a short story
by Austin Mitchell
Clem Baxter groaned and threw off the covers. He must have been having a nightmare. He felt for Gwyneth but she wasn’t there. He was sure that she had slept in the bed last night. He got up. Her side of the bed was still made up and the pillow looked as if it hadn’t been slept on. He still felt drowsy and there was a knawing feeling in his stomach, signaling that he was hungry. Had he been too drunk to know which woman was sleeping in his bed? He was sure that it had been Gwyneth but then it could have been Dorine. He felt under the bed for his pouch to go and buy some food down at Mindy’s shop. Clem panicked! The pouch was gone. He pushed the mattress off the bed. His pouch with two hundred and fifty thousand dollars was gone. It must have dropped under the bed. He grabbed a broom and began sweeping under the bed. Only some pieces of paper, dust, an old pair of socks came out.
“Miss Agnes, Mass Albert, Gwyneth robbed me. She’s gone with all of my money,” Clem shouted to his next door neighbors and rushed outside.
Mass Albert and Miss Agnes confronted him.
“But it’s a long time that Gwyneth don’t come up here,” Miss Agnes said.
“Clem, after all this time, you still have the money that I gave you for the place, under your mattress, why you never banked it?” Mass Albert asked.
Both he and his wife were aware of the talk in the village that they had gotten Clem’s piece of land cheaply.
“I don’t trust the banks because they want you to fill out too many forms,” Clem replied.
Clem had sold the other piece of land foe the same amount of money and it had finished within a year.
“You want some breakfast, Mass Clem,” Miss Agnes asked.
“Yes, Miss Agnes,” Clem replied to the middle-aged woman.
Clem ate the roasted salt fish, run down, roasted breadfruit, roasted yam and roasted dumplings. The Tulloch’s ate most of their food roasted. Clem drank two cups of coffee.
“I have to report it at the police station. I’m sure it was Gwyneth,” he said as he finished the breakfast.
Both Tullochs didn’t know which woman Clem had in the little backroom last night as they hadn’t seen when he came in. They had afforded him the room after he sold out to them. They had big plans for the piece of land.
Clem returned to his room to put on some better clothes to go out to the police station. He would have to go up to Berris’ bar to find out from Bull and Jack which woman had come home with him but he realized that the bar wouldn’t be opened until after ten o’clock.
He wished he had his car and didn’t have to walk. He hoped that it would be fixed by tomorrow.
Corporal Distant was laughing as he took the statement from Clem.
“You let another woman rob you again, Clem, after you sold out your place so cheap. The first one was Verna and you accused her of stealing money from you and up to now we haven’t found her,” the Corporal scolded him.
Sergeant Rowe was coming over. While Distant was tall and thin, Rowe was thick and at thirty years old, five years Distant’s senior.
“Clem Baxter, you again and I suppose it’s another woman gone with your money. I offered the buy the place from you but you sold it to Albert Tulloch for two thirds of what I was offering,” the Sergeant said, disapprovingly.
Clem knew it was true what the Sergeant had just said. But the man had wanted to pay him off over a year while Albert was giving him the money one time.
After Clem left, the two policemen sat talking.
“Who did he say took his money this time, Leslie?” the Sergeant asked.
“One Gwyneth Douglas, but I know her and it’s a long time since I’ve seen her up here,” Leslie Distant replied.
“He sold Jonas Hibbert the other piece and look how he built it up. I think Clem is crazy. I know some of his children. The three that I know are gown up. Two of them are away and in big jobs and the one in Jamaica is in a big job too,” Dalkeith Rowe said.
Keswick had a high school and an all age school plus several churches. It was a developing community.
It was no wonder that several persons were perplexed at the way Clem Baxter had disposed off his two lots of land. Now with the supposed theft of the last of his money people were already wondering about his future.
“My gut feeling is that Clem is tryuing to get back at his wife and children for abandoning him,” Sergeant Rowe said.
“The Tullochs will soon turn him out,” Leslie Distant remarked as he went to attend to two women entering the station.
The Sergeant nodded before going to the jeep to drive up to Hibbert’s Restaurant for breakfast.
