Sunday, 20 March 2011
Winston's Two Dollars, Missing the Bus and Getting Some Rhatid Licks!
He always insisted on giving me unsolicited, long winded advise on how to live my life that seemed to go on forever especially since he had a slight stammer, a speech defect which delays the utterance of words (slows speech).
We had a number of heated quarrels while I was growing up and even when I was fully grown he was always trying to meddle in my life.
But two defining incidents, well three, no, make that four, have helped to create a lasting bond between us which thrived despite how perpetually vexed I was that him used to teck it upon himself to give me some rhatid licks whenever he felt I was being too unruly.
My mother had plenty of us children to look after so sometimes she neither had the time nor energy to beat us, so if it wasn't for meddlesome Winston, who love lick, I would have gotten away with a lot!
She never worked a day in her life outside of the home, but toiled in her grung to plant and reap food to feed us, in her attempts to make up for the huge gap in support from my father whose rum drinking consumed most of his meagre earnings.
Her subsistence farming would be supplemented by the money sent from the United States and Canada, by my Uncle Gilbert; the father of my two cousins, Dionne and Grayson who my mother was keeping until Uncle Gilbert could send for them. Later, my Aunt Effie would send money to take care of her last son Dwayne who also stayed with us for a short while and then, my neice and nephew's father Cyril.
She was a resourceful woman who made sure that one one coco full basket. We all managed to be fed, even though we really only got two square meals a day; breakfast and dinner. Lunch was our own responsibility and you better believed we learnt from our mother and made sure that one one coco or crayfish or mango or star apple or guava, fulled bellies!!
School Yard Bullying
I dearly loved my brother Winston despite the licks he would run me dung or sneak up on me and give me regularly (and that bwoy's hand was heavy!) because if it weren't for him, I would not have been able to take the Grade Nine Achievement Test and become the only one of my mother's 13 children to attend high school as well as university. A distinction that saddened me even as I felt pride.
I had missed taking the Common Entrance Examination, (which is what it was called then before it became GSAT) because I was never enrolled in one All Age or Primary School long enough to be signed up for the exam. In fact, I don't recall any knowledge of Common Entrance until years later, when I was in high school and heard my friends talking about it.
For a likkle pickney who was being shunted from aunt, to two perfect strangers whose children were grown and wanted a little girl to keep them company, I guess the emphasis was more on surviving the bewildering changes and trying to adjust to different lifestyles and different households rather than on life after all age school.
My mother's church sister, Miss Daphne (God rest her soul) worked with a lady in the JAMAL office in Montego Bay named Miss Wilson. Apparently, Miss Wilson and her husband lived alone as their four children were grown. Three lived in the United States and one in Montego Bay. According to Ms. Daphne who was my mother's distant cousin, Mister and Mrs. Wilson wanted a little girl to keep them company.
After church one Sunday, she convinced my mother to give me away to the people who I had never even met!
My mother, concerned that I she wasn't able to send me to school as often as she would have wanted to, tried to make me see the wisdom of going to live with two strangers.
"Christine, at least you will get to go to school," she reasoned.
At 11 years old I mustered all the courage I could, put on a brave face, gave my mother a brilliant smile and agreed. I loved school and looked forward to going to school more, hopefully with lunch money.
To be honest, there were rough periods of adjustment, of missing my over crowded but loving home in Belfont, of missing my brothers and sister and cousins.
For the three and a half years I lived with the Wilsons; I missed Belfont and the sound of the river and my mother, father, brothers and sisters and cousins, every single day. I even missed Boy, a mad man who lived in a cave near Uncle Hugh's house and used to run us down almost every evening on the way from school when we used to aim stones at his pot pon fire.
But overall, living with Mr. and Mrs. Wilson it wasn't all that bad.
I survived it. I learned a lot. I saw and used flush toilet for the first time and got to read an entire library of books at the Goodwill All Age School in two years. I also read every single book in the Miss Wilson's book case including a Tale of Two Cities, that her children, all of whom had attended high schools, had left behind.
My mother kept up a steady stream of letters via the post office and visited me a few times. I also went back home during some holidays, but leaving my family to go back to the couple and their big empty house was always hard.
When Mrs. Wilson sent me home to my mother for good in January smack in the middle of grade nine at Goodwill All Age School and resumed attending Catadupa All Age for the umpteeth time, the principal at the time, smart man that he was, realised that I was close to graduating from school with no options of continuing my education.
By then, I had become a celebrity of sorts at Catadupa All Age School. My friends got used to me disappearing and reappearing without warning in the middle of school terms.
Of course, it was All Age School! Not everyone was going to love me, and I had my fair share of bad mind, grudgeful pickneys, who just could not stand me!
The fact that I used to speaky spokey and with a twang or two added, (speak proper English and with an accent sometimes) did not help matters much! And to this day I thank my best friend Monica Coates, or Buggu as she was called (not sure how she got that name, but please feel free to speculate! ewwww! lol) for cushioning a lot of the verbal blows, some of which lead to furious fist fights and grab ups down by the ball grung (school play field).
