Without a doubt, the sudden death of Governor George Ritchie Sanford, sent shockwaves across the islands. He was a middle-aged man, only fifty-seven, and in good health. What is strange, is that in less than 24 hours after he had died, Sanford was quickly buried. Some at the time, said he deliberately poisoned. Sanford, new to the Bahamas, it was whispered far and wide, had rubbed the wrong the people, the wrong way.
Sanford arrived on the 17th of the month. And left on the 17th of the month.
A fictional account of The Last Hours of Sir George Ritchie Sandford, Governor of the Bahamas
by The Bahamianologist.
An anticipated hot air, greeted all those who inhabited the Bahamas that early September morning. Temperatures in the islands, from Abaco to Inagua, usually hovered anywhere between warm to incendiary. At 86 degrees, just as the clocks ticked on 7:00 am, even the most ardent sun worshiper, would put the temperature of the air, nearer fiery levels.
It was another Sunday, the seventh day, a day of rest. But everywhere throughout islands, residents awoke early. There was lots to do. No one of good character, wanted to be late for the stern moral admonishments, which awaited them, in the church of their choice.
Pastors were gargling with mouthwash in preparation for several hours of hollering “Let the Church say Amen.”
Sleepy children were dragged out of beds.
Husbands were given the five minute warning.
Mothers, whose shoulders everything rested on, had already started the traditional Bahamian Sunday feast. After long hours in church, the feast would be devoured hungrily by all, including scrawny potcake dogs, who eagerly awaited whatever marrow was left in the variety of chewed up bones, which would be tossed out in backyards everywhere.
Rice, stained a deep red, from tinned tomato paste, and dark juices of pigeon peas, sat bubbling away happily on rickety, old stoves. A low heat was best for this delicate rice. A measured heat cooked the customary peas and rice, and burned the bottom just right. Chicken pieces, seasoned to their core with heaps of salt, and mounds of pepper, from the previous night, waited patiently in cold refrigerators. Their turn would come after church. Huge dollops of white Crisco fat and searing hot frying pans awaited them. Grumbling stomachs did as well. Potato salad and macaroni already made, sat guarded under thick yards of foil. Mothers knew that any wrinkle in the taught aluminium meant someone had been at it, and that person would be cussed out or beaten accordingly.
On New Providence, within the capital city limits of Nassau, stood Mount Fitzwilliam. The slight rise was more like a hiccup of nature than a real majestic mount. Three giant steps took it.
Sitting proudly on the rise of Fitzwilliam was Government House, the home of the Governor, the most distinguished representative of the British monarchy, faraway in England. Expansive and austere, the white, two-storied, colonial style building had stood in its present location for more than hundred years. Easily the most historic building on the island, it had been guarded for some of that two hundred years, by a statue of Christopher Columbus, fashioned in leggings, and sculpted in a fancy man’s pose. Now it was guarded by white tunic policemen in tremendously large white hats
That Sunday morning, inside Government House, Sir George Ritchie Sandford, Governor of the Bahamas, awoke early. He hadn’t slept well at all. Sanford was a slight man who had been distinguishably bald, twenty- nine years of his fifty-seven years.
“Damned indigestion” he barked, rousing his wife, Lady Sanford, at around 2:00 am. She was having a lovely night’s sleep and wished Sir George would do the same. After all, they did have church in a few hours.
The Governor was scheduled to make an appearance at services at Christ Church on George Street. It would be three hours long, and brutally hot despite a number of ceiling fans whirring incessantly, like flies, overheard. The weather in Nassau was markedly different from the more temperate British weather to which they were accustomed. It would take some getting use to for the duration of their tenure in the Bahamas. Another four and a half years or so to go. The couple had only been in Nassau since February, and it was now September. In fact, they had arrived exactly on the 17th of February, and now, today, it was the 17th of September.
Exactly seven months to the day.
Lady Sanford, a fine English lady from the Kent countryside, counted off every day in her diary.
She wasn’t adverse to the islands, it must be said. She just hadn’t gotten her footing as yet. Sir George was pushing her towards charity work. Only last week, she was named the official patron of the local Humane Society. It was something to do.
After church, they had luncheon engagements with potential American investors interested in building a new hotel for Nassau. Entertaining an endless stream of forgettable people, was a big part of the job. Securing much need foreign investments for the islands, was in fact the top job on a list of a hundred things needed seeing to just about everyday. Only last month the Assembly had passed the bill for the agreement he had signed with Americans for a guided missile base and observation stations to be built on the islands. The deal was worth $75,000,000. The highlight of this quickly passed, as it was soon realised that few long term jobs for Bahamians would come out of it.
“Highs and Lows” the Governor would say in everyone of his letters to the Assembly.
Yes, Sunday was going to be a long day and Lady Sanford needed her sleep.
“Call Hammond, will you darling.” Sir George asked giving his wife a playful pinch under the sheets.
Lady Sanford threw her long legs over the side of the bed, walked over to the far wall and rang the servants bell. In a small bedroom room, just left of the kitchen stairs, the servants bell tinkled loudly. Hammond, the Government House Butler, of past thirty years, quickly retrieved his dentures from a cup of water on the table near his bed and sucked his false teeth loudly.
He walked quickly up the stairs to the third floor where the bedrooms were.
