Neighbourly love

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Living & loving the Caribbean lifestyle, with James Fuller

When my wife and I first moved to the Caribbean, I was still locked into foreign ideas of a sense of space and propriety. That was shattered the week we moved into a block of flats that included two units on the upper floor and three beneath.

One of our new neighbours below was Hetty. Hetty was a big lady with a beautiful soul, who took to looking after us with gusto. One of those self-appointed duties was revealed early one Saturday morning.

As we lay slumbering in bed, with the warmth of the Caribbean sun filling the room, we heard heavy footsteps accompanied by hearty gospel humming ascending the stairs leading up the side of our building. These stairs led to our porch but, on their angled ascent, passed our bedroom window, beneath which was our bedhead. The footsteps and humming stopped.

“Neighbour!!!!! Yuh have mail!!!” bawled Hetty. “Oooohhhh it lookin’ like it from foreign. Maybe yuh ma write yuh eh?!!”

A big mitt was thrust through the curtains, waggling a fistful of post above our heads.

“Neighbour!!! Come nah, come, yuh have mail!!”

As I took the post and thanked her, the hand was retracted, we were wished a “blessed day” and those heavy footsteps began retreating back down the stairs.

Not all neighbours possess such good intentions. An uncle of mine, like many of his generation, kept a few chickens at the back of his property. These birds survived on scratchings, leftovers and their own wits until a few weeks before a major festivity their rations would be increased to fatten them up in time for the party.

One Christmas Eve morning my uncle strolled into his backyard, which was bordered on one side by the police station and on the other by an elderly neighbour.

“Neighbour, yuh have bacchanal goin’ on at yours dis mornin’ or what?” shouted the old man from behind his wire-mesh fence.

“How yuh mean?”

“I did see de sergeant in yuh yard real early, lookin’ up an’ down, up an’ down, searchin’ about all over so, like he lookin’ fuh evidence.”

“Evidence? What de….” said my uncle, looking around. Something wasn’t right. The yard was quieter. A quick head count of his flock revealed the reason.

“Blasted man teef meh yard fowl!”

“Boy yuh should report dat,” replied the elderly neighbour.

“Who ah tellin’? Police?”

This livestock larceny was not restricted to chickens, as my unfortunate uncle was to discover a few Christmas seasons later. He had, perhaps foolishly given his previous experience, been keeping a pig and allowing it to rummage on a patch of ground to the front of his house. One afternoon, the porker was taking a siesta in the shade of a mango tree when a maxi taxi screeched to a halt nearby. With a whoosh the maxi’s side door slid back and five big men burst from it like a West Indian Special Forces unit. They made a beeline for the sow, which sensed danger. The salivating men might have been fuelled by gluttonous visions of endless geera pork but the sow had more fancy footwork than Lionel Messi.

She led them a merry dance until she was finally cornered, captured and carried, protesting wildly, back to the vehicle. The spirited swine was not done for yet, though, and stuck out her front legs rigidly on the skirt of the maxi, squealing like mad. Try as they might, the gang could not manhandle her inside, and her furious protestations had alerted neighbours who ran to her aid. Realising the game was up, the five dropped the pig, jumped into the taxi and sped off, leaving the animal grunting and snorting – indignant but victorious.

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