For the rest of that night, I could barely contain myself. The upcoming dinner was the only thing that I could think about. I was dying to tell Adrianne what I was going to say the next night, but I stopped myself. No, it will be more fun if I tell everyone at once. They’re all going to be so excited!
The next morning though, my upcoming announcement had to take a back seat. My focus was fully turned to the anticipation of seeing my mother and father for the first time in four months.
“I’ve never seen somebody so happy to see their family,” Aunt Angela declared at breakfast. “You are absolutely beaming, Nadiya!” She turned to her daughter. “You could learn a thing or two about the importance of family from your cousin.”
Adrianne raised an eyebrow. “I have, Mummy, that absence makes the heart grow fonder! Send me to Paris or London for a year and I promise I’ll miss you just as much.”
Aunt Angela rolled her eyes in response. “I should have known to expect an answer like that from you. Just make sure you’re ready to go to the airport on time, please, so that poor Nadiya doesn’t have to wait an extra minute to see her parents.”
“Don’t worry, Aunt Angela,” I said cheerily. “I won’t let her be late.” I kept my word; I spent the rest of the morning prodding and nagging my cousin into finishing breakfast, showering and getting dressed in a timely manner.
Early afternoon found Adrianne and me standing at the airport, anxiously waiting for my parents to come outside. We had arrived at the airport at the same time as their plane was supposed to land, which Adrianne found totally unnecessary. “Nadiya, you haven’t heard of customs and immigration?!” But I didn’t care, I wanted to be absolutely sure that we didn’t leave them waiting. As we stood in the crowd of people waiting to see friends and family come out the airport doors, it took me back to a few months ago when I had landed. That felt like a lifetime ago, and now here I was, on the other end, the one welcoming people to the island.
After forty-five minutes of waiting, I finally saw through the door the silhouettes of my father’s large figure approaching with my petite mother beside him. “There they are!” I squealed.
Seconds later, I was in a huge embrace with first my mother and then my father. “Nadiya, you look wonderful! Your hair’s gotten longer and looks healthier,” said my mother with a smile, stroking my hair. “It must be because you don’t have to deal with that dry winter air.”
“And what a way yu’ get dark!” exclaimed my father. “You look good; it looks like you’re enjoying the sun down here.”
I grinned. “Isn’t this a nice change from the winter weather?”
The whole ride back to the house, which was a long one, my parents and I were chattering non-stop. If the breathless babbling wouldn’t tip you off to how excited we were to see each other, then the loud volume of our conversation would. I think Adrianne quickly resigned herself to the fact that she wasn’t going to be contributing to the conversation, not this time. The three of us just couldn’t hide how happy we were to see each other, and my parents were also obviously excited just to be back on the island. They loved Toronto just as much as I did, but at the end of the day, there was only one place where they truly felt at home. Even through all the non-stop talking, I could see both of them looking out the window the entire time, trying to store everything they saw until their next trip back just like I always did.
When we got back to Adrianne’s house, after a flurry of greetings, my parents dropped their suitcases in the guest room and then we all went to sit on the veranda. “Woy, this is the life,” said my mother happily as Adrianne brought out a tray with two Red Stripes for the men, and june plum juice for the women. She took a big swallow from her glass and sighed loudly. “I had forgotten how good june plum tastes.”
I watched my father as he let out his own sigh of contentment and looked out on the lush lawn and elaborate garden in front of him. Adrianne’s parents worked diligently on their garden and it showed. It was filled with all kinds of tropical flowers: pink anthuriums, orange birds of paradise, red heliconias, yellow hibiscus… But his favourite by far, and mine too, was the orchids. Jamaica had hundreds of types of orchids and it seemed like my aunt and uncle had one of each of them, in all different shades and colours. It was a garden that only the tropics could produce. The vivid colours of the garden, the green grass of the lawn, the blue sky above him…I could tell from the look on his face that he felt like he had been transported into paradise. A little hummingbird suddenly appeared, flitting around the flowers and he let out a small chuckle at how perfect it all was. “Bwoy, an’ to think that I had to shovel the driveway this morning just so that we could reach the airport!”
