‘Slack’ by Alexia Arthurs

Whether you relate to the teenage Pepper, so ashamed of her older lover and his three teeth-self, hanging outside her school gate, or to the many other kinds of Jamaican women so carefully showcased in this, Arthurs’s first collection, what we have here is an encyclopaedia of authenticity. Whether it’s language, sensibility, culture, or shades of light and dark, Arthurs knows Jamaicans to our bones and makes no apologies for us, calling us out and loving us to death by seeing exactly who are. I have quite a few favourites in this book, but I have to big-up ‘Slack’. This tragic tale of the death of two little girls and their mother, “slack woman” Pepper – so named because her mother sucked scotch bonnet peppers when she was pregnant – has a terrible tenderness. It is a quietly outraged, completely necessary elegy for all that black women could be and can’t be, because money and because judgement and because gossip and because, as they say in Jamaica, all that ‘slave mind’ still stinking up our shared air. 

First published in How to Love a Jamaican, Penguin Random House, August, 2018

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