HE STOOD like a sentry guarding old Smithy’s rum-shop, his eyes as black as the coals Ma cooked with, or the black birds she warned would pick out our eyes if we didn’t stop being so hard-ears—her warning always followed by the tired refrain, “Hard-ears yuh wun hear, own way yuh does feel!”

     Though new to our neighbourhood, he acted as though he owned it. Every Friday evening after work he and the guys he roomed with could be found outside the shop drinking, slamming dominoes, or arguing politics with big men. Ma cussed his very existence and those of his kind, willing them to “go back to where they born and lef Barbados fuh Bajans.”

     His muscular arms and chest reminded me of my Uncle Jeff; maybe he was a labourer, too. The thick gold chain that enslaved his neck reminded me of Bussa’s chains.  Bussa was uglier, though.

     His skin was blue-black and smooth, like mine, but his hair was different. Better. I fingered my course plaits, secretly wishing I could trade. His straight, long, shiny ones reminded me of Mr Singh’s, the coolie-man who came around on Saturdays.

     I watched him watching me and felt a strange stirring in my belly. I immediately felt the urge to pee. He continued looking. I looked away. My legs felt heavy. I forced one in front of the other, taking unusual interest in my grimy toes and grungy rubber slippers. My once lilac T-shirt and acid-washed jean shorts—hand-me-down hand-me-downs—seemed even more oversized and dingy. 

     He seemed important—always seemed to be holding conference. He turned and whispered something to the men who surrounded him. They laughed and glanced my way. He smirked as his eyes followed theirs. He slowly sipped his Banks beer and wiped off the cold water in his jeans.

     Angry and unsure why, I lifted my head and met his eyes, praying that in my moment of bravery I would neither wet myself nor fall over my feet, which suddenly felt like two left ones I had borrowed. Holding my breath, I climbed the short steps to the shop door. In an uncharacteristic act of daring, I allowed my eyes to shift from my grimy footwear to his crisp white Nike sneakers.

     I stumbled. A hand caught me. I knew it was his—though I didn’t look. My belly swirled again.

     “I-I would like a bag of flour and a pound of su-sugar, please,” I told Mr. Smith, as he continued his examination and I squirmed.

     Once dispatched, I bolted from the shop, the sting of his laughter following my strides.  “You can run, but you can’t hide,” he shouted between swigs of his beer. “One day, you’ll be running to me, baby!”

      I stopped and turned. He stood on the top step, arms outstretched. “I’m all yours whenever you are ready,” he said with a sure smile.

     I winked, turned and scampered home.

Carol George-Gaskin dreams of penning bestselling Christian novels and establishing a development foundation. In the meantime, the Fulbright Scholar and communication and development specialist relishes capturing the Caribbean on paper and family life. Her short story Hard Ears is included in the forthcoming 2011/2012 ArtsEtc NIFCA Winning Words Anthology.