Moss-covered river pebbles. That’s the first thing that came to mind when Ronnie spoke. Moss-covered river pebbles, cold with fear that caught in his throat before spilling over his lips.
“They took her, D,” he said.
“Child Services. They took River.”
River was Ronnie’s only daughter. She was about seven at the time. He told me that he had named her after the late River Phoenix.
Ronnie never used to sell pot (although that changed after his first stroke years later when Bob took over the business). He was a trader and didn’t believe in money.
Years ago I traded Ronnie my My Own Private Idaho DVD (still in the bloody plastic sleeve) for a bankie of Swazi before River was born. A few weeks later he told me that the film had had a profound effect on him and Bob, and that they made love during and after watching it. He was certain that was the night Bob got pregnant.
Ronnie is the only black Rastafarian I know of who named his daughter after a white male actor. He’s also the only man I know that calls his wife Bob.
“This morning.” He was tying his dreadlocks up in a bun, hands shaking. “They took her, D. She didn’t want to go. Bastards.”
“What did they say?”
“Something about her environment … and her not being in school. Ah … Shit, man, D, I my head’s spinning. I dunno what to do.”
“Have they been here before? Did you ask for identification?”
“Yes what, Ronnie? Yes they’ve been here before, or yes you asked for ID?”
“Shit. So, you don’t know these people.”
“No, man, D. You have to help me.”
“Did they leave a number?”
“No. Said they’ll be in touch.”
Fuckfuckfuck, this is bad. “Where’s Bob, Ronnie?”
“She’s in the back. Hasn’t stopped crying since this morning. She’s locked herself in.”
I had never had much dealing with Bob until that day. She was always ‘in the back’ making tea. Always singing. The times I did see her was either bringing out a tray of freshly-baked banana bread (special, of course) and tea, or a plate of fresh carrots. Her resemblance to Bob Marley was striking. She had that same intensity in her eyes (I always wondered why I hummed ‘Redemption Song’ in the car after leaving Ronnie’s), and she had that same Natty Dread smile.
I never saw Bob smile again after ‘they’ took River.
“Well, can I come in, Ronnie? I’m not a vampire.”
“Sorry, man. Yes. You have to help me, D. They took my baby, man.”
“Calm down.” I wanted to punch myself in the uterus for saying that. The man’s daughter was basically kidnapped in front of his eyes and here I go Calm down. It was in the heat of the moment, I guess. “Let me speak to Bob.”
“In the back.” Ronnie’s eyes had turned glassy with fear. Two pieces of glass sanded down by crashing waves and time.
“Sit down and concentrate on your breathing. We’ll get her back, Ronnie.”
“Bob! Bobby? It’s Dolorez. I’m here to help.”
The corrugated iron shack was an oven. The front room was cozy, though. Tidy. A reggae-coloured rug stretched almost from wall to wall, covering the dirt floor. The walls were decorated with River’s drawings, and made up for the lack of windows. There was a Bible on the coffee table. They were religious people, Ronnie and Bob, and there was no doubt in my mind that they read the Bible more than once a day. The cover was spotless and a bookmark peeked out from within the pages of Corinthians.
The hallway was narrow and I swear I could feel my handbag expand as if the heat was seeping into its fibres. There was only one bedroom in the shack. River’s mattress was against the wall behind the door, and Ronnie and Bob’s against the furthest wall. All the beds were made up and there was another Bible on the empty Coke crate that served as bedside table on Ronnie’s side (let’s just call it intuition on my part). A picture of Christ hung on the wall. He looked like Bob Marley.
‘The back’ was locked from the inside. It dawned on me that I had never been inside Ronnie’s pad. Ronnie never smoked in the house, so we always had a peace smoke outside before we traded.
I knocked on the door. “Bob? It’s D. It’s Dolorez. Do you remember me? I’m here to help.”
“Bob? Bobby?” Then I saw the blood coming through the gap between door and floor. “Ronnie! Come and open this door now! She’s not answering. And call an ambulance!”
Ronnie came stomping down the hallway. Where he got the crowbar, I don’t know. He’d lost one of his rubber flip-flops. “I – we don’t have a phone, man.” Ronnie started working on the lock.
“Shitshitshitshit.” I couldn’t find my phone in my handbag. I must’ve grabbed a hold of the only tampon I had in there three times before I found it. I was cursing all the mobile phone manufacturers in the world for making them so small. I pressed speed dial.
The phone rang twice before someone answered. Efficient, I thought.
to be continued…