Monica and I are still friends, although she curses me regularly for not keeping in touch as much as she would like me to.
So Monica, who was tall and big for her age, for some reason took a liking to me and would always have her friendship ready and waiting whenever I would turn back up at Catadupa All Age unannounced. Is it any wonder that at break and lunch time I would make sure I was in her company?
"Unno lef di pickney alone man!" she would yell to bad mind Novelette Blythe and my cousin Joy when they would start to tease me and call me stooshie. "So what is she talk good and brite? Di wholla unno just bad mind man! Cho!" she would continue dismissively. "Come yaah Andrea, no pay dem no mine!" she would comfort me. Yep! Monica Coates was my hero! (heroine)
Missing the Bus
So the school principal, Mister Barton, (who used to lick hot u see!) realised that I had not taken the Common Entrance Exam in Grade five or six as I should have and sent to tell my mother that he would be signing me up for the Grade Nine Achievement Test.
The test was similar to the Common Entrance Exam and gave all age or primary school children in Jamaica who had either not sit the Common Entrance exam, or had sat it but failed, the opportunity to move on to High School to continue their education.
As luck would have it, I had arrived back at Catadupa All Age a few weeks before the deadline for submission of names for the exam and Mr. Barton knowing that I was very bright, took it upon himself to register me to sit it. (The exam has been discontinued by the Ministry of Education).
Well, like I explained in my first blog post, "A Borrowed Dream" We lived far from school, So far, that when we spoke about it, we would say we lived furrrr. That means well far!
Mister Barton had chartered Desrick's bus to take those grade nine students who had been selected to sit the Grade Nine Achievement Test to Montego Bay to the exam centre.
My mother had already sent to tell Teacher Barton as we used to call him, that she had no money to pay my fare and he had agreed to allow me to travel on the bus anyway.
Only the names of the brightest grade nine students who the Principal and teachers felt had a good chance of passing the exam were sent to the Ministry of Education. The school did not want to be shamed by excessively low exam grades and took pride in academic achievement. As poor people with very few means of self actualization, education and academic achievement were the hallmarks for distinction and recognition int those days.
My mother had made it clear that she had no money to give me for lunch, but that did not deter me. Armed with the two yellow pencils she had truss (buy on credit) from Mass Maxie's shop and with the two fried dumplins and tea she had given me for breakfast in my belly, I headed up the road to catch the bus.
Well, by the time I hurried over Fletcher's hill, pass Miss Christie's house, tell Aunt Dor and Aunt Nenen morning and stopped to listen the words of encouragement from them, hurried through the pass to the train line, walked over the bridge and then back on to the road beside the church in front of Miss Gracie's house, pass Miss Doris and Uncle Hugh's house, pass Miss Daphne shop then down into the sink where the river ran under the road and up to Nasty Lane and finally reach the school yard, I was told that the bus had just left!
Imagine my disappointment!
I could not turn around and go back home! Everybody I had just passed who knew I was going to take the exam that day would wonder where I was going so quick! And I did not want to disappoint my mother who had been amazed but proud of my determination to go sit the exam all the way in Montego Bay without lunch money!
Well they said the bus had 'just' left and since Desrick lived in the square just below the school, I hoped he might have stopped at home for a minute before heading to Montego Bay. I didn't stop to think further, I took off running. When I rounded the corner after I passed the infant school, the square in front of Desrick's shop was empty! I figured I might as well keep going and hopefully I just might catch up with the bus.
I ran and walked the more than 6 miles to Marchmont road via Catadupa, which was the opposite direction I had came, taking the few shortcuts I could but I did not catch up with the bus.
When I arrived in Marchmont Road square huffing and puffing and sweating, my heart pounding in my chest, my throat and mouth parched and disappointment flooding my chest, I remembered that just as I was passing the roses tree on my way out the yard, my brother Winston had said to me:
I had forgotten the two dollars until then. I took it out of my pocket and stared at it with grateful reverence and joy.
Bus fare!! Hallelujah! I screamed in my mind.
Never mind that the times I had gone to Montego Bay on my way to and from Ms. Wilson's house in Chatham had been with my mother and I had trudged beside and behind her blindly, too overwhelmed by the big city sights to note and retain any landmarks; I had bus fare, I was at the bus stop, now all I needed was a bus.
Soon one came and I hopped on board, making sure to tell the driver and conductor my plight. All I knew was that the exam was being held at Senior High School (Now St. James High). They tried to tell me where it was.
"Ohh! that a near Jarrett Park man! Easy fi fine!" they assured me.
Oh yeah!? I thought dubiously, we will see.
I sat with my heart in my throat the entire journey to Montego Bay, anxious for the bus to get there. The exam would start at 9:30am. It was a little past 8:00am when I got into the bus. I made it to Montego Bay a little past nine and with plenty instructions from everyone I saw, I managed to find the school.
