It was early morning hours when we finally left Kevin’s house. The talk about Kevin’s childhood birthday party had got me all excited, thinking that he was flirting with me, but I had been disappointed to see that he hadn’t really paid me much attention after that. It looked like I’d read too much into his behaviour. I still had a good time the rest of the night, but after a movie, some dominoes, and a lot of talking and laughter, it had suddenly hit me that I was exhausted. Jeremy saw my head starting to buck and decided it was time to call it a night. Although I wanted to stay longer (after all, I was enjoying staring at Kevin in between my extended blinks), I had to admit that the night was over for me. On the car ride home, I had to keep my window wide open and let the breeze blow in just to stay awake and keep my cousin company as he drove. When we got home, it took me less than a minute to fall asleep.
“So are you ready to go?” asked Aunt Sharon, standing in the doorway of the guest room and watching with a smile as I struggled to fit all of my things back into my suitcases.
“Yeah, I think so,” I answered after finally managing to cram in my last pair of shoes. The suitcase almost groaned audibly as I zipped it up. So yes, I had bought a few things this past week, but it seemed as if everything I had brought with me had somehow doubled in size. I raised an eyebrow as I envisioned opening it again once I got to campus and having everything pop out at me like some kind of magic trick.
“I can’t believe it’s been a week since I came to Jamaica!” On the one hand, it had flown by, but on the other hand, it felt like I had been on the island forever. I had visited my mother’s parents as well as a few other family members, spent a day at Hellshire beach with Jeremy and Bridget, and gone shopping with my aunt for all of my school things. To my mother’s relief, I had also found time to open a bank account and to buy a cell phone. After I had done both, I had been surprised at the sense of accomplishment I had felt, as if now I had received outside confirmation, even if just from a bank and a phone company, that I could be a temporary local. I had also thought about Kevin more than I’d thought about Colin, which I saw as a good sign that being in Jamaica was helping me to get over my break-up.
I’d had a fun and busy week, but now I was itching to get started at UWI. I was quite comfortable at my aunt’s house but, after all, I hadn’t come to Jamaica to vacation with my family. “I’m all done packing, I think.” I suddenly felt a twinge of anxiety. “I just hope that this orientation won’t be too rough,” I mumbled, nibbling at my nails. I had already been through orientation once before when I started at U of T but I figured that in order to get the full UWI experience, and also as an easy way to meet people, I should participate in this orientation as well. But I was starting to feel nervous as to what kind of torture I would have to endure. I was just as nervous, if not more so, about if I would make any friends or not.
“But why you look so nervous, Nadiya!? Don’t worry, my dear, you will be very tired at the end of it all, but I’m sure you’ll have a good time. Now let me go see if your cousin is ready to go. Today is the one day that I can actually get him to move at a proper speed!” she dryly threw over her shoulder as she walked to Jeremy’s open door.
Sure enough, Jeremy was all packed and chomping at the bit. He was quite eager to get started on his new independent life, and couldn’t feign any sadness despite both his parents’ complaints as they all piled into the car. “I not even leavin’ the city!” he finally declared impatiently.
Half an hour later, we were down at the university. “What a whole heap o’ people!” Bridget exclaimed wide-eyed, her face pressed against the car window. The whole school seemed to be buzzing with action as countless students invaded the campus, like ants on a piece of discarded food. Returning students were greeting each other and staring down the “freshers”, new students were looking nervous at leaving their families, and everyone seemed excited to get things started.
I volunteered to be dropped off first; I figured it would be best to give the family some private time to say goodbye to Jeremy (Aunt Sharon had already begun to let out long drawn-out sighs and mutter about “Mi one son”), and besides, I was just as eager as anyone else to get my on-campus life started. My cousin knew exactly what I was doing and scowled at me. He knew how close his mother was to crying, and if there was one thing he wanted to avoid, it was her tears. Regardless, when they left me at Rex, he promised to come and look for me when he first got a chance.
