Sunday morning, as I lay in bed, I thought back on the night before. Pretty good night overall, I thought with a grin. I had spent a lot of time with Gary, who fortunately hadn’t asked me any questions about Kevin, and had a good time with him, but eventually Kim and Arlene had dragged me away. While I was off with them, yet another guy, a very good-looking young businessman named Mark, had approached me. He was a recent grad of a university in Florida, and now had what sounded like a pretty high-powered job with one of the local rum companies. Even if I had wanted to say no, which I definitely hadn’t, my friends would not have let me leave without getting his information. Regardless, I’d had a fabulous time with my friends, guys or no guys. We had danced the whole night away and been out until all hours. Our stop for some pan chicken afterward had dragged out the night even longer and been the perfect bookend.
I actually felt myself starting to drift off to sleep again and rubbed my eyes. I need to get my lazy butt out of bed and stop daydreaming. I have a paper to start writing, and more work on top of that. The thought of my soon-due assignment was enough to wake me up, although I truthfully could have spent the next few hours sleeping. I hopped out of bed, took a quick shower, and headed down to the computer lab with my notes.
When I finally felt I had made a dent in my assignment, and was walking back to my cluster, my cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number. “Hello?” I answered, curious to see who it was.
“Good afternoon Nadiya!” a guy’s voice greeted me cheerily. “Did you have a good time last night?” It was Mark, the guy I had met the night before!
“I did, Mark, I had a wonderful time actually.”
“Good, I’m glad to hear it. And I’m glad to hear that you remember me! Would you like to have a wonderful time again today?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Hmm, I’m intrigued. What exactly is it that you have in mind?”
“Well, you know, it’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I thought it would be the perfect day to take my new friend Nadiya to see Hope Gardens. Have you been there yet?”
“I remember going there when I was really young, and going to the zoo, but I haven’t been there since I’ve been at UWI.” I could get used to this, going on dates all the time, and getting the Kingston tour while I was at it!
“In high school, I used to like to go there on nice days with a couple of patties and study. It’s calm, quiet, and very pretty.”
“Well, you’re in luck. I just finished working on a paper, so it’s perfect timing.”
“Great! So how about this then: we’re going to Hope Gardens to get to know each other better! How does that sound?”
“Sounds perfect, as long as you promise we’ll grab a couple of those patties on the way. I can be ready whenever.”
“Good! How about an hour or so then?”
Two hours later found the two of us strolling through the gardens, each with two patties and a box juice in our bellies. Mark was just as cute as I remembered and really gregarious.
“I’m glad you agreed to go out with me today, Nadiya. And I hope by the time that you get to know me that you will be too. I’m a very interesting person, you know,” he said solemnly, eyebrows raised.
“Oh really?” I raised a single eyebrow in response. “Tell me one thing that makes you so interesting.”
“Hmm, let’s see, where do I begin? Well, I’m a Maroon, for starters.” He paused. “Do you know what that means?”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course I do! I am a Jamaican, you know, in spite of my accent, and besides, I’m a Caribbean Studies major. Give me some credit.” I couldn’t remember ever not knowing about the Maroons, the group of enslaved Africans who had chosen to take a chance on freedom in the mountains rather than continue to live in slavery on the plantations. They were an integral part of Jamaican history.
He smiled. “OK, sorry, sorry. I was born here in Kingston, but both of my parents are from Accompong. Both sets of my grandparents are still there, so we go to visit all of the time, especially in January for the annual celebrations.” I could see the pride in his face that he felt about his culture as he was talking.
“What’s Accompong like? It’s in St. Elizabeth, right?”
“I’m impressed! Yes, in Cockpit Country. How can I describe it? It’s sacred ground! There are no police there and we have never needed them. The land is communally owned. It’s very rural, and the roads there…aren’t exactly high quality. You’ll find a modern building right next to a building that’s a century old. It’s this ancient sacred land, but then there are tourists there all the time. It’s a very small place, a few hundred people, but you should see it at the celebrations in January! Thousands of people, Nadiya. A lot of people have had to leave the town though, just like my parents did, to find work. Sometimes I worry about how small it’s getting.”
