The old man touched my shoulder as he headed outside the bar, “I have something to tell you.” he said. And as I stood in the haze of cigarette smoke, a rum-head tried to stop me, saying something unintelligible. But I dodged him, and went through the exit; maybe he wanted me to buy him more drinks to drown his sorrows.
It was a still night in the Clarendon hills, not a single leaf was moving; there was not even a peenie wallie blinking in the dark. I didn’t need a jacket in the chilly night air; my body was already warmed by the couple glasses of rum I drank earlier on. The old man spat on the stubby grass as we walked passed two parked bikes, and as we turned the corner, we stumbled upon an old rusty Volkswagen, “Wait!” the oldster said, “Is how dem don’t tek this mek scrap metal yet?”
After he sat on the rusty hood, he said to me, “Watch yuself with dat gal Pansy.”
“But is what this rum-head a come chat to me bout?” I thought to myself. “Is this nonsense ‘im carry me outside fi come tell me?”
“You have to be careful and wise about who you going to marry,” he continued. “It don’t matter har shape or size, just find a decent simady who have inheritance to house and land, and mek har fall in love with you.”
“What you saying massa?” was all I could manage to say.
“Yes.” He continued, and then he coughed and spat again.
“Just keep staring pan har till she notice you, then chat to har. She will warm up to you and love you off.” He said with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “Then you marry har.”
“A suh it go?” I asked.
“Then of course.” replied the old man. “Don’t bother with Pansy and dem foolish gal dem, all dem going do is breed for you and then nyam you out.”
“All right sah,” I said after a minute or two had passed. “Mi hear what yuh sey.”
The old man fumbled around in his pockets then pulled out a cigarette, and I quickly left.
“But this must be a sign!” I thought. “Can you imagine that it was in my plans to visit that girl Pansy tomorrow? Well, she won’t see me again.”
Seven months later, I was married to Pearl, and we moved into the house her father built for us on the corner of his property. Two whole acres were mine, just like that! And he giving it to us, didn’t seem like anything to her people dem; for they had more than twenty acres of land remaining.
Imagine me, a man who grow up poorer than a church mouse, the fifteenth child for my absent puppa. Me, who didn’t even have a thousand dollars to my name; look at me today, I’m a land owner.
Pearl was a good wife, she gave me five children and she took care of us very well. I was faithful to her, even though my lustful mind wandered at times. The farm land was very fertile, and we reaped several bountiful harvests to live comfortably, and to thoroughly educate our offspring.
“God is truly good.” Pearl would say.
And, “Yes dear.” was how I always responded.
Everything is God this, and God that; the whole family praying and fasting for me to get saved and born again. I visited the little church the other Sunday; and as they see mi come through the door, dem want come baptize me, and turn me into deacon. As me tek mi seat, me just shut up me eye dem like me into a deep prayer. Then at the end of the sermon, as soon as pastor close him eye to say his last prayer, is me that screechy out of the church. When him done, and say his “Amen”; you know that I’m already outside the church gate, and headed straight for home.
“You know how many persons asked for you?” Pearl would say when she got home.“Why you have to always leave so early?”
Then I would just kiss her and say “Is so it go, my sweet wife.” And the long talking done.
Married life was very nice, we had no quarrels and no fussing. My wife loved me, our children loved me, and I loved them, and my farm. But after the children grew up and left home, my Pearl became terminally ill.
“Please!” she begged me on her death bed, “Get saved in the church for me Bobby. For when you die, I want you and the whole family to come and join me in heaven.” After hearing that, the only thing I could do was cry. I wept when she died; Pearl was truly a good wife.
A year after Pearl’s death, every thing for me went downhill. We had the worst drought ever that year, and the farm did not produce enough to even pay the bills. I was so embarrassed when electricity was disconnected from our home, and ashamed when Pearl’s nagging sister – Vera, came quarrelling to me about it. But I did not even answer her, for I know she was right; it seemed I had to go look for some other job to supplement my income.
