Date Published: March 2016
As a small boy, Alex becomes ensnared in the schemes of his mother, Cathlean, as she seeks to entrap a white British soldier, John, and “marry up” to improve her status in life. Her plan comes to fruition when John becomes obsessed with his black wife, marries her, then takes her and her son away from her native country of Belize to live in England. Cathlean becomes the society woman in England but begs her husband to return to Belize so she can show off her new status to her friends and fellow “good-time” girls. They return ten years later, but an unhappy Alex seeks solace in the arms of Sherrette. They fall head over heels but soon find their own problems as fast-paced revelations affect their fragile relationship. Told in a first-person view of life in Dangriga, Belize, young Alex’s story reflects on the color of his pain as he seems to bear the brunt of Cathlean’s selfish brand of pain that she calls love.
Stann Creek District
Belize, Central America
Friday night, and the plain pine coffin stood on three unpainted sawhorses in the middle of the floor. Mourners murmured among themselves as they gathered under the white tent and stood directly in front of the coffin looking down at the almost angelic face of the deceased. A copper penny had been placed on top of each of the deceased’s eyelids in true Garífuna fashion. The toes of the new white socks had been attached together with a shiny safety pin; that too was a Garífuna tradition, origin unknown. The copper pennies were vaguely representative of the “toll” that the dead would have to pay to get a pass from Saint Peter into heaven. Yes, you couldn’t always tell, but Garífunas, one of which the deceased was, believed in heaven, hell, and an afterlife.
Sure, they dabbled in Obeah, the Belizean-African system of spells, hexes curses, and magic, and they regularly participated in Dugú, a voodoo-like healing ritual, in the Dabúyabah (Temple) to appease the spirits, but they wanted to make absolutely sure the deceased paid their way into heaven. They, functioning in the shadowy, dual world of Christianity and spiritualism, wanted to make sure that all bases were covered, just in case the deceased needed help to get to meet their maker.
Directly to the right of the coffin sat a woman in a wheelchair, a tragic figure, her head bent and sobbing or at times wailing and cursing at God, blaming him for the loss of the deceased. An average, nondescript gentleman stood awkwardly behind her, talking soothingly to her, rubbing her shoulders and back, trying in vain to comfort her.
Another male, this one a stranger, stood near the inside entrance of the tent, shuffling from one foot to the other, twisting a beat-up brown fedora between gnarled hands. He seemed ill at ease, reeking of marijuana and rum; he too was sobbing pitifully. Some people whispered to each other, wondering who he was, what his connection to the deceased was, and why he was there, but nobody was brave enough to ask him. The few who knew who he was would not satisfy the curiosity of those clueless to his identity.
To complete the tableau of mourners, near the front, just to the left of the coffin, was a young girl of about fifteen or sixteen years of age, beautiful but clearly wracked with sorrow, with head bowed as she shrieked in agony. You could tell from looking at her that she was hugely pregnant, like she was about eight and a half months along. Many of those present wondered whether she would last through the funeral or if she would have to be rushed to the hospital even before the night was over. She was quite literally “ready to pop” and deliver her baby, but some were reassured because they saw that Mamma Graciela, the local midwife known for her magic fingers and calm demeanor, even in breech-birth situations, was in the crowd. They were confident that she would be able to handle things or whatever complications would arise.
A local band kept a lively flow of Punta music and other favorites going; people were nodding their heads and shaking their bodies to the sounds, even the non-Garífunas: Kriols, Indians, Spanish, or gi-yows as they were called. Papa Deuce had his card table set up in a corner and was doing a brisk business at four different tables at a dollar buy-in; one table was dedicated to the dice game “under or over,” the second to five-card Pitty Pat, the third to checkers, and the fourth to a cutthroat game of dominoes, or “bones.” The domino table drew the largest crowd as gleeful players loudly yelled “Domino!” as they slapped winning tiles to the appropriate end of the domino board.The louder the slap at the placing of that final tile, the more in-your face the win and temporary bragging rights until that winner was taken down by the next challenger, and so on. Marty, the most recent winner, taunted Louis as he slammed the winning domino tile down.
