Families living in the front yard at Christiana district are a mix of hard working roomers ruled by a brutish collector of rent known to everyone as Mr. Sam Ingram or Mass Sam. Serving no other earthly purpose than being a collector of rent, Ingram worked very hard at squeezing the tenants who missed paying their rents on the first day of the month. It is the roomers who make the front yard a neighborly and generous place to live in though, and they form lasting relationships while supporting each other. Mass Sam each day parked his portly figure on a bench positioned midway on a long verandah near his room.
The perpetual toothpick that he wore between his spaced-out and yellowed teeth and shrinking gums leaned outward when he spoke. It slid around his spaced-out teeth, but Ingram used his tongue to slide the errant toothpick back into place in his cavernous mouth. This was a ritual that irked many people. A benign group of roomers also shared space in Ingram’s building. The rent collector carried a grim countenance and a smile never creased his rigid face. He seemed bereft of a heart and a soul. Ingram collected the rental proceeds and turned the catch over to his greedy but wealthy uncle the absent landlord Windy Ganlog. Ganlog had never been seen, hide nor hair, by any of the roomers during their time in the front yard. Many of them had lived in their units for decades.
Standing erect at the entrance to the front yard was a tall mango tree that was bereft of leaves most of the time. It had never borne a fruit while passing time on the land, and it stood as a monument for people to imagine what could have been if only the mango tree would blossom and bear fruit, but there it stood and old people classified the feckless mango tree as a dead man standing.
Mass Sam never left his post on the bench where he sat all day, leaving only to answer nature’s call or to fetch something to eat. The latter he would quickly place in a plate and rush back to the bench in order to catch the street action. The action centered upon the antics of Mr. Danville and his sort of impressive home across the street from Ingram’s humble lot..
Danville barely nodded to anyone in the vicinity of the front yard and was referred to as Brother Hog because of his loud voice and his bragging credentials that had everyone fleeing in opposite directions and away from the braggart when Danville’s presence was made known through his vociferous vocal chords.
When Danville bought a steak for his sheepish wife Lucie to prepare for dinner, he stopped on the way home on top of a hilll that overlooked the front yard and his home across the street. He bellowed to his wife Lucie from his perch and in Jamaican patois language he barked: “A buy a steak fi you mi dear so you can cook it fi wi.” In English Language, that translates into: “I bought a steak for you my dear so you can cook it for us.”The entire neighborhood was thus informed that Danville and his family would have steak for dinner that night.
Miss Fanny occupied a room next to Mass Sam’s room. She was a pretty but flighty lady who charmed everyone in sight and was unattached for male companionship when she first moved into the joint. That status did not last for long as she soon hooked up with Mass Rafa, a tall and jovial man who never saw a need to refuse a drink, the potent J. Wray and Nephew Jamaican Rum, which would cause him to break into peals of unstoppable and raucous laughter. Once the couple met and fell in love, in no time Mon as the locals said, Miss Fanny became Mass Rafa’s sweetheart and moved right into his room. Now the rent collector would have to find a new tenant for Miss Fanny’s now vacant room.
Miss Cookie was a gem, and she was a real cook who worked in the homes of wealthy families, She displayed her gourmet talents by preparing mouth-watering island dishes. Miss Cookie worked five days a week and returned to her room in the front yard late in the day, where she then cooked again for herself and anyone else who needed a meal. Everyone loved the rotund Miss Cookie and they enjoyed her food favors.
Miss Cookie got ill one day and she was never the same again. The beloved Miss Cookie passed away and mayhem broke loose thereafter. People huddled in the front yard after nine night observation, an island burial watching period when duppies better known as spirits break loose. The frightful topic of conversations was the scampering around of Miss Cookie’s ghost. Could it be an optical illusion?
Miss Cookie’s apparition seemed to be everywhere, but Jamaicans on a whole get righteously frazzled when duppies visit their last place of abode, and Miss Cookie’s duppy was bent on not leaving the front yard no matter what incantations were used to drive the beloved Cookie’s restless duppy away. There was no electricity then, and no one knew when the dead Miss Cookie would materialize in front of a resident in the darkness, causing a live resident to scream and scatter away .The restless duppy seemed to fade away as time passed, and it was assumed that Miss Cookie’s spirit had comfortably settled in on the other side.
