Of Unseen Things

| July 23, 2011 | 0 Comments

 (BLOOM! Media | Photography | Olubode Shawn Brown)


I stood naked in the darkened room in center of an iron wash-pan filled with cold blue water. After my bath, Mr. Williams, I think that was his name, lit and threw one matchstick after the other at me. He was casual about it, disinterested almost, as if engaged in a mundane conversation some invisible presence. One by one, they zoomed towards me, little meteoric arrows of light emerging out of the darkness. I did not think to dodge them. No instruction had been given. So I just stood still, though I was trembling. Each match bounced off my damp body and landed with a hiss and a plume of smoke in the water just above my ankles. I did not think this was unnatural, for at seven years old I was prepared for the ways of Obeah.

“For we look not at things which are seen, But to things which are un-seen, For the things which are seen, are temporal, But the things that are unseen are eternal.”

It was always there in our home. Sometimes it was above the dining room table, at others times in a living room. Eventually, it was placed in a bedroom. Always looking down behind the glass, in its varnished wooden frame, with green matte and rendering of angelic beings, this picture and its attendant verse from Corinthians, had fired my young imagination and steeled me for the journey.

I don’t know that other Jamaican mothers were taking their young children to see Obeah men. Perhaps, they were. My mother did. It is not mentioned in proper circles — these things. Mother was a spiritual vagabond. And I was along for the ride. I had gone with her from Kingston to see Mr. Williams to get the matches ritual. I cannot recall now whether she and I traveled there alone, or we traveled with my older brother and sister. But what I do recall was that I alone stood there in the darkness. It felt important. Why would we have come from so far, by country bus and foot to see this man — Mr. Williams? He was a large light skin man, who had an equally big aquamarine and white American Buick motorcar with fish tails, and he wore a cowboy hat. When he drove us towards Kingston later on that day, he drove the car at 100mph. I had never gone so fast! Gleefully, I put my hand out the window to feel the movement of the air, as my fingers sliced through it. No, this was not your average Obeah man. I felt special. Special. That’s what Mummy told me years later when I asked her, why she took us to see these people. “Just fe ge unno sumtin special and mek sure unnoo okay,” was her simple answer. I never questioned her beyond this. One can find little to play with when a mind is so pure. So absolute was her faith. Why not? She was raising three children all by herself she often reminded us, and needed all the help she could get.

Compare if you will, Mr. Williams, to Mr. Alfred. Mr. Alfred was a frequent visitor to our home in the tenement house in Kencot — just above Cross Roads in Kingston. He usually came on Friday evenings before dinner. Just before eating and after his first drink of white rum he would proceed to do a reading. For this, he used a grimy set of playing cards, heavily crusted with dirty, as was his clothing. He was a simple hardworking man. Yet he had an air of quiet composure and sophistication about him. He seemed content with very little. His hard work was not the lifting of heavy things, but the strain it to look into peoples affairs in the other world — who might be doing them something, what’s going on at the office, who wants to stop your advancement, or why the house building business was not going smoothly — those kinds of things. His remedies for all this were less radical than Mr. Williams’. They seemed to involve some kind of powder wrapped in brown-bag paper with string to be thrown secretly at the site of the offending party. Sometimes, a ring with an opening in which a powder for protection is placed, was to be worn. I liked Mr. Alfred, he seemed harmless, and Mummy seemed to derive much comfort from his regular presence.

Then there was Mother. Yes, that’s all — Mother. “Samdie deh yah wey no tun dem roll!” Mother angrily shouted from her room high above the yard which was kept broom clean and watered down regularly to keep the spirits calm. In the center of the yard was an big opened ended shed with a high zinc roof and dirt floor. This was where services where kept and where visitors waited to see Mother. Rows of backless benches — rough planks of wood stretched across cement blocks — were placed neatly around a very long table draped with immaculate white cotton and lace cloths. The table sagged under the weigh of too many candles to count – white, red, black, blue, yellow, green — each placed in the neck of a soft drink or liquor bottle. Whenever a candle burnt out, it was replaced using the same bottle, so each bottle was encrusted in a frozen fountain of multi-colored wax. Towards the center of the table were fresh flowers, fruit, a large open bible with a red ribbon down the middle next to a standing cross. The whole place smelled of Kanaga water. The table was an elaborate work of devotional art, kept alive by Mother and her sisters. “Who no tun dem roll?” Mother insisted. Reluctantly, a large woman among the crowd waiting to see Mother, rose and sauntered back towards the gate, stood there for a moment to gather herself, then turned around slowly — first three times to the left, then three times to the right. She then bounced back to her seat. Whatever spirit Mother had detected who walked in with her visitor, was now safely deposited outside her gate. Mother was a small, dark brown, wiry woman, with a pronounced bottom lip. She wore a large white head-warp that that tripled the size of her head, yet she seemed to wear it effortlessly. Embedded in the head-wrap were two sharpened yellow pencils. At any moment she could be ready to take instructions. She always wore an apron as if ready to serve a meal. This was what we would call a Poco Yard. It would be déclassé to call Mother an Obeah woman, for unlike the others, she surrounded herself with crosses, bibles, and things of that nature. But like Mr. Williams, and Mr. Alfred there was a single-minded devotedness to duty that gave them a certain gravity of presence. So, it was no wonder, I had little patience for the droning on and on by our Parson at St Peters Presbyterian Church. “ Oh Lord of our Fathers, we beseech you for guidance this day. We come humbly before you this day, for it is only in way that your mercy…” I would look up at that man in the pulpit and wonder if he would ever stop, so that us children could be let out to go to Sunday school. But the prayer to God could not be short as it was also a sermon to the congregation about the correct way to approach the almighty, among other things. Mummy took us to church regularly, except when a visit to see Mother or a trip to see Mr. Williams was needed. She was an equal opportunity employer of spiritual people. Though I cannot recall her consulting Parson directly for anything.

Thus it was Mother, Mr, Williams and Mr, Alfred — the firmness of their gaze –who made the most lasting spiritual impressions on me, before my 10th birthday.


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About the Author ()

Olubode was born in Kingston Jamaica. In 1984 he migrated to the United States. He has lived and worked in New York City and Los Angles as an attorney, business manager and life coach. He is the facilitator of The Essential Journey, a professional photographer and the founder of BLOOM Magazine and The BLOOM Party. Websites: theessentialjourney.com thebloomparty.com bloommediaphotography.com

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