by Peter Halder

      Uncle Big Man worked in the Machine Shop at the Demerara Bauxite Company, Mackenzie, Upper Demerara River.

Everyone knew him as Uncle Big Man and very few knew that his real name was Archibald Penassolein.

He was over six feet tall, with thin arms and thin legs. His tummy was more of a protuberance than a belly. His face was long and narrow with an angled, jutting jaw. The skin on his bald head was furrowed and his eyebrows were thick. His nose was long and flat, like that of a gorilla. His lips were long and pendulous. His eyes were like tiny pieces of coal. Several lines furrowed his high forehead, His skin was the same colour as Kiwi Black Shoe Polish.

The ghastly looking man wore the same shirt and pants almost every day, washing them overnight.   

His good friend, Tippytoe Malbecki, said of Uncle Big Man that he was as ugly as sin. Almost everyone who saw Uncle Big Man also felt that way. The thing about it all was that the guy loved being called “The Ugliest Man in Mackenzie”. Women avoided him like the plague. He couldn’t even get a dance with a wabine at the Friday and Saturday night dances at the Mackenzie Recreation Hall.

However, like the old song went, “For Every Man There’s A Woman” or as they used to say at the time, “even vung vung cheese gat ee own tennis roll”.

Uncle Big Man had his own luck. He was told by his friend Tippytoe that there was a most beautiful girl of amergra ethnicity (half Amerindian and half negro) who lived at Hurudaia,near Dalgin, some twelve miles down river from Mackenzie. Her name was Rita Anita Agnes Dolliveira. Tippy, who attended Public School with her, said Rita was as beautiful as Uncle Big Man was ugly, a case of the beauty and the beast.

The house at Huradaia in which Rita lived with her brother and parents, was secluded. There were no other people around for miles, so she seldom had the opportunity to be met or wooed by young men.

Uncle Big Man was impressed with the description of the fair-skinned beauty of Huradaia, especially since Tippytoe also added that Rita had a figure that made an eight look like insignificant. Tippytoe gave him the information as gaffe, not believing that anything would result from it. Imagine his surprise when Uncle Big Man swore he would visit her and woo her.

The major problem that Uncle Big Man faced with his quest was that there was no road from Mackenzie to Hurudaia and the only mode of travelling there and back was the river. The Sproston’s steamer, the R.H. Carr did not travel every day and never at night. Keeping his job and his room at Bachelors’ Quarters was like life itself to the Uncle Big Man, so he couldn’t further his desire to meet Rita by using the steamer or a launch. The troubled man, in a short space of time, had fallen in love with Rita and dreamt of her every night. He even wore his eye glasses while he slept at night so he could see her better in his dreams. He thought and he thought and he thought about the problem and bang, he hit upon a plan. He bought a canoe and a paddle from an old Amerindian woman, Amelia Allicock,who lived at Kara Kara Creek. His plan was to paddle to Huradaia and back. He figured that, bearing in mind the tides, he could paddle to Huradaia in five hours and then five hours back. That would give him very little time, if any, to be with Rita or to sleep, since he had to be at work at 7.00 a.m. and knocked off at 4.30 p.m., Monday to Friday.

The next day, when the siren shrieked at 4.30 p.m., Uncle Big Man rode home quickly on his big-frame Raleigh bicycle. He had a quick shower and changed into his only other pants and shirt. On the way to where his canoe was parked on the sandy shore near Powell Crescent, he stopped at Blair’s Delight restaurant and bought barbecue chicken, cassava chips, two bottles of I-Cee Tonic and two aniseed biscuits. He also bought two packs of Clipper cigarettes for father and son, and four beef patties for the mother. His presents all neatly wrapped in three sheets of the Graphic newspaper, the Mackenzie Romeo walked to his boat, carefully stowed away his goods, stepped into his canoe and pushed off into the dark waters of the Demerara River.

The tide was against him but love gave the love-sick man abundant energy to forge his way along the river, paddling with a calculated rhythm. He kept checking his Bulova night-dial watch from time to time.

After hours of strenuous paddling, Uncle Big Man breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Huradaia beckoning to him around the bend of the river. He checked his watch. It was just about ten o’clock at night.

Uncle Big Man parked his canoe on the sandy shore adjoining the house, collected his goods and walked along a narrow path to the house.

“Hallo! Hallo! Hallo!” he called out, “anybady deh home?”

