"Andrew Hutson uses the “gaff” in a barber shop to fashion his meandering but faithful portrayal of highlights in Guyana’s past and present development.”
- Dr Joyce Jonas, Judge, Dr Puran Singh Open Short Story Competition, The Guyana Annual 2018 Magazine
Andrew Hutson is a medical doctor whose passion for creative writing started while he was a student of The Bishops’ High School. An avid reader, Hutson sees his writing as a way to cope and comment on the chaos that comes with being a Guyanese. Hutson expertly uses Creolese to create an enjoyable energy in his work which he craftily infuses with social commentary whilst giving readers authentic glimpses of Georgetown life.
De Gaff won 1st prize in The Guyana Annual 2018, Dr Puran Singh Open Short Story Competition.
It been a real, real long time since Guyanese people had thing with sense to talk about. In the last twenty years, I only been really talking about potholes, romance and gramoxone, paper loving and politics. And as the story goes, things with a vague tainted Guyanese balance–a thing like home-made green seasoning. You see in this side of the world, what I’d like to call the inferior portion, not for any other reason than proximity mind you, but for the simple righteous capability of explaining to you how less is really mean more sometimes.
I is a man that grow up in Burnham days and I remember changing my opinion of that man a million times. He was a little like fashion in the 90’s: obtuse, colourful and up for discussion, and well in the 70’s and 80s more like a hangman day. And for those of you who don’t know what a hangman day is, you can ask any of your friendly neighbourhood junkies. But ah gon tell you this, he stay on my stomach for a reason. Ah going to tell you why now. I just come from the barbershop and I hear these boys calling some number that have more zeros in it than the eye can really fix on. They say Exxon, a fancy company that is it own country in some regards about to make our country rich. I was a little quiet, and that thing come with age, and I sure you would like me to say wisdom right after age, but for me, my mind get a little slower and my brain like them old-time stick-gear car: it have to growl two or three time before any fire, light in the engine or any smoke get blow out my backside.
Long ago when we meet to talk at the barber-shop (and that was in the time when them used to swirl red, blue and white round a pole to signal is a barbershop) we used to talk under our breath about the man called Burnham. People used to real frighten because a wrong word land many a man floating in the Demerara River. Now, I don’ never see none of this, I don’ have no proof of nothing, but my papa was a stone mason and he tell me the worse kind of man is one who can’t shut up his mouth and listen sometimes. He used to say so just before he tell me that I must keep talking cause he don’t mind burying my arse when the time come. If I is fuh be real honest, and since old age and death permit meh such freedoms, I didn’t really frighten Burnham. The stories was real scary, and my barber—a man we used to call Nealy the exceedingly—tell me a story that stick, a story about him dog; the dog did name Paula, which was a nice name in my opinion, only thing it was a boy dog and, well, that was messed up. He say Burnham ride through him street on a white Arabian horse; Nealy say “Awh shuks, you shoulda see it! Shoulda see it!” And he would bend him knees and be ‘exceedingly Nealy’. He talk about the man purple suit and the colour that Kings is wear is purple, but you see the reason Nealy get that name was tied into the dog. This dog could do some tricks, it would spin an’ flip an hop, an’ it even used to speak. It used to do a half growl and chicken scratch and say I love you.
It was that ‘I love you’ that poison Nealy heart against dogs. Burnham liked the dog, and him ask Nealy for it, and Nealy–like a fool—give way the dog. His heart ache him all these years later because he thought giving the dog mean him and Burnham would have become good friends. Well that was that. The dog never see back Nealy, and Nealy never see ‘um or Burnham back. I say this because I learn then that Burnham was a matter-of-fact man.
I was truly scared of Cheddi.
Never before, had Guyana met a man that could take a punch like Cheddi. In 1953 the boy had win them elections, and was by and far, a well-liked man. But then was when it really start for him. He start to lose everything left right and centre. And, well, as my father like to say, is only so much time a man could turn his cheek before him head get box off. So I was kind of waiting for it for a long time. Waiting for the man to rush we like a one of them liard half-patient ram goat. And that was why I was ‘fraid for a long time.
They had this little boy, well him not so little (forgive me, my age big and, well, everyone little to me at this junction of my life), and him was sitting in the barber chair obliquely opposite to me. He was a doctor too. And I see him listening keenly to everything them boy was saying. Then I didn’t really pay any attention to him. Cause the story was about this oil and every now and then about some little girl that think she gon run Nealy the exceedingly life. It happen that she end up make Nealy run all the way through some bush lot in the Corentyne looking for her, and, well, his heart get shatter and now he say it don’t have bottom no more. Because you see when a pakoo get corn, is corn for good.
Is then the doctor boy say something that make a whole world of sense. He say
“But Nealy if it look like a fowl and walk like a fowl and talk like a fowl, it really have fuh be a fowl”.
Nealy get stupidy for a second, and I don’t think it was the statement that make him raise him eyebrow and tuck him hand at him waist and ask: “Wha you say deh?”
