx-city. Jones teaches me many things; he says Napthalis are like tribe of people called Europeans. Who are Europeans really? People with just fair skin? Yes, maybe Napthalis can learn many things from such a tribe. And the other way round too, I say, and laugh. Then I ask Jones why he come to Amazonia that first time to live among Napthali-tribe people. Jones says to study language, customs of Napthali-tribe. What are customs? I want to know. Jones laughs again, shaking his head funny-funny. Now he will teach me words of European-tribe, he and Brenda Lee. "You, chief of European-tribe in America?" I ask. He laughs again. "What about European-tribe custom? You must tell me," I beg. When Jones laughs again, he puts hand behind his ears to make like monkey. I say, is that European custom? Brenda Lee says it isn't, but only funny-like business, that's all. Oh, I laugh with them, because Jones is making funny business again. Now Jones and Brenda Lee teach me new words, all strange sounds. Night-time they give me different clothes to sleep in. But I no like, because night-clothes scratch skin all the time. Jones then gives me mirror, so I can see picture of myself with new clothes on. Ah, Jones says, I'm now his equal. I say to him I am not his equal, I'm not European--I am Napthali. Yeah, besides, what is equal? Jones laughs again, which is all for now.
I remember Jones many times when he comes to Amazonia, and especially that time when he says he will take me to Bronx-City in America. Yeah, a place with many tribes all mixed up, as one. He talks to Chief-Napthali, whisper-whisper, then to my mother and father. More whisper-whisper, about me, I know. All night I think about this America as place with many people and many customs. How can it be so?
I look at the moon, thinking about this America. Napthalis and Bandwaggas together there, no? Then I see eyes of frightened black monkey in moon. Next morning Chief Duguay says I go to America with Jones and Brenda Lee, if I want to. First day in Bronx-City, I tell Jones I want to go back to Napthali-country. But Jones says I will get used to it here. Brenda Lee says same thing. Jones thinks I don't like iron-horse machine moving up and down like thunder, so fast. He calls it train. Brenda Lee and I talk together, while Jones is making face, monkey-like business again. Ah, Brenda Lee, I start to like her. Sometimes I see her make kiss-kiss with Jones. But not with me. Why not? "I want to go back to Amazonia," I say. "What for, to live among trees?" Jones makes a sick face. "Trees make wind blow," I say. "It's the other way round," says Brenda Lee. I repeat, "Trees make wind blow." "And the insects to multiply?" asks Jones. I shake head. Maybe I am angry now, because I really miss my Napthali-tribe. Jones puts arms round me, funny man, the way he is doing things. And Brenda Lee comes closer, and now I feel like equal, and maybe Bronx-City woman no different from Napthali-woman. "I promised Chief Duguay to take you back," Jones says. I look at him in the eyes, then at Brenda Lee. She says it's all true, shaking her head. I look at Jones again, and I remember how in Napthali-country he says many strange things, does many strange things when we sit down at night in the middle of house-forest and look far into the sky with many stars shining above. Then Jones says, "I will teach you how to rap, man." The moon still high above. Now I refuse to eat or to talk to anyone. Jones says is no good me acting like this. And Brenda Lee says same thing. Next day Jones says he has surprise for me. It's a woman from Chicano-tribe, this same one living in Bronx-City. They call her Rosa. I look at this Rosa, mouth like toucan, red-red. I say to Jones I still want to go back to Amazonia. Brenda Lee says I will like Rosa. Yes, Rosa is beautiful, as I look at her mouth widening from ear to ear."You need a mate, Nap," says Jones. "She's all yours. You won't be lonely now." "I don't want mate," I say. "Go on, say hello to her," Jones says. I not say anything to Rosa. Jones puts arm round Brenda Lee, and now he makes like sing-sing, and he wants me to do the same with Rosa. Rosa comes closer to me with grin on face. I quickly stand back. "Say hi to her, Nap." I close eyes and feel Rosa near to me.Then I start to like her smell, like smell of many rose bushes in Amazonia. Brenda Lee watch me now, which I no like. She says, "Rosa will be your girlfriend." And Jones, still with grin, says, "She's not like other women in Napthali-tribe, if that's what you think. She’s not prostitute? I shake my head. Jones and Brenda Lee laugh. Oh, how they laugh, like strong wind in trees that I hear over and over again, and maybe not want to hear at all. Now I only want to go back to Amazonia, I tell Rosa, though I like her spread of teeth. Brenda Lee says it is good for I-Napthali to have girlfriend. Then Brenda Lee and Jones take hand of each other and leave me alone with Rosa for a while. I look at skin of Rosa closely, and I begin to think that maybe Rosa is not a member of same tribe of Jones and Brenda Lee. Rosa's hair is black, like hair of people of Napthali-tribe maybe. But she says she is from Chicano-tribe. "What