By Althea Romeo-Mark
Francis Vessup, back from shopping in town, trudged uphill to his pink, concrete house. Reaching his front porch, he yanked the stiff iron-gate open and plopped himself onto a garden chair to catch his breath. He surveyed the island’s dry, hilly landscape. Trees were still leaning after the lashing winds of last year’s hurricane. Shriveled vines wound round drooping hibiscus and yellow bells. He rose after a few minutes and had barely unlocked the front door when he heard a scratching and thudding sound coming from the bathroom.
“What the hell?” he gasped. Francis tip-toed to the kitchen and grabbed his sharpest cutlass. Francis raised it in readiness and wrenched open the bathroom door. A brown iguana was attempting to scale the enamel tub. It flipped its long, scruffy tail and thrust its rubbery head back and forth at him. Francis rested his cutlass against the bathroom wall, then gripped the iguana’s tail and head. It writhed about as he made his way to the porch and threw it into the parched garden. After that, he warmed goat soup for lunch, ate it and dozed off on a recliner on his veranda.
Half an hour later, he wiped spittle from his dry mouth and rose to inspect his garden. He froze. The small fences he had constructed around seedlings lay on the ground, the young plants were stripped of leaves.
“No! no! no!” screamed Francis. “Is them damned overgrown lizards. Is hard enough to get things to grow in this drought.” He pulled on his work shoes and covered his grey hair with a tattered straw hat. Armed with two large buckets, he tramped out of the house and down the short, rocky slope to his garden. As he trod, filled his buckets with stones, an iguana emerged from nearby brambles. Francis dropped the buckets, seized the iguana’s tail, swung it round and round, then struck it against a boulder where it twitched and fell still.
“Serve it right,” he grumbled. Francis stamped his feet, shushed, yelled at and stoned other iguanas as they arrived in search of food. The remaining iguanas fled. Francis grasped the lifeless reptile and tossed it into the bush. “All that work for nothing.” He groaned and sucked his teeth as he straightened the fences, inspected chewed leaves, and gathered more stones. Francis trudged back up the slope to the house, full buckets in his hands.
He piled his missiles on one of many concrete posts, which framed the veranda, ready to pelt iguanas on sound and sight.
A gigantic iguana appeared late the following afternoon while Francis was pulling weeds. He had seen none larger. Others soon joined it. “God damn it,” he yelled, “so many breeding in the bush? Is a battalion, man! Dem spirits turn iguana?” He shouted and stomped and made the sign of the cross. Some reptiles retreated, but the giant iguana thrashed its tail about and rushed at him. Francis jumped back. “Well is you and me, devil!” He clasped its head, but the strong iguana wrestled itself out of his hand and dashed between his legs. Francis losing his balance, fell and struck his head on the craggy ground.
“Help, help,” Francis moaned when he came to sometime later. A water truck and a smoke truck, fumigating mosquitoes, rumbled uphill, drowning out his voice. Francis coughed and wheezed. Pain peppered his eyes and he closed them tight to ease the burning sensation.
Crunching sounds in the garden woke him. The sun had crept up into the sky, pointing its rays at Francis’ eyes and he shaded his face with his arms. Iguanas rustled about in search of food. A young one, hind legs tangled in a vine, fought to free itself. Another crawled along Francis’ arm and tugged at his shirt, but finding it tasteless, turned away. Raising himself up on his elbows, Francis saw that more plants had been stripped. Rage propelled him to his feet. The small plot of seedlings had vanished completely. Iguanas glared at him with a “So what you going do look?” on their faces. A staring match ensued. Francis backed away and hobbled up the slope to his house.
Once inside, tears, which he had held at bay, streamed in full force. He seized the telephone and dialed.
“Hello, Antillean Zoo. This is Francis Vessup. I understand you buy iguanas. …You have enough? …..Well, I going poison everyone in me yard. …What? I can’t do that? It’s against the law? …..Why? ….. Protected species?…..Well, you better come and protect them from me, ‘cause by tomorrow morning they going to be dead as door nails.…….What? My number and address? ….. “Mariendalh Estate 95B, phone number–775-5698.” Francis slammed the receiver down.
Next morning, a vehicle thundered up the hill and turned into Francis Vessup’s yard. He peeped through louvers at four men carrying large cages. They mounted the steps and rapped at his door.
“Morning, Mr. Vessup,” the head man said, “we come to collect the iguanas.”
“Go down the slope in the back. That’s where they killing me plants. Be careful! It’s rocky.” He watched the men from the veranda as they combed the thicket and netted twenty iguanas.
After they left, Francis tottered down to his garden. Only a few pigeon pea trees had survived the rapacious iguana attacks.
“When the next rain comes, I going plant again,” said Francis, turning to leave. He paused, thinking he had heard rustling in the bush. “Me mind playing tricks on me,” he mumbled and looked back in search of movement. Then he saw them–three tiny, green iguanas, sticking their heads out of the thicket.
© Althea Romeo-Mark
© 1998 Althea Mark-Romeo, 4.06.10, 04.08.18,14.08.18, 08.09.18. Word Count 952