Clement Baxter was born in Renford in the parish of St. Catherine. His parents migrated to the nearby Hanson district in the fifties and Clem had grown up in the latter district. From a youngster he was good with his hands, fixing almost anything. He bought a motorcycle and would ride around selling ice-cream and fudge among other things. He courted Delpha Roberts and married her a short time later. Delpha made hats. Soon Clem had saved enough money to buy a quarter acre plot in Keswick. They moved there after Clem built a two bedroom house there and a board restaurant. Then the children started coming. Clem’s restaurant was doing a thriving business as was Delpha’s and they needed hired help.
Several young ladies who were hired as assistants complained about Clem’s behavior.
After twenty four years of marriage Delpha felt she had enough. That Clem had been unfaithful to her especially during the last ten years she had no doubt. He was getting more barefaced now, particularly since he sold his motorcycle and bought a car. Many people and even her relatives had wondered why she stayed with him even though she knew what he was doing. But she had only stayed on for the children’s sake. But the older Clem got the worse he behaved and Delpha had thought it would have been the opposite.
“Clem, none of the girls want to stay here. What’s the matter with you? You want to be friendly with every woman that comes here to work. You’ve no respect for me. Look how many children I have for you and you’re behaving as if you’re a single man. If you don’t behave yourself I’m going to move out.”
Delpha knew that she and Clem had had this conversation dozens of times but now she was determined to bring a closure to it all.
“They are lying on me. It’s they who are trying to be friendly with me and when I refuse they come to you with all sorts of stories,” Clem defended himself.
“You got Claire pregnant and Lavern lost the baby she said she was carrying for you. I can’t stand it any longer. I’m leaving you.”
“You’re lying, so all you telling lies on me too, Delpha?”
“I’m not lying on you. You got four children outside,” Delpha burst out crying.
“Where are you going to go and who is going to look after the children while you’re gone?”
“I’m taking them with me. You think I would leave them with you and your various women.”
“I don’t want any other man raising my children.”
Of the six children they had, three were all working and on their own while the others were still in school.
“Delpha, I’m not going to allow you to take my children out of their rightful home.”
“Okay, so I’ll file for divorce then. And we’ll see who gets custody of the children.”
“Divorce me, you wouldn’t dare. I’ll get the best lawyers in Jamaica to fight you.”
But the divorce did come through and Delpha got custody of the three children still in their care after it was proved in court that Clem was a habitual adulterer and had fathered children outside of the marriage.
Three months later Verna one of his children’s mothers moved in. Delpha in the meantime had migrated to Antigua leaving the three younger children with her sister. Then Verna started complaining that Clem should sell a piece of the land and upgrade the business. It had become dillapidated with Delpha’s departure. Clem sold a half of his land and used a half of the money to upgrade the business. He outfitted a wholesale for Verna to run while he ran the restaurant. Then they started quarrelling. She thought he was a bit too friendly with some of their female customers. One night they had a big fight after she saw him with a girl from their village in his car.
The next day Clem went to Kingston to get supplies for their establishments. When he returned Verna was gone with the baby, all of the money plus all the goods in the wholesale. Clem was in shock for a whole week.
When Clem reached Berris’ bar he saw Jack outside and went over to him.
He explained to Jack what he thought had happened last night.
“Clem, what’s that I heard happen to you? You let Dorine gone with your money and you thought it was Gwyneth,” Bull, who heard what he was saying to Jack, scolded him.
So it was Dorine after all. She probably waited until he was fast asleep and then took the money.
“So how much money was it?” Jack asked.
Clem told them and both men shook their heads in disbelief.
“Are you sure that the money is really gone? Last night I saw Dorine come back on the road and took a bus but she didn’t have anything with her except a bag,” Jack explained.
Another man, Gubba, ran out of the bar and pointed a finger in Clem’s face.
“Brown-man, why are you accusing my sister of stealing your money?” he asked. He was Gwyneth’s brother.
“Back off, Gubba. I never heard Brown-man calling you sister a thief,” Jack came to Clem’s defence.
Clem was also called Brown-man.
“Dempster said he was down by Tulloch’s place and heard Brown-man shouting that Gwyneth had robbed him,” Gubba protested.
“It’s not her, Gubba; it was Dorine who took my money. I have to find her and the police won’t help me,” Clem complained.
