by Delroy Nesta Williams
Home was never really a happy place. I was the first of three children, all girls raised by a single mom and all of us by different fathers. She, my mother, was a victim of men’s promises, each one filling her with empty words of taking care of her and her children but each wanting and leaving her after they had their own. She learned the lesson quickly though and although it stressed her to take care of all of us by her lonesome self, my mother seldom complained. My mother worked any and every job she could find to provide for us and that really meant that raising the children and running the house was left to the eldest among us, which just so happened to be me!
Some days were good but lately I felt like the world was on my frail, tiny shoulders and I needed a break. I tried to remain strong because I, as the oldest, maybe understood what my mother was going through the best. I never heard or saw my mother cry, well actually, I did, but only once. She was having a phone conversation late one night and I just happened to be awake. Words that may be hidden by the noise of the day ring loud in the still of the night. She was speaking about my father and from what I could understand from the muttered, tear-filled words, he was not helping her to pay for my CXC exams and the deadline for payment was coming up soon. I promised myself then and there that I would approach him as soon as I could, I had no idea what I would tell him though but I was sure that he would look at me in a different light after our encounter.
I never told my mother about it and it had been almost two weeks since I overheard her conversation but I was yet to see my father. I had tried to block out the late night images from my thoughts but any little issue would bring back her words and tears, even if I only envisioned them from across the walls of our small house. My mother was already out of the house by the time I got up from my mattress, which I had placed in the corner of the room so she wouldn’t disturb me when she was leaving for work. It was like that almost every morning and although it was only 6:30 a.m., she had already taken two buses to make her way to work in Mero, which meant that she usually left the house before my younger sisters were even awake.
I was busy frying eggs and sausage when my sisters, Lisha and Kerdisha, came into our small outdoor kitchen moving like they were sleepwalking.
“We hungry!” they cried out in unison.
“Allu just get up wii, go an’ take a bath, when allu come back allu will get breakfast,” I replied as sternly as I could. I reminded myself of my mother, she was beginning to rub off on me so much that it frightened me at times.
“And hurry up eh, we walking to school today cause mammy doh leave bus money for us,”
Ten minutes later and they had both returned to the kitchen, half dressed but with a famish in their eyes that softened my heart.
“Eat! Eat before allu fall down dere on my account eh. I cyah answer to mammy much less for de government,” again borrowing my mother’s phrases. I never understood what she meant about answering to the Government but it always seemed to instill fear in me so I used it with my sisters. They looked up to me so much that I couldn’t be too hard on them though, not all the time.
By the time they had eaten and gotten fully dressed, it was already 7:30 and we rushed out of the house. From where we lived in Newtown the school was a quick walk but with two troublesome sisters, even that could be a challenge. Lisha had a question about everything she saw and Kerdisha would always find something to play with just to annoy me. But still, I loved my sisters, more than anyone in my life.
School was a different world though; it was my sanctuary from the troubles and challenges of home. For about five hours I didn’t have to think about anything else but classes and assignments. Oh and off course, my girls! We had developed our little clique from first form, five years ago and we had still remained friends from that time. There were fallouts, major ones too but we always found a way to come back together. The Gorgeous Girls: Kisha, Lorry, Crystal, Natasha and I. I had known Natasha longer than the rest, since our days in primary school so we were closest among the five of us. Still, lately Natasha had become a little distant from the rest of us. There were times when she wouldn’t eat with us at break time, and now she was always late for our library “meetings” and had become very secretive.
That was unlike her because she used to be the bubbly one that always cracked the jokes or picked on each of us. She was the glue that kept us together. She had mended the fallout between Lorry and Kisha over Craig. It seemed that Lorry had liked Craig but Craig was only interested in Kisha so that put a rift between the girls but Natasha stepped in and Craig stepped out of the picture soon after that. I can still remember the look on his face when she told him to “get to stepping” - her favorite phrase at that time.
Natasha, Crystal and I were in the same class which also meant we spent more time together whereas Lorry and Kisha were in another class across the school yard. Crystal was being forced to remain in the class during break time because she stood up to the teacher during our history class. Unfortunately for Crystal, her mouth was always her biggest problem. She took offence at the teacher saying that Christopher Columbus discovered Dominica. She had the balls to put Miss Seaman on blast and ended up by calling her “brainwashed and stupid” and accused her of “perpetuating stereotypes” in front of the entire class. Off course, a class of hyped up teenage girls took the opportunity to laugh at Miss Seaman which wasn’t at all too pleasing to her so she made an example of Crystal. Crystal didn’t worry about the punishment though because in her mind she had won, Miss Seaman wouldn’t be discounting the contributions of her Kalinago people anymore. There was no greater victory since Crystal was actually of Kalinago heritage, at least from her mother’s side of the family. But please don’t tell Crystal that she was only half-Kalinago, unless you wanted to face the wrath of her death stare!
Lorry and Kisha, the sports junkies had a netball team meeting during the break as well, which meant that I had Natasha all to myself, so we could talk about her strange behavior lately. We went to our section of the school yard, underneath the flambouyant tree. It was our regular meeting point, so much so that the other girls in the school didn’t even venture near it. That spot would remain empty even if we didn’t use it during break; so much was the respect and fear we had garnered from the rest of the school. Nobody questioned our right to the spot and we loved that.
As we sat on the bench, I pulled out my snack from my paper bag but I noticed that Natasha didn’t have anything in her hands.
“Where your snack ner?” I asked.
“I waiting for it,” she responded.
“Waiting for it, what you mean you waiting for it?”
“Somebody bringing it for me jus now,” she said coyly.
