Guyana Stories by Peter Halder


by Peter Halder

       I was deeply engaged in studying a file on a timber matter which I was to prosecute in court the next few days when I was interrupted  by a knock on the door of my room at the District Administration Office, Christianburg, Upper Demerara River.

Looking up angrily, I saw the Forest Ranger Berthold Baird open the door and push his head in.

Father Kilkenny is here to see you on an urgent matter,” Baird said.

“Okay, offer him a seat and tell him I will see him in a few minutes,” I replied.

I couldn’t concentrate on the file contents any longer so I closed the file and gave some thought to Fr.Kilkenny.    

I recalled that the goodly Father was with a Church on Arvida Road, Mackenzie, as it was then named. He was a constant and persistent smoker of the Yellow Peril, the brand name of which was Lighthouse Cigarette. It was called Yellow Peril because the colour of the box was yellow.

The popular Father was also well-known in the district for his wanton daily consumption of rum. He invariably had a small flattie under his black priestly vest.

I was told that one Sunday morning, he walked inelegantly to the altar, bowed to the congregation and then fell flat on his face. Before he hit the floor, he shouted out, “Amen!” and made the sign of the cross.

“Poor man,” said a parishioner laughingly, “like the Devil who lost his tail, Father had to go to Sue Tang & Sue Wo at Wismar, the spirit shop where they retail spirits.”

So much for that. It was time to see Fr Kilkenny.

I walked to the door, opened it and invited the priest in.

I shook his clammy hands and offered him a seat.

“And what can I do for you this fine morning, Father?” I asked.

“Sir,” he replied with a solemn face, ” thanks for seeing me. I am here to complain about the pilots of the boats that ferry people to and fro across the river daily and one pilot in particular.” He stopped.

“Go ahead,” I said, “I am all ears.”

“Well, Sir, the pilots operate their boats in a manner that endangers the lives of their passengers, many of whom cannot swim. They show no care and attention even when there are women and children aboard. As the District Administration Officer, you should pull them up regularly. You are empowered under the Harbour Regulations to do so and even to charge them.What is more, you can even suspend or withdraw their boat licences,” said the Father.

“Please continue, Father. I believe you said you had a particular pilot in mind,” I replied.

“So I did my son, so I did,” he continued, “as I was on the boat travelling from Mackenzie to Wismar a short while ago, and there were two other men in the boat who can bear witness, the pilot deliberately steered his boat into the immediate wash of a passing launch. The boat hit the surging water hard and we had to grab the sides tightly to prevent us from falling into the river. We were rocked from side to side before the surge went away and the boat was stabilized. Instead of the pilot apologizing, he looked at us and laughed. I urge you to do something about it in your official capacity.”

Concern clouded my face. I slowly digested what I was told and made up my mind what to do.

“Father, he who hesitates is lost. Let us act immediately. Let us go to that same pilot right now. I will issue him a stern warning, in your presence, and advise him of consequences if he did it again,” I said.

Of course, while he was complaining he was smoking his Yellow Peril and was still smoking as we walked on Wismar Road alongside the river.

At First Alley, Wismar, we stopped and Fr Kilkenny pointed out the offending pilot whose boat had just touched  the shore.

Standing on the wooden bridge that led to the sandy shore, I called the pilot.

He walked to us looking rather sheepishly, with his head down.

I gave him a severe scolding and a very stern warning.

“Qamina Bangaram,” I added, since I knew his name, “if I receive another complaint that you pilot your boat without due care and concern for the safety of your passengers, I will suspend your boat licence.”

Fr Kilkenny thanked me and he and the pilot walked down to the water’s edge while I stood on the bridge looking on.

When they reached the boat, the Father told Bangaram, “Now that the District Administration Officer is here, I would like you to demonstrate your skill as a pilot. Is that okay with you?”

Bangaram nodded in the affirmative.

“Take the boat backwards,” ordered the Father.

The pilot pull-started the Archimedes outboard engine on the boat, put it reverse and took the boat backwards towards the middle of the river.

“Now drive forward,” the Father shouted.

The pilot put the engine in the forward gear and drove forward, easily and safely.

“Now take it back into the channel and let it move sideways with the tide,” ordered Father.

Bangaram reversed, waited a little until a minor wash occurred, took the boat into the wash, slowed down, and the wash took it gently sideways for about ten yards.

“Very good,” shouted Father, “you did very well. Now return to shore and take me over to Mackenzie.”

The pilot returned to shore, stepped from the boat and confronted Father.

“Since I obeyed your every wish, Father,” he said, “would you mind a small test yourself to prove that you are a good priest.”

“Not at all, my good man,” replied Father puffing on his Yellow Peril, “not at all.”

“Very well then,” said Bangaram, “would you be so kind enough as to say the Lord’s Prayer.”

Fr Kilkenny was in his mettle. He clasped his hands and said the Prayer in a strong but solemn tone of voice.

I was about to walk away when the pilot turned to the Father and said, “You tested me by having me drive my boat forward and backward. Now please say the Lord’s Prayer backwards?”

I was going to lambaste the pilot for being so rude to Father for I didn’t believe he could say it backwards. I suddenly stopped.

Fr Kilkenny smiled and began “Amen.Ever and forever…” and continued without a pause until he finished with “…heaven in art who Father Our.”  He bowed as he accomplished what appeared to be an impossible task.

I clapped my hands with delight.

The Father said to the pilot, “I am good at what I do.”

Bangaram emitted a broad grin, looked straight at Fr Kilkenny and said, ” IF YOU ARE THAT GOOD AT WHAT YOU DO, NOW SAY THE PRAYER SIDEWAYS FATHER!”


All Rights Reserved: Burnett A. Halder 2013

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  • detow  On August 17, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Always knew Peter to be a stern-faced bugger but in old age he has apparently morphed into a comedian. A good story but only the ADC (Assistant District Commissioner) had an office, the Admin staff all sat together in the outer office and this included the Forest Ranger.

  • PIT37  On September 20, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Good day! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate!
    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to
    him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

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