Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Kosmo was the village drunk. The first interaction my family had with him, he came sauntering up to my father, pleasantly toasted in the mid-morning, and speaking in outrageously over-exaggerated English. In fact, it was so off base that it took a minute to realize that it was our native tongue that he was speaking. "How do you do?" he asked, rolling his eyes slightly at my father as if they shared a delicious inside joke. "Um, pleased to meet you," my dad replied.

The man looked like the living representation of the character, 'Puddleglum' from C.S. Lewis' book, The Silver Chair. He had a shock of wiry hair sticking up at random angles from his head, and his clothes hung off of his tall, lanky frame. His feet were as broad as they were long. Each toe had at least an inch of breathing room on each side.

His wife was also tall, and willowy, much to the sympathy of the other village women. A thin woman is obviously poorly taken care of; after all, if your husband, brothers, sons, uncles and father all failed to bring in enough food to fatten you up, you were bad off, indeed. I never got to know Kosmo's wife; I never even learned her name. But every time I saw her, she looked sad. She wore sorrow like a blanket, pulling it around herself and her never ending children. Later I learned that Kosmo's wife's sister was the village medicine woman. People would go to her when the clinic and church failed to heal their maladies. I always wondered why she, with access to such magic, had such a poor life.

I remember one cloudy night, we were sitting in Father Nehemiah's hut, sharing an after dinner cup of tea. The kerosene lamp cast its honey hued blessing on brown and white skin. The men softly talked, as us children poked coconut broom sticks at each other and the cat.

"Mama!" came the raucous cry from outside. 'Mama' is the traditional name for the Anglican priests, used all through-out the islands. "Mama, I need to talk to you!" Kosmo looked like a coconut tree silhouetted against the night sky, with his tall frame and bushy hair. The priest went out to meet him. His children and my siblings all crowded at the window openings of the hut, ready for our evening entertainment. 'Up next after these words from our sponsors...'

Kosmo was in his religious stage of drunkenness. This one came after the gregarious stage, and before the ugly, angry one. He began arguing a finer point of the Anglican catechism with the mama, and tripped slightly on the rock border of the yard. We giggled. Heads began to appear in our neighboring huts, and the ones across the way as his voice gained volume. "No, you have to KNEEL!" Kosmo roared, as the mama murmured quietly to him.

"Ok, ok, just go home, Kosmo," Father Nehemiah said defeatedly. It began to drizzle lightly. "See, it's raining. Go home before it rains harder." Mama turned and went back into our hut, leaving the drunk swaying slightly on the gravel yard.

Kosmo looked around himself puzzlingly, then turned his face to the sky. Layers of clouds were discernible over the moon. The drops of water were gentle and kind, a benediction to the growing things all around. Night time flowers released their seductive scents into the moist air, and mingled intoxicatingly with the brown smell of wet earth. Kosmo's hands slowly stretched out, palms up, until he stood looking up into the dark heavens with arms wide open, a welcome to whatever was sent down.

The rain formed droplets on his long nose and sunken cheeks, and misted the tangles of his hair. "Healing rain," he said wistfully, his head thrown back. "Rain! Come on me! Heal me!" The rain didn't answer, except to pick up. We left him that night standing out in the downpour, and fell asleep to the sound of it pounding on our roof.

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