erna brodber
One afternoon when I was six and in standard 2, sitting quietly while the
teacher, Mr. Grant, wrote our assignment on the blackboard, I heard a girl
scream as if she were frightened. Mr. Grant must have heard it, too, for he
turned as if to see whether that frightened scream had come from one of us, his
charges. My classmates looked at me. Which wasn’t strange: I had a reputation
for knowing the answer. They must have thought I would know about the
scream. As it happened, all I could think about was how strange, just at the
time when I needed it, the girl had screamed.
I had been swimming through the clouds, unwillingly connected to a small
party of adults who were purposefully going somewhere, a destination I sud-
denly sensed meant danger for me. Naturally I didn’t want to go any further
with them, but I didn’t know how to communicate this to adults and ones
intent on doing me harm. At the girl’s scream, they swam away, quickly leaving
me to tread the clouds alone but feeling that I had been abandoned and could
justifiably do as I wished—and I wished to return to my place on the bench in
standard 2, ready to solve the problems that Mr. Grant had written on the
board. The feeling of being carried away and then abandoned to tread the
clouds by myself is one I can never forget.
Twenty-four years later, suffering from a thyroid problem that brought me
strange sensations, I tried to describe for my endocrinologist, a West Indian of
East Indian extraction, some of these sensations, recalling for him the feeling
of being carried away and treading air, which had returned. I thought this
disclosure would help toward a diagnosis, which had been evading my medical
team. He looked away from me, muttering that ‘‘we would now try psychiatry.’’
Is not everything good eat, good talk. No matter how much contact we have
had with a world not governed by the five senses, Caribbean university pro-
fessors like my endocrinologist and I, Indo or Afro, are not supposed to admit
to having them. A higgler or a cultivator in rural Jamaica—Indo or Afro—upon
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