Part One: Flag and Country
When my father yearns for his home country of Jamaica, he settles himself in the soft spot of the living room sofa where his body becomes a stagnant moon found in worn leather skies.
In these deep moments of longing, I wrap the Jamaican flag around him until he is fully enveloped by it. He takes comfort in the black, green, and gold of the flag surrounding him, allowing stripes of gold to fold in between the green and black triangles positioned over the hunch of his shoulders. In Jamaica, each color of the flag holds a specific meaning of the country with black representing the color of the people, green for the countryside, and gold for sunshine that streams through the windows in the mornings.
When this method of care does not work, I ask him to tell me stories of when his country was still stitched into the discolored skin over his heart and he still remembered the feeling of home.
Part Two: Black
My father tells me stories of how the people of Jamaica are no longer appreciated in his country.
Especially the women. Especially the mothers.
He tells me how the mothers of Jamaica have taken care of their country before anyone else had done so before them; they raised their island into a home worth living in.
In Jamaica, mothers teach their sons where they come from, the hollow space of their womb where they grew full-bellied bursting until nine months ended and light flooded their sight.
My father tells me how his mother was the foundation of his being. She taught him how to fold patois in his mouth, condensing each consonant underneath his language-empty tongue like luggage packed from a long flight home. Or she taught him how to grow into a man by rubbing castor oil on his feet each night—as he had seen her rub castor oil in between her fingers and smooth it along the receding coast of her hairline.
In Jamaica, the mothers also make sure their sons appreciate the other women of their country by disciplining them with harsh back hand slaps against bottoms until bruises expand over their tender hazel skin. In return, the men grow disobedient.
He tells me of how when young boys grow into the hollow skeletons of adults, they choose to neglect where they came from. They rob houses of their innocence and wealth and purity to get by. They choose to ignore the foundation of their government by becoming shottas that hold M16s against their chest, pressing the head of the gun so close to the sky it is as if their God was made of metal.
At night, my father witnessed the pain aching in the side of his country, bullet holes found in each crevice of the hills. In Jamaica, shottas pull women out of their homes by the kink of their curls in order to rip them of their belongings. The women in turn shout. Please don’t kill me! I am a friend of your mother! I am your mother’s sister; we are the same people, same country, same lifeline. Don’t kill me. The men of Jamaica then turn over in disgust of themselves and hide their bodies in the shadows of starless nights while praying their people will forgive them.
On one occasion, my father experienced the darkness of his country. When my father was home alone, the shottas went into his home. Under the starlight from my father’s bedroom window, he watched them creep into his house. He locked his bedroom door and rocked himself back and forth in the corner of his closet with a telephone pressed in between his ear and shoulder. My father listened to the shottas heavyweight steps on the staircase and waited for the first bangs against his bedroom door. The shottas jiggled the doorknob and kicked the door’s frame while my father spoke in a hushed tone to the police. They’re here, right outside my bedroom door. I hear them trying to get in. Send help. Send help please. I am too young to be killed by my uncles, by my brothers, by my people. He hung up the phone and heard sirens in the distance.
Part Three: Green
My father tells me stories of when the earth was flat like slivers of ripened plantains baking in the sun’s hot desire to burn away the country of Jamaica. He creates a landscape of his home in my mind, and I imagine I can see the trees bending their heads in the grass and rivers weaving themselves around homes. I imagine I can see tall mountains that smell of coffee growing passed his fingertips. Or waterfalls spilling into the open mouths of lakes.
In Jamaica, my father learned his feet could take him farther than anything. Each morning, at the break of dawn, he would gather himself in the foothills of his country and begin his journey to school, miles of walking on beat up sneakers to gain an education.
My father told me that when on these trips to school, he would imagine walking across all of Jamaica, his feet carrying him to new villages, sights, and people until he reached the very edge of his island and was met by the ocean.
Part Four: Gold
In my father’s country, the sunlight holds many meanings for Jamaica’s past.
The sunlight is a constant fear of darkening one’s skin and becoming too close in color to soil. The women of Jamaica never want to leave their home anymore without their skin being completely covered. The women of Jamaica bleach their skin to believe they are beautiful. However, I choose to believe the sun is what browns the people in the saucepan of Jamaica’s chest, a beautiful caramelization of skin becoming closer to nature’s roots.
The sun is also the constant reminder the Jamaican people spent years being enslaved. I picture their bodies ached over in the sun until their back became so dark it could not be cleaned without looking duhtee anymore. I picture tattered cloth wrapped around their waist as they cut down sugarcane and divided the stalk into three equal parts. I picture sorrow and hope in the lines of my people’s faces.
Even though the sunlight in Jamaica shows the wrong in the country, I like to believe the people, especially my father, enjoy the sunlight crawling across their skin and blanketing them in its ultraviolet warmth.
Part Five: Yearning
I long to feel like I belong in a part of Jamaica.
I begin to carve the flag in my skin as reassurance of my place in a country that feels like it holds no cultural meaning to me.
When I was ten, I took a cruise to Falmouth, Jamaica. When arriving at the port, I took tentative steps on the concrete of my home country; I would pause at each step my foot took and contemplate whether to take more. As I continued to move further into the heart of Falmouth, I became bombarded with questions from men on the street selling overpriced trips to the beach or some form of merchandise with Jamaica labeled on it. When I spoke to defend myself from a parade of words aimed at me, the men knew I was a tourist. I was a foreigner. I was not Jamaican. They preyed on my lack of an accent or darkened skin. They made me sink deeper into my clothes in an attempt at being small. They made me feel for the first time in my life the heaviness of my bones carrying guilt and shame. When back on the ship, I could not wait to sail away from my father’s country and never return.
Now, I try to build a connection between Jamaica and me. I swallow myself in the flag’s fabric, entangled in green, gold, and black. I tuck myself into each tear in its patterned embrace until I am wrapped in the flag the same way my father does to himself.
In the nights, I dream Jamaica speaks to me while I am not facing it, and all Jamaica does is respond in an unparalleled voice of shame and disappointment. Why do you turn your back on your country when it needs you most, when it’s fighting for you most? Why do you neglect where you come from? I awake from my dreams (also known as nightmares when I am shivering with deep regret) and my tears leap past the boundaries of my home and my origin story.
In return, my father reassures me I am Jamaican—I come from him and he comes from Jamaica, so we both are of Caribbean descent. Yet, I am not at peace with this concept when I believe I am a traitor to my own country.
Part Six: Departing
Before my father had left Jamaica for good, he packed an empty suitcase as a reminder he was leaving his home and no remnants of his culture would remain. He believed it would hurt less if his country did not reside with him, so he chose to have his outturned back be the last memory of
himself he would show to it.
When arriving in another foreign country, my father willingly chose to trade in his language for airy breaths that did not sit sharp underneath his tongue, resulting in his mouth becoming a desert parched of patois but abundant in tumbleweed English.
When arriving in another foreign country, my father found leveled cement skin encasing the earth’s natural crust.
When arriving in another foreign country, my father found the sunshine covered by misty gray skies.
In another foreign country, my father grew restless with the sorrow he carried in his suitcase.
Sometimes, I imagine that secretly in his last free moments spent between himself and his island, he collected freckled sunshine in the palm of his hand and sifted damp soil with his knuckles. I imagine my father pulling grass from the roots of the earth, so he could bring little pieces of his country with him when he needed it most.
When I ask for my father to tell me stories of Jamaica, he speaks to me as if the clouds had never left his ears and his first love was always with him.