By Gerald Hausman
Bokeelia, FL, USA
I have come through the bush to the old abandoned block house where a wise man, a natural mystic named Morris Oliphant waits for me.
In Jamaica at night the croaker lizards start up early, calling across the guango trees in the dusk. The peepers chime in four beat rhythms, always the same, over and over, and a man named Morris Oliphant, who is said to know the secrets of life and death, body and soul, waits for me in the darkness.
I come to him hoping that one day he will show me the potion I have heard so much about. The potion is what keeps Mr. Oliphant from growing old. It's like the mysterious hot spring in St Ann that curdles with blue flames on top of the water. It is like the spirit of the Water Moomah who inhabits the springs where we live and the great yellow boa that, according to legend, once got a girl pregnant.
Mr. Morris, as he is known, is a man who never ages; no one knows his real age. He walks and talks in mysterious zones and tones. Some say his family came from Martinique long ago. Some say he dropped from the sky and they laugh when they say it.
I find him sitting on a stone, his machete balanced on his right knee. A small fire is before him and a large breadfruit with blackened skin cooks on the coals.
I take my place on a stone. And wait.
For a while we sit in our own private silence – mine, his, the fire's, the night's – and then Mr. Oliphant speaks in that quiet knowing way of his.
"Give thanks and praises, Gerry mon. For life, not death, for it is life we live. And it is life we know, and death, me no penetrate that yet, nor did anyone come back from that place and tell us about it. So it must remain the great mystery, the next rung in the ladder Jacob must climb."
"They say you know a man that wouldn't die. 'Hard man fi dead', as they say. A man right out of the Bible."
"Why you ask that?"
Behind his head the blinkies, lightning bugs, punctuate the dark.
"I like mysteries," I tell him.
"Yes, mon, that is what I hear."
"I am drawn to any question that hasn't a ready answer."
"All right. True. There is no heaven, no hell except on earth, y'know. It all man-made, just like the Tower of Babel that plunge we into confusion. Once we could talk to animal and thing, bird and bee and man, but no more. So hear me now, there was a man name Samson. Him live inna the bush, like you see me here. This man Samson big and strong like a guango. No man trouble him. During the day him work in the field as a plowman, but at night, once a month, Samson count his shilling and pence by candlelight. Some tief in the village come to tek what is not theirs to have. Them is three against one. And them have a gun. So them shoot Samson in the face. That bullet rip out a rotten molar – trouble him long time, now it gone. Then them shoot Samson again but him roll pon him stomach. Second bullet catch him in the backside and knock out a sciatic nerve that vex him many a year. So the tief them nuh kill Samson. Him a hard man fi dead. And him smite them good. Y'know what Samson say?"
He pauses and looks me in the eye in the firelight.
"'Keep no lock on your money, just pon your head.' And him live long. No one know how long him live. Him just live."
"So, Mr. Morris, it's as you say – there is only life."
He laughs, we touch knuckles. "If you see it that way, you live it that way. No man fear death who live life!"
As I walk back home through the wet banana leaves, there is no light to see. There is nothing but to feel the path under my feet. A false step and I might fall off the cliff. But then I know that I would just climb up back, for, slowly and inexorably, I am being Samsonized on this rare, beautiful, genius gem of an island, Coyaba, which means "place of ease and rest" in Arawak, or simply, heaven in English.