“How long have I been sleeping in church?” I asked myself. “Bwoy, me shame!” I quickly took my handkerchief and wiped my face, then sat upright to hear the remainder of parson’s sermon. “But wait! Almost half the church was asleep. And look at Mass Joe, fi ‘im mouth wide open.”
As I observed the sleeping and the sleepy ones in the congregation, none was more amusing than Sister Beatrice, whose head was bobbing to the left, and then to the right as she struggled to stay awake. She soon succumbed to sleep’s sweet beckoning and almost fell over. She jumped up saying, “Amen parson! Preach it sah!” awaking everyone.
“The time hot bwoy!” Brother André said, “It look like everybody have nigaritis this morning!”
But parson was not perturbed; “Bless you my sister.” He said, and continued preaching his sermon.
I had planned to walk home with Keisha today after church, but she avoided me; she was waiting near the baptistry for Thomas.
“Those two lovebirds you see,” I said quietly, “Dem getting thicker than porridge.” At that moment, Mrs. Watson came by,
“Walk wid me nuh!” she said.
I never really wanted to do that since I knew she would be asking me certain questions to find out mi business. But seeing how hesitant I was, she grabbed my arm, “Come nuh girl.” She said, and I reluctantly went with her.
She was my Sunday School teacher at one time, and she still remembered me for quoting the most memory verses. But the walk home with Mrs. Watson that afternoon was a different one. What a woman can gossip! She knew everybody’s business.
“So you hear sey Keisha pregnant?” she asked me.
“What! I mean, no Mrs. Watson. I never did know.” I was shocked.
“Eh eh! That’s how it goes with the young girl dem in this place.” She replied. There was an awkward silence, and then she continued, “It is just a matter of time before even you start show belly.”
“Oh no Mrs. Watson!” I said. “I’m going to wait til me get married, then . . .”
“Shut up!” she said, interrupting me. “Go ask you grandmother and your mother if they did wait till dem married. But see here, dem not even married to this day, and look how many pickney dem get while dem still in the church.”
I bit my bottom lip, she was right. Mrs. Watson kept on talking and talking until we parted ways, but I never answered her and said anything else, cause she did shame me.
“Is not me alone.” Keisha responded, when I asked her.
“But why you do it?” I asked.
“You tan de galang like you don’t know why.” she said. “You think sey me going find job again at the hotel? Look how many times me fail dem interview. I need a source of income, plus insurance fi mi old age.”
“Insurance for your old age?” I asked.
“You can gwan continue form fool.” She continued “Just give a man two youth and let him support you and dem for the next 20 years. Then when dem done grow, de pickney dem will mind you.”
“So you are your mother’s insurance policy?” I asked her.
“But see here girl, let me tell you this, you betta get you pickney dem now before you have to go adopt one.” She hissed her teeth. “It is always better to raise your own flesh and blood.”
“But Keisha, all dem time you a dugu dugu right under parson’s nose?” I asked. “So what you think him going to say to you now when him hear sey you pregnant and not married?”
“Parson can’t talk to me.” She said. “Fi him mother married? Him must go talk to her first.” Keisha blurted out. “Anyway, him probably done know already.”
That was why my mother kept on telling me to stick to my books. “Get your education and career.” she said, “You can’t guarantee that a man will stay round you forever.” She should know, for where was my grandfather? He abandoned her when she was still an infant and migrated to England; and no one has heard a peep out of him to this day. “And what would happen to you if you can’t get pregnant?” she asked. “Is not everyone chosen to become a mother you know?”
She was right, but at school, the new Teacher was all that filled my mind. He was a recent graduate, and he assisted with the teaching of English at our school. Sean-Antonio Larry Tenn was his name, but the students called him ‘Eleven’. He seemed to have some Indian in him, and he was light-skinned, with pretty hair.
“Gayle!” he was always calling my name. “Pay attention.”
“Yes, sir.” I would say. “But why he picking on me so? I thought to myself, “You think I could ever fail any of his tests? No way!”
Eleven was a good teacher, and because of his influence, many students passed their examinations. After graduation, he chatted up to me, and very soon, all the things that parson and everyone else had said to me, just ‘fly out of my head’. We became close friends, and more.
I wanted to return and teach along with Sean-Antonio at my alma mater, but my grandmother had other plans for me. She called me one day and introduced me to the son of one of her best friends; who was many years my senior.
“You two can talk a bit while I go bake some potato pudding to sell at the market.” she said.
That man was Clarence, and he really gave me a good time. He also bought me many gifts, and promised me so many things; he was very nice. Then one day my grandmother whispered to me,
“Get pregnant for him.” I stopped what I was doing and looked at her. “The child that you give to him,” she continued. “Will be your ticket to a better life.”
“Who Clarence?” I asked. “But what about his wife?”