Someone heard the shouting. A kerosene lamp was lit. “Ah who deh out deh?” a male voice from the house shouted back.

“Ah me Uncle Big Man from Mackenzie,” he shouted back, “ah bring sum tings for all-ya and patikula sumting foh Rita.”

The Mackenzie Romeo heard talking in the house. Then the front door opened and a man’s voice said loudly, “De dawg tie up so put yoh bodywait ah yoh foot an wahk up.”

A wide smile graced the tired face of the amorous suitor. He quickly ran forward, the invitation giving strength to his weary legs, cramped from sitting on the low, flat seat of the canoe for nearly five hours.

When he reached the opened door, he said, “Me ah Uncle Big Man. Ah cum hey foh mek frends with Rita. Ah bring she some barbecue chicken and cassava chips wid soff drink and sum addah tings foh de famly.”

The father of the home took the package of goodies. They shook hands.

Uncle Big Man peeked through the doorway and saw Rita wearing a dutty-powder cloth nightgown. His eyes lit up when he beheld the glory of her beauty. His knees wobbled. “Oh me Gawd. dah gal so nice meh feel lak me deh a haven,” he said to himself.

Nobody in the house was able to see Uncle Big Man as yet since he was on the landing, where the darkness of the night prevailed. In fact, Mr. Dolliveira was very nervous since he didn’t see a face, only white teeth.

“Cum in, cum in, ” invited the Christian man, ” me ah Kennet but dem does call me Kakanet. Com in an meet meh famly.”

“Meh nah gat time Mr Kakanet,” said Uncle Big Man, “me gat foh paddle back to Mackenzie tonite rite away. It gon tek me five hours so meh nah goh get dere till three or four a’clack ah mahnin an meh gat foh go wok at seven. Meh goh see yoh all tamarraw nite.”

With that, Uncle Big Man, blew a kiss to his infatuation, Rita, and ran to his boat.

“Tank yoh,” Kakanet shouted out,” meh famly an me ah go wate foh yoh tamarraw nite.”

The return journey was long and the night was dark and dreary but not so Uncle Big Man. He was aglow and his thoughts were energetic. There was a gleam in his eyes and a new feeling in his heart, one he never felt before.

The sound of insects and bats along the river banks never bothered him a bit. He saw the red, glowing eyes of an alligator in a swampy area near the shore. The gator took one look at the man and scrambled away in fear.

As the amorous man paddled he sang, ” Dem seh foh evry bahy and gal, dere’s juss wan luv in dis hole worl, and meh juss know me fine mine.”

Finished, he began whistling. He raised his head to the heaven above and said, “Ah tru wah dem seh. Gawd nah ware pajama.He ah tek care ah all, yung an old, nice an ugly. Praise Gawd!”

The first night launched the odyssey of Uncle Big Man. Every night after, he would buy things, take them to Huradaia but never entered the house because time was his mortal enemy. He only had time to get there and to get back. Not even a shake hand or a kiss from his dearly beloved. He thought he was doing great.

The Dolliveiras’ were non-plussed. It was strangest thing that ever happened. As strange as the extensive forest behind their property. But they thought highly of Uncle Big Man- his kindness, his generosity and his clearly proven interest and friendship.

During the first week of his visitations, Kakanet told Uncle Big Man that the family was Seventh Day Adventists and no visits were permitted on Saturdays and Sundays.

“Dah nah wan prablem,” replied the ugly duckling.

During the his daily visits to Huradaia, except for weekends, the Dolliveira family never really had a good look at the persistent paramour since he always remained in the Stygian darkness on the unlit landing and with his skin colour and that of the night, there was not much they could have seen anyhow.

After six months passed, Uncle Big Man decided that it was time he proposed to his Goddess of Beauty. First, however, he had to become engaged. At weekend, he travelled by steamer to Georgetown and at Humphrey’s on High Street, bought a three-stone diamond, gold and platinum engagement ring.

On his return to Mackenzie, he wrote a letter proposing marriage and enclosed the engagement ring as a token of his love and affection. The envelope was delivered with his bag of gifts that Monday night.

That same night, Rita put on the ring and was proud that it adorned her finger. She never had a boyfriend much less a fiance. The following night, when Uncle Big Man peeked through the doorway and saw the ring on her finger, he bounded away with delight. He laughed and laughed and laughed all the way to his canoe. Paddling along the river, he sang, “Wen a man loves ah woman.”