Jobs were very scarce in Clarendon, so I sought employment in the neighbouring parishes; and I was fortunate enough to get a decent paying job at a family-owned Bakery in Kingston. One day, they found me sleeping on their premises and they helped me find lodging; they were very kind. After several months, I visited my farm again to settle my affairs. I left money for the bills and for the general upkeep of the home; then I was given the surprise of my life, I had my first two grandchildren. It was a good thing that I had extra money, which I gladly gave my children as gifts for their babies. I had bought many things for myself, but the next item I needed to purchase was an upgraded mobile phone to keep in touch with my family.
Life in Kingston was very lonely for a man like me, who came from the country; but I met Shea, and Maxine. And then there were others, such as: Denise, June, Carla, and Racquel. Cho man! All dem girls just wasting my time and spending my hard earned money. Then afterward, when I met Nancy, I stopped playing around, and she became my only girlfriend, and lover.
Within a year of my employment, the Bakery expanded its operations, and the boss’ niece began working inside the main office; her name was Jackie. On many occasions Jackie would catch me staring at her.
“What is it?” she asked angrily.
“It’s nothing.” I would answer shyly, hoping that she would see the love-struck look in my eyes, and fall for my cute smile. That girl drove her own car and she seemed single and available. But Jackie never showed any interest in me.
“But you see how the woman dem stay?” Lance said to us one morning. He was kneading bulla dough, and his voice was muffled as he spoke with his mask on.
“Eeh he!” I responded.
“Dem girl dem always flirt round the men dem that look similar in appearance, bout is their type that. Liad dem! They do that so that when dem get prignant and don’t know who the father is, dem just give any one a dem.”
“Fi real?” I said.
“See there now. A so Paul get ketch, for is jacket Shelia give him. They say the baby look like Paul, but Paul and Keith look alike, so the baby coulda be for Keith to.”
“Eh eh!” I said.
“That is how everyone knows everybody business all the time.” I thought to myself. “But if they did ever did truly know that the baby was really for Rodney, for he told me so himself. He dumped Sheila when she told him she was pregnant for him. He couldn’t really manage to support another child, for is three him have already. But Rodney, and Paul, and Keith look alike fi true! Heh heh.”
“You know,” I thought to myself, while preparing for work one morning, “ I think I’m in love again. Every day, my thoughts run on Jackie . . . twenty-four, seven! Jah know sey if I should marry again, I would marry that girl.”
As I studied Jackie, I noticed that she seemed to like wearing the colour blue; so for one whole week I wore blue shirts, blue tie and so on, to work. She didn’t even ‘keke pon’ me. I offered to do her chores for her, but she said she would carry out her own garbage. She stoosh and nice me sey; is she me would really want.
Being near Jackie at work made my tasks seem enjoyable, but one day Nancy visited the Bakery and saw me staring at her.
“Is what so?” she asked.
I did not even answer her.
“Hmph!” she said.
But I just change the subject.
“Ahh sah!” I sighed to myself “ You see that girl Nancy, she just in my face, day in and day out about wanting me to give har a baby; our ‘love child’ she sey. Ku yah!” I hissed my teeth. “But me can go make a baby now that would be younger than my own grandchildren? A nonsense that man! But then, on the other hand, if Jackie would want a baby from me, I would give her even more than one. Yes, that would be nice.”
One day, a co-worker accidentally called me George, “You look like George fi true.” she said.
“Eh eh!” I responded. “One day I have to go see this Georgie guy fi see if we really look alike.”
“But you can,” she responded. “Him work in the Packing Department”.
So one lunch break, I took a walk in the sun hot to go to the Packaging Department. There I came face to face with George; but he could be my cousin, or even my own brother. We became quick friends, but I discovered that the man conniving and lie. He was a real ginnal for true. But he was well liked, for he was a hard worker, but people said that he was an informer.
George would do anything for sex, which was his main weakness; so one day I asked him for a favour, and he gladly complied. I wanted him to impregnate Nancy, since I wanted to get her off my back. So together we planned when and where it would happen; the month, the day, the hour, and the moment I knew she would be most fertile.
