by Delroy Nesta Williams
Mr. Lazare kept inviting me over to his house; it had become our weekly ritual. At first, he would simply give me a few chores to do and give me a wage but recently we talked a lot more. He told me about his pursuits in
how he fought in World War II, worked in a train station and married a
beautiful “English Rose” before returning to Dominica
in 1975 because he could no longer bear the cold weather.
“I came back to Gros Michel to live out my last days,” he often said. “There was no reason for me to stay in England anymore.” I later found out that his wife had passed away after a horrific car accident a few years before he came back to
Dominica and the “rum assisted in his grieving,”
as he often put it.
There was a lot more to Mr. Lazare than I had ever imagined, he had become more than just a neighbour to me now. We would often read books together and he even allowed me to play his recorder. But it was his stories of the war,
advice that I respected most. I could almost imagine myself besides him in
pursuit of the Nazis or taking cover when his camp was being bombarded with
enemy fire. He even showed me a bullet wound, in his right shoulder. The bullet
had damaged the tendons and muscles in his should which made it almost
impossible for him to carry any load. He made the war sound horrific but still
very exciting. England
He had lied about his age so that he could have gotten recruited, having ended up in England without a birth paper or any documents.
I also remembered him telling me how he won the love of Mrs. Lazare, when he was in the mood to talk. He told me how he would spend hours at the train station just waiting for her to pass by for a few seconds. He would wait at the Southampton Central Railway at precisely 3:00 p.m. every day when he knew she would make an appearance, albeit for a few minutes before the train came and whisked her away.
He would put his pipe in his mouth, draw in some tobacco, take a sip of his drink and commence a dramatic description of her school days and how she looked so smartly dressed in her uniform.
“Young man,” he would say, “she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and I still haven’t seen anyone as beautiful as her in my eighty five years of existence.” He was much younger than that though, as I found out later. He wasn’t one to share his actual age.
“She was a lot younger than me but that didn’t matter at all, I just loved how she looked so positive, so royal in her uniform. It’s almost like she expected the world to lay down a red carpet for her, but not in an obnoxious way, she walked with the grace of the Queen of England herself, but was still very polite.”
“Once, I had deliberately bumped into her and even before I could offer an apology, she was already requesting my forgiveness. She then smiled at me while leaving, I was more in love with her after that,” he continued.
Today, I had my own issues of the heart though and maybe it showed a lot more than I had imagined. But then again, Mr. Lazare could always read my mind.
“Young man, what’s wrong? You seem so distant” he asked.
“Nothing ner,” I replied.
“We speak the Queen’s English in this house,” he remarked, “and I can tell that you’re lying. Talk to me, son.”
I could tell that he was sober, that was the only time he stressed on the proper use of English. He could care less when he was under the influence.
“It’s a girl,” I said softly.
“I can tell, it could only be a girl.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s written all over your face, L-O-V-E: love,” he said pointing to my forehead, “you’re glowing like a firefly on a dark night. But I still see trouble in your eyes.”
“It’s my girlfriend; her birthday is coming up soon.”
“Girlfriend,” he said surprisingly, “How old are you?”
“Sixteen,” I confidently replied.
“Oh, that’s the same age that I had my first girlfriend and my first kiss too,” Mr. Lazare said as he gazed away, “I was still in
Dominica back then. So what’s the problem?”
“Well………..” I mumbled.
“If you want my help then you need to speak up.”
“I want to get her a gift but I don’t have any money and I still don’t know what she would like.”
“Then you do have a problem!”
“So when was she born?
“And do you know what her birthstone is?”
“Don’t they teach anything in school these days?” he remarked, “A birthstone is a precious gemstone that symbolizes the birth month of someone in the Gregorian calendar. It is usually associated with character.”
“Gregorian Calendar,” he said distinctly, “it is the calendar that we use today, January to December; it wasn’t always the calendar”
“No boy, no, it was introduced by Pope Gregory long ago but that’s a different story. If she was born in June then her birthstone would be the same as my wife, she was born in June too.”
“Wait here, I have something that you can give to her.”