Hammond, a thin wiry negro man of near sixty, knocked respectfully before entering the official sleeping quarters.
“Come” Lady Sanford spoke in so sharp an English accent that it could cut glass.
“I will never understand the native element here,” Sir George said wiping beads of perspiration from his forehead.
“They eat everything with that horrific scotch bonnet pepper.”
Hammond bit down hard on his lip to stifle a rising fit of laughter rising in the same place Sir George’s indigestion was coming from.
“What was that dreadful thing we were forced to eat at dinner tonight” asked the Governor, getting out of bed.
Sanford headed for the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. He grabbed a bottle of white emulsion and drank its entire contents.
“George darling, can’t you use a spoon like everyone else” Lady Sanford admonished.
Sir George burped loudly. He hadn’t meant do that, but the indigestion emulsion worked quickly. By the time he had walked back to bed, he was actually feeling much better.
“It be dat conch salad suh” Hammond finally spoke.
“Conch sir. Dats whats probably gats you feeling poorly. Cook put too much peppa on yinna food suh.”
“Yes suh Sir George”
“After you fetch me a gin and tonic” Sandford slid back under the white ironed sheets of the king sized bed “I want you to go into the pantry and throw away anything that even looks like a red pepper.”
“All of it you hear me!” The Governor was practically shouting. His face was blood red and the few wisps of hair that crowded around the nape of his neck, now stood at attention as if equally outraged on his behalf.
Hammond disappeared down the stairs to the liquor cabinet.
“I bet all of our guests are on their way to the General Hospital after that awful meal.” Lady Sanford piled her silk nightgown under her legs, fluffed her pillow and drowned her face in the softness of goose down.
Before Sir George could answer his wife, Hammond was back in the bedroom. He moved expertly to Sir George’s side with a silver tray in hand, and a gin and tonic neat, with ice, sitting proudly on top.
Soon, all were sleeping soundly again.
At 6:30 am, before Lady Sanford arose for the day, Sir George, a traditionalist who woke at 6:00 am every day, was already showered and dressed in a grey suit with tails. He was sitting at his desk in the living room of Government House going over dispatches from England, when he felt a slight, but irritating, return of the heartburn that plagued his sleep the night before.
He was turning page seven, of a lengthy ten page memo, when a sharp pain, unlike anything he had felt before, travelled up his left arm like the venom of a poisonous snake. It caught his breath in a vice grip so tight that it caused his hand to spasm violently.
The important papers fell from the grip of his left hand, spilling onto the brown carpeted floor.
His eyes shifted towards a nearby window bright with a lemon yellow light from the morning sun, just as the seven o’ clock bells of Christ Church, rang across Nassau.
Bong. He drew a long breath in.
Bong. The pain, now worse, snaked its way under his breastbone. It covered his heart like a dark cloud across a sunny sky. Blood rained in his chest.
Bong. His right arm collapsed causing his body to slouch forward. He tried, but he could not move his body back.
Bong. The long breath that Sir Sanford had taken in, now wheezed out painfully from his chest. His lungs were bursting, begging for air. Each movement in his chest sounded like a rusty door hinge closing for the last time.
Bong. His jaw slackened. He was making large words in his head, screaming for Hammond, shouting for his wife, but nothing came from his lips.
Bong. A random stream of new sunlight escaped through the window, ran across the brown carpet, up the chair and rested on Sir George’s paralysed face.
He felt it’s warmth.
For a moment. For the briefest of moments, it was the most comforting thing he knew he would ever feel, ever again.
Bong. The seventh bell. In the chair, in the living room, in Government House, on Mount Fitzwilliam, in Nassau, Sir George Ritchie Sanford, with the warmth of the Bahamian sun on his face, took his very last breath.
The funeral for Sir Stanford was held less than a day later. Lady Stanford, overcome with grief, instructed Hammond, the Butler, to finely press the suit chosen for the Governor’s burial.
Hammond dutifully went up to bedroom and rummaged quickly through the closet and found the black suit and the silk black tie according to the Lady’s instructions. With the suit draped over his shoulder, Hammond shuffled over to the bathroom. His dentures slipped slightly in his mouth as he moved. He pushed them back in place with his tongue. Hammond stood in front of the medicine cabinet looking at himself in the well shined mirror. His hair was short, sparse and the colour of snow he had never seen. His neck was veined next to the starches collar of his butler’s uniform. He was a handsome man maybe forty years ago.
But not now.
Time had worn old Hammond down.
The bedroom was deathly silent as he reached into the cabinet, and took out the bottle of white emulsion which was meant for indigestion. It was the same white emulsion that Sir George drank the night before.
Hammond placed the bottle in his pocket and left.
Downstairs in the kitchen, before pressing Sir George’s funeral suit, Hammond rinsed out the bottle. He scrubbed it for five long minutes with every type of strong detergent he could lay his bony hands on. Then hid the bottle under the mattress of his bed, in the room, near the stair.
Seven days had passed after the funeral. Lady Sanford had left the memories, as well as her husband’s remains, there in Nassau forever.
Hammond had finally gotten a day off. He walked through the back gate of Government House making his way slowly over the hill, towards the far end of Grants Town, just where it met Bain’s Town. He knew there was an open stinking cesspit there.
As he shuffled by, he threw the bottle in the sewer, and walked on.