Week afore May 11, 2012


      I know the following story to be true. I met the Foggertys late yesterday afternoon when they came from out of the west, stumbling off the Shore Road and onto Blind Pew’s open air bar. They were exhausted, hot, thirsty, more than a little perturbed and quite sore of foot. From first hearing their personal portion of the tale and then piecing the rest together by talking with Smiley and his East Indian friend, Mang, I now offer it to you.

     Smiley is one of many curious fixtures within our community. A perpetual bachelor of indeterminate age and unfixed ethnic origin, he lives with his quite elderly auntie in a neat little blue house on the far side of Sand Hill. Their home is beyond Natty Bumpo’s family place, a bit more toward the village and set back from the road. Auntie never leaves the homestead. Smiley does all her bidding. A spry old citizen, she can often be seen working a small gardening patch behind their house, a pipe clenched between her teeth, an ancient walnut of a face peeking out from beneath a droopy straw hat.  I’ve never spoken with her, but she’s always returned my waves as I walk past.
       Smiley splits his time between working at several custodial jobs in Heartbeat, including a weekly swamping out of Irie Tracks’ main studio, and helping Peachie in Big Hubert’s kitchen over at Mama Celeste’s Restaurant. He’s a hard worker and, aside from his endless snickering and constant giggling, he’s well thought of around here, though only tolerated for long by very few. He can chuckle for hours about absolutely nothing and his standard greeting to everyone year around is “Hot nuf fer ya?” There’s little danger of Smiley ever sending anyone scurrying to a dictionary after chatting with him. 

