The Measure of a Dad

by Hartley Palm

Kingston, Jamaica

It was a Thursday afternoon and I had just awakened from another short, restless nap after a long night at work. I stretched and forced myself to yawn as if I had just gotten a good night’s rest. But my back still ached from the gravel filled mattress and my eyes felt like they were bleeding blood. The sun was at its peak as it had been for a few months now. Every day the heat milked the green from the grass and shrubs turning them grey and dusty. The air was stiff and vexed with the chill that was once its friend and the few birds that flew never sang a tune. That did not matter to me anymore. Since I began working the night shifts; work was all I now knew. My stomach growled as if it was not a part of my body, but was instead a hungry predator, starved and now seeing my body as a prey.

I made my way to the most popular right angle of the little square shack to the makeshift kitchen where Father seemed to have cooked while I was sleeping. Father was a man who never left his home without a hot meal no matter how early it was or even if he was being invited for breakfast. He would always cook or warm up some overnight food that survived the thieving attempts of our hairy, four legged roommates; sometimes, it would be the rats, or croaking lizards, or the dangerous red ants. Each time we complained (from our eyes were at our knees) Father would say, “Maasta you don’t si is bush wi live, is fi dem home enuh.”

I quickly opened the large pot that was dyed black by the wood fire or the coughing and ever smoking kerosene stove. The pot contained my favorite, cornmeal dumplings. What it was being served with never really mattered to me as long as it was dumplings, but nevertheless, this time it was with curried chicken back. I shared four of Father’s cartwheel dumplings (they were more like truck wheels to me). Many grown men could maybe eat two. Father’s usual amount was three; but I love dumplings. The dumplings were not just big in circumference; they were thick and when they got cold they were so hard that whenever I chewed it was like I was getting a root canal in my jaw bone without anesthetics - and when it was finally sufficiently masticated and I swallowed, the movement of the dumpling could be felt along my esophagus and all the way down in my back. Still, it was starch and fiber made us strong. Father would mention that he was going to be sorry for the woman that I marry because every evening she would have to be kneading a sand heap of flour to make dumplings.

I sat down on Father’s bed where I could see the small color television which I had recently bought. I was about to turn it on when I realized that the green light on the extension was not on. “Those damn police,” I thought, “must have disconnected the electricity again”…