I made a face at the thought of snow and of shovels. I didn’t miss being out there beside him, shovelling for what felt like an eternity, coming in after we were done with my arms and back aching, only to have the snow start falling all over again. In all my years, I had never gotten used to the Canadian winter weather.
“Yu see how Jamaica nice!” laughed Aunt Angela. “We don’t have to deal with things like that here. We have our own issues, mind you, but snow is not one of them.” Her face suddenly lit up. “Marcia, you know who I saw the other day? You remember Jean Hutchins, who was at Seacole with us?”
“Of course! We used to always tease her about how skinny she was, and call her Bag of Bones.” Her mother giggled. “She used to get so vex.”
“Well, you would never believe. She’s here visiting from England and she must weight at least 200 pounds now. You would never believe it was the same person. She says she wants to see you while you’re here.”
“What!? No, Angela, a lie you a tell! I can’t believe she could be that big. I have to mek sure I see her!”
“Let the gossiping begin,” Adrianne whispered to me as I snickered. When the two women started talking about people, they were an unstoppable force. They would go on for hours if something didn’t happen to cut them off. Our two fathers were used to it, and both sighed and exchanged looks. But they had their own standard conversation that always started up when they saw each other.
“So Kenneth!” my father boomed. “Which party gwine win de next election? What yu tink?” Without fail, the two men could always fill up the time their wives spent gossiping with talk about who was in power, who should be in power, and what they should do once they got into power.
After about an hour of sitting on the veranda, the men talking politics, the women catching up on gossip, and us daughters just soaking it all in, Aunt Angela declared, “Owen and Marcia, just so you two know, I am not cooking tonight, and the helper is gone home for the weekend. So that means we are taking you out for dinner. Nathan is coming too.”
“That sounds lovely!” my mother responded. “Where are we going?”
“Is everyone alright with the Grog Shoppe?”
“Oh yay!” I burst out, clapping my hands like a child. The Grog Shoppe at Devon House was one of my parents’ favourites because of its rustic ambience and great food, but all that I cared about was that going there meant that we could also go to I Scream. Nobody could ever tell me that there was any better ice cream to be found anywhere than their Devon Stout. “We have to go for ice cream after!”
Uncle Ken laughed heartily. “You and your auntie think alike, Nadiya, because that is exactly how she made the decision about where to go. She won’t let us leave there without ice cream, trust me.”
I already knew it was going to be the perfect evening. Everyone was in the best of spirits, we were going to have a wonderful dinner, Adrianne and I were going to make our announcements about our futures, and we would put a cap on a great night with some divine Jamaican dessert. I couldn’t wait for the evening to start!
We sat outside talking for a little while longer, but as the hour got later and stomachs started to rumble, everyone started breaking off to go get ready for dinner. Not surprisingly considering my impatience to get the show on the road, I finished getting ready before my cousin did, so I left Adrianne in her room to finish putting on her make-up and headed down the hall to the guest room. My father was downstairs with my uncle, both of them ready long before the females, so I got a chance to have some private time with my mother. “Nadiya, you look so pretty!” exclaimed Mummy with pride when I walked in the room. I had my hair down and was wearing a strapless yellow dress with a wide beige patent belt. What good genes we gave you,” she teased. “If Kevin could see you now,” she continued, eyes twinkling, “he would lose his mind.”
I rolled my eyes. “Somehow I doubt it. You haven’t seen his girlfriend. She can more than hold her own in the looks department, trust me.”
I knew what my mother was going to say next almost before she said it. “Well, if he is too stupid to see what a great catch you are, then forget about him.”
“Did I tell you about his New Year’s party? He invited me – and a date.”
Mummy raised an eyebrow. “Hmm! So who are you going to bring? Which of your many suitors will be the lucky one?”
I shrugged. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“But you don’t have much time, you know!”
“I know, I know. I’ll make up my mind soon.”
“What a life you lead! Trying to decide which man she is going to take to the ball,” she said to the air. “I hope you know how lucky you are.”