About the Author
MELISA E. ARNOLD was born in Dangriga, Belize, Central America, and has been writing stories since she was a young girl. Her family says she always created stories and always won essay-writing competitions in school. She is a thrice-published poet but has always felt that she had at least “one great novel” in her that needed to be written. This book is the result of her collaboration with fellow Belizean expatriate Alexander Cassanova, with whom she discovered she had much in common as they make their way in their new country of residence, the United States of America. Ms. Arnold resides in Los Angeles, California.
Psychological Realism / Contemporary / Literary Fiction
Date Published: 23rd November 2016
“Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?”
My character has been shaped by two opposing forces; the pressure to conform to social norms, and the pressure to be true to myself. To be honest with you, these forces have really torn me apart. They’ve pulled me one way and then the other. At times, they’ve left me questioning my whole entire existence.
But please don’t think that I’m angry or morose. I’m not. Because through adversity comes knowledge. I’ve suffered, it’s true. But I’ve learnt from my pain. I’ve become a better person.
Now, for the first time, I’m ready to tell my story. Perhaps it will inspire you. Perhaps it will encourage you to think in a whole new way. Perhaps it won’t. There’s only one way to find out…
Enjoy the book,
It was my sixth birthday when the little voice first spoke to me.
Please do understand, dear reader, that it wasn’t an abstract little voice. Oh no! It belonged to a little creature who lived inside my brain. But that creature had not, up until that point, ever said a word.
That creature wasn’t human. Far from it! Although its eyes were identical to my own.
If I’m to be totally honest, I must admit that I’m not exactly sure what it was. I’ve always just called it ‘The Egot’.
The egot’s skin was as red as hellfire, its hair was as bright as the midday sun, and its belly was as round as a pearl. It had webbed feet, elfish ears and lithe claws. I assumed it was male, but it could’ve been female; it was impossible to tell.
Yet, despite its peculiar appearance, I felt comfortable whenever I saw the egot. It possessed a powerful sort charisma which always put me at ease. It’d lift its flat cap, bend one of its spiky knees, and wink in a way which made its eye sparkle. Just seeing the egot made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
The egot was familiar. It was a part of the scenery of my mind. My companion. My friend.
But it had never spoken. Not until the day I turned six.
I was at school when it happened, sitting at the set of desks which I shared with five other pupils. The waxy floor was illuminated by white light. The smell of pencil shavings wafted through the air.
Our teacher, Ms Brown, was standing at the front of that prefabricated space. She was scratching a tiny nub of chalk along an indifferent blackboard.
“As soon as those brave explorers stepped foot on that distant land, they
were attacked by a group of wild savages,” she told the class through a cloud of chalk dust.
“Ooh! Ooh!” screamed Snotty McGill.
I liked Snotty McGill. I liked all the children in my class. Back then, I think we all just tacitly assumed that we were equal. That we were all in the same boat. We didn’t really think about our different genders, races or classes. We just co- existed, like one big family.
I think Snotty McGill was actually called Sarah, but we called her ‘Snotty’ because she always had a cold. An hour seldom passed in which she didn’t either sneeze, pick her nose, or wipe a bogie onto her snot-encrusted sleeve. But she had such a lovely colour. That pink glow which comes with the flu used to engulf her like an aura. It suited her. She always looked so damn effervescent.
Anyway, as I was saying, Snotty McGill was waving her hand above her head.
“Ms! Ms!” she called. “What’s a ‘savage’?”
Ms Brown turned to face us. She looked chalky. Everything around her looked chalky. The floor was covered in chalk-dust and the skirting-boards were covered in chalky-ashes. Chalk residue glistened in Ms Brown’s bushy hair. It coated the points of her fingers.
“Well,” she said. “A savage has the body of a man, but not his civility. A savage is like an animal. He doesn’t wear clothes, live in a house, study or work. He follows his base urges; to eat, drink and reproduce. But he doesn’t have an intellect. He doesn’t have any ambition. He’s smelly, hairy and uncouth. He does the least he can to survive. And he spends most of his time sleeping or playing.”
Snotty McGill looked horrified. As did Stacey Fairclough, Sleepy Sampson and Gavin Gillis. Chubby Smith looked like he was about to start a fight. Most of the class looked dumbfounded. But I felt inspired.
