Creak, creak, creak.
The small, wooden bed, in the small bedroom at the back of the Lenny’s Bar, rocked back and forth. As Agnes lay there, Bobby on top of her, her mind wandered. It was her little escape to make the task easier.
“What am I doing here, lord?” she asked herself. “I young. I don’t have no pickney to feed. At least other woman have their reasons.”
Agnes thought of her mother now and her disapproving eyes surveying Agnes’s body as she left the house this afternoon.
“Wey you a go?” Mrs Margaret George asked.
“Mother, I tell you already, I get a little work at the shop over dey by the army base.”
“Hmmm,” her mother made that judgmental sound birthed from the base of her throat. Margaret was not one to vocalise her thoughts. She was confrontation-averse but knew how to make her displeasure known.
Agnes knew her mother knew what she was doing. Ever since the American bases opened, bars popped up to service the needs of the servicemen; and women who worked at the bars were seen as suspect.
But Agnes, at 21 years, needed to make her own money. She told herself she would only do it for a short time.
“Mommy cut cane, daddy cut cane, granny cut cane. Everybody cutting blasted cane! Well not me,” she said. It was how she stayed motivated when doubt crept in.
When the Bendals sugar factory closed in 1940 both of Agnes’ parents lost their jobs. Things got harder in Antigua and her father had considered migrating to Cuba to cut more “blasted cane” to support the family.
The two American bases opened up at Crabbes and Coolidge and things changed. People got new, different jobs which paid better than the sugar factory ever did. Even her brother Tinny got carpentry work to build barracks at the base.
Thump, thump, thump.
The sound brought Agnes back to the present.
“He nuh done yet?” she thought to herself. Lost in her thoughts, she had almost forgotten he was there.
Robert Weismann from Crawford, Alabama was a private at the base. Agnes had hoped for a higher ranked officer, like a Colonel, who would have had the privilege to take her back to his quarters. She had never been on the base and wondered what it looked like. It would have meant that she didn’t have to suffer the indignity of the rackety bed.
Bobby, as Robert liked to be called, was nice enough. He was kind to Agnes and maybe even a little shy. They met two weeks ago when Agnes, and the other girls, wearing pretty dresses and lipstick, sat at the bar waiting for the rowdy army officers to approach them.
“How d’you do, missy?” Bobby asked her. She smiled at him and allowed him to buy her a drink. That’s was how it started.
Creak, Creak, Creak!
“Arrrhh,” with one long breath Bobby exhaled. He was spent. He rolled over, pulled a Raleigh cigarette from his shirt pocket and lit it.
“Thanks,” he said.
Agnes smiled, barely; amused that he would thank her. She slid down to the edge of the bed and began dressing herself. She picked up the folded dollar bills on the side table and walked towards the door.
“See you next week?” Bobby asked.
She turned and looked at him. “I don’t think you will see me again. This is the last time I doing anything like this.”
With a look in his eye he said, “Okay missy.”
They both knew she was lying.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kyle Christian, 28, considers himself the consummate student and views life as a big university. A lover of words and language, Kyle is a writer and communicator. He has worked in media as a journalist and radio news presenter and currently works in public relations. With a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Finance, Kyle has a rare love of numbers and words. His favourite things to do on vacation are to cook and read. Kyle was a Wadadli Pen regular in the early years (between 2004-2006) and though he didn’t place in those early years, he recalled a word of encouragement that fuelled his determination to keep writing. Wadadli Pen founder, Joanne C. Hillhouse, he said, told him after the 2006 awards ceremony, “I really enjoyed your story…keep on writing.” He did and claims the main prize in 2018.
Kyle with Hillhouse and the Best of Books sponsored Alstyne Allen Memorial plaque which bears the name of every Wadadli Pen winner since 2004. (Photo by Glen Toussaint)
ABOUT THE STORY: “This story encompassed the theme perfectly and was well written.” – judge
The story is about the economic choices Antiguans (specifically women) were forced to make in the post-slavery era when sugar began to lose its dominance. It was inspired by slice-of-life literary works such as Fences, the Mighty Sparrow’s Jean & Dinah calypso classic, and the realization that American army bases had similar cultural and economic impacts on Antigua.
PRIZES WON: As the 2018 winner of the Wadadli Pen Challenge, a ‘winner take all’ year, Christian pockets EC$2,937.65 (from contributions by Pam Arthurton, International Women’s Club, Frank B. Armstrong, Juneth Webson, Art. Culture. Antigua, Carol Mitchell, and one other). His name will be on the annual Challenge plaque, sponsored by the Best of Books. His other prizes are books – Antigua My Antigua (1), The Legend of Bat’s Cave and Other Stories (1), With Grace (1), Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure (1), Just Write Writers Journal (1), London Rocks(1), and other books – Donors: Barbara Arrindell, Brenda Lee Browne, Joanne C. Hillhouse, and the Best of Books; a gift Certificate for books ($100) – Donor: Cedric Holder for the Cushion Club; a custom Journal – Donor: Jane Seagull; custom gift cards – Donor: Monique S. Simon; scholarship Jhohadli Writing Project Creative Writing Workshop Series (EC$300) – Donor: Joanne C. Hillhouse; and a gift certificate (EC$225) – Donor: Danz’s Sweet Dreams. His name has also been emblazoned on the Alstyne Allen Memorial plaque and he takes home a winner’s certificate sponsored by the Best of Books.
ABOUT WADADLI PEN 2018: The Wadadli Youth Pen Prize launched in 2004 with a writing Challenge that continues 14 years later. The project was launched by Joanne C. Hillhouse with D. Gisele Isaac and the Young Explorer publication. Today, its core team is Hillhouse with past finalists Devra Thomas and Margaret Irish, and writers and long time patrons and partners Floree Whyte and Barbara Arrindell. The name of each winner is emblazoned on the Alstyne Allen Memorial plaque, named for one of the project’s earliest volunteers (and sister-friend of founder, Joanne C. Hillhouse) who died in 2015. The Challenge is Wadadli Pen’s pilot project, in keeping with its mandate to nurture and showcase the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda. The Challenge has encouraged young writers in Antigua and Barbuda (35 years and younger) to write on any topic, within a Caribbean aesthetic. It doesn’t often prescribe other limitations, but this year it did request specifically historical fiction/poetry. Normally, prizes are broken down by age categories but this year it’s winner take all with only one winner and a handful of honourable mentions (Andre Warner, Rosie Pickering, Andrecia Lewis, Chloe Martin, and Ava Ralph). Congratulations to them all. Thanks to the patrons and to partners – Floree Whyte, Barbara Arrindell, Devra Thomas, and Margaret Irish. To find out how you can continue to support the work of Wadadli Pen contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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