“Trust me, I do,” I giggled. “I’m not taking any of this for granted. I’m loving every minute of it.”
“I’m so glad that you’re enjoying yourself down here, Nadiya,” she said more seriously. “I knew that you were going to have a great time.”
“Mummy, you have no idea. I just feel so at home here. It’s like I never left.” I stopped myself before I said anything else. I didn’t want to say anything before the right time.
“Is what goin’ on up dere?” my uncle’s impatient voice called up the stairs. “I don’t understand why it tek women so long to get ready,” he muttered to himself, but in a voice still loud enough for all of us upstairs to hear.
My mother kissed her teeth as she put in her earrings. “I don’t understand why men are always in such a rush. Anyway, let’s go before those two down there start throwing a fit.”
Fifteen minutes later, my aunt complaining loudly about the house not being on fire, we finally left. When we got to the Grog Shoppe, Nathan was already there waiting for us at a table in the outdoor section under the huge mahogany tree. After a flurry of greetings, we settled in for a relaxing night to listen to live music and enjoy scrumptious Jamaican food. But by the time that we were barely halfway through the main meal, I already felt like I was going to burst: not with food, but with saying what I wanted to say. I had decided that I would let Adrianne make her announcement first, but I was starting to wonder if she had completely forgotten. I hoped she wasn’t planning to wait until the very end of the night! Finally, after what felt like the true meaning of eternity, Adrianne seized on a brief moment when nobody was talking. “So while we’re all gathered here, I thought it would be a good time to share something that I wanted to let everybody know,” she announced with a slightly nervous smile on her face.
Oh thank God, it’s about time, I thought with relief. It was time to get this show on the road!
“I’ve decided that I’m going to go back to school.” Both her parents looked at each other, completely baffled. She continued on hurriedly, “Everybody here knows how much I love dancing. I don’t ever want to give that up; in fact, I’ve decided I want to do a lot more of it. So I’ve decided to apply to Edna Manley College, and get a certificate in dance. I really want to be a member of the NDTCJ, and I feel like I need some formal training to do that.”
“So what about the physiotherapy?” asked Uncle Ken, frowning. I could read it in his face, he wasn’t ready yet to give his approval until he heard some practical information. He knew his daughter was talented, but JPS wasn’t giving out electricity for free!
“Oh, I still plan to join Nathan’s practice, there’s no doubt about that. But I figured that I could go to school and still work part-time.”
Aunt Angela broke out into a huge smile. “I think this is wonderful news, Adrianne! I am so proud of you for having the courage and ambition to pursue your dream. You are going to be a huge success in both of your careers, I just know it.”
Her father breathed a sigh of relief to hear that the money he’d doled out for her UWI tuition hadn’t gone down the drain, and to hear she would be supporting herself through this next phase. “Well, it sounds like you have the whole thing well thought out, so I can’t argue with what you’re proposing. I guess you won’t ever have to worry about hurting yourself while you’re dancing! You can just heal up yourself the next day wit’ your physiotherapy ting, eeh?”
Over the next ten minutes, everyone at the table started to get more excited about Adrianne’s plan. Soon, Nathan was making jokes about his sister dancing in the waiting room to entertain clients, and my mother was planning trips around the world to watch Adrianne perform. When I felt that my cousin had had her sufficient time in the spotlight (after all, I don’t want to steal her thunder!), I cleared my throat.
“So I have an announcement to make too,” I said in a loud voice so that everyone would hear me.
My father looked surprised. “Don’t tell me you want to dance too!”
I rolled her eyes. “No, Daddy. It’s something completely different. I came to a realization yesterday when Adrianne and I were talking about how good it would be to have you guys down here. I realized that Jamaica has become like home for me. So,” I paused for dramatic effect, “I’ve decided that I want to move back here. Permanently.” I was met with six blank stares, so I hurried on, figuring I knew what those looks meant. “I mean, I’m obviously going to go back to U of T at the end of the year and finish my degree, don’t worry. But then I’ll come back right here after that and do…well, do whatever it is that I decide to do with my life. But whatever that thing is, I know that I want to do it here in Jamaica.” I sat back and grinned, waiting for the same positive response that Adrianne had gotten.
