PONCEY AND THE MONEY CLIP (REPRINTED FROM CARIBBEAN COMPASS MAGAZINE)
By - Nancy Terrell
The sea was typically Caribbean azure as Poncey rambled along the scattered shells and rocks that dotted the shoreline on the way to the fishmarket. Brime had washed up to the high water mark during the brief storm that had occurred shortly after midnight and insects of various types could be seen hedging their way into the new source of food material. Poncey's mind was set in concentration of the matter at hand. Monthly bills were due this week and she was worried about the electric bill, as well as the motley amount she would earn in order to buy meager groceries to carry her through the week. Six mouths were a lot to feed on a twice daily basis. Poncey knew that the children were not getting enough to eat at school. The school lunch program had already been cut once this year by corrupt island officials wanting to put more money into the new racetrack - and on an island where gambling was illegal. Poncey could never understand the logic of it all. It seemed to her that children were more important than horses.
The furrows of her brow increased. Would she have the money to pay the already overdue sum without adding another eight hours of work to her already toiled life?
Natives were noisily gathering around local dinghies just returned from collecting their early morning catch from the fish pots set closer to shore. As it was too early for the fishing skiffs of the outlying areas to arrive in the harbor, the prospective buyers that had gathered were haggling as to the sum the meager fish already caught would bring. Having been a working and unwed mother all of her adult life, Poncey doubted that her paltry change would buy much more than a two pounder and she deeply resented having to spend a portion of Alica's first Mother's Day present on yet another meal.
Alicia had just given birth to Poncey's first grandchild, although Alicia was little more than a child herself. It was important to Poncey that, in the absence of having a husband, Alicia should receive a gift honoring her newfound status as a mother. The latest rage among teens, with short dreads, was a large hair barrette placed just above the forehead, holding the locks out of the face yet allowing them to hang softly on the side, framing the countenance in ebony locks.
Poncey's neighbors and townspeople gathered, adding to the already large bartering crowd as the day moved towards noon. Newer cars were beginning to park along the side of the beach where island businessmen in western suits were getting out to access the scene. Poncey wondered when this all happened - the leaving of the old culture and the taking on of the new. It was odd to her that her former male neighbors were now dressed in costly suits & ties, driving the latest cars and building pricey houses on the mountainside, where the expense was great, to afford a view of the sea. They looked down upon the community rather than being a part of it.
As she cast her eyes up from the seashells, Mr. Price, a local shop keeper of yesteryear, now a manager of a local bank, came into view. He had stopped to talk to the incoming fishermen, many of whom were his former neighbors when he lived in what was still referred to as "the village". Mr. Price had long since moved away, building a large and highly elaborate house on a great chunk of land overlooking the bay that now functioned as the town harbor and cruise ship dock. He was wearing his worldly airs for this morning's visit and acted as if his friends should be honored that he was granting them the benefit of his greeting.
A bright sparkle caught Poncey's eye on the beach just in front of her. As she did not want to interfere in the conversation between Mr. Price and the fishermen, she skirted the area to see what this jewel could be. And it was a gem indeed, there - between the seaweed and stones, mixed in with the brime, shone the underside of a perfect translucent shell - its mother of pearl glistening in the morning sun. What an ideal Mother's Day gift this would be for Alicia when mounted on a bare barrette purchased at the local craft store. Poncey reached down for the jewel of a shell, appreciating its rarity and examined it carefully as she silently placed it in her apron pocket.
At almost the same instant, Mr. Price reached absent-mindedly into his pants pocket to pull out a wad of bills that he always carried, several hundreds on top of a neatly folded roll inside his gold money-clip. He intended to take out a few tens for the purchase of lobster, generously tipping the old fisherman, thus ensuring a vote should he ever decide to run for election. Remembering he had promised to personally stop and select the entree for his wife's dinner that evening, as guests were expected, his fingers felt the lining of his pants. Upon the discovery of an empty pocket his countenance changed from that of an uninvolved purchaser to a banker expressing great concern. Afterall, money was involved here and his pocket was seemingly empty. He clearly remembered, or so he thought, putting his money clip in his right handed trouser pocket that very same morning and also recalled that it contained 8 hundred dollar bills with several twenties and tens.