‘They don’t have to go to school!’ I thought with envy and intrigue. ‘They spend all their time playing! They sleep for as long as they like!’
It was as if I’d stumbled across a species of super-humans. To me, the savages sounded like gods. I knew at once that I wanted to be one. I’d never been so sure of anything in my life.
The egot smiled mischievously. It rolled a whisker between its skeletal claws and tapped one of its webbed feet.
Ms Brown continued:
“Well, when the explorers stepped ashore, a pack of savages came hurtling towards them; swinging through the trees like monkeys, beating their breasts like apes, and howling like donkeys. They flocked like birds and stampeded through the dust like a herd of untamed wildebeests.”
That was when the egot spoke for the first time.
It leaned up against the inside of my skull, just behind my nose, and crossed its spindly legs. Then it began to talk:
“If you want to be a savage, you should probably act like a savage. You know, you should probably stampede like a wildebeest. Maybe beat your breast like an ape. Perhaps you’d like to howl like a donkey? Yes, yes.”
The egot’s voice was so… so… so… So far beyond description. So subtle. So calm. So quirky. So eccentric. And so, so quiet!
The egot accentuated random letters, as if it was shocked to discover their existence. It swilled its words, like a Frenchman mulling over a glass of confused wine. And it stretched random syllables, as if it was saddened to see them go.
There was a certain melody to the egot’s voice. It didn’t so much speak as rhyme, like a Shakespearean actor on a crisp autumn night.
But the egot was quiet. Its voice was such a little voice. A little voice inside my head.
That little voice struck me dumb.
The egot strummed its lip, like a pensive philosopher, and waited for me to reply. But I was in a state of paralytic shock. I couldn’t have replied if I’d wanted to. So the egot folded its arms, in a gesture of mock offence, and then continued on:
“I’m only telling you what you want to hear,” it purred. It swirled the word ‘telling’ so much that the ‘ell’ sound reverberated five times; ‘Tell-ell-ell-ell-ell-ell-ing’.
“You don’t really want to succumb to civility. No, no. You want to be a savage. I think you want to jump between tables, like a monkey swinging between trees. If you thought you could get away with it, and no-one was judging you, you wouldn’t think twice.”
It was a moment of clarity. Bright white, unadulterated clarity. Silent. Outside of time and space.
Please do allow me to explain…
I’m a big fan of the founder of Taoism, the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. He was a wizened old gent. His hair was as white as virgin snow and his eyes were deeper than any ocean on earth.
Well, Lao Tzu once said that ‘Knowing others is wisdom. Knowing yourself is enlightenment’.
Dear reader, that’s exactly how I felt! In that moment, I felt that I ‘knew’ myself. In that moment, I felt ‘enlightened’.
Everything was clear. It was clear that I’d been living in a cage. It was clear that freedom was mine to take. It was clear what I had to do. The egot was my clarity. Everything was clear.
I remember a sense of otherworldliness, as if I’d stepped outside of the physical realm. My legs lifted my torso, my frame stood tall, and my spirit stood still. My body melted away from my control.
I watched on as it broke free. As it leapt up onto our shared desk. As it pounded its breast like a valiant ape. And as it puffed its chest like a swashbuckling superhero.
The faint sound of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony started to fill my ears. Delicate violin strings provided a melodic backdrop for the ballet which was unravelling onstage.
My body performed a pirouette.
White paper rose up beneath my feet and span around my shins like froth on a choppy ocean.
I felt an all-encompassing surge of bliss.
One leg rose up in front of my body, forming a sharp arrow which pointed out towards an adjacent desk. I held that position perfectly still, whilst lifting my chin with a pompous sort of grace. Then I leapt like a spring deer, in slow motion, with one leg pointing forward and the other one darting back.
Beethoven’s Ninth sounded glorious as it purred through the gears. Violas joined violins and cellos joined those violas. Double basses began to hum and flutes began to whistle.
I landed with my feet together; an angel of the air, a demon of the sea. My mind floated atop an infinite ocean.
My legs leapt on through the infinite air. They bounded from table to table with ever-increasing speed; gaining momentum, gaining height. I could see my monkey soul. I could hear the monkey calls which were emanating from my open mouth.