I think it was the precision of the statement. It was like doing a butcher work with a scalpel. My country come a real long way. When I was a little boy, getting an education was a real hard thing because, you see, we had to pay for it, and not every man have the cut to become no lawyer or doctor or teacher. I was a stubborn boy in primary school and I did really pride myself on managing to carry down a little piece of reading like my mother chicken foot soup on Sunday morning. As time go by, chicken foot soup start to taste better, though, and with reading it was the same thing. In 1961, GTI start to offer technical courses, and when the time was right my father fight for my tail to get in there. And that is how I become a mechanic. But the moral of this story is not the getting into GTI. You see, Guyanese stories a little more intricate than that: they can’t be told in a straight line, and I can’t drag you from point A to B harmoniously and in perfect tune; I got to tell you like it is. And so the reading is the important part, because though I could’ve say steering wheel well, thing like ‘ignition’ used to come out like ‘ilignition’ and ‘carburetor’ used to roll through like ‘carbonater’. And so I went and take up book more.
The Doctor tell Nealy, “Well, from how I see it, this girl only know you when you have.”
Nealy say, “No! No! No! You get it wrong. I never say that!” And he start to breathe hard like him ‘bout to shoot out rings of smoke from his nose.
The Doctor boy hold him ground, and he had a calmness to him I happen fuh see somewhere before. He say “You-self just say that she used to stretch her hand out soon’s your customer leave here, suh.”
Nealy had to shut up.
“I just think in times like this it would be better if two ox could pull the cart,” he follow up.
Nealy get more vex. He say “Little boy like you have to come to me, to learn about ‘oman!”
The doctor smile and say, “Nealy, you really love this girl make you get so vex man.”
It was then Nealy calm down. He set up like he was going to cry and we all start to jeer him. Cause nobody is really able see a big man cry. In my opinion, him whole life done there if you see a tear fall from him eye. In Guyana, then and even now, a man crying was a hard thing to find, and our society don’t really know about all them silent tears that all men get in common. Is like what is go on in that movie The 300, Guyanese man can only really cry in a few situations.
One, if he a thief and them got a gun to him head; and two, if him a thief and them got two gun to him head. Otherwise man got to be man. And that is all I will say about that.
De gaff turn about the oil after, and Nealy had to acknowledge that him get school from a boy probably half him real age. And notice I say real age cause in Guyana man get age that is run pon continuum…big word. We as old as we feel, and as for me I is 87 years young and am still raging on, like the golden arrowhead surging in a trade wind. You see, I is still walk with my back straight-straight. And my hair not grey: I bald it ‘fore anyone get fuh talk anything. I get my pride, and pride is not a bad thing if it don’t stray you from God. Anyhow, they say a lot of thing about this oil, but it come to wrap our country in a shroud of fear, and at this age even I still hopeful I get a little bliss from um. You see I want to hear my granddaughter who can sing real nice get opportunity to have a go at it, and my son must be able to build house pon two year salary and not forty year salary like me. Nealy say them go thief all the oil money. And we all went silent for a minute and the doctor-boy say,
“I won’t let them”.
We raise we head and look at him cause what the sk*nt he feel he go do? But, you see, I happen to be a man with a little age, and I learn a thing or two about the feel of a man. Is the look pon him face that had me. My family is simple people, and I have two big son, and that look is not something I can shy ‘way from. I see it on both my children face at some point in them life. My first son tell me when him nineteen that him gon marry a little girl that used to come stand by the gate an bring cane juice for him, and when he say it he didn’t need his father to do nothing but nod, so I did. My second son tell me he leaving school to go an look after a stall in big market, and I had felt at that moment I would’ve cut him bleddy gall from him loins but is that look make me nod.
I see that look earlier today…
I lay down pon my arm chair now after I turn down all the photos of my wife. I can’t look at her. Because, like I say, a man must be a man. But sometimes even a proud man like me can admit that him soul is long for a different place—one that don’t have so much things. When I was a boy scout I would have say one that don’t have so much worry, but worry is a thing that is man- made, and age make my hands shimmer more and my voice get little smaller; it even make my skin get soft and saggy round my belly. And worry went through the door with time… as a thing like only worry can. I only now believe in the simple- truth of the smile.
I is see me life now in less of a fixed shape than before. It not as geometrical as it once was. All my mind is really conjure is some old time gaffing. My children tell me I turn a gaff man now. It like chicken stew gravy: you can’t do without it here in Guyana. I leff the barbershop pleased today, because my family was really my only worry. You might want to fight it, and you may even have at some point—I talking ‘bout people who migrate and so on. You only really have one home, and no matter how long you vacate to another people place, only home can feel like home. I tell you because even I try it once, and I end up right back here in Guyana, the land of pepperpot and a slightly more easier view of life.
But is that look make me drop back here now, and let off the load. I tell you I see it before, and it is a Guyanese thing, a Guyanese look, fierce like a tiger-cat glare. When you see it, you see it.
Is a thing that is turn de gaff into real, real thing.