Rex Nettleford Hall was divided up into nine clusters, and each cluster in turn was divided up into twelve flats, each holding eight students. So I knew that I would have seven flatmates to share living, kitchen and bathroom space with, but when I entered my flat, there was only one other girl in there. The girl was sitting on the couch, staring at the door expectantly, clearly just dying for someone to walk in. “Hi, roomie!” the girl greeted me excitedly, jumping up and walking over with her hand extended. “My name is Cassandra. It’s nice to meet you!”
I was taken aback, but pleasantly, at her enthusiastic nature. Cassandra looked like she would be a lot of fun; she had the mischievous grin of someone who enjoyed getting into trouble. She was quite short and curvy with a head of wild, unruly hair, and I later found out that her mother was of Indian descent and her father was black. Just as many Chinese had come into Jamaica in the late 1800s as indentured labourers, so too had many Indians. A lot of them had settled in the parish of Westmoreland and that was where Cassandra was from.
“Hi, I’m Nadiya, nice to meet you too,” I replied, shaking Cassandra’s hand. “I’m an exchange student from Canada, from University of Toronto.”
“Oh wow! That’s interesting. What brought you all the way to Jamaica?”
“Well, at one time, although it was ten years ago now, I was a Jamaican,” I answered with pride. “I was born here and lived here until I was ten. I have a lot of family here too, so I come back every year on vacation. So I just thought it would be a really fun way to spend a year.”
“Well, welcome home then! You’ll have a great time here on campus, trust me on that. UWI can be a ton of fun. Too much fun in fact, judging by my grades last year,” she added ruefully. “But mi gwine mash it up dis year, I promised myself that.”
“Oh, so you’re not a first year student either then. What year are you in?”
“Second. I’m a Computer Science student.”
“OK. I’m a Caribbean Studies student back at U of T, so I’m taking pretty much the same kind of classes while I’m here. I’m actually in my third year, so I’m somewhat of an old lady, I guess.”
“Are you ready for this week then, old lady?” Cassandra giggled. “I went through it last year; it’s fun, but wow, is it exhausting! This year, I get to be on the other side of things, thank goodness.”
I grinned. “Well, ready or not, I don’t have a choice anymore!”
“Good morning.” A third, quiet voice interrupted our conversation, coming from the girl who had just walked in the door. This girl was almost the opposite of Cassandra in looks. She actually reminded me of a much taller version of my mother, with the same dark and perfect complexion and close-cropped natural hairstyle. She was stunning and looked like she should be on a runway in Milan or Paris with her five-foot-ten thin frame and modelesque features. She would have been able to fit right in with any of the models that Jamaica had produced in recent years; I could easily picture her standing beside a Jaunel McKenzie or a Jeneil Williams. In fact, Arlene had already been approached on the street by the head of one of Jamaica’s top modelling agencies but she was much too shy and much too devoted to her career goals to consider it.
“Hi there!” greeted Cassandra. “I’m Cassandra and this is Nadiya.”
I gave a small wave. “Hi, it’s nice to meet you.” I could see the slightly puzzled look on the girl’s face at my accent and added by way of explanation, “I’m a third year exchange student from University of Toronto.”
“Hello,” said the girl, with a shy smile. “I’m Arlene. It’s nice to meet you too. I’m going to be a first year law student.” In spite of being in her first year of university, Arlene was actually the oldest of the group of us that would be living together, at twenty-one. Her parents hadn’t had any money to spare, so after high school she had worked for two years in order to save up enough money for law school, living on campus, and providing enough money to help out her parents and younger sister.
“So are you from Kingston?” asked Cassandra of our newest roommate.
“No, I’m not. I’m from Mandeville actually.”
“Oh, that’s where my father’s from!” I exclaimed. “My grandparents still live there; hopefully I’ll be going there one weekend soon.”
“Well, maybe we can travel there together then. I’m going to try to go home and visit my family often.”
Before long, our little community was full of all its occupants and all of us were each in our rooms, unpacking our things. I had gulped when I had first opened my door and seen how small the room was. It was even smaller than the room I’d had in residence my first year at U of T, and I hadn’t thought that was possible. But as I started to unpack, I quickly realized that it would be able to hold everything just fine. Living here is going to be pretty cool, I thought with a small smile on my face, as I put my clothes away. I could tell already that I was really going to click with Cassandra and Arlene, and I hadn’t yet met anyone who I didn’t like.