My first response was from her, whose face lit up with a huge smile. “How could you keep this secret from me? That’s amazing news!” Nathan smiled and nodded, silently giving his approval. But the four older adults still had the exact same blank expressions. What’s wrong with them? I thought uneasily. I had known that my parents would be shocked, but I had been sure that they would be delighted at the news, especially since they planned to retire to Jamaica eventually. But they just seemed to be looking at me as if I had lost my mind.
“But,” Uncle Ken started, eyebrows furrowed, “I don’t know if you can make that kind of decision just from being up at UWI! Is utopia yu children livin’ in up dere! A not suh life guh outside of campus.”
“No, my dear, moving here to live permanently would be too much of a culture shock for you, I’m afraid,” my aunt added firmly. “Yu get used to Canada now, Nadiya, and the way things work there. Things don’t run so nice and smooth in Jamaica.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Just earlier that day, Aunt Angela had been boasting about how nice Jamaica was! “But I’ve been here for half a year now!” I said indignantly. “If there was going to be any culture shock, I think it would have happened already, and don’t forget, I am a Jamaican. It’s not like this is some strange foreign culture to me, this is my culture. And I know life on campus is different than life here in general, but I still think I would be happy here. It’s not like I never leave campus.” I looked at my parents. It didn’t matter what my aunt and uncle thought as long as they approved.
“Mummy? Daddy?” I prompted them, worried. “What do you think? Are you guys going to say anything?”
They looked at each other pensively before my father finally said, “I don’t know what to say.”
“How come?” I cried, frustrated. “Why is the thought of me coming back here such a terrible thing?”
“It’s not a terrible thing, Nadiya. On the one hand, I think it would be wonderful. You know that your mother and I are planning to come back here not too long from now, and we would love to have you near us. All of your family is here. And it would be nice to see some of Jamaica’s brightest come towards it instead of moving away from it. This country certainly needs more of that.”
“But…?” I prompted him.
“But on the other hand, you have to remember that there is a reason that so many Jamaicans leave, and a reason why we left. Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world. That’s not something to be taken lightly. Even if you ignore murder, there’s a lot of crime here, a lot of violence, and unfortunately, a lot of corruption too. Visiting here or going to school here doesn’t necessarily give you a good idea of what life here is all about. It’s easy enough to say that you understand that, but it would be another thing to live through it and realize that you were wrong. Just remember your Uncle Gordon.”
I felt my face burning. I still remembered the day when Daddy, angrily forcing back tears, had told me that one of his best friends had been robbed and brutally and senselessly murdered. He was right, being up on campus, I didn’t see that side of Jamaica, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t there. I knew that crime in Jamaica, especially violent crime, was at a ridiculously high level and it kept many expatriates from coming back. Criminals in Jamaica seemed to have an especially cruel streak that was hard to match in any other country. My family and many other expats had heard the stories of people moving back to their home country, just to be robbed and murdered shortly thereafter. It was something my parents often worried about with the thought of their return. And it wasn’t just violent crime that was an issue. Corruption and cronyism were pervasive in the culture as well, and I had to admit to myself that it would be hard for me to deal with if I lived there. I was used to the polite, proper and by-the-book Canadian way of doing things.
Now my mother spoke up. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, we’re not trying to dash your dreams. Just as your father said, one part of me thinks that it’s a good idea. It would be so nice to have us all together down here one day. But we just don’t want you to be naive. You have to make sure you think about all aspects of it before you make a huge decision like that. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the parties and the social life and the sun and the beach and forget everything else.”
“I hear what you’re saying, Mummy,” I mumbled, looking down at my plate. Now I just wanted the conversation to end. I understood their concerns, I really did, but I still couldn’t help feeling that this was where I belonged. But maybe just going off feelings would be a frivolous way to make such a life-changing decision. As normal conversation slowly started again around the table, Adrianne leaned in to me and whispered, “Don’t worry too much about it, Nadiya. I know you’re going to end up making the right decision, whatever that may be.”