After the rape happened, Nancy called me as soon as she could; she was in tears. I didn’t let her speak to me and gave an excuse that I was very busy and would be working overtime. Truthfully, I couldn’t be bothered with the cry-cry business. Four weeks later, I consoled her, at her place. She knew she had conceived, and so did I; but I acted carefully and in a manner so as to not let her know that I knew.
When Nancy gave birth, she pinned the baby on me; and after a couple of months, she carried him to the Bakery, and it so happened that Jackie saw us. Now Jackie loved babies, and she was happy to see the child; she even commented on how the baby and I had the same buck forehead and complexion, and so on. All I could do was smile, oh how I wished that it were our baby – Jackie’s and mine.
Exactly one month afterward, Nancy brought her father to visit me. She was planning to migrate and live with him in Canada, and he wanted me to marry his daughter and come and live with them too. Their plan was this: her father would employ me in his company, and he would give us an apartment until we could afford our own home. The father was so happy to meet me, and he seemed to be so very proud of his first grandson. But I denied paternity there and then, and cussed off Nancy straight up in her face, embarrassing her in front of her dad.
Then I said, “Is Jamaica me born and grow, and is in Jamaica mi going dead.” They looked at me in disappointment. “Me don’t cut out to live in no snow. No sah! Me not going up to live in no foreign.” In spite of her tears, her pleas, and her father begging and speaking to me ‘man to man’; I turned a deaf ear to them and chased them from my lodging. I ran them away like I would a stray, mangy dog.
“That girl cannot be trusted,” I told her father. “She trying to give me jacket! And me can’t marry somebody me don’t trust; me nah live with har.” Nancy stood speechless and disgraced in her father’s presence, and when he looked questioningly at her she could not look him in the eyes. They left, and that was the last I saw of them.
“Canada is not for everybody.” I thought, “It may be good for them, but not for me. I already have my farm land and right now all I’m thinking about is how to win Jackie’s heart. Imagine, one day I might be related to the boss.”
On the next payday, when George heard what transpired between Nancy and me, he angrily threatened to expose me. “Hell and powder house going break loose today.” I heard him say. That informer was already scheming lies to frame me before the staff members and the boss. And because I knew that some of the things he would say, were true; I resigned with immediate effect, and by the next hour, I was in a bus headed for home sweet home in Clarendon.
A litter over a year later, when I heard that George had migrated, I returned to my job at the Bakery. Good riddance to him. I was placed in a different department and was having trouble learning the new tasks there, but the staff members were patient with me. One day I saw Jackie. She came into the room like cool mountain breeze on a very warm day. Her soft voice was like music to my ears, and she seemed happy to see me.
“Hey, you’re back from the country” she said, as she spoke directly to me.
“Yes I responded. I can’t plant and reap anything before persons start stealing my crops.” I complained. “There are so many thieves troubling us farmers these days”.
Jackie was visibly upset too, she understood my problem with praedial larceny; but she wished me all the best. Yes, that’s what I wanted in my future wife, she must be an understanding person.
Then one evening, while heading home after work, I met Heather, she was one of Nancy’s friends.
“Bobby, you’re back!” she exclaimed.
I was trying to avoid her, but she spotted me in the evening crowd just the same. “Cho man! The bus should just come and take me far away from this girl.” I thought to myself. I didn’t even return her greetings.
“Hey, sell me a thousand dollars worth of phone credit there.” She shouted to a peddler nearby, “I have to go make an overseas call tonight.”
“Cho man! I can bet is Nancy she’s going to call.” I sighed to myself. “Oh well, it did bound to happen sooner or later.”
The next month, I met one more of Nancy’s friends at the Bakery;
“But this is a natural sign!” I thought, and hissed my teeth. “Is what this one want now?”
It was Gracie, and I wanted nothing to do with her. But for the entire month Gracie was at the Bakery; she said that this was her line of business now.