I could hear Beethoven’s Ninth reach its first crescendo, as the brass section began its battle cry. Flutes became one with clarinets. Bassoons boomed. Trumpets and horns squealed with uncontrollable delight.
I howled like a donkey at the moment of sexual climax. My lungs filled with pure spirit.
I landed on all fours, looking like a bison. My shoulders were bulging out of my back and my temples were as erect as horns.
I leapt like a giant frog. And I stampeded between desks like a herd of untamed wildebeests; leaving a trail of overturned chairs, twisted students and miscellaneous debris in my wake.
Beethoven’s Ninth called out for redemption, glory and release. It was an impassioned cry. It was a fury-filled yell.
“Yew! Yew! Yew!” Ms Brown yelled. “Yew! Yew! Yew!”
Ms Brown had been yelling since the moment I stood up. But I’d been on a different plane. I hadn’t heard a thing.
My teacher’s voice pierced my ether, burst my euphoria, and threw me down amongst the shards of my shattered pride. To my left; a small calculator bled black ink, a wonky table rocked back and forth like a sober addict, and a potted plant spewed crumbs of soil all across the vinyl flooring. To my right; Aisha Ali was crying into her collar, Tina Thompson was rubbing her shin, and Chubby Smith was holding his belly.
“Yew! Yew! Yew!” Ms Brown yelled.
(I’m called Yew by the way. I think I forgot to mention that).
“Yew! What on earth do you think you’re doing? What’s come over you? I,I, I…”
Ms Brown choked on her words, lifted a hand to her throat, coughed up some chalk-dust, and then gulped down a stodgy chunk of passive air.
She shook her head.
“You’re usually such a good boy!”
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Whatever came over you? Look at this place! Just look at this place! I… I… I just can’t believe it! Oh my.”
I looked around.
The debris of my liberation assaulted my torrid eyes. The disgrace of my emancipation flushed through my dusty veins. And my glorious body became a tepid vase for the desert’s tears.
“I’m not angry,” Ms Brown sighed. “I’m just disappointed.”
That hurt. It hurt a lot.
I was fond of Ms Brown. She was such a sweet person. She was warm. So her disappointment really cut through me.
It was a heavy sort of disappointment; weighed down by the burden of expectation and the gravity of my situation. And it was an overpowering sort of disappointment. It pinned me to the floor.
My world inverted. Ignorance replaced enlightenment. Darkness replaced light. Density replaced levity.
My euphoria was usurped by a deathly sort of anxiety, which shook me from side to side and made me shiver to the core. Beethoven’s Ninth was snuffed out by the booming of my incessant heart. I was sucked down into a black-hole at the centre of my being; paralysed by my teacher’s disappointment and frozen by my own sense of fear. I felt trapped, small and base.
“Disappointed,” Ms Brown repeated. “Yew! That’s not how you’re supposed to behave. That’s not what society expects of you.”
Ms Brown shook her head, which caused chalk-dust to float up into the air. It glistened in the bright-white light. It sparkled.
Ms Brown tutted.
Then she sent me to see the headmaster.
About the Author
Joss Sheldon is a scruffy nomad, unshaven layabout, and good for nothing hobo. Born in 1982, he was brought up in one of the anonymous suburbs which wrap themselves around London’s beating heart. And then he escaped!
With a degree from the London School of Economics to his name, Sheldon had spells selling falafel at music festivals, being a ski-bum, and failing to turn the English Midlands into a haven of rugby league.
Then, in 2013, he went to McLeod Ganj in India; a village which plays home to thousands of angry monkeys, hundreds of Tibetan refugees, and the Dalai Lama himself. It was there that Sheldon wrote his first novel, ‘Involution & Evolution’.
With several positive reviews to his name, Sheldon had caught the writing bug. So he travelled around Palestine and Kurdistan before writing his second novel, ‘Occupied’; a dystopian ‘masterpiece’ unlike any other story you’ve ever read!
Now Joss has returned with his third, and most radical novel yet. ‘The Little Voice’ takes a swipe at the external forces which come to shape our personalities. It’s psychological. And it will make you think about the world in a whole new way. As the Huffington Post put it, The Little Voice is probably “The most thought-provoking novel of 2016″…