There was a knock at my open door, and I looked up to see Arlene and Ronelle, one of our other flatmates. “Come on, Nadiya,” Ronelle said impatiently. “It’s time to get started!”
“So, Nadiya, yu’ having fun so far?” It was a few days later, and I miraculously had some time to spare to hang out with my cousin Adrianne. We were actually second cousins; our mothers were first cousins, but they had grown up practically like sisters. Adrianne was two years older than me, and when we were growing up in Jamaica, we had been extremely close. We had spent so much time together that we’d been like sisters ourselves, and people had often thought that we were. Practically every afternoon after school, one of us was at the other’s home. Moving to Canada had been a big culture shock for me, but the bigger shock to the system had been discovering that I was actually an only child and didn’t have a big sister.
Now we were all grown up, and Adrianne was a beautiful and mature fashionista, doing her internship in physiotherapy. She had been too busy to catch up with me before now, so I was really excited to finally get to see my favourite cousin again and catch up on life.
“So are you having fun so far?” Adrianne asked now, flopping on to my bed. “Is UWI treating you well?”
“Yeah, I’m having a great time!”
“Well, you look like it, but you also look well tired,” she giggled. “You’re a real bag lady, judging from your eyes.”
“Well, that’s because I am tired! I feel like I haven’t slept in months. They keep us up and busy all the time. It’s like boot camp or something, especially with the 4 AM wake-ups. You’re lucky I have time to see you now. But I can’t lie, somehow it’s fun.”
“Yeah, living on hall was fun for me too. I miss it.” Adrianne had lived on Preston Hall as a student, unarguably the most aesthetically pleasing hall on campus. Now she was living in a small apartment not too far from campus. “So you meet any cute boys yet?” she teased.
I felt myself blushing. Hectic as the week was, it hadn’t stopped me from thinking about Kevin. A lot. “There are some cute guys around…”
“Intriguing! Any one in particular you’re watching, or are you still just getting a lay of the land?”
Well, actually,” I said slowly, “there is one guy, but I haven’t seen him since the first night I got to Jamaica.”
“OK, tell me more! How did you meet him?”
“Through Jeremy. We went over to his place to watch movies that night.”
“So if he knows Jeremy, then that should be easy enough to arrange!”
“Uh-uh, I don’t think so. I do not want to get Jeremy involved in my love life. You don’t know how he is; he’ll just tease me every single day until he drives me crazy. Plus I don’t want to try to force anything, you know what I mean? He’s a medical student here, so I’m sure I’ll see him around campus at some point. Besides, if he were interested in me, he’d know how to find me.”
Adrianne looked skeptical. “Sometimes the girl has to make the first move, Nadiya. These are modern times. I say that if you don’t see him soon, you need to arrange some kind of buck-up.”
“We’ll see, we’ll see. Remember, I just broke up with someone. I’m not trying to rush into anything, I’m just looking to have fun while I’m here. So if we meet up, great. If we don’t, no big deal. Anyway, what about you, any men in your life?”
We spent the next half-hour talking about the guy that Adrianne had been dating, his two girlfriends and one daughter that she’d found out about, and a new guy she had just met the week before. She yelped when she finally glanced at her watch. “Lawd, Nadiya, yu almos’ mekkin’ me miss mi dance class. I have to leave soon, you know.”
“So you’re still dancing, eh?”
I hadn’t been surprised at all when Adrianne had chosen to be a physiotherapist, reason being that one of the things that I remembered the most from the first half of my life in Jamaica was that Adrianne was always dancing. And when we would come back to Jamaica on our annual visits, it seemed she was always running off to dance practice or performing in some recital or another. It wasn’t just that she enjoyed doing it; she had a natural talent. So it had made total sense to me that she had chosen a career that had to do with movement of the human body. Nathan, her older brother, had chosen the same career path so she was lucky enough to have a job lined up as soon as she was done; she was going to join him and his partner in private practice.
“Yes, eh,” she teased, “I am still dancing.” I’d had no idea how often I said “eh” until this trip. My hall name was, quite embarrassingly, Deportee Eh?
