Saturday, 12 September 2009

The Mysterious Ways of the Mosquitoes of Brazoria County

It has been a while since I posted anything on this blog. I have had to contend with an energy-draining medical problem in the family. The highly skilled medical team at the local private hospital did a wonderful job. All is well now.

Anyhow, I thought it would be nice to break the ice by posting a short story from my latest book, The Clan Oracle and Other Stories, I hope to have published before the end of the year. Without much ado, here is The Mysterious Ways of the Mosquitoes of Brazoria County, a story inspired by Mark Twain's The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.


The Mysterious Ways of the Mosquitoes of Brazoria County

“This is incredible,” I mumbled to myself as I tried to browse through the local newspaper while swatting away a swarm of mosquitoes. I was still shaking my head when a shadow hovered into my presence. Apparently I had company, and might have had it far longer than I really realized since my attention was transfixed on the swarm of vicious mosquitoes. It was the bothersome mosquitoes that had frozen my faculties. Between my attempts to read the newspaper headlines and fending off mosquitoes, I was totally unaware of anything else.

“What you shaking you head at?” inquired a voice that carried the typical rural Texan drawl. It was the owner of the shadow, an elderly fellow dressed in worn and greased Levi dungarees and a plaid shirt. He was a farmer, I assumed. With curly graying hair betraying the toll of the sun on its texture, I could not have been mistaken. Anyway, his shoes were heavy enough to contend with the heavy and miry soil of the farming country. He could not have been an oilman, oil drilling being the only other form of economic activity in the county. He was a farmer.

“That,” pointing at the swarm of mosquitoes hovering by the vending machine as I answered his question. “I would never have believed it.” I was still shaking my head and gaping my mouth in surprise. “I have never seen mosquitoes flying in broad daylight. They are big, too, they could skin a whole cow.”

The old man looked surprised. I was glad he had noticed the strange mosquitoes. My happiness was premature and ill timed. The old man craned his head forward, extending nothing but his head as he stretched his neck, peering at the swarm. He then turned his head and for a brief and very uncomfortable moment, he inspected my face before taking another look at the newspaper vending machine. Finally he turned at me and I realized that his initial surprise had nothing to do with the incredible mosquitoes. It was my skepticism that had surprised him.

“Them mosquitoes have been known to do that,” he said with professorial confidence.


“You bet,” pausing abruptly as if something had jolted him. “Where you from?”

It was my accent then that had jolted him. There is no doubt he had never heard such a thick accent and I knew right away I was going to be treated like a know-nothing outsider. It had long ceased to annoy me and, as a matter fact, I found it rather amusing when people thought of me as a tourist and an object of curiosity. The brave ones would timorously get closer, marvel at my accent --- it was always the accent --- and the incomprehensible fluidity and lucidity of my manipulation of the English language. The accent just did not comport with the decency of the English.

“Sir, I come from Afric…. “

“A pilgrim, haa!” said the old man before I could completely answer his question. He did not seem particularly interested in the answer to his question. I was a pilgrim and that was all that mattered to him. “I don’t reckon you got them mosquitoes where you from?”

“Not this variety, sir,” not sure what to say since his statement could have been a statement of fact made to a know-nothing pilgrim. “These mosquitoes are quite vicious, sir, and I put it mildly.

I paid for the ten-page daily newspaper, as I was about to make my way into a low-roofed building that saved as a diner by day and an opry house by night. Let me caution you, gentle reader, that I use the word newspaper loosely because rarely was there any news covered, none beyond an occasional Friday-night fist fight in one of the opry houses that littered the place or an occasional flare-up of some long-running family feuds in the trailer-park communities that nestled at the junctions of county roads that crisscrossed the farming land. The old man lived in one of these communities.

“Them Brazoria County mosquitoes can chew off the skin of a whole cow and the whole shebang. I done witness that myself after the last flood ‘fore this here Allison,” offered the old man.

“Mosquitoes prefer blood. At least that is what I was taught in school.” Sounding a little bit conciliatory and less skeptical, I offered: “I guess the teachers had never heard of the mosquitoes of Brazoria County.”

“Pilgrim, don’t you believe none of them professors and their fangled books,” he said as he made his way to the parking lot.

All along I had been swatting away the swarm of these mosquitoes and it was noon. These were the hungriest and boldest mosquitoes I had ever seen. Normal mosquitoes do their foraging for blood in the darkness of the night. Not these mosquitoes of Brazoria County; they attacked people during the day. Interestingly, I noticed that the mosquitoes were not bothering the old man and I pointed it out to him.

“Vitamins son, it is vitamins.”

“Did you say vitamins, sir?” I asked the old man, wanting him to elaborate.