Assumed memory returned to Mr. Price's face as he turned and glanced at Poncey who was leaving the crowded area to return home. She was lost in thought as to how to best attach the lovely mother of pearl shell, onto the as yet unpurchased barrette, as a proper and appreciated Mother's Day present.
"Poncey! Poncey, come here. You sly woman, you! Did I not just see you pick up my money- clip from the beach? Come over here immediately, woman!"
The West Indian grandmother, shocked that her former neighbor would address her with such demeanor and contempt looked at Mr. Price astounded. She had known him when he was just a boy and recognized, even then, that he would take the high road in life.
"Me? Me? Me picks up your money-clip?"
"Yes, yes, you yourself, woman."
"Holy Jesus - Mother of God. I never seen it. Honestly, I don't know what youse is referring to. " Looking at his manner of dress she quickly added, "Mister Price."
"But I saw you pick it up. Are you to deny your actions, woman?"
The embarrassed Poncey, upset by the accusations thrown at her in front of her neighbors, lifted her hand and reached to the heavens as if to make a passionate plea for the Good Lord to appear and set the situation right.
Mr. Price verbally pounced once more upon the frightened woman. "After picking up my money-clip you looked at it for a while afore puttin' it in your apron pocket." He thrust words like arrows at her heavily pounding heart.
Poncey choked with indignation and terror. By this time the activity along the beach had come to a screeching halt, the only sound being the meows of local alley cats as they searched for fallen fish parts along the sand. The news concerning Poncey's theft spread like wildfire after a hit of unexpected bush lightning up on the mountain top. The crowd was beginning to whisper among themselves. No one would ever believe Poncey was innocent against Mr. Price's accusations. This murmuring rose in tone and then increased to laughter and verbal taunting as Poncey contemplated the dilemma in which she found herself.
The crowd was now moving toward her, forming a circle that was quite deep and overtly noisy. Multiple fingers pointed her way and curses hurled toward her by those she had lived amongst all her life. Her head became fogged as the cutting remarks of her neighbors combined with the loaded oaths of Mr. Price who now was flinging his arms about, demanding a body search to return his most precious money-clip.
Poncey, protesting her innocence, reached into her apron pocket to produce the shell so deeply treasured upon finding. Her movements were not as quick as the compatriots of Mr. Prince however. Male hands began to attack her from all sides, pinning her arms behind her and wrestling her to the ground. Sand flew everywhere. The more Poncey tried to produce her shell the more she was beaten. Rocks and broken shells were kicked into her eyes and mouth. All of Poncey's concentration struggled for a way to survive. Her entire motherhood depended on the outcome of this accusation. What was to become of her children? In her mind she had no idea which was worse, the allegation itself or the exposing of her person to a group of mindless animals.
At length, the mother of pearl shell revealed itself. The apron was torn from Poncey's body where it was searched by a multitude of hands. At the same moment, Mr. Price's housekeeper approached the group shouting, her right hand uplifted disclosing a wide glint of gold that shone in the bright Caribbean sun. Mrs. Price had made the discovery of her husband's expensive money clip on the bedroom dresser and, upon finding him absent from the bank, drove the housekeeper to the fishmarket to return the clip to him, money intact. Not wanting to get sand on her new shoes she let the housekeeper return the money.
Poncey was left to squabble, trying to retrieve her dignity in the sand, her precious mother of pearl shell crushed in the previous violence. The crowd moved in a wave of unified motion towards the housekeeper who, still holding the gold money-clip, was now the focus of attention, a great wad of money contained within her fingers. The sight of such wealth brought a new wave of exclamation from the crowd, each of who neared Mr. Price in a restitution of friendship.
Poncey was left on her own. Her meager coins had long since disappeared in the sand. Ashamed and broken, she lifted her aching body from the beach and began the long walk home over broken shell and rock. Knowing all along the way, that she would never be totally forgiven by her community and would have to endure the rest of her life being the object of eternal gossip - for an act she couldn't commit and yet would never be free from.
Years later, as Poncey sat in the new hospital wing awaiting the birth of her first great-granddaughter, she looked to the window. A face was forming in the bright noonday sun. Poncey, with her head bowed as it usually was since the incident with the money clip years before, looked up. There, between the panes of a lowered window and the great tamarind tree outside, she saw the face of God.