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A light drizzle was sweeping across the river when we boarded the steamer for Bartica. The rain had been falling out to sea and the wind was driving it inland. We sailed out of the Demerara River and round the coast towards the Essequibo. The sea was choppy and the wind blew in gusts. The steamer rolled, and dug its way through angry, bursting waves. Santos was seasick, and his ‘face was the colour of moss as he regarded the offending water with lack­lustre eyes.  I kept an arm around him as he leaned over the rails and he felt small and crumbled. Spray washed over bent figures on the deck, and now and then a man coughed and sputtered and vomited.

Crates of equipment piled up on the foredeck strained against the ropes which tied them down every time the ship rolled. It stopped raining and the sun came out. I saw the outline of the coast with factory chimneys pointing to the sky from the lowlands behind the mangrove swamps.  The steamer settled down to a gentle rocking and Santos sat down and leaned against a crate. We entered the mouth of the Esse- quibo River and sailed towards the stelling at Parika.

“I feeling empty,” Santos said.

“Take a swig of this,” a man said, offering him a drink of bush rum; it does  settle you stomach.”

“I don’t have nothing lef’ in me stomach, pardner; is just a hole, Santos said, wiping the mouth of the bottle on his sleeve and taking a long drink. “That’s better, but I still can’t face that sea.” He handed the bottle back and chatted with the man.

“I Can’t believe this is a river,” I said. “ManI it’s so wide 1 can’t see the other bank.”

“This is river father, pardner,” Santos said, “twenty miles wide. Across the water is Leguan Island, and behind that is Other island.”

We went ashore at Parika and while new pas­sengers embarked, we bought fruit and roti from peddlers on the stelling.

“Is good to feel land under me foot again,” Santos said.

“All aboard!” a sailor shouted from the steamer.

We sailed upriver and the water darkened. Clouds massed and dispersed, but no more rain fell. Trees verged the river banks with shadows when the sun appeared. The river was so still that we sailed across an inverted bowl of sky rimmed with trees. The passengers recovered from their sea sickness and milled about the deck talking animatedly, laughing and singing. A tall, loose-limbed black man with a grin that stretched across his face perched on top of a crate and strummed a river chanty on his guitar, sing­ing in a high clear voice:

Gal me lover letter loss.
Gal me lover letter loss.
Gal me lover letter loss.
If you find am me go give you carat stone.
If you find am me go give you carat stone.
What me father going to say.
What me mother going to say.
Gal me lover letter loss.
If you find am me go give you carat stone.

The others joined in the chorus and bottles of bush rum went the rounds. This was my first experience with pork-knockers, and their easy-going, generous ways surprised me. They were boisterous, obscene, quick-tempered, but they shared whatever they had as if life was an endless carnival.

Fort Island was the next stop. This was the site of the old Dutch capital. I saw the ruins on high bluffs overlooking the stelling. Trees had burst through the stone, toppling walls and canon, and vines and creepers were erasing all that strangers had built in their pride and left.

The steamer slipped away sailing further upriver. The sky was clear and the sun brassy. The failing tide exposed golden sandbanks, and the Blue Moun­tains appeared behind a sea of green. Santos had forgotten about me and was shooting crap with four pork-knockers. I found a cool spot under a lifeboat, lay down and fell asleep. Santos woke me up when we reached Bartica. We helped unload our crates, left them in the warehouse and walked through the town.

“This is a quiet place,” I said, because the quiet of the forest which ringed the town seemed to muffle people’s voices and the barking of scrawny dogs which slunk across yards and alley-ways.

“Not quiet; just waiting. You should hear it when the pork-knockers passing through on they way to Georgetown. Man the place does be wild. Whore and shopkeeper does grow up like tree, and the rum shop does need police, and money does pass like fire. The town just waiting for the good times, man.”  I was glad that Santos was in a talking mood, be­cause I wasn’t feeling sure of myself any more. So much had happened since we left the doctor that I needed time to think it all out and arrange it in my mind.

We found an empty hut near Sorrow Hill, a graveyard on the outskirts of the town, and we slung up our hammocks after driving out the bats. I gathered wood for a fire and looked with awe at the hunched backs of mountains silhouetted against a sunset sky, for the coast was flat as the bottom of an iron and I had never even seen a hill there. Night fell suddenly and brought heavy dew and a chill that crept inside my bones. The wood was rain-soaked, and when I lit a fire it hissed and spat and smoked and it didn’t blaze until Santos poured kerosene oil on it. We lit a storm lantern and left it inside the hut to keep the bats away, and we sat close to the fire munching biscuits and salt fish and drinking hot tea. A host of eyes pin-pointed the path which led away from the hut and Santos said that they were the eyes of bird spiders which had come out to feed.

“I win five dollar on the boat,” Santos said, and I listened to frogs calling for more rain and wrapped my blanket closer.

“Santos, you think I’ll be all right in the bush?”

“The bush en’t a bad place, pardner; is only people does make it bad.”

“Santos, tell me ‘bout yourself. You know I never heard how you grew up, where you went to school, if you married or not.”

“Some old-time story is best forgot, pardner. Me grow up catch-as-catch-can and me start chauffeuring young. Couple year before you come on the scene me get married.”

“I didn’t know you were married?”

“Is who you think me went to see in Essequibo the other day? Me wife living with me great aunt. Me live with she one year, but the woman like she wanted to tie me to the house with bush rope, so me cut loose and run cause me is not a stay-home man.”

“Then why you get married, man?”