The Breadfruit Feast
a short story by
Nanko dipped his spoon into the bowl of cornmeal porridge and took up another spoonful. He ate it and then put some more ackee and saltfish onto the hard dough bread. He made a sandwich with it and bit off a huge piece. Their cornmeal porridge was made of grated corn with coconut milk. They had used wet sugar to sweeten it and grated a nutmeg in it to give it some more flavor. Butty, Dedco and Bully were also eating their porridge.
“You think we’ll find him today?” Butty asked.
The men were casual workers on several properties around the Mc Kenzie Lands area and they were looking for Berbice Morgan reputed to be a great eater. Stout eaters themselves, they were no match for Berbice. A feast was coming up and they wanted somebody to bet on. Wimple, one of the best eaters in the village, had withdrawn from the contest because his elder brother, Bam, a man with a fierce temper, had threatened to give him a terrible beating should he dare enter the contest.
“Berbice is the only man capable of beating Bagda,” Nanko said. They were filling up themselves with this large load of food for the long haul into the woods to find Berbice.
“He must be at his shack up in Lobban’s Ridge. That’s where he stays when he’s burning coal,” Bully told them.
They saw Hustay Willie coming towards them. He was riding on a gray mule. He was also a coal burner. He was a big strapping man and a great eater. He had entered several eating contests, but had never finished anywhere in the top three. He wasn’t well liked in the village. Hustay had always boasted that his grandfather had been the driver on the nearby Goodall estate. In fact he now carried his whip.
Hustay saw them eating and remembered that he hadn’t eaten his breakfast as yet. He stopped his mule and got off and tied it to a nearby tree stump.
“You guys are loading up. It seems as if you have some hard work ahead of you,” he greeted them as Sonia, Dedco's woman, came out of the house with a pail of lemonade.
“Join us, Hustay,” Dedco invited him.
Sonia greeted him too before putting down the pail and returning inside. Hustay took up a plate and poured out the rest of the ackee and saltfish into it. He took ten slices of the bread, each almost an inch thick in width and threw in his plate. He put down the plate and took two pears out of his bag. He passed one to the men while pealing the other and putting it into his plate. He poured a cheesepan full of lemonade and sat back to shovel the food down his throat.
“We are going to look for Berbice,” Bully said belatedly in reply to Hustay. They were all watching the pile of food on his plate. They could have done with another helping, but Hustay had shoveled all the food that was left onto his plate.
“Think you guys can find him? I might enter the contest because I hear that Wimple won’t be in it.”
“We are looking for somebody to beat Bagda. You’ve come up against him several times and lost,” Dedco said.
“I’ve beaten Bagda already and Berbice too.”
He stuffed his mouth full of food.
Hilda, Nankoo’s woman, came out of the house.
“Any of you want some more food? Wait, Mister Hustay, I didn’t know you were here.”
“Hilda, I could do with some roasted plantains if you have any and some cocoa tea too,” Hustay told her.
The others told her that they had had their fill and she returned inside for the food for Hustay.
“It’s so you guys eat light. You can’t be cutting cane or doing the kind of hard work we do and eat so light.”
Hilda returned with the roasted plantains and a pot of cocoa tea.
“We’re going up into the woods to look for Berbice. Chances are he’ll have more food up there for us,” Dedco declared.
Berbice was at his hut in the woods of Lobban’s Ridge. He was putting the finishing touches to his breakfast. It was a big meal with a dozen dumplings, a pot full of ackee and saltfish and a pot full of tea. He sat down at his self made table to eat. He had to fall huge trees and cut them up for making coal to sell in the May Pen market.
As Berbice ate his meal he thought about the upcoming contest. A feast was to be held in their village and it included an eating contest. The winner would receive a domestic animal and he had heard that a goat was the prize this time around. Of the four contests in which he had participated he had won two and Bagda two. So both were now even. Wimple and another man Polack had come close to dethroning them.
Hustay Willie had participated, but had never finished any of those contests. There would be horse-racing and running too, and many other games. These were always held on the first day of August each year. This was how they celebrated Emancipation Day.
Berbice finished his meal and waited for his food to be digested. Already he was thinking about his lunch and he had green gungo peas soaking and pig’s tail also soaking. He would roast breadfruits and cook some yams, banana and dumplings.
Berbice was packing his kiln and his lunch was cooking when the men burst in on him. He had been expecting them, thus his pots were full of food and he had picked and thrown half a dozen more breadfruits into the fire.
“Berbice, what’s going on?” Dedco greeted him.
“I knew you guys were coming to check me so I cooked enough food for all of us.”
“This morning, we were eating breakfast when Hustay joined us. He was trying to show off on us like he’s any great eater and nearly had colic,” Nanko stated.
“I had to hit his back several times for him not to choke. He could only eat half the food he put on his plate,” Nanko declared.
Berbice shared out food for each man.
The men started eating their food after a good bout of laughter at Hustay’s expense.
“Hustay is no great eater. He has always entered eating contests, but has never won anything,” Berbice declared.
“He says he has beaten you and Bagda already,” Dedco remarked.
“That was a long time ago and those weren’t any official contests.”
“We are looking for somebody to bet on. Everybody we talk to says they are going with Bagda,” Dedco declared.
Berbice continued eating.
“There is a science to eating. When your belly is full and you can’t go any further, just stop. Don’t overeat. I lost to Bagda, two times and it was because of that. You can bet on me, but I can’t promise that I’m going to win.”
His friends were nodding in acknowledgement of what he had just said.
The men returned home to find that Bagda had been installed as the overwhelming favorite.
The fair was in full swing when the eating contest started at midday. The men had to eat a bowl of soup as an appetizer. In this were various meat kinds, corn, chocho, pumpkins, carrot and irish potato. In the morning they had cornmeal porridge, hardough bread and callaloo. Bagda had won those two contests hands down.
Bam had relented and allowed Wimple to partake in the contest, but he was doing poorly. Bam was standing in a corner of the room, eating a plate of curry goat and drinking a beer while watching the eaters. Each man was now given a plate consisting of one roasted breadfruit, yams, dumplings, and pear. A bowl consisting of saltfish, pork, gully-beans and run down plus a gallon of lemonade. At the bell the men started eating with loud cheers going up from Bagda’s supporters, but he was three quarters way through his meal when he started choking and despite some generous helping of lemonade he couldn’t continue while Berbice’s supporters started shouting as they looked at his empty plates and him finishing the last of his lemonade. Wimple had dropped out and so had Hustay and Polack. Warsop and Brimble had their foreheads on the table as the crowd lifted Berbice in the air. Later on that evening he was presented with his prize. The End.
Adapted from a collection of short stories: Wating to Cross the Bridge.
Austin's blog: stredwick.blogspot.com