Some of the people whom I absolutely feared were “crazy”; those who, because we did not understand their behaviour, seemed to pose threats to us. Notwithstanding the fact that the mentally unstable have, on occasion, been violent, those that I am about to mention were not necessarily of that ilk, at least not that I am aware of.
My first primary school was Molineux. During that time, Molineux Primary and Estridge Primary (in Mansion) were one school, under the leadership of Mr. Obadiah Williams. The lower classes (Junior Standard to 4th Standard) were in Molineux while the 5th to the 7th Standards were in Estridge. My journey to school took me along the Island Main Road, through the Mansion Cane Siding, along a dirt road we called Common Door, through Mansion Estate, along Lower Works and into Molineux proper, a journey of anywhere from 2 to 2½ miles.
I crossed paths with Mr. George Richards (head of the Teacher Training Division of the CFB College) on this stretch of road, many times. He lived in either Molineux or Phillip’s but taught at Estridge so we were heading in different directions each time.
It was quite a relief when the schools were separated in 1965 and I had just a short walk from home to school, which was then housed in one of the buildings in the Moravian Church compound.
Among the people I came across in Molineux was a man who, if my memory serves me, was named Mr. Matthew. My mother referred to him by his correct name but I do not recall if it was Selwyn or Charlie. I will venture to say that it was Charlie. What I am sure of, though, is that his alias was Sapatarta. For the years I knew him, I never saw him walk as he always rode a donkey. The peculiar thing about him was that he balanced a bill (an all-metal, cane-cutting implement akin to the machete but somewhat shorter and much wider) atop his head and I never once saw it fall. In addition, he was forever pointing as if counting the houses in his purview. That was enough to make me steer clear of him.
Another character in my Molineux experience was one Harold Matthew who, until his death some time in 2005, lived in Phillip’s Village, the same place where my maternal grandparents, my mother, her siblings and her eldest child were born. I do not know if he was of any relation to Sapatarta
Quite often, I left school and walked the dirt road that led to my grandparents’ house. As is still the case, there was a last house in Molineux, a somewhat desolate stretch of road where no one lived, then one came to Phillip’s. It so happened that on one of my trips, I met Harold who, in those days, was always carrying a shopping bag over his shoulder. I was heading into Phillip’s while he was heading out and he was running a large black comb through his hair. He was on one side, I was on the other.
Just about when we were abreast of each other, out of the blue, Harold hastily removed the bag from his shoulder, covered his face with it and started walking towards me while rubbing the comb back and forth across his throat. Needless to say, I felt threatened and broke into a dash towards Phillip’s. Although I was not the most athletic, I must have done a hundred yards in less than 10 seconds. I took a glance over my shoulder to see if he was in pursuit only to find that he was still where I left him, in a fit of laughter.
Years ago, Ellie Matt sang about “…this Daniel Ban’ fellow; He big and he strong, not even police cou’ hol’ e dung…” The younger people would not know that Daniel Ban’ was a character in St. Kitts who literally struck fear in the hearts of many. I do not know that he was a violent person but he was a strong individual. One of the things I remember about him was that he would run through the village whilst holding his bicycle by its seat. I cannot confirm this but it was said that whenever we saw him doing that, he was on his way through the island, a distance of some 26 miles – a marathon, if you will.
As mentioned earlier, my trip from Mansion to Molineux took me along that portion of the island main road between my home and the Mansion Siding. On at least one occasion that I can recall, I was caught on that road while Ban’ was on his jaunt through the village. I was somewhere between the Prentice and Samuel houses. As such, I could not have seen him coming because he was hidden by the corner in the vicinity of Wycliffe “Todoot” Williams’ residence. Looking back, it was over very quickly but, back then, as a child, it seemed like an eternity as this bearded man with his thick, bushy mane, ran pass while I froze as if commanded to do so.