“Okay den,” I sounded as I stared into her big brown eyes.
She tried to watch away but I saw the glimmer in her eyes which meant that there was more to the story than what she was telling me. Natasha could never keep a secret and if there was one, I was surprised that she had kept it from me for so long. As I searched her eyes I realized that my friend seemed a lot different. She was changing right before my very eyes and I had barely even noticed until now. She had relaxed her hair a few weeks ago but that didn’t raise any alarms. Upon closer inspection though, I now saw that Natasha was evolving into a fine young woman. Her eyebrows were shaped, her earrings were different, shimmering in the early morning sunlight and even her uniform seemed new.
“What’s going on ner?” I asked.
“You seem different,”
“No corn, yes you!” I scolded her.
“Girl you behaving too much like your moda eh,” she laughed in her attempt to change the topic but that wasn’t working. I wanted to know why my best friend was slowly changing and I hadn’t even noticed it until now. But worst, why she hadn’t confided in me at all. It was unlike her, we spoke about everything, she knew all of my secrets and I thought I knew all of hers, until now.
“Talk, I want to know,”
“I can’t tell you!”
“You can tell me anything eh!”
“Not that one ner!”
“I made a promise wii,”
“Wat about our promise? Wat about our friendship den?”
“Dat different eh,”
Just then Natasha pushed her hands into the pocket of her uniform and pulled out a cell phone which was vibrating in her hand. I was surprised. She hastily read and responded to the text message then turned to me.
“You have a cell phone?” I shrieked.
“Yes, I do!” she responded defiantly.
“Since when?” I questioned.
“Since he…,” she paused, “since I bought one.”
“Who is he? Doh think I doh hear de he eh,”
“It not important and I cyah tell you anyways,”
“If it not important den I can know,” I said as I cornered her.
“My boyfriend dat buy me de phone, okay!”
“You have boyfriend? Since when? How I doh know dat?” I yelled.
“Well tell de whole school ner!” she responded, sucking her teeth at me.
“Sorry, sorry… but you have boyfriend wii, your mother know that?”
“How my mother can know that ner?”
“So she doh see de phone den?”
“It always on silent!”
“Since when you have boyfriend?”
“About two months now,”
“TWO whole months,” I screamed out at first then but lowering my voice as I realized I was embarrassing my friend.
“So when you was going to tell me? And who is he?”
“But look I jus tell you wii and you might see him cuz he bringing snack for me just now. He dat jus text me der,”
“But you cyah make him see you, so you will have to hide,”
“Why I have to hide?”
“Cuz is our secret. He doh want people to know for now,”
“Who is he?”
“You will see when he come in de ride!”
“He have a ride den? Big tings man?”
“Yes, he does!”
And that was the end of that as she left to go to the washroom. We now had our plan though and I would stay behind the wall, walking out just about the time where he was handing her the snack so I could sneak a peek at him. He had a car which meant he had to be a lot older than her but she didn’t take me on when I raised my objection.
“I going to have a boyfriend one day eh, so why it cyah be today?” she asked.
“So allu sexing? Your moda know?”
“Yes, we fuck a few times... my moda can never know, she still think I a virgin wii,”
“Agatha go break your bones”
“And your moda doh break yours?”
I had no response to so I dropped the issue and changed the topic. My friend seemed happy and so I would be happy for her even if it troubled me that he was a lot older than her. We would soon be out of school though, graduating in a few months so I guess in her mind she was ready to be an adult. I couldn’t see myself with a boyfriend. Not because I didn’t want one but because my mother would kill me. She had already embarrassed me enough for Jason the last time. She had given me a beating in the school yard when she found out about it, an experience I don’t want to ever relive. Her daily scolding was now enough to keep me without a boyfriend for the next ten years.
We continued to talk for about two minutes, enough time for her to tell me about how she met her new boyfriend. She had gone by All Nations Bar in Newtown to buy fish and fries for her mother on a Friday night and he was there with his girlfriend, where they were having a public break up. Then he met her there a few weeks later and started up a conversation. He had even paid for her meal that night and that started things off. They didn’t meet too often because he worked a lot but when he could he would take her out, even at nights and at weekends. She would tell her mother that she was going over to my house, even without my knowledge. He bought her the cell phone for her birthday, a Samsung Galaxy S3. I had never owned a cell phone, my mother couldn’t afford it. My mother would have broken my bones too if I had ever brought one home. She didn’t want me accepting gifts from anybody. Her words always rang in my ears, “men don’t give you anything without expecting something in return.” I always sensed bitterness in her words when she said that, like she was speaking from a dark experience, like she had lived out the mistake herself.
Just when my thoughts were transitioning to images of my mother and that fateful phone conversation, Natasha jumped up from our spot and rushed towards the school gate. I was well hidden behind the wall and ready to follow through with our plan. I could see her big broad smile in the reflection of the car’s glass. It was well tinted; I couldn’t see a thing through the glass. She seemed more than happy with her boyfriend as she waited for him to bring down the window. It came down slowly to reveal an older man, his eyes hidden by a pair of sunglasses. As he himself lifted the glasses, I saw his very own smile as well. He donned a wide spaced tooth, strong cheek bones that rose up with his smile. But I still couldn’t make him out properly as he turned his head towards her and he reached into a bag to pull out her snack. It was then that I stepped forward to have a closer look at the mystery man. His smile froze on his face as my mouth opened wide too.
Mr. Charles was her boyfriend. Mr. Damian Charles, her boyfriend. My best friend’s boyfriend was my very own father! The man who wouldn’t pay my CXC fees was wining and dining my best friend.