The mysterious death of a culture salesman
the company of a lady friend recently returned home after several years in the United States, photographer Bill Mortley and I paid a visit to Bouton on Tuesday, January 13. She was in awe of the surrounding greenery as we approached the small farming community, some six miles north of Soufriere. On either side of the road were various trees loaded with inviting fruit.
Alas, I had more important matters on my mind, in particular the dispute over land between certain residents and the Catholic church. Our first stop was the primary school. It was lunchtime and we exchanged pleasantries with several students.
We met two female teachers who pointed us in the direction of an old sugar mill—a landmark that I imagined would feature in the story I planned to write. Residents are hoping that any discussion of the future of the Bouton lands will include converting the mill and artifacts into attractions for Saint Lucians and visitors alike.
We visited the home of Paul Auguste, one of the residents calling for the bequeathed Bouton lands to be vested in the hands of the people. (See STAR December 20.) He was not home but his mother and three other individuals welcomed us from Auguste’s veranda. One of the trio, a particularly gregarious individual, introduced himself.
“My name is Rufus Charles,” he said, after I’d told him mine, “but you can call me Dr. Bash.” Soon he was entertaining us with at times hilarious episodes in the history of Bouton.
After I’d explained the purpose of our visit, Dr. Bash offered to take us down a rocky track, at the bottom of which, he said, were three beaches and an old sugar mill.
Before setting out, however, he insisted on telling us about several slave plantation incidents. We heard in vivid detail some of proclivities of the plantation owner and his favored visitors, usually enjoyed on the beach sands, and about a holding cell for disobedient slaves near the sugar mill.
We had no way of validating his sometimes shocking recollections. His companions on the veranda kept whatever they knew to themselves. For fleeting seconds I considered taking him up on his offer to take us down the track to the legendary bay, then thought better of it.
On the occasion neither my body nor my spirit was willing to take on the rocky road. I promised to return properly outfitted in a few days. Bill and his friend eagerly seconded the motion.
I even promised Dr. Bash on my return visit to carry something bottled for his enjoyment, at which his face further brightened. As we drove off Dr. Bash waved us good-bye, his now empty glass from which he had been sipping throughout his entrancing revelations held high.
“Make sure you come back, eh,” he hailed.
Five days later, while checking my email, I happened upon an item about a body that had been discovered in a Bouton house. A short time later I learned that the corpse had been identified as that of Rufus Charles: aka Dr. Bash.
I tried to contact a relative of Charles, perchance to ascertain the cause of death; to no avail. It would be another two days before I was informed that the 58-year-old had died in his sleep. No one suggested foul play.
A postmortem conducted here on Tuesday revealed the dashing Dr. Bash had died from an “ingestion of toxic substance.” A green substance was discovered in his throat and stomach.
A related police press release meanwhile announced: “Sudden death now suicide.” Nevertheless, “investigations are continuing into the matter.”
On Thursday a relative told the STAR the family did not believe Rufus Charles had taken his own life: “I realize you cannot know what is going on inside a person, but Rufus was was well loved in the community. He was without a care in this world. I cannot see him doing this.”
He went on: “Rufus lived alone. Everyone in the community knows him. He was a tour guide to persons visiting Bouton and he used to help out on farms in the area. He did his own gardening. He used to keep all sorts of chemicals and weedicides near his bed in bottles, right alongside his other bottles of water, rum and so on.”
He speculated that on the fatal night Dr. Bash had probably returned home already intoxicated, then picked up and drank from what he wrongly thought was a bottle of water or rum.”
He shrugged. “This is something we feared would happen some day and we used to warn him about keeping so many bottles by his bed.”
Meanwhile, the normally tranquil, close-knit Bouton community has been plunged into mourning the not fully explained passing of one of its best loved members.
The affable Rufus Charles: His death in the community of Bouton has raised several questions.