“Before the dawn” by Judy Raymond

I go out into the morning after he has left for the day. It seems quiet because there’s no shouting. I hear my rooster still crowing, of course; other birdcalls; insects; the stream trickling down the hill if rain has fallen; the occasional passing car.

When I reach the chicken coop, the light is strong, though not yet hot; it falls straight through my skin. I expect to see my bones like twigs among the tangle of veins that wraps them. I feel thin as an eggshell.

My neighbour is very patient, with me and the chickens and their noise.

“Is Trinidad,” she says. “It suppose to have fowl. Before you get your own, this was the onliest place I ever live where I ent hear rooster making noise in the morning.”

She has eyes that have seen a lot; short-cropped grey hair; sensible clothes—she says she can’t afford anything different. I visit every day, taking fresh eggs. We sit at her kitchen table and she makes herbal tea and murmurs advice. It must come from experience, from when her husband was alive and her children at home.

“Don’t take on that,” she says. “Men could be real selfish, yes.”

Does she mean her husband too? I thought of her marriage as content; that comforted me. I realise I don’t know when he died. If he died.

Her children rarely fly home. She hardly talks about them. I don’t ask why she doesn’t visit them: perhaps because of money. She could sell her house and have cash to spare, but I understand why she doesn’t. She’s lived here since before these big old houses became expensive. Her memories are here.

Sometimes I envy the peace of her empty house, her solitude, but then feel guilty.

My husband complains that I spend too much.

“Why you shouldn’t have nice things?” she says, sharply now. “Lord knows allyuh have money for it.”

I buy books; plants for my garden; clothes for the occasions I must attend, as his wife. Sometimes people come to our house for parties. I drink too much and don’t remember what we talk about. I don’t know what I would do without my neighbour.

One morning an unaccustomed silence wakes me before sunrise. I go straight to the chicken coop.

They seem to move when I open the door, but only because the breeze stirs their feathers.

I touch their floppy bodies, call their foolish, affectionate names. I think some animal must have attacked them, but there is no blood, no bite marks. I realise someone has wrung their necks. I go to my neighbour’s house and tell her, through tears.

She puts her arm round me.

“I going and make some tea,” she says. As she pads away I see grass cuttings sticking to the soles of her slippers. The hems of her blue pants are wet with dew from when she walked before the dawn across my garden to my chicken coop.

Judy Raymond is a writer and editor. She is the editor in chief of Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday and is the author of several books, most recently the biography Beryl McBurnie (UWI Press, 2018).

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