Two months later and the Tullochs kicked him out. Clem went to live in an old house his aunt had. He wasn’t making much money off running his car which he had converted into a taxi. He was behind in payments for the three kids Delpha had left him to take care of. He had fathered six other children while he was fathering the six by Delpha and none of them was over eighteen. He had also searched all over the island without finding a trace of Dorine.
At fort-eight Clem knew that he was in trouble. Justine, Delpha’s sister, insisted that he pay the full amount of the kids allowance plus the other women found out where he was now living and were down on him for money. Then Clem’s car broke down and he had to leave it in the garage while he searched for the parts. An ugly rumor started that he had sold his car, his furniture and his clothes. People started to call him ‘Sell-out Clem’. The same people were therefore surprised to see him a few months after that in a brand new car compliments of his two sisters in England and his brother in the United States.
It was believed that Clem had found Dorine and got his money from her to buy the car.
Dorine put that rumor to rest when she came into the district for the first time in two years.
“I took Clem’s money because I was pregnant for him and he wasn’t helping me. He had a lot of women and I didn’t want to be begging for my child.”
She was driving a car with a young boy with a striking resemblance to Clem. At the police station she enquired if there was a summons there for her. The personnel at the station had changed but only a complaint against Gwyneth had been filed by Clement Baxter.
“I am married and I have another child, for my husband of course. I understand that Clem is still seeing Gwyneth. Well good for her and good for him,” Dorine also told them.
After she had Clem’s baby despite her family begging her not to talk to him again Gwyneth was still seeing him.
Justine phoned Delpha to tell her about Clem turning over a new leaf as he
was now prompt with his payment for the kids.
Delpha said that he had better be but Clem wasn’t on her mind as she had a wedding to invite Justine to. Her new man, Wilbert Corinthian, an African- American, had proposed to her and she had accepted. Justine screamed with joy for her sister. Delpha told her that she hadn’t heard the best part yet.
“I told you that he was divorced and didn’t have any children. He’ll be moving me and the kids to live with him in Miami where he is a bank manager.”
When Clem heard the news he was livid that he didn’t want his children to go and live with another man. However the same village lawyers, (wise old men), who had advised him against taking action against Dorine now advised him to let the kids go because he had to be working night and day to support them plus the other children he had fathered and Dorine could very well sue him for child support.
Clem harbored some amount of jealousy over the fact that Delpha was getting married again. Although Gwyneth cooked and washed for him and he was along with her they didn’t live together. Clem was also fortunate that his aunt whose house he now lived in had an only son living in France. The latest he had heard was that he wouldn’t be returning to Jamaica any time soon.
Clem became desperate. He didn’t know anything about his aunt’s son. As a matter of fact they had never met. Suppose the man decided to sell the land, what would he do? News could have gotten to him that he was living on the land rent free. His aunt had that son for some Lebanese man in New York. He didn’t know at what age the boy had moved to France. What he did know was that his aunt had died in New York five years ago. He didn’t even think that the son knew about his Jamaican roots. They would be about the same age. He therefore decided to try and recover some of the money he felt he had foolishly lost.
Clem decided to ignore the village lawyers and go to Dorine for his money. He knew that she lived in Kingston. He went to the police station in the community where she lived but they advised him to sue her for the money. They told him that they had checked with the local police and he hadn’t sworn out a warrant for the young lady’s arrest for larceny.
Clem felt frustrated and consulted lawyers to recover his properties sold to the Tullochs and the Hibberts on the pretext that he had been tricked but on examining the sale agreements the lawyers told him that they were genuine sales agreements and that they didn’t believe any trickery was involved.
Clem was given the surprise of his life when his sisters and brother visited him and told him to accompany them to the bank into which he had been depositing his payments to them on the car. They then told him that his cousin in France was willing to sell the property to him and had given them power of attorney to do it.
Clem was now in possession of another property. Gwyneth moved in to live with him having had another child for him the previous year. As a matter of fact to prevent Clem from selling the property his sisters and brother also became joint owners along with him.
Many of his compatriots believe that Clem has been given another chance and are encouraged so far. He has stopped going on drunken binges such as the one he was on when Dorine went away with his money. It seems as if the hard work he had to put in to repay his sisters and brother and the fact that they had stood by him has sobered him up and made him realize that the only way out is up. Only time will tell if Clem will continue in this direction or lapse back into his old ways but the signs so far are certainly encouraging. The End.