A Brief History of Seven Killings
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A Brief History of Seven Killings

Marlon James

  1. 999 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

A Brief History of Seven Killings

Marlon James

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About This Book

A SPECIAL EDITION OF THE 2015 BOOKER PRIZE WINNER, WITH A BRAND-NEW FOREWORD AND A Q&A WITH THE AUTHOR * With a new foreword by Bernardine Evaristo * 'Epic in every sense of the word' New York Times Jamaica, 1976. Seven gunmen storm Bob Marley's house, machine guns blazing.The reggae superstar survives, but the gunmen are never caught. In A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James reimagines the story behind this near-mythical event, chronicling the lives of a host of unforgettable characters from street kids, drug lords and journalists, to prostitutes and secret service agents. Gripping, inventive and ambitious, it is one of the most mesmerising and influential novels of the twenty-first century. 'Showcases the extraordinary capabilities of a writer whose importance can scarcely be questioned' Independent

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Dorcas Palmer

You know how them girl stay, come all the way to America and still going on like them is some dutty whore from Gully. Me tired of them girl so till. Me just tell one nasty slut who was working with Miz Colthirst. Nasty slut, me say, as long as you working for this here job and living under that there roof, you better lock up that pum-pum, you understand me? Lock up the pum-pum. Of course the bitch never listen so now she pregnant. Of course Miz Colthirst have to let her go—on my recommendation of course. Can you imagine? Some little stinking bottom naigger pickney a run rapid ’round the place? On 5th Avenue? No, baba. The white people would have one of them white people things, a conniption to rahtid.
—So does she go by Miss Colthirst or Ms. Colthirst?
So does she go by Miss Colthirst or Miz Colthirst? What a way you stocious. Them going like you quick. Boy sometime not even me know which. Soon as she start read some magazine name Ms., she say she name Miz Colthirst, me love. Me just say ma’am.
—Ma’am? Like some slavery thing?
For once she looked like she didn’t know what to answer. Is three years now I’m with God Bless Employment Agency and every time I come in here, she has a brand-new story about some ghetto slut who got pregnant on her watch. What I don’t understand is why she always feels I’m the person to tell these things to. I’m not trying to be understanding or empathetic, I just want a fucking job so that my slum lord doesn’t kick me out of my top-class fifth-floor walk-up with a toilet that makes all sorts of murder sounds when you flush it, and rats that now feel they can just sit up on the couch and watch TV with me.
—Try no use them slavery word around the Colthirst. New York people who live on Park Avenue very antsy about them kinda remark.
—At least you have one of them Bible names they love on a Jamaican. Me even get a man one of them jobs last week—can you imagine? Probably because he name Hezekiah. Who knows? Maybe them think that nobody with name from the good book going thief from them. You not no thiefing girl?
She asks me this every week I come to pick up my pay, even though I’ve been here three years. But now she looks at me like she really wants an answer. The Colthirsts aren’t the usual clients clearly. Where is my tenthgrade teacher now for me to tell her what doors I’ve opened in life just from knowing how to speak correctly. Miss Betsy is looking at me. Some jealousy sure, but every woman have that in them. Some envy too because I have what beauty contestants call deportment, after all I am a high school–educated girl from Havendale St. Andrew. Pride, of course, because she have somebody she can finally use to impress the Colthirsts, so much so that she probably trump up some false bullshit on the last girl just to get her fired. But pity too, that one most definitely. She’s wondering how a girl like me come to this.
—No, Miss Betsy.
—Good, good, wonderful good.
Don’t ask me why I was walking on Broadway past 55th because not a damn thing was going on, on that street or in my life. But sometimes, I don’t know, walking down a New York street . . . well it doesn’t make your problems easier or manageable but it does make you feel you can just walk. Not that I have problems. Actually I don’t have a thing. And I’ll bet anybody that my nothing is bigger than their nothing any day of the week. Sometimes having nothing to worry about makes me worry, but that would be some psychological bullshit to make me feel busy. Maybe I’m just bored. People here with three jobs and looking for a fourth and I wasn’t even working.
And that meant walking. Even I know it don’t make no sense, though it explains why these people never stop walking, even to somewhere you can get to on the subway. You really do wonder if anybody works in this city. Why are there so many people in the street? So I was walking down Broadway from 120th. I don’t know, there comes a point when you’re walking that you’ve walked too far and there’s really nothing to do but continue. Until what, I don’t know. I always forget until I find myself walking again. And besides it was only a few blocks before Times Square and Lord knows you only need ten minutes in Times Square to miss a quaint charming little place like West Kingston. Not like I’d be caught dead in West Kingston. Anyway, walking down Broadway past 55th Street and looking out for freaks, flashers and everything I always saw on TV but never see here (except for bums and none of them ever look like Gary Sandy undercover). The little sign was failing to stick out between two Chinese restaurants on 51st. God Bless Employment Agency, which was enough to make it clear Jamaicans run it, but if that didn’t do it, then the proverb at the bottom of the sign, “A Soft Answer Turneth Away Wrath,” which didn’t have a fucking thing to do with anything, certainly did. The only thing left was to add INTERNATIONAL in the title. But I had some nerve thinking I could talk down to a place that existed to help losers like me, after all there was only so many times you could call your American ex in Arkansas and ask for money to help before he said, Fine, I’ll send you some cash, but if you ever call my house again and threaten to talk to my wife I’ll just make a little call to the INS and you’ll see if you don’t find your conniving nigger ass on the next fucking flight back to Jamaica clutching one of those clear plastic bags they give deportees so all of JFK airport knows which brand of panty shields you use. I didn’t want to tell him that the word nigger didn’t quite have the kick he was counting on, nor bitch, nor cunt, since Jamaican girl don’t response to none of them things. But yeah, I was in no position to walk past anywhere called Employment Agency. His last gift was running out.
