I wasn’t as hard as I imagined it would be to cut some chapters and chunks from The Reputation of Booya Carthy – mostly because it was well explained what I would lose, or gain, by not keeping them; more often than not to keep the pace of the novel moving. The occasional passage took a little longer to decide upon: do I keep some sections of it, or scrap it completely? A few morsels survived to live on in other passages, but the least complicated way was to simply leave these sections out and push the story on.
The toughest section was a complete chapter (this is the part when spoilers are about to appear. It is really intended for folks who have finished reading Booya, so read on if you have, or at your peril . . . *evil laugh*), a scene set on the first night of Booya’s incarceration at Parchman Farm (Chapter Ten / 2). I liked the chapter, but it didn’t really add anything to the story – it was the correct decision to remove it. However, I’d like to share it here, for you, treasured reader – with the wonderfully kind feedback that I have had, people have told me that they would like to read more: well, here you go then. The intention of the chapter was to show Booya’s desperation at being stolen from his life; how it was all new to him at that time, possibly just a hopeless dream – but even in dreaming he could not escape the horror that his new life was to become.
You might recall that Labella had just told Booya that she was pregnant with their first child before the fateful night of Carini’s house frolic. His life was quickly torn from being excited about the future to being driven under armed escort to the state penitentiary of Mississippi. Booya’s ankle had been rubbed raw by the ‘bracelet’ around his ankle – the manacle fastened to the floor. He had barely slept the night before, and is lying on the bunk on his first night in the penitentiary barracks . . .
The door to The Cage had been locked. The gamblers had rested their weary heads. The lights were out. The alley boss was sitting on his chair beyond the cage with his shotgun by his side and dozing dog by his feet, reading by soft lamplight.
Having been awake for nearly two days – except for a brief drunken sleep beneath the bridge and on the hard bench of the jailhouse – Booya thought that he would have fallen asleep before any of his fellow inmates. Mentally and emotionally exhausted. But he could not sleep. His thoughts kept flailing for air. He had surely fallen into his nightmares, desperate to wake up beside his wife. He had only to open his eyes or listen to the harsh sound of heavy breathing all around him to remember that this was all real. Booya thought about how Mister Henry’s guitar had seemed like a key to the town, a key to life. The guitar led him down in to a new world, but he always checked to ensure that the door back to Mammy and Paw was left open, and the new door that led to Labella. Now those doors were like the front door to this building; thick rows of bars shielded the way back home.
His Granpaw had told Paw, and Paw told Booya in turn about the heritage of their ancestors being stolen from their villages in their sleep, some even from different countries, and forced into slavery. Booya had linked the chain once more.
His eyes were painfully weary. His head felt like a whirlpool in the rapid river of his thoughts – as soon as he banished a thought, trying not to think about it, another thought would float down stream and swirl in the tumultuous pool.
Earlier, when the time had come for dinner – held in an adjacent room in the barracks, plastic chairs against screwed-down tables, and plastic plates, fork, knives and spoons – Two Cell had warned Booya that he must get down from the bunk and come through, go through the motions no matter how wronged he felt, unless he wanted to make the acquaintance of Black Annie. Booya hadn’t said a word for the rest of the day. Like Two Cell had suggested, he had literally gone through the motions. Every moment of that day Booya had been ready for sleep, sure that when he awoke it would be in Labella’s arms. It was not only the worst but also the longest day of his life. Still sleep would not come.
Instead he was feeling quite awake.
He was sitting up against the pear tree in Mister Henry’s orchard. The sky was covered grey and the air was stiflingly hot and close, but he hadn’t a care in the world. He had his new guitar and the feel of grass between his toes, the smell of flowers and fresh cut grass blowing through the grim day. The birds sang along happily as he played his guitar. There was something wet slipping down his chin, no doubt the sweet delight of pear juice. He licked it: it was salty and warm, not sticky and sweet as it should be. He lifted a finger and ran it over his chin, and then looked at it. It was covered in the blood running slowly from his mouth. He ran his tongue over his teeth. His gums were hurting, a sharp, shooting pain stabbing from the root of each tooth. They felt loose, his teeth. When Booya touched one it fell out of his mouth and into his hand. But it wasn’t a tooth; it was a tooth-shaped sack of blood. And then suddenly it burst; a small splash of blood in the centre of his palm. He felt another tooth burst in his mouth. The warm blood ran over his chin, dropped down his front. And then another. And another. Booya ran his tongue along what was fast becoming just gum. There was only one tooth left; as soon as his tongue touched the last remaining tooth it exploded.
His guitar was squirming in his lap. Booya looked down and saw that it wasn’t his guitar that was squirming in his lap at all: it was a naked newborn baby. It was a boy. It was his son. Booya’s boy was squirming in his hands, screaming. He didn’t know what he could do to help the tiny newborn boy. Suddenly he felt nauseous; the screaming was piercing at his ears. Sickness was rising up inside him. It was in his throat, blocking his airways. He was retching, trying to gasp for air; trying to bring up the sickness; trying to rid the poison feeling inside. Blood was streaming from his chin and now landing on the chest of his boy, and on the swaddling over Booya’s legs. He knew that he wanted to wipe the blood from his son but was helpless to. He was as helpless as the child. The sickness was in his mouth. He could feel it slowly slip past his bloodied gums, his lips. And then, rather than seeing vomit, Booya saw the head of a snake slither out of his mouth. Could feel its tail still rising from deep within him.
He kept retching, attempting to clear a passage for the snake. A python. It was slowly gliding down his chest, making its way towards his infant son. It licked at the boy’s chin. The child stopped crying. Now chuckling at the tickling forked tongue, watching as the snake slowly slipped around the boy’s neck. Booya could only stare as the snake slithered from his mouth and began to wrap itself tighter and tighter around his son’s neck. The snake was sapping his strength; his eyes and his mind were tired, so very, very tired.
Booya gagged weakly as the thick scales continued to rise from inside him, creeping up his throat, stirring his insides. Now the child was no longer making any noise. He was staring up at Booya for the first time. Helpless. Pleading silently. They were as helpless as each other. In Booya’s hands, the python continued to squeeze and suffocate his son.
The bunk rattled. He wasn’t sure if he had yelled out loud. He wasn’t sure if he had been able to. He gasped for air. He could still feel the snake in his throat. He ran his tongue along his teeth. There were only teeth. Booya’s eyes were sore; there was a deep throb in his bandaged arm and hand, a sharp pain in his ankle, as if a python was maybe constricting it. As the blurriness cleared, the room quickly became the prison farm barracks. The Cage. Around him were the snores, whistles and wheezes of the sleeping convicts. He could hear whimpering coming from where Li’l Big Heart was lying. Booya was not sure if he had slept for a minute or an hour. He did not want to sleep if he were to be rewarded by such nightmares.
For the rest of that night Booya listened to the snores, whistles and wheezes, and Li’l Big Heart’s gentle sobs, immediately thinking once again about all that he had left behind. He tried to imagine what Mammy and Paw and Labella were going through without him, whether it was as bad for them as it was for him. He could feel the tears quietly wetting his pillow. With ninety or so men sleeping around him, Booya felt desperately alone.
He was still awake when the bell blew at 4:30 in the morning, still dark outside. The dormitory quickly came to life and to cheer. Booya climbed from his bunk feeling tired. In pain, and so very, very tired.