The school was entirely fenced. Wire mesh (considerably thicker than pig wire) was on the northern, western and eastern sides. The park’s concrete-block fence was on the south. In addition, there were only two gates; one opened onto East Park Range while the other allowed access through the western fence, into the BHS grounds. Both gates were on the same lateral plane so that one could enter the eastern gate from East Park Range and, without any deviation, walk through the western gate and be on the grounds of the BHS.Let’s fast forward to sometime in late 1969. I was in my 1st year at the Park Range Campus of the Basseterre Junior High School (BJHS). My journalistic mentor, Mr. Washington “Washie” Archibald was the headmaster. The school was just north of Warner Park and due east of the Eastern Campus of the Basseterre High School (BHS). Things have since changed in that the BJHS is now named in honour of Mr. Archibald (Washington Archibald High School [WAHS]) and is located elsewhere, while what was the Eastern Campus of the BHS is now the Western Campus, having made way for the former BJHS to become its Eastern Campus. There are now more buildings than those depicted in the accompanying drawing.
At that time, Basseterre had a number of people who were not altogether there. One of these was someone I came to know only as Calabash.
One morning, we had settled into our classes and got to work. I was in building 3 (as per the drawing) which, of the buildings on the compound, was the most southerly and closest to the gates. Any escape was to have been through either of the gates or over the fence. The drawback was, apart from the park’s fence which was of concrete blocks, the others were high and jagged at the top so one would have run the risk of being cut.
On the morning in question, for reasons known only to him, Calabash decided to pay a visit to the school, and entered through what I assume was the eastern gate, off East Park Range. When he was spotted, a tremendous stampede ensued. To this day I have not seen him but I followed the crowd as every one abandoned everything, rushed out of his/her class and headed north, away from the gates. I cannot say if anyone got hurt but I am sure that some did.
In essence, Calabash probably just wandered in, intending only to use the area as a throughway to Victoria Road. I doubt that he went there with the intention of causing the uproar that eventually occurred.
One day my brother Wilmon and I went to Basseterre to attend a function. I do not recall what function it was, or the street on which we came across a character that I later came to know as Prapraps. I believe it could have been Church Street because we were heading north after getting off the bus in the vicinity of Ram’s Supermarket. It is possible that I am correct because, later on, I knew him to have spent a lot of time around the Astaphans on the corner of Church Street and Liverpool Row, so he may have been heading there.
He was walking south, carrying a glass bottle in his hand. Our paths would have crossed at a fence/gate of corrugated galvanized iron sheets but just before we crossed, Prapraps created frightening raucous by hauling the bottle against the fence and, in one fell swoop, tossed it onto the concrete sidewalk in front of us. We froze as the bottle shattered into what must have been a thousand pieces. Then he casually strolled by us, with the stiffness of a soldier on parade, straight faced, as if nothing had just happened.
When we returned home and related the story to Mom, she chuckled and said that she never walked on the same side of the street with him; not because he was violent but she was afraid that his antics would have caused her to trip and fall.
Another character that I remember was a man everyone called Crazy John; he was short, thickly bearded and had a rather pleasant and handsome face. Around that time, Sparrow had a song that was tearing up the airwaves: “Crazy John you can’t dance, give another man a chance” and I swore it was him who Sparrow was singing about. After all, who else in the world was named Crazy John?
This encounter happened during my Junior High School days and I was heading there aboard a bus driven by a gentleman whom I knew as Mr. Francis or “Franco”, as he was more popularly known. If my information is correct, he was grandfather to acquaintances of mine, Ellis and Calvin Edwards, men of consequence in our society today. On the bus at the same time was a former Festab Calypso King, John “Mighty Goose” Belle, who would most likely have been present when Calabash showed up at school.
There was –and still is- a cane field nestled between what used to be Mills’ Estate (now a section of Behavioural Sciences Foundation) and Lower Bourryeau Estate (now the St. Kitts Bio-Medical Research Foundation), and Crazy John was going about his daily task of weeding between the sprouting ratoons with a hoe.
He was approximately 15 – 20 feet from the edge of the road when the bus drew abreast of him but, for whatever reason, he was leaning away from it as if to make sure that he was not in the way. I recall John Belle shouting: “Me arm, e bus ah pass so far fram he an’ e still ah lean weh!”. Spontaneous laughter erupted amongst the passengers.
Except for those of Sapatarta and Crazy John, my encounters with these people were memorable and eventful ones but which I certainly did not enjoy at the time. However, looking back over the years has proven to be therapeutic for me because, with hindsight being as perfect as it is, I now enjoy them all.