“Anyway,” she continued, “you know I can’t stop dancing, even if I wanted to. But this is just a dance aerobics class I’m taking at Spartan. I was in the University Dance Society when I was a student, you know, and I miss it, man! But my class is fun still, I love it.”
“You know what, Adrianne, physio is a perfect fit for you and all, but I was really expecting you to become the next Barbara Requa or something! Isn’t that what you used to always say you’d be?” Barbara Requa, along with Rex Nettleford who my hall was named after, had been a founding member of the internationally renowned National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica, and one of the island’s most famous dancers. She had also always been one of Adrianne’s idols.
One thing that had always struck me about Jamaica was how talented, and perhaps under-appreciated, the artists were for such a small country. It had produced an amazing number of singers, dancers, actors, writers, fashion designers, painters and sculptors for its size, and it was brimming with talent in all those fields. It seemed like everyone in the world knew about reggae music and Bob Marley, sure, but that was far from all that Jamaica had to offer. Any tourist who came to the island could attest to the large number of talented artisans whose crafts could often be seen on various beaches or in craft markets. Many examples of beautiful Jamaican art could be seen in the island’s various galleries, my favourite of which was the National Gallery of Jamaica. I was blown away all over again every time that I saw Edna Manley’s sculptures. As for acting, there was a large and well-supported theatre life, which culminated every year in National Pantomime. When we’d lived in Jamaica, we had never missed one of the Christmas-time productions and I had vivid memories of seeing famous actors like Oliver Samuels, Leonie Forbes and Louise Bennett up on stage. Jamaica had also produced many great writers and poets, many of whom I’d been introduced to in my Caribbean Studies program, like Roger Mais, Barry Chevannes, Rachel Manley, Anthony Winkler, and Claude McKay. The Jamaican arts community was alive and booming, and I had always thought that my cousin would be an integral part of it.
“Trust me, Nadiya, there is nothing I would like to do more. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I like physiotherapy, it’s interesting, and I know I’ll be happy doing it. But dance…now that’s my number one love.”
“Well, that’s good that you’re leaving time on the side for it then.”
Adrianne grinned widely. “Well…I’m actually thinking of doing a lot more than that. I’m thinking of going back to school part-time! You’re the first person that I’m telling.”
“You mean go back and study dance?”
“Yes! I want to go to Edna Manley.” I knew that she was referring to the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts. “They have a certificate program that I can take. I would still work with Nathan part-time, but I could also really pursue dance in a legitimate way. You know, Nadiya,” she continued, “you mention Barbara Requa. She’s my idol. My dream is to be a member of the NDTCJ, just like she was. You know, all of the dancers in there are volunteers, and they have normal day jobs? And I mean, there are many other great dance companies in Jamaica if that doesn’t work out. But that’s what I’m aiming for.”
“Wow, Adrianne! That sounds like a great plan.” I had seen the NDTCJ perform several times, both in Jamaica and in Toronto, and they were definitely Jamaica’s best-known dance troupe. The dancers were all absolutely incredible, but I knew my cousin was good enough to be one of them.
“Yeah, I think so! We’ll see. I haven’t run it by Mummy and Daddy yet, but I don’t think they would be that shocked. They mus’ know by now how I feel about the whole thing.” She looked at her watch and yelped again. “Awright, I gone, I gone. I definitely gwine be late now.” She gave me a quick hug and as she ran out the door, she added, “And mek sure seh you talk to that boy by the next time we speak!”
I pointedly ignored that last statement. I wasn’t going to “mek sure seh” anything. I planned to just go on enjoying myself and meeting people, and when I bumped into Kevin, I would bump into him. I was dying to see him again, but I had no intentions of forcing that to happen. I wasn’t shy by any means, but I also wasn’t used to making the first move. I wouldn’t even have the slightest idea how to do that! I imagined myself sidling up to Kevin on campus as he stood with a group of friends, and giving him a wink and a slap on the rear. No, I’m definitely not going to seek him out, I confirmed to myself with a shudder. I’m not making a fool of myself. Besides, I’m not looking for anything serious, remember? No need to get fixated on one guy. Even if he is the world’s best-looking male.