“So what about the younger generation? Are they committed to keeping their heritage?” I asked as we sat down on a bench. “I mean, look at you. You don’t live there but it’s obviously a part of you, and still home.”
His brow wrinkled. “But you know what, a lot of the younger people, and I’m including people my age here, not just little children, aren’t really connected to their roots. Some of them just don’t understand the significance of who we are and what an important part of Jamaican history we are.”
I shook my head sadly. “That’s such a shame. It’s such an amazing history; it would be awful for that culture to disappear.”
He smiled brightly. “There are many of us who won’t let that happen, believe me. I must say, I’m impressed with your interest in my background. So now, tell me about yours and we’ll see if you’re as interesting as I am! How did your family end up in Toronto?”
After another hour of conversation, I reluctantly told him that I had to get back. “I really would love to stay and talk some more, but I have other schoolwork that I need to do for tomorrow”
“No problem, Nadiya. We have lots of time to get to know each other.”
“Yes, we do, and I’m looking forward to it!”
“I’m so excited that my parents are coming tomorrow!” I squealed, clapping my hands in anticipation and bouncing up and down on the bed. Adrianne’s cat, Gustav, hissed at me to express his displeasure at my actions, which had disrupted his sleep. He had shown up at the family’s doorstep the day after the hurricane for which he was named had hit, and Adrianne had insisted that they keep him. I glared back at the cat as he haughtily repositioned himself on the bed. I couldn’t stand the thing. He was always hissing at me, and wanted nothing from anyone besides food, but Adrianne always countered by telling me that one had no choice but to be cold-hearted and hateful after being alone and unprotected during a hurricane.
“I’m going to ignore that look you just gave my cat, only because I know how happy you are about tomorrow!” She knew that my parents and I were very close, especially with me being an only child. Growing up, I had been the kind of kid that was always glued to my parents’ hips. This was my first time on the island without them and the longest that I’d ever gone in my life without seeing them. Having them there for a while would make things feel just right for me. “But seriously, you must miss them so much. You haven’t seen them in so long!”
“I really, really do. And you know what, I didn’t even realize how much until it got closer to when they were coming!”
“So this means your time in Jamaica is about halfway over now, you know. How does it feel?”
That was a good question. School had just ended for the term, and I was staying at Adrianne’s parents’ house for the Christmas holidays, where my parents would also be staying. Happy as I was that my parents were coming and that I could finally take a breather from school, I was also sad, because their arrival meant that my year was drawing ever closer to its conclusion. I didn’t want this one-year journey to end. The past few months had flown by, and to think that I had only the same amount of time left was really disconcerting.
The reason the time had gone so quickly was because I was just having so much fun! I was still dating; over the last little while, Mark and I had been getting to know each other and spending a fair amount of time together. I really enjoyed hanging out with him. Omar and I were strictly friends now, but I was still going out with Gary from time to time. He was starting to also slowly fall into the friends category though (I found him a little too serious). And I had just met a very cute high school teacher, although we’d only had the chance to hang out a couple of times so far.
Then of course there was the opportunity to spend time with my extended family, something I normally would have done only one or two weeks a year at most. I loved having all of my aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins just a car ride away. It felt like I had had Sunday dinner at a different home each week. Just the week before, I had taken Bridget and two of her girlfriends to a movie and had an absolute ball. I’d felt like I was a kid again. As I’d listened to the little Campionites talk, I’d thought with a pang that I’d missed out on quite an experience by not having gone to high school in Jamaica. Although I knew the schools were a lot stricter, they also seemed to be a lot more fun! Loyalty for high schools in Jamaica seemed as high, or even higher, than for halls on campus at UWI.
Fast as the months had gone by though, it also felt like I had been in Jamaica forever. I had acclimatized better than I ever could have imagined, and now I really felt like I was a Jamaican again. People had even started to notice a slight Jamaican lilt to my speech! I felt so at home that sometimes it would catch me off guard when I remembered that I was a U of T student, not a UWI one. My classes here at UWI were tough but I had worked really hard at them and it had paid off; all of my teachers were impressed with the work I’d done so far. And the friends I’d made felt like people I’d known for years. I now considered Arlene and Cassandra two of my very best friends.