“Well, that’s an odd change.” I thought, “Let’s see how long it will last”; for everyone knew the type of work that woman Gracie was involved in . . . she was a prostitute.
Morning, and evening, and at noon, I saw that girl Gracie, until we began holding long conversations.
“Hey, she can reason things good.” I thought to myself, “The girl irie and copacetic fi true.”
Then one evening the unexpected happened, and Gracie spent the night at my place.
“Man! I could kick myself.” I thought out loud after she departed. “I let my guard down.” I sighed.
I was so upset with my lack of judgment, that I planned to trace off Gracie and run har away from my life when I got to the Bakery in the morning. Carefully I planned where to meet her, and the exact words I would say to her. I just hope to God that Nancy don’t even hear about this.
The next morning, Gracie was not at the Bakery; she was nowhere in sight. She never returned the day after, the week after, or months afterward. God surely knows how to answer prayers.
After one whole year, when I was being trained for promotion in my department, I saw Nancy’s friend Heather again. It seemed she stood outside the Bakery waiting for me to leave at closing time. When she saw me, she showed me a picture with Nancy hugging up her husband, and their sons.
“Mek me see the picture good.” I said to her.
“See it yah” Heather replied. “See Nancy dey; Matthew and Kirk, the son dem; and George, har husband.”
I looked at it in disbelief.
“Now THIS is a loving family” Heather said, as she took the photograph from my hand and walked away.
“But George looked good.” I thought to myself. “Their home was huge, and they had the latest Dodge Grand Caravan parked in their driveway. But his minivan was far better than the Honda motorcar Jackie drove.” Imagine, even though I was being promoted in my department, Jackie still would not ‘give me the time of day’. Sigh!
The very next day, things took a turn for the worst. “Sir, you will need to go to the HR Department,” the secretary said to me over the phone. “It is very urgent.”
“Thank you.” I responded.
While walking toward the department, I saw Gracie; and she was talking on her cell phone. You know, if it wasn’t so urgent, I would just stop and trace her off good and proper. I wondered if she had returned to do business at the Bakery again.
As I hurried by, she saw me, and our eyes mek four. Then she raised her voice.
“Yes Nancy, me did see him, and me did do to him the thing that you did ask me to do.” She blurted out over the phone.
“Oh so is Nancy she talking to. “ I thought to myself.
“Eh eh! Me tek me AIDS self and spend the night with him.” she continued. “That should teach him a lesson.” Then she hissed her teeth, and left the premises.
I stood paralyzed after hearing what Gracie said. Was she speaking the truth? It appeared as if I was frozen in time, as I stood numb, in shock, and in horror. My heart raced wildly, and I felt the blood draining from ebony-coloured face. “I must look as pale as a ghost.” I thought to myself.
I don’t even know how I arrived at the HR Department, but I knew that when I entered the office, the staff members became uncomfortably quiet. The secretary gave me the medical results and scoffed at me. It was mandatory that we did an annual medical exam, and I figured out that they all knew what I sensed was happening to me. The general weakness I felt in my body, the dizzy spells, and night sweats . . . all these were symptoms of HIV.
“So this is what Nancy did to me? She planned all this?” I thought to myself. “Truly, hell hath no fury, like a woman scorned.”
“Don’t worry, you won’t die right away,” the Counsellor said, “With the right medication, and a proper diet, you may have several years ahead of you to still live a very good life.”
“So I tried to get Nancy off my back, but I will have to live with the consequences of her revenge for the rest of my life. Is this what I came to Kingston town for? A death sentence? A prison term? To be trapped in Nancy’s web?” I left the Counsellor’s office, confused; not even Jackie’s bright greeting seemed important anymore.
An hour later, I was in a bus heading home to Clarendon. As a farmer, I should have known that I would always reap what I sowed; and I cried for the first time since Pearl – my wife, died. Later, while walking up the Clarendon hillside, I threw the torn up medical report into the river below; and as I watched the bits of paper spiraling downward, I thought to myself;
“At least I still have two acres of farm land, and a bar down the road, where I can drown my sorrows.”