The hoodlum and the whore: Those labels are accurate but inadequate for the title characters of Young’s debut Pao (2011) and this lively companion piece; both are set in mid-20th-century Jamaica.
The girl swings the tree limb, again and again, until the man on the ground stops moving. Sixteen-year-old Gloria has just saved her kid sister from being raped. Her assailant, a mentally troubled coal man who lives in a shack in the country, has already had his fun with Gloria. Now he’s dead. Take-charge Gloria and sister Marcia leave for Kingston, the capital. (Her narration is dusted with an easily understandable patois.) It’s 1938. Gloria is a gorgeous African-Jamaican, and the guys come swarming. She is rescued from the city streets by Henry Wong in his horse and buggy; the unhappily married Chinese-Jamaican supermarket owner will prove her most loyal friend. Before long, she moves in with two welcoming prostitutes, Sybil and Beryl, and becomes one herself. Sybil, smart and articulate, puts a feminist spin on their situation: Slaves may be free, but women are not. Clients pay late; some are hostile. Things look up when Gloria arranges a loan-sharking business with Henry, and Pao’s boys provide protection, Pao being the young racketeer who controls Chinatown. He and Gloria fall in love. We never see the tough enforcer, only the gentle lover; though he marries Henry’s daughter for the status, his love for Gloria persists. The storyline is busy-busy, to use Jamaican argot.
Not quite a love story and not quite a feminist bouquet, but a well-seasoned hybrid.