Mr. Weekes is hard at it lifting potatoes. I feign a cough. He looks up, sees it’s me, dives back into his work.
“Just the stragglers now,” he says, careful as he sieves soil with his pitchfork. The tweed jacket he’s wearing looks older than I am, a bit tight on him now, elbows threadbare and unpatched.
He doesn’t bother asking me about school anymore.
“There’s coffee in the shed,” he says, “I’m just about done.” He leans his pitchfork against a post, takes a bag from his trouser pocket and stoops down to gather the crop, tossing away the bad. He pops on the cloth cap the post was wearing and trudges his way over. He sets the bag down and without flinching plunges his hands deep into the big refuse bin brimming rainwater.
Among the flowerpots and tools in the shed, there’s enough space for two rickety chairs and a once-white picnic table. Mr. Weekes tells me to sit, wipes his hands on a tea towel, half-fills two cups from his thermos.
“I ever tell you about the time I jammed with Bob Marley?” He asks, smiling.
“Don’t think so,” I answer, although he has, many times over, but I like that each telling comes out different, like every good story should.
“Well,” he laughs, “that was a trip. Trenchtown, Kingston, soon after independence, or maybe before, can’t quite remember.” He frowns, shuffles his cap. “Anyways, hungry kids always hung around the studio door. Bob were ready, even as a youth, Ready like Freddy.” He laughs. I laugh too, but mine isn’t as natural.
I take a sip from my cup. It’s lukewarm and bitter, unlike any coffee I’ve tried before.
Mr. Weekes chuckles, “You don’t like it?” he says, “well, it takes getting used to. I think it made of chicory. Mrs. Weekes tell me I have to look after me heart now, and she know’s best.” He winks at me as though she’s listening in. I put the cup down, nudge it to the centre of the table.
“So Bob sing like an angel over a couple of tracks. He had fire in him belly… I knew he’d hit one day.” He takes a sip, “and yours truly might have been in his band, if Her Majesty didn’t invite me here to work on the trains.” He frees another infectious chuckle.
The thing about Mr Weekes is that there’s no sign of regret lurking in his eyes, and I wonder if there ever was, or if it just fades away over time.
He rolls his tongue over his teeth, smiles at me, claps his hands.
“Now then young man, show me what you have today,” he says.
I take a notebook from my schoolbag. The front pages are scarred sheets deep, where I’ve attacked them with my pen, ashamed and angry what’s written there.
I flick through pages crammed with doodles of matchstick men, cuboid shapes, words. I find what I’m looking for.
Mr. Weekes shuts his eyes, and I read out the few lines I have. Hyperspace, it’s about the button you get on the Asteroids game they have at the café, pressing it is a huge risk, because there’s a chance you escape, but you might land in deeper trouble and get blown to smithereens.
I finish reading, look up. Mr. Weekes’ eyes are still closed. He’s nodding a rhythm to silence. I think it best not to disturb him. Then suddenly he springs up like a man thirty years his junior and parts a wave through the boxes piled up in the shed. He pulls out this huge double bass, like they have in orchestras. He sets it straight, wipes it down with the tea towel.
“This here is Betty,” he says, stroking the chestnut veneer, “me first love,” he whispers, “but don’t tell Mrs. Weekes.” And there’s that laugh again.
He plucks each string in turn, winding a screw at the top until each sounds sweeter. He starts to play. The fingers of his left hand glide up and down, while his right hand plucks the strings. They seem to be going exactly where he wants them to go, like magic, and the result is a hypnotic, trance-like pattern. He looks at me.
“Now, what about that other one,” he says, still playing.
I know the one he means.
I find the pages and start mouthing the words, whispering them, but Mr.Weekes is drowning me out. So I try a little louder. A voice starts singing. My words. Getting stronger. My voice. I look up, and Mr. Weekes is smiling that big old smile once again.