       Smiley went possum hunting this week. Yes, we have possums here on our island.  Not the grey varieties found up in the cold north, but light brown to blonde critters in coloring, not dissimilar to the various shades found in the coats of our native tropical raccoons. Smiley wasn’t in search of a pet, mind you. Smiley loves possum stew.  I’ve always found the little marsupials to be mite greasy for my personal palate, but Smiley and several others around here relish the gamey concoction of root vegetables, herbs, spices and slow cooked possum. Though there are possums seen around both Heartbeat and Dub City, most aficionados reject possums living within the neighborhoods of their human co-islanders since city possums are essentially scavengers. And though neither of our tiny towns come even close to being cities, Smiley prefers the free range possums that live deep in the virtually uninhabited rain forest on the western side of our island. I’ve always felt, considering the restrictive size of our little world, they might be the very same possums who live in the woods, but go into town for a bite after midnight each night.  Not being involved in the possum lovers’ hunt, I’ve withheld my counsel on the subject. 
       So Smiley and his lascar friend, Mang, went west to fill the stew pot yesterday.  Smiley demands great details be observed for the quest. To mask their human scent they first covered themselves in ashes from Big Hubert’s jerkpit. For above all else, island possum hunting requires stealth. They hunt with a simple mangrove foot club, a bamboo poking pole and a rucksack to stow their quarry.  One brave hunter endeavors to force the possum from his lair with the poking pole while the other awaits with raised club. The pair had hunted most of the morning up beyond Spivey Point just north of Mazenmast Hill.  Deep in the steamy wood they had dispatched and secured three healthy specimen as the sun grew high and temperatures climbed. Mang was all for heading back but Smiley loves to hunt possum. Besides they were already covered in ash.
       “Hot nuf fer ya?” laughed Smiley.
       The jungled forest opened onto a small savanna edged by several mature banyan trees. When Mang shoved the pole under the gnarled roots of the first banyan tree, a half dozen paces away a huge sleepy possum emerged from a previously unseen egress. With a whoop and a guffaw Smiley sprang. Belying its’ name and reputation, instead of dropping to the ground in feigned faint, this large creature hurried across the savanna with the speed of a frightened hare. Smiley chased in full pursuit, his club raised and giggling wildly. Weary, uninterested and tired of being covered in ashes, Mang sat down to eat naseberries he found growing there. 
         Smiley ran headlong after the fat possum, but was barely able to keep the frightened animal in view as it swiftly crisscrossed the open expanse, then quickly cut up the main foot path through the deepening forest in search of a fresh hidey ho’.  Just before where the trail makes a sharp turn back into the heavier brush, Smiley had all but lost sight of his chubby prey when the terrified possum spied sanctuary in the form of a hollow log alongside the path, rushed deep within and settled down for an indefinite siege.
         Smiley spotted the possum’s fat rump disappear into the log! Laughing hysterically he called out for Mang to join him. Out of sight, Mang chose to ignore him and ate more naseberries. Smiley approached the hollow log with his club at the ready. He squatted down and peered into the dark hollow of the large fallen mahogany tree trunk. He could see nothing. He scampered to the far end of the log. Seeing that it was solid on that end, he promptly scampered back, giggling like a chimp. He had the possum trapped for certain! Squatting down again, he extended the mangrove club as far into the dank woody cave as he could. He reached in all the way up to his armpit then strained to reach as far back into the recesses as he possibly might. He waved the stick about, but to no avail. It touched nothing. He could hear nothing. He needed the poking pole and Mang had it.
       “Mang!” he called out with an excited chortle.
       Having eaten his fill of naseberries, Mang took out his pipe, filled it, leaned back in the mottled shade of the banyan tree and enjoyed the slight breeze drifting across the savanna. He, again, ignored Smiley’s call.
       “Mang!!” Smiley shouted out again. This time with just the trace of a chortle.
       A hundred meters away Mang lit his pipe, took a deep draw, looked upward to a flock of ting ting birds as they danced about in the treetops.  He smiled at their song and thought of his childhood in India. Taking another draw from his pipe, he didn’t even hear Smiley now.
       “MANG!!!” shrieked Smiley. There was no chortle.
       Still getting no response, Smiley began to strike the log with his club.  He’d drive the possum out. Maybe if he beat on the log long enough and loud enough the portly possum would surely come out. Soon he’d developed a pattern of attack. He would begin at the solid end of the log and running along the length of the fallen mahogany, striking it repeatedly. And, of course, laughing and squealing the whole while. He would punctuate a rapid series of beats with screams of “MANG!!!”
       Just then, from around the bend in the path came Mr. and Mrs. Harold Foggerty of Phillips Falls, Wisconsin. Mr. Foggerty is an insurance adjuster. His wife, Ellen, teaches 5th grade. They like to take trips to out of the way places. They’d planned to go to the island of Nevis for this year’s vacation, but their travel agent had suggested coming to visit our tiny paradise. They were initially quite taken with their holiday destination, but just then they were quite taken aback at what they saw deep there in the wiley woods.
       Here was a small chubby man dressed only in cutoffs, covered in thick ashes from crown to toes and streaked with sweat. He appeared wholly deranged and perhaps he was. He was running about smacking a hollow log with a stick, laughing madly and calling out ‘Mang!’ Smiley glanced up to to see he wasn’t alone and laughing he panted “Hot nuff fer ya?”
       “Excuse me,” Mr. Foggerty spoke. “Is this the correct pathway to Heartbeat?”
       The Foggertys, avid hikers, had set out after breakfast at their hotel on our island’s north shore for a brisk walk into the village of Heartbeat in the center of the island. Had they listened more closely to the directions the hotel’s desk clerk had given them, they would have reached Heartbeat in less than an hour. Such was not to be their fate. Taking a wrong turn almost immediately, they’d literally been lost in the woods all morning. Their brisk pace had given way to weary bewilderment. Smiley’s shouts of ‘Mang!’ had attracted them to what they hoped would be the solution to their unwelcome mystery trek.
       “Right here in this hollow log! Seen him run in here!” laughed Smiley as he nodded his disheveled ash encrusted head and continued to whack the log, then run to peer into the hollow end.
       “MANG!” he shouted over his shoulder each time and took another solid hit at the log.
       “You see we were walking to Heartbeat and we seem to have gotten on the wrong path somewhere,” injected Mrs. Foggerty. “Is this the way?”
       “Right here in a hollow log!” replied Smiley and whacked the log two more times. “MANG!”
      “My good man, are we going in the right direction to get to Heartbeat or not?” asked Mr. Foggerty again. Like most, he was beginning to lose patience with Smiley. 
       “Right here in a hollow log! MANG!” cried Smiley and struck the log three quick ones.
       “Well, you must be some kind of a damned fool!” shouted a very frustrated Mr. Foggerty.
       “The woods are full of them!” laughed Smiley. “MANG!”
       The Foggertys wandered on in confused dismay and disgust. Their odyssey would drag on for a few more steamy hours before finding the Shore Road. Mang had fallen deep asleep in the shade of the banyan tree. And after exhausting himself on the log for the better part of another hour,  a tired Smiley decided maybe three possums were enough for a good stew and went to find and awaken his fellow intrepid hunter so they could return home. The fat yellow possum crept out of the log long after sunset last night and made its’ nocturnal journey through the deep woods toward Heartbeat for its’ regular nightly snack of tasty garbage.

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