When I hurried into the school yard, my friends and some other students were standing around talking. The exam began shortly after I arrived. I had spent $1.50 for my bus fare and used the remaining fifty cents to buy some icy mints and a pack of sandwich biscuit at lunch time.
I passed the exam for Garvey Maceo Comprehensive High School in Clarendon, but due to the indignation of my Aunt Effie, who I had lived with for a few years when I was growing up, I ended up at Kingston Technical High School instead.
When my mother sent her the book list asking her to assist with buying some of the itemes which included a machete and water boots (the school had a strong agricultural component) she declared:
"My niece too bright fi put on water boot and go chop bush! Dem mad? I am not buying anything on that list! Send her come to me, I will get her into a good school before September." And she did.
When I got back home and told my mother and my brothers how the bus had left me and how I found my own way to Montego Bay and took the exam, my mother was incredulous but proud. Winston on the other hand, simply gloated.
"You seet doah! You can't stand me and talk bout how you no like me cause mi love beat you, and if it wasn't for my two dollars, you couldn't teck the exam! A mi save you! Yuh fi tank mi!"
I had to agree, but that didn't prevent me from telling him my mind whenever he would annoy me. By then he had stopped beating me as I had gotten big, but would always try to win me in our frequent arguments.
It was Winston's eternal meddling that also ensured that when my father died so suddenly, he and I were on speaking terms.
When my father was found dead, face down in Belfont river with crayfish feasting on his upper lip, (Please refer to Blog Post #3: "Somebody Can Just Dead So?!") I was in the middle of my adolescence life crisis. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, and my father who by that time was miraculously sober sometimes, (things had gotten tough, he was no longer helping Mass Campbell to butcher cows, as the business had closed down) so he had less money to spend on rum.
Alas! He was sober enough to noticed that I was doing a lot of running around on the streets at nights with my cousin Karen and a clique of girls, Eloreen and her two cousins, who most people thought were not the best company for anyone to keep.
Elo and her cousins seemed alright to me and the most we would do was walk far, far to street dances in neigbouring communities, buss the latest dances, give some trouble and make up whole heap of noise pon road a night time to make the journey back home seem shorter.
My Father, mother and brothers (especially Winston) constantly reminded me that I had gone all the way to Kingston to attend high school, then come back to Belfont and attended community college in Montego Bay, had gotten a 'nice, nice, job at Water Commission while holding down a big job on weekends at the Airport.'
Elo and her cousins on the other hand, had not been further than St. Leonard's All Age and Cambridge High School and had not worked a day in their lives. My mother and father and brothers were concerned that they would help 'turn me wutless'.
Things came to a head with my father, (who had never reprimanded me before a day in his life!) told me to stop keeping company with the girls and stop walking so late at night on the dark roads as a young girl had been recently raped in another district. I felt invincible and besides, we always walked together, which boy inna dem right mind woulda try rape we? Afta dem no mad!
But my father was concerned about my safety and well-being. A bar above Marchmont Road had been held up by gunmen while he was in there playing dominoes and drinking a few months before as well. The bartender and owner had been robbed and shot in her side. These two incidents in the usually quiet districts shook everybody up.
One evening when me and Eloreen them were dressed to the nines and trying to figure out which direction to head in, my father called me away from my friends in big, big Marchie square one evening and repeated his demands quite loudly and angrily, trowing in a few derogatory words aimed at my girlfriends right in front of everybody.
I was embarassed and incredibly ashamed.
"Christine!! Christine!" he bellowed, sufficiently sober for his voice to carry far, "How much time mi fi talk to you 'bout the same thing? Mi no tell you say you fi stop walk up and down pon street with them careless girl deh!?"
Shocked that my father had dared talk to me like that, and so publicly, (he was usually an exceptionally quiet man) I promptly stopped talking to him. In fact, I had only started talking back to him on my visit to Belfont for the week end, during my one month orientation for my new job with the Jamaica Telephone company.
Thus, I owed Winston debt number two for being the one to convince me to talk back to my father. Never being one to keep his opinions to himself, he reminded me that Eustace was my father and while he had his wutless ways, I should respect him and his opinions.
He suggested that I mend fences with him and for once in my life, I listened. My father and I sat under the mango tree in front of my brother's Earl shop the day before I was to take the train to return to Kingston and had a nice enough talk. He asked me how the new work was going, I told him it was going fine, he told me about his cows and so we 'mended fences'.
The next morning he carried some soft yams to give to me to take to Kingston with me. I gave him some money, rubbed his head (we were not a family that hugged,) and I never saw him alive again.
So when everybody in Belfont was casting around for clues as to who could have killed my father, I was one of the most vehement among them.
My father's sudden unexplained death was painful, very painful, and it didn't help that it appeared that some one with whom I had grown up, might have killed him.