Miss Taib and her knock-kneed common-law husband Abram roosted in their room further back in the front yard amidst a bed of stones that snugly held the so-called structure of their room. Their unit was beside the room of Eric the quiet one who spent all of his time staring through his board window that he opened and where he rested his chin on his hand and stared out into space for hours on end. He was not a man of many words if any at all.
Miss Taib was a good cook and the aroma from her food preparation in a communal clapboard kitchen did spread all around the compound. She had what people referred to then as a caste eye. She was either cooking or pressing Abram’s pants for his next day’s work.Those features occupied most of her time, and the rest of her time was spent huddling with the front yard gossip mill, but it was harmless gossip mostly about who was sleeping with whom and which man was caught sneaking late at night into a new woman’s room.
Abram worked as a day laborer on contract where he plowed the fields and planted crops as a farm hand. He never wore a pair of shoes, but he did grab his tools of trade–a farm fork and a hoe–and slung them over his shoulder as he left for work at dawn each day. Abram’s walking was painful to watch. As he stepped, his knocked knee slid dangerously close to the good foot’s knee and threatened to tumble him down on the rough and rocky Manrock Road. The knocked knee somehow knew how to untangle itself at the last minute to balance Abram and prevent a fall. Sadly his life became a bit much for Abram to continue one day.
Abram sized up the big tank next to his room in the front yard, where the residents drew their drinking, cooking and bathing water with the use of a bucket attached to a long rope. He had no shoes to step out of since he never wore shoes, and the man jumped right into the tank and committed suicide by drowning. Abram never left a note to alert anyone as to why he would do such a thing, but he just simply jumped into the tank full of rain water that the front yard people solely depended on for domestic purposes. He was fished out of the tank and buried somewhere.
Miss Eulalee was a very dignified roomer who shared a room with Mass Bertie who was a baker. He worked for a Chinese bakery and produced bread in artwork that was stunning. A duck bread formatted and baked by Mass Bertie was a study in art, for every detail of a live duck was carved into the baked duck, and the ingredients were tantalizingly delicious. All went well in this household until Miss Eulalee’s younger sister Katy came to town for a visit. The visit stretched into days and months. A loud and libidinous young woman, she proceeded to wreck Mass Bertie and Miss Eulalee’s relationship. Katy became sexually involved with Mass Bertie.
Mass Rudy managed to be jovial but serious and became the front yard’s resident joker. He worked in business somewhere and was meticulously dressed all the time. He wore a tie always. Rudy told jokes with a poker face rendition that is reminiscent of Richard Pryor. His life became exciting for him when he met Nurse. That was the name with which he introduced the woman. She was a nurse by profession. They got married and she became pregnant. The couple moved into a house on the banks of a pond. Nurse passed away while giving birth, and Rudy’s life was never the same again. He was inconsolable at the passing of his beloved Nurse.
The front yard people had entertainment or warnings provided by Miss Daisy who was a regular visitor to the front yard. Daisy was a con artist seer with perpetual red eyes set in a mostly mad-looking face accompanied by a rotund-like figure Those who saw her coming into the compound would flee in fear for she always brought bad news of some distant but never materializing catastrophe, and the seer never knew when she had worn out her welcome. A loud call-out would announce her arrival, and her ample figure would roll around the compound until she picked on a chosen roomer to unload her bad news of the day.
Mattie rounded out the visiting log to the front yard but she was always welcome there as she regaled the tenants about her life and times. Mattie was shoeless and had a sorrowful face. She brought news of death in the district and attended every funeral, which proceedings she reported back to the front yard people.
Mattie was clueless who many of the dead or departed were, and it didn’t matter for she professionally bawled and moaned during the funeral services and created quite a stir in the Moravian Church’s special seating areas where the wealthy parked themselves in their favored benches. Mattie didn’t gave a hoot as to who was privileged and sat in the midst of wealthy church attendants. No one asked Matty to please find another seat elsewhere.
Life goes on in the front yard each year. As time passed, the older generation passed away too. A younger generation now is ensconced in the front yard. It is said that the rent collector, following Mass Sam’s demise, is a more humane man who really has the interests of his tenants at heart while making the front yard as livable as possible for its occupants.