is Chicano-tribe custom?" "I'm just an American," Rosa laughs, with red-red mouth and more spread of teeth, so wide. "Same as Brenda Lee?" "Same, huh." "And Jones too?" She says I ask funny questions. This Rosa, she speaks fast, and maybe she's really from another tribe, and is a captive here when tribe of Jones took over tribe of Chicano. What if the tribe of Jones wants to take over Napthali also, eh? Rosa laughs when I tell her this. I no laugh, I am afraid. Rosa puts her hand into mine and says, "You're handsome. Cool, yeah, in a funny sort of way." I feel her skin-touch. No, Napthali never does skin-touch or kiss-kiss, not like that. Rosa says I'm just innocent and laughs. "What is innocent?" She laughs again. "I mean, you don't want to kiss, right? "Kiss?" "You're a freak or what?" "Ah, skin-touch, I see." She says everyone does it in Bronx-City. Once more she tries to make skin-touch and kiss-kiss. This time I like. Maybe I begin to like her tribe. Next I begin to think that in tribe of Rosa skin-touch is not a strange custom. Maybe it is like a game. I don't want to tell Jones about this skin-touch game, because it is my secret. But I think he already knows. Even Brenda Lee knows when she smiles at me later. Jones says it's all part of my education. Later when Rosa leaves, Jones points to game-box called TV.I watch and think how funny such a thing is with noise-noise. When I see skin-touch game on TV, I begin to think of Rosa all over again. Jones shows me another box he calls book. I turn leaf after leaf in wood-box, flutter-flutter. Jones says, "Here is where you will get most of your education." I turn to Brenda Lee. She winks. She knows what's already in wood-box. Now I see many wood-boxes everywhere in Jones house. Everywhere I turn I hear flutter-flutter, like butterflies flying about. When Brenda Lee turns leaf of wood-box, I hear sound of twenty mad butterflies flying at once. I ask Rosa about wood-box next time I see her. I say, "What you think of wood-box that goes flutter-flutter?" I make sound with hand to my mouth. She plays wink-game with me. I laugh. Now, together we laugh. She says, "What's this about a wood-box anyway?" I point to wood-box on shelf. "Ah, you mean a book!" Then Rosa says she no want to talk about wood-box; but she comes for skin-touch game, same as Jones tells her to do. Oh? But I still look at wood-box, because so much is going on in wood-box. Wait until I tell this to Napthali-tribe; about the many boxes around, what is inside them. I will tell Chief Duguay too, no? Rosa smiles and says that maybe TV-box better. Not book? "I haven't been one much for education, Nap. Yeah, I'm just your ordinary American-Chicano girl," Rosa says. Maybe I should have stayed longer in school. But shit, I didn't. Don't hold that against me. Yeah." "What is school?" I say. "A place with many books, many wood-boxes. Yeah, lots everywhere. And teachers too. Ugh! I never liked teachers. Say, haven't you ever been to school back where you come from?" I say to her, "I am from Amazonia. "What's all this shit about Amazonia? Fuck, where's that anyway?" Maybe she no longer wants to play skin-touch. "Many feet-walk, many rivers away," I tell her. "You've been in the dark for too long, Nap." "Sun and moon there too, just like here." "I guess it's no use explaining. Maybe I should ask Jones or Brenda Lee, they will tell me everything." "Everything?" "About you, I mean. I've known Brenda Lee..." She looks away, then she looks back and eyebrows go wink-wink. I laugh. She smiles. Now I know she wants to play skin-touch. And she tells me new word also; I must say she is pretty: I repeat, pretty, then I love you. Now Rosa takes my hand, just as Brenda Lee and Jones come in. Jones says, with good-man laughter: "You two, come an' join us for a drink." Rosa shakes head and widens mouth from side of face to next. I no like when Rosa does that. Then I look at Brenda Lee; she no speak. Jones puts hand on head of Rosa, like Chief-Napthali does to me sometimes. Only in eyes of Jones I see something else. Jones wants me to put hand on head of I-Napthali also. But I pull my head away. Jones whispers to Rosa, his mouth touching end of her ear. Rosa makes giggle-giggle, her face red, just like fire. Jones pretends to be man who understands everything. Next he shakes head and calls me aside with little finger. I look at Brenda Lee. She no smile. I go in direction of little finger. Jones is like man angry with me "Say, Nap, you're jealous, aren't you?' I shake my head. "What is jealous?" He doesn't answer. "Ha, you may be jealous, which is a sure sign of being in love. Maybe I've gotten you into something you can't handle. I made a mistake introducing you to Rosa, I'm sorry." "What is love?" I ask. "Love keeps us together, old boy. Brenda Lee and I. It's something between a man and a woman, between mates." He looks at me. Then he smiles, though not from ear to ear. Brenda Lee joins us, and she already knows what Jones is telling me. They look at Rosa, and Jones says: "You know, there could be difficulty. After all, you want to go back to Amazonia. See, I made a promise to Chief Duguay..." I smile when I hear name of Chief