“Adrianne, I don’t ever want to leave, honestly. I’m enjoying it so much down here, I don’t want to go back. I wish this year could last forever.” I now realized that I had been infatuated before, but in the past few months, I had fallen completely in love with Jamaica.
My thoughts, as they still often did, turned to Kevin. Despite my very best efforts, I liked him even more now than I had when I first found out about Lily, and honestly, more than I’d ever liked a guy before. Over the past months, we had seen each other quite a bit, usually through bumping into each other on campus, or occasionally while out at various parties, although school afforded him less of an opportunity for that. I really felt that we’d gotten closer as friends and wanted to nurture that, but I was still too nervous to ask him for his number. I knew it was silly, but my heart rate went up whenever I thought about asking. I felt like he would take one look at me and realize, “Hey, you’re madly in love with me, aren’t you? Awww, how cute!” Besides, he had never asked me for mine.
I occasionally asked him how Lily was doing (disappointingly, the answer was always a very enthusiastic “Great!”), and he in turn would ask me about the various guys that I was dating. He was actually having a formal party at his father’s house for New Year’s Eve, and had encouraged me to come – and bring a date. I hadn’t decided yet who I wanted to bring, and had so far managed to avoid the topic of New Year’s with both Gary and Mark. Every time that one of them tried to bring it up, I would find some way to change the subject, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that up forever. I was actually seriously debating not bringing anyone, because it just wouldn’t be fair to that guy. I thought of New Year’s as a special time to spend with a special person, and, whoever I chose to bring, I’d be paying much more attention to Kevin all night. But then the thought of being there without a date, watching Kevin and Lily stare into each other’s eyes, wasn’t a pleasant one either.
I turned my attention back to my cousin. “So how’s everything going with you anyway? How’s your internship going? You’re halfway through too.”
Adrianne smiled and shrugged, as she stroked Gustav’s coat. “It’s going good, I guess. I’m enjoying it. They’re working me hard though!”
She seemed content, but I couldn’t help thinking again about the joy that I had always seen on Adrianne’s face when she was dancing. “Are you still thinking of doing the dance program that we talked about?”
“Of course! In fact, I’ve decided that I’m definitely going to do it. I mean, assuming that I get in,” she added with a grin.
“Oh wow, Adrianne! Well, congratulations on making the decision. You’ll get in, I’m sure of it.”
“I kind of think so too. But I don’t want to be too cocky. Anyway, I have it all planned out. I think that I’ll be able to work with Nathan and his partner part-time and do the program too. I think Mummy and Daddy will be happy with that, if they see I have a sensible plan? What do you think?”
“I’m sure they will. So when are you going to tell them?”
“Well, we’re going out to dinner tomorrow night when your parents are here. I thought that I would announce it to everybody then.”‘ She smiled excitedly. “Won’t it be nice to have us all together? Just like when we were little and you lived here.”
Adrianne’s words struck a chord. Our mothers were quite close, and when we were young, our families had been together all the time. I would have been at Adrianne’s house, or Adrianne at mine, at least once or twice a week. Our mothers would go to the plaza together, to the hairdresser together, and had always taken us along. I knew that my mother had missed her cousin even more than her brother and sister when she had left the island. This dinner really would be a nice little reunion for all of us.
I wonder what life would be like if I did live here permanently, I suddenly thought. I knew that my parents were planning to retire to Jamaica, so eventually they would both be there too. I loved the idea of living near all of my family; while growing up in Canada I had missed out on that experience. And even though I had only known them for a short period of time, I felt confident that the friendships I’d made so far this year would last. I loved Jamaican culture, how friendly and honest the people were, and the relaxed mentality, and felt like I had really recaptured it. Moving back was something I had never thought about before. But why not? I could definitely have a full and happy life living here.
I suddenly made up my mind. I wasn’t usually one to be impulsive, but this just felt right. I had an announcement of my own that I was going to make at that dinner too. Adrianne wasn’t the only one who had made a life-altering decision! I couldn’t wait to see the look on everyone’s face when I announced that I was going to come back to Jamaica.