“Tracy jumping Meena bed, Tracy breaking Meena head!” the new one we call Cat-Face shout. She call Cat-Face because she eyes green like real-life cat. Miss Benedict say there is cat so black only he green-green eyes make we know he really there. “And you know what happen to them who go in the bush at night where the cat live?” Miss Benedict stop gathering the dirty sheet and place she-self on the edge of Meena bed. Tracy stop jumping and we crowd round Miss Benedict. “Whathappen? Whathappen?”
“They never come back out the same way they go in,” Miss Benedict say, looking deep into we eyes.
“Why?” I ask, grabbing Tracy hand because I know a nansi story coming.
“Because you can’t see your shadow in the bush at night. You think you can but is only the light of the moon playing tricks on you. Is only the branch of a jacaranda waving in the wind or a spider monkey walking above you through the tall-tall trees. But the big black cat –the jaguar – is a special kind of animal. He see everything with eyes like magic lights that switch on in the dark. And he see what you can’t see.”
“What you can’t see! What you can’t see!” Tracy parrot Miss Benedict.
“If you cross the jaguar in the night . . .,” Miss Benedict raise one of them sheet she gather and throw it on Tracy head. “Look out! He steal your shadow before you even know you had one!” All ah we scream so loud we pee with laugh.
Miss Armstrong get up to go but I follow her. “Why we have to see we shadow, Miss Benedict?”
“Oh, Constance girl, you make me tired with all your questions. Your shadow is part of you, of course. How you know you really there if you can’t see your shadow? If your shadow there beside you, you never alone. Is important to know you not the only little thing in this world.” Since Miss Benedict tell we about the bush-cat what no one can see, Tracy stop jumping on Meena bed and start jumping on she shadow, saying the jaguar going to steal it.
“Lord have mercy! How many times I got to tell the Ministry about visiting hours! They think they can send anyone anytime,” I hear House Mother voice like loud-speaker outside we room. Miss Benedict roll up the sheet and shuffle she big self into the next room where all them baby lie.
“Why they don’t send some help instead, eh? Why they don’t let them pickney kin take them home? How many times Meena grandma come round
looking to take that child but the paper-work not done? How many times Ministry say they not ready to release her? How many times I tell them about the others who get no visit since they been here – neither from they father nor they mother nor auntie nor uncle. Miss Tousignant and company sitting nice and comfy in them air-conditioned office sipping coca cola, while we is here sweating with more pickney coming every day. And still no help. Even Devon up and leave. ‘I rather beat clothes by the trench than chase after them little devils!’ That what she say to me before she go!”
“Clothes-washing work don’t sound so bad to me neither sometimes,” Miss Benedict say all quiet-quiet.
“What you say?” House Mother mutter, while she hurrying to put some kind of bouncy spider thing over one of them baby bed. A little bell tinkle and I hear the baby make the happy noise, like he eat soap and bubble popping out of he mouth. House Mother smile too, giving the baby belly an extra rub so he make that happy noise again.
“Mrs. Armstrong!” I hear Paper Man call from the paper-room.
“Lord, them people here already!” House Mother say with a sigh so big it like hurricane pass through we rooms.
I can see the Outside People in the main hall. A man tall and thin like coconut tree stop to put down a big bag. The bag have a sticker on it with two red stripe and one white stripe and some kind of red flower in the white stripe. It not like any flower I see before.
Paper Man come into the hall. “Mrs. Armstrong, please take these visitors to the girls,” he call to House Mother again. “And don’t forget to take the donations.”
“Well, it was nice meeting you. And thanks for letting us in to see the girls on such short notice. We’ve travelled a long way . . .” I see Outside Lady shaking Paper Man hand.
“Yes, yes,” Paper Man say. I can tell he making big-big effort to sound nice but that only make him sound more impatient. “Well, here’s Mrs. Armstrong now. She’ll show you around. And remember that it’s very overwhelming at first.”
Over-well-ming. I try to repeat the word but it too hard for me tongue. Paper Man use too many big word I don’t understand. So many big word Paper Man know but he still don’t know we name. He never say hello neither. He never ask how we is. Even House Mother and Miss Benedict always nicer when Paper Man not around. And they say all kind of funny thing about him that don’t sound too good neither, though it take me a long time to understand that the man they calling Abdul is Paper Man. Once I hear Miss Benedict talk