Duguay. Now Rosa and Brenda Lee whisper, and I still smile. I look at Jones too. But he no smile now. I move up to Rosa and say to her: "I love you." Rosa shakes head from left to right, like strong wind pushing grass. "No, no," she says. "Yes." I am angry now. "Look, Nap, love is serious business. Maybe you misunderstand me." She looks at Jones, then at Brenda Lee. She says again, "It's a game, you understand?" I no understand, and I only say, "You, I love." She pushes shoulder, called shrug. "I'm not ready for a commitment, man. Love's something you've got to share." "I share." "Shit, you don't understand. You're from Amazonia--wherever the hell that is! Right? Well, I am an American, and we're different!" "I am from Napthali-tribe, but you, American only? No, you're not like Jones and Brenda Lee. You are not American-tribe!" "Shucks, what has gotten into you? I'm telling you again, I am not in love. Fuck, I'm just a prostitute." Rosa now has red-colour face. "Love means skin-touch," I say. "We make skin-touch now." Maybe I no understand Rosa at all. She makes more funny face. Then she looks at Jones and Brenda Lee again, and says to me, "You will return one day. What's the use, eh? You--we--can't form a meaningful relationship. Besides, you're not my type." Jones says, "Maybe I should have another talk with you, Nap. You see, it's something different, I mean, what you feel...and what Rosa feels." He speaks like strange man now...not like man who's been to Amazonia and likes laughing with Napthali-tribe. "Yes, I feel," I say. "No, you don't understand." Again Jones makes face, funny like--like I never seen before. He adds, "Have you forgotten I promised Chief Duguay..." I look at him, and yet I say, "I don't forget!" "Ah, now you're beginning to understand. You see, Rosa won't go with you to Amazonia. Beside, she isn't in love with you. This thing called skin-touch, it's dangerous." I look in eyes of Jones. Why he doesn't say that before, eh? Bees make sound in head. Many wings beating. I stamp feet on ground, hard. Brenda Lee comes close. Jones says I have a temper-tantrum. Now maybe I don't understand the tribe of Bronx-City, America with Europe any more. Maybe I go back to Amazonia to think. Rosa comes to me again, and yet I love her. More bees make noise, whirr-whirr, inside my head. Maybe I will now cry like real Napthali-child. Rosa touches I-Napthali face. She says she feels sad for me. I lower head, like Napthali-woman. And, yes, I want to do skin-touch with her at once. And I think of Napthali-tribe, how far it is away, among trees, birds, great sky overhead. Eagle there too. Yes, I want to go there again, to tell Chief Duguay about this thing called love. Rosa’s love, eh? Next I imagine Rosa there with me, like a flower in a pond. I shoot arrow into pond, and you see it! Yes, that same flower is sunset, eh. The sunset lends flower light, like moon, stars, and bright sunshine in day time. Rosa too must shoot arrow into pond with me holding her hand. Skin-touch only. Then I tell her there is a jaguar far away, and we listen for the jaguar-grunt, sniff-sniff. At night I think of Rosa and me together on ground, and we make skin-touch again. Jones says, "It's just a mood you're in, Nap. You will soon snap out of it." He makes funny-face once more, as when he was with tribe of Napthali. Maybe deep inside Jones has a bad spirit, like when he first came to Amazonia with Brenda Lee, and how tribe of Napthali take him for enemy. Yes, they being sent by Bandwaggas-people. We tied him up and made arrow point to his heart. Then Chief Duguay said Jones has strong spirit inside, which will not make him die easily! "Jones must live," he said. I remember it well, and how he laugh soon after like crazy-man. And Brenda Lee also laugh, like crazy-woman, but like song of wind in greenheart forest. And I never hear that laugh again. Now I say to Jones I want to be alone because of sound of bees everywhere I hear. And I-Napthali think about Amazonia and Bronx-City, that maybe all tribes can never be the same. And I belong to tribe of Napthali only, that's all. "You belong to Bronx-City too, Nap," Jones says. "Maybe." When Rosa goes away, I’m still thinking about Amazonia. Ah, yes, I begin to see many Rosas all over in the forest, such a strong vision in me. Brenda Lee says not to worry. I tell them I want to take all the Rosas with me to sit by flower-pond. Yes, to listen to birds close by, all to make spirit strong, stronger than Bandwaggas’ kill-spirit. Maybe stronger than spirit of tribe-Chicano and European-tribes in America, no? And I want to make more skin-touch, and now to cry, but I don't--because I am strong, like custom of all Napthali-people to be strong and spreading everywhere in the world.
Dabydeen’s poetry and fiction have appeared widely in periodicals and anthologized in over 20 volumes in seven countries, including the Oxford, Penguin, and Heinemann Books of Caribbean Verse. He’s a former Poet Laureate of the City of Ottawa. He has written seven collections of short stories. His novel, Drums of My Flesh, had been nominated for the IMPAC/Dublin Literary Prize and won the international Guyana Prize for Fiction.