I could hear Mr. Lazare rummaging through his room; the chest of drawers I imagined. I had never been inside his room, it was his private sanctuary. Things were been shifted, falling on the wooden floor.
“What could it be?” I wondered, “Did it have to do with the birthstone?
Mr. Lazare spent about ten more minutes before he reappeared, sweat all over his forehead.
“May I have a glass of water?” he politely asked. He looked liked he would drop down dead any moment if I wasn’t quick enough.
“What was he doing in there?” I thought to myself, “he looks like he just revisited World War II.” The only difference is he had no war apparel, no rifle and he had a big grin from ear to ear.
“What’s with the smile?
“I found it”
“What?” I asked eager to find out.
“Before I hand it over to you, you have to promise me that you will do it justice, give it to this Junie girl only if you truly love her. I gave it to my wife for her birthday over twenty years ago,” He said as his voices continued to break up, “I’m passing it on to you because I don’t have much time left here and I can see you truly like this girl. I can see the same passion I had when I first met my wife in you.”
“Thank you, I promise but what is it?” I asked reluctantly, not wanting to anger him with my impatience.
“I’m getting to that, don’t rush me.” I could see it was hard for him. “This is a necklace, touched with Alexandrite. I got the stone from a villager in
when I was fighting the war. I had it formed into a necklace in Russia for my
wife’s birthday. I think she would want me to pass it on to someone I trust.
She would approve.” England
“Thank you but may I ask you a question?”
“Yes, you may.”
“What exactly is Alexandrite?” I asked reluctantly, “Is it the birthstone?”
“Oh yes, it is. But there’s more to it than just that.”
“Yes, put on the light bulb,” he said, “and see the magic as it happens.” To my amazement the rock changed colour from green to red.
“Oh, I see, now I’m sure Junie will like that.” Mr. Lazare just smiled and sat down.
“Something’s wrong?” I asked
“No, no, I’m just tired but you remind me so much of myself when I was a young boy”
“Yes, boy, you… I am sure you will make a fine young man one day, your mother will be proud.” And with that Mr. Lazare leaned back into his rocking chair, put his pipe into his mouth and picked up a book.
“What are you reading?’ I asked.
“Oh it’s nothing, just some Shakespeare.”
“Oh I know Shakespeare,” I replied proudly, “we study him in Literature classes, but he writes funny. I never understand him”
“Maybe you should read it funny then,” Mr. Lazare said as he gave a wry grin and continued reading. I could tell he no longer wanted to be disturbed so I moved to the shelf and picked up a book too.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m taking a book; I want to read Shakespeare too.”
“Okay, well read then.”
I didn’t really want to read, I was just looking for a comment or two from him but he was so enthralled in his reading that he wouldn’t budge from his rocking chair even if I had caught the house on fire. After pretending to read for about ten minutes, I decided to leave, it was getting late and I didn’t want my mother screaming her guts out at me again; I had heard enough of that to last me a lifetime. I picked up the necklace; it felt so cool in between my fingers, like it was being stored in a refrigerator. The gemstones kept changing colours.
“Junie going an love me for that wii,” I thought to myself. Mr. Lazare made my day, my month, and my teenage years. I would always be a part of her life now; she would remember that moment all her life. It was going to be perfect; she would tell it to her children and her children’s children. I was going to be a part of her history, forever etched in her memory. But almost on cue, I was brought back to earth by Mr. Lazare.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself young man; it’s only a gift,” he said, “but it’s still a special gesture.”
“I know, I know,” I replied, while not trying to give away the excitement bubbling within my stomach.
Mr. Lazare was too smart for that though; he saw clearly what was going on. I was getting ahead of myself but he wanted me to be humble and modest about the gift.
“I have to head home now, it’s getting late,”
“I know, just lock the gate when you are out the yard,” he joked. I had to give a soft laugh because the gate didn’t keep anyone out; half of the fence was missing. I don’t think he worried too much about the villagers entering his yard or his house. It looked dilapidated from the street. The residents of Gros Michel had no idea of the treasures that he possessed within those rundown walls.