His nocturnal visits and brief stops on the landing continued for several more months. His happiness knew no bounds, for every night of his visit, Rita would hold up her hand to display to him his engagement ring on her finger.

And so, as the river ebbed and flowed, Uncle Big Man’s thoughts ebbed and flowed on setting a date to marry Rita. He decided he needed the advice of his friend Tippytoe since he had no clue of how to go about it.

The two hooked up at the Golden Orchid Beer Garden at Christianburg that Sunday afternoon. After both finished a round of Tennent’s Beer, the anxiety-ridden man told Tippytoe about his nocturnal visits to Rita, about their engagement and that they were going to get married.

“Wat! Wat is dat yoh seh. You and Rita ah gon get mahreed. Yoh joking rite?” said Tippytoe.

“Nah man. Meh nah joke. Meh sirius. Me and Rita ah goh get mahreed.”

“Look Uncle Big Man, ugly is ugly, but stupid ah wan adder ting. Yoh tink dat ah buutie lak ah Rita ah goh mahree ah man wid a face lak yurs! Wye is it dat yoh no gat no mirra ah wey yoh live. Cause yoh caan luk in de mirra. De ting wud crak fram agonee. An fram wat yoh seh, Rita nah see yoh face evah . Nun ah de famly evah see yoh face. Yoh always deh ah dark. Wen dem really see wat you luk like, dem ah goh drap dead an soh will yoh plan foh mahree. Me tell bout Rita as wan joke but now you ah de joke. I seh, call it aff now. That luvely gal Rita ah nevah gonna mahree you. Call it aff now and nevah goh back to dat house agin,” retorted Tippytoe in anger.

Uncle Big Man got angry. He ground his teeth. His eyes grew red. Tears flowed from them. He butted his head against the wooden table. He got up and kicked his chair and then fell on his knees weeping loudly. At last he calmed down.

“Tippy, ah tank yoh. Yoh tell meh lak it is. Lef me alone now. Me gat foh tink wah me gon do. Evry dawg gat he day but me gat de nights. Tamarra nite ah meh nite. Is den or nevah,” he told Tippy.

The next night, the wounded romantic had no parcel of gifts. He entered his canoe with a grim face and sang hymns. People along the river who heard him singing thought a relative of his had died. He neared the Dolliveira house singing the hymn, “Lead kindly light amidst the encircling gloom.”

He got out of the canoe and called out as usual.

The dog, which had had grown to know him, came to greet him. He kicked it viciously. It scampered away under the house.

He reached the landing and, without waiting for the door to be opened, kicked it in.

He stamped into the house and Rita shouted, “Who ah you? Wha happened to Uncle Big Man? Wheh he deh? Who ah you?”

“Me ah Uncle Big Man! Ah who yoh tek me fah?” said lover-boy.

“You ah Uncle Big Man! Ooh me mooma! Ooh me pappa! Ah big ugly crapow face, alligata mout, deeman devil lak ah yoh ah Uncle Big Man. Gimme ah break! Nevah de day canoe bore punt. You nah peeple. You ah wan rivah jumbee. Ooh meh mooma, ooh me pappa, me na wan foh see yoh. Get out de house. Gwan you devil,” shouted Rita.

“Me ah Uncle Big Man. Me cum foh tell yoh dat me knoh wen yoh did see meh face, yoh gon luv me so leh we bruk up the engagement and weddin rite now and goh pon the honeymoon rite away. Leh we tek mattee rite hey,” shouted Uncle Big Man.

No sooner had he said that, he took a menacing step towards Rita.

Kakanet Dolliveira pulled a shotgun from off the wall and aimed it at Uncle Big Man.

The romantic Romeo bounded from the house like Harrison ‘Bones’ Dillard and jumped from the landing to the ground, hearing the sound of the shotgun as it was fired, missing him by inches.

He reached his canoe in no time at all and paddled away like a legion of devils was after him. Behind him, he heard Kakanet Dolliveira shouting, ” Ah hope you die yoh rivah jumbee, ah hope yoh die.”

Uncle Big Man returned to Mackenzie and resigned the next day. He joined a group of porknockers and headed to the goldfields in the Mazaruni district.

Kakanet Dolliveira reported to the police that his home was invaded by a river jumbee that Monday night. He nor his family ever saw Uncle Big Man or the river devil again. Rita eventually went to live with relatives in Georgetown and migrated to Trinidad.


 ALL  RIGHTS   RESERVED : Burnett A. Halder 2013 

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