My grandmother hissed her teeth, “She barren.” She replied, and I smiled.
When I lived with my grandmother during my pregnancy, she was the nicest person to me; but after the baby was born, she showed me another face. The first thing she said when I returned from the hospital was, “A nuh Clarence girl pickney this?” She was very upset. “A who fah pickney this?” she asked me.
“Wh.., wh.., what you saying grandma?” I stuttered nervously.
I took a careful look at the baby once more, “But Is how me so salt!” I said to myself. “What a way the baby favour Eleven. Me really did S.A.L.T. for true, the kind of Sean-Antonio Larry Tenn . . . salt.”
Clarence never returned to visit my grandmother after that, and one week later, she kicked me out of her house.
“If me did know sey you did pregnant for somebody else, me would a let you dash wey that belly.” She said. “Tek you self and g’way fram me, you whore!”
I never felt so humiliated and hurt in all my life. “Grandma actually said those things to me?” I couldn’t believe it. Rejected and depressed, I left her home with my baby who was only two weeks old. I kotched at a friend’s home and scrounged around for food, until I got a job in a Canteen.
“So you did hide away from the real father, with the hope of going off with this other man.” they asked.
“No! Is not so it go at all.” I responded. “I thought I was pregnant for the older man.”
“Girl, you fool-fool sah!” persons would say to me. “You must learn to only stick with one man.”
“So where is the real father now?” they continued to ask.
“I don’t know.” I responded.
“Nuh mind girl, we will find him for you.”
And so the search went out, until they found Sean-Antonio, who was already engaged with a new baby on the way. However, when he heard about us, he quickly came to meet his daughter Shawna, and me. But I was too ashamed of my past actions toward him, and I couldn’t face him at all. He was appalled at our poverty and immediately began sending money for his daughter.
“You must mek him support you too.” My mother said; but I couldn’t do that to him.
Years later, after I became a Social Worker, I decided not to get pregnant again before marriage like everyone else. And I was glad that was also Marcus’ goal before we got married. This was very important, not because of my first mistake with Sean-Antonio, but because I wanted to prove to others that becoming married first, and then having a family afterward, was the better thing to do.
“Living together and having children before being married.” I told them, “Was like putting the the cart before the horse. The cart – which represents parental responsibilities, relationship obligations, commitment, etc., may block the whole vision of the horse and hinder its progress.”
“The horse – which represents the couple in the relationship, may also struggle to push the cart, which in reality was designed to be pulled. Pushing the cart requires harder work, and will cause fatigue, stress, and eventually a breaking down in the health of the horse. Furthermore, the horse may not even attempt to push the cart, and that usually happens when the male in a relationship decides to disappear.”
“Many couples have difficulties, which counselling cannot truly resolve, since they have decided to put the cart before the horse; their expectations are frustrated, and their goals may never be realized. It is not that marriage is the answer for all relationship issues, but it would be better to marry first, and then have a sexual relationship and children. Doing so, would be putting the cart behind the horse, and that is where it belongs.”
Being married to Marcus had it ups and downs, but eventually we grew stronger together and had our own children. But my husband never really liked ‘my coolie-looking daughter’, so I sent Shawna to live with her father and his family. There she got the finest of things, and a good education.
Although my daughter never felt appreciated, or happy; she did her best. For most of her life, she sought acceptance from others, and I blamed my grandmother for abusing her over the years. Nothing Shawna did was ever good enough for her; and grandma never appreciated, or acknowledged Shawna like her other grandchildren. Further, every now and then, grandma seized the opportunity to remind me of how I blew my opportunity to get a ticket to a better life. But one day, that all changed.
“Come here, let me ask you something.” My grandmother said to me over the phone. And when I reached her home, I saw that she had the daily newspaper spread all out on the table. “Look good at the winners of this Essay Competition” she said. “Is Shawna that?”
“It sure is.” I responded. Shawna had told me that she would enter the competition, but I didn’t realize that she won. Very soon my grandmother was on the phone, speaking with her friends.
“She placed third in the whole world, you know.” she said. “Eh he! Yes my dear, she is my first grand-daughter.” When I heard her, I shook my head and smiled.
Then many years later, after Shawna settled down with her husband in the United States, she filed for my entire family to reside there, grandma included. When my grandmother eventually arrived, in her ripe old age, she let us know that it was her first time travelling on an aeroplane, and her first time leaving Jamaica. In her twilight years, she enjoyed her apartment, the food, good health care, and ‘first-world living’, as she called it.
“Boy this world is funny place fi true.” She said. “You just don’t really know how things going to turn out.”
“What do you mean grandma?” I asked her.
“See here now,” she said. “Look at how we almost dash wey, and crumble up our ticket to a better life; the ticket was right here in our hands all along.”