“Son, you take them vitamins and them mosquitoes will not bother you,” he said with the confidence of a medical doctor. “The first time I taken my vitamins, one mosquito tried to bite me, it spit out my skin, cussing and coughing. It ran back home like the Dickens telling everyone about me saying; “Fellas, lend me your ears. See that fella yonder? He got vitamins. Can’t touch him.” They shore done listened to him.”

“But, sir ... “

“But me no buts pilgrim,” he said as he continued his way to his car. “Take your vitamins.”

I was going to tell him that in my years in school I had never heard of mosquitoes being repelled by vitamins. If what he had said was true, remember that the mosquitoes did not bother him while I frantically fought them off, why, if he was right he could tell the entire world of his findings. Surely there would be no need for the big drug companies to waste money on expensive equipment and scientists to hunt for more potent anti-malarial drugs. I was not inclined to believe the vitamin story. I had not read it in any book or journal of medicinal chemistry and I was about to tell the old man that. He quickly squelched that idea.

“Eeeh look here son, about them fangled books,” he remarked as if in afterthought, “them Yankee scalawag books, they lie.” He was waving his finger at me but as a friendly warning. Nothing from the books was ever going to change his mind about the mosquitoes.

His name, as I would later learn, was Bill McNulty. His friends called him Billy. He was a neo-Confederate, alright. From my years in Mississippi, anything the neo-Confederates disagreed with had its origins from a Yankee scalawag. The stickers on his battered truck confirmed it: HERITAGE NOT HATRED read one. DEAD YANKEES TELL NO LIES, said a more threatening sticker. KEEP YOUR CONFEDERATE DOLLARS, THE SOUTH SHALL RISE AGAIN.

Despite all this, Billy was as harmless as a newly born baby. He was like most southerners, unfairly caricatured as uneducated, uncultured and hopelessly racist. This was far from the truth. He was a simple old man who valued his family and friends. That made him an educated man in my eyes. He was leery of strangers, which is natural but he became incredibly friendly once he became comfortable with the stranger. Billy was an avid hunter. He loved his guns and was not a threat to anyone. If he was not going to eat it or was not a pest, he did not kill a thing. I had been warned by city slickers to stay within city limits unless I wanted to get myself lynched.

Like most old southerners, black or white, Old Billy was a very likeable grandfatherly man. Bill had no bone of bigotry in his body. I was a black man who had grown up in deep Africa herding goats but Billy and his family took me as part of the McNulty family. I fitted in seamlessly. Instead of falling victim of a lynch mob, I found myself suffocating in southern hospitality. The southern whites receive a raw deal, really.

I suspected someone was making political mileage out of Billy’s poverty and supposed ignorance. Like his black brother in the inner city, he was political cannon fodder. It seemed the poor blacks and poor whites were deliberately kept apart from each other so that they would never realize that they have more in common with each other than the difference in the colour of their skins. If all these poor folks ever came together, there would be more blood shed than the world witnessed when the French peasants basically wiped out the French aristocracy overnight.

Poor people are very dangerous and the only way to control them is to pit them against each other. Political organizations tell the poor whites that the government wants to confiscate their hunting guns. The poor white’s black brother is made to believe his gun-totting rural brethren are baying for his blood. This is a trick for diverting the poor whites’ attention from issues more important to their lives than gun control measures. Similarly, the poor black get the same treatment. Poor blacks are simply left at the mercy of equally manipulative and exploitative organizations. These organizations are basically self-serving at best.

The kind folks reside in the underdeveloped pockets of poverty of the rural south and mountain west. These pockets are replete with conspiracy theories. When I visited him Old Bill brought the subject of the mosquitoes. He said the United Nations scientists wanted to put the farmers out of business and they had unleashed these hungry mosquitoes so as to begin the New World Order.

The next time he talked about the mosquitoes he had another explanation. The mosquitoes were actually miniature black helicopters, cousins of the bigger black helicopters sightings of which were a daily occurrence in the mountains of Idaho and Montana. Bill’s wife looked at me with a twinkle in her eyes as if to say, “What did I tell ya, pilgrim?” Old Bill’s wife had told me the old man liked to embroider things. Basically there was nothing to Bill's tale of a cow having been skinned by the mosquitoes.

All in all, the tropical storm code-named Allison had struck the southeastern area of Texas, an area that included the greater Houston metropolis and the surrounding farming communities. Like a jilted lover, it had wreaked havoc. Because of its agrarian nature, Brazoria County had not accumulated much run off to amount to any significantly damaging flood. However, the scattered paddles of water were ample breeding grounds for mosquitoes. I found a wonderful friend and the mosquitoes opened my eyes to the interesting life of an unfairly demonized section of America, the southern whites. I have to thank the mysterious ways of the mosquitoes of Brazoria County.