—You know why me giving you the job? ’Cause you is the first girl to come in here with some manners.
—Really, Miss Betsy?
We’ve also had this conversation before. She runs an employment agency that places mostly black women, mostly immigrants, into these posh houses to take care of their very young children or very old parents who, news to me, have the very same needs. In exchange for us putting up with whatever shit, sometimes literally shit, they don’t ask questions about immigration or employment status. So everybody wins. Well two people win, I just collect the money. I don’t know. It’s one thing when you ask your boss for cash, but it’s something else when the employer is only too happy to give it to you.
The first client she sent me to was a white middle-aged couple in Gramercy, too busy to notice their weak mother smelling like cat shit and talking about those poor boys on the USS Arizona. She was in a room by herself with the thermostat set at fifty degrees at all times. The first time I met the couple the wife didn’t look at me at all and the husband looked at me too long. Both wore all black and the same black round glasses, like John Lennon. She just said to the wall beside me, She’s in there, do what must be done. For a split second, I wondered if they expected me to kill the woman. And what woman? In the room was nothing but pillows and a bedsheet heaped up on the bed. I had to come in closer to see that there was a little old woman in the middle of the bed. The piss and shit nearly made me walk out, until I remembered the money orders were done coming from Arkansas.
Anyway, I lasted three months, and it wasn’t the shit. There always comes a point when you living in a house with a man when he start to think he can walk around with no clothes on. The first time he do it, I could tell he was really hoping I would be taken aback, but I just saw another old person to nurse. The fifth time, he said the wife was gone to her Mother of Veterans meeting and I said, So you need me to figure out where you misplace your drawers? The seventh time he jiggled it in front of me and I start laughing so loud I hiccupped. The mother in the room started shouting what was the joke and I told her. Hey, I didn’t care. She laughed too, saying his father was just the same, always putting on a show even when nobody bought any seats. From that day the mother was always sharp around me, she even developed a little sass. Too much sass for cocky jiggler. I quit before he fired me, and told Miss Betsy that while I will scoop up any load of shit, I’ll have nothing to do with a withered white penis. She was impressed that I managed to stay in standard English the whole time, even when I asked if this was a whorehouse with granny care as a fringe benefit.
—Is must be Immaculate High School you come from, she said.
—Holy Childhood, I said.
—Same difference, she said.
The day John Lennon was killed I was walking my second job in the park. Another old woman, whose forgetfulness didn’t yet reach the point where she forgot that she forgets. I had already taken her to the park, and was about to go to bed, when she suddenly said she wanted to go to the Dakota and would not shut up about it. It was either us walking or she flying into hysterics, which usually ended with her screaming that these strange people and a negro had kidnapped her.
—I want to go, damn it, you can’t stop me, she said. Her daughter looked at me like I was hiding her Valium. Then she just fanned the two of us off. Spent the entire night outside the Dakota with her and maybe two thousand other people. I think we sang “Give Peace a Chance” all night. At some point I started singing too and even started crying. She died two weeks later.
The next week I went to a Jamaican club in Brooklyn called Star Track. Don’t ask me why, I don’t like reggae and I don’t dance. And Lord knows I’ve never had any use for this community. But I felt like I just had to since I couldn’t get those deaths out of my head. The place was some old building with three floors, almost a brownstone. As I walked in Gregory Isaacs’ “Night Nurse” was playing. Some men and women looked at me like it was their job to sum up who came through the door, as if this was some western or something. Every now and then there was a whiff of either ganja or cigar smoke. If I stayed here long enough somebody from Jamaica was bound to think she recognized me, which just felt like the worst thing ever. Because at some point that bitch would ask me what was I doing, and before I answer, would tell me about what she’s been doing and where she’s living and who got totally fat and who’s just breeding like a fucking rabbit.
At some point the Rasta eyeing me since I came in slid up to me at the bar and told me I needed a back rub. This was the part where they taught you that if you ignore men they would go away. Except boys were always in the same class. At least let’s look at the man, somebody in my head who sounded a lot like me said. Dreads yes, but clearly groomed by a hairdresser. Light skin, almost a coolie, and lips thick but still too pink even after years of cigarettes trying to blacken them. What’s Yannick Noah doing here, I would have asked if I thought he knew who that was. He asked me if I thought the Singer was going to recover because it really doesn’t look too good. I came this close to asking what type of Jamaican uses a phrase like doesn’t look too good. I really don’t want to talk about the Singer, I said. I really don’t. He kept talking with the little Jamaican accent he got from his parents or maybe his neighbors. I didn’t have to hear him shorten Montego Bay to Montego, instead of Mobay, to know he wasn’t a real Jamaican. He gave himself away the second he asked me if I had cum. He left his number on the dresser when I was asleep. Part of me was prepared to be offended if I saw money under the note, but part of me kinda was hoping it was at least fifty bucks.
It’s 198...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Title
  3. Copyright
  4. Contents
  5. Cast of Characters
  6. Original Rockers: December 2, 1976
  7. Ambush in the Night: December 3, 1976
  8. Shadow Dancin’: February 15, 1979
  9. White Lines / Kids in America: August 14, 1985
  10. Sound Boy Killing: March 22, 1991
  11. Acknowledgments