“What a liar,” “That stupid, old, lying woman.” Annette thought and sucked her teeth. Everybody thought Ma Betsy was some kind of prophet. And, because everybody thought that they reverence her as if she is some sort of goddess.
Mary, the shop keeper, sends a small bag of grocery to her every weekend. Mr. Brown would chop the grass around her little two bedroom concrete house. The dressmaker uses whatever pieces of cloth she can, from materials brought to her for outfits to be sown, to make skirts and tank tops for Ma Betsy. “The woman has everybody looking after her and living easy just because she fills their heads with a bunch of lies.” Annette hissed under her breath.
So what if she told Maisy, the dressmaker, to buy the raffle ticket that caused her to win the sewing machine and so was able to support herself and leave her husband who would beat her for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Everyone was buying those raffle tickets at the time and encouraging everyone else to buy them because they came with a lot of other prizes and they were being sold to make money for the new school building. In the small community where she lived, everyone had a child or relative who went to the school anyway.
And, so what if she had suggested that Mr. Brown get up before daybreak so he could take his wife to see the foreign doctor who was visiting the community clinic for a few days? The doctor was to catch an early flight back to his country and so had to get to the city early. He was taking a last look at the clinic and collecting his things when Mr. Brown and his wife showed up and begged him to spare a few minutes. His wife was sick for a long while and neither the old doctor nor the two nurses who were stationed there could tell what was wrong with her. He explained that she was being treated for typhoid but treatments weren’t helping. The doctor said she had typhus which was a disease often confused with typhoid, left hurriedly, and sent information and medication back to the clinic.
“So what,” “So what, all coincidences!” she shouted, and frightened the cat so much that he jumped through the window. Tom-Tom’s dog happened to be skulking around the yard and made a mad dash for the cat. Annette watched in alarm as the cat barely escaped with its life.
That did it. She broke down in huge sobs and like all women when they cry they dredge up the past and reflect. She was just out of high school and she was full of ambition spurring from her desires to own her own hairdressing salon and the fact that everyone expected her to because of her natural knack to make herself and others look stunning for any occasion.
James came to the community. He was on vacation, he said. He drove a nice car and he dressed sharp. Although he was supposed to be on vacation, he was at someone’s house everyday trying to sell them life insurance. No one was fooled, but he was a very nice guy and everyone liked him. The young women competed for him. Annette “won”. How was she to know he was already married? How was she to know he would leave the district the very next day she told him she was pregnant? How the girls who had lost taunted and ridiculed her. How ashamed her parents, who were previously very boastful of her was. They were not well off and she was their only child.
Well, to be able to take care of her son, she had to go and work for Tracy. Tracy was one of those who ‘lost’ and though she tried, she could not hide her dislike for Annette very well. However, Tracy knew that more than half of her clients, to the salon she owned, came because of Annette and the others came for convenience. Hers was the only salon in the community; plus Annette could even do fake nails so whenever there was a special event like a wedding or graduation there was a high demand.
The day Annette came home from the hospital Ma Betsy came to visit her. Everyone else who was squeezed into the small living room stepped aside to make a path for her as if she was the baby’s fairy godmother. She went up to Annette and without even looking at the baby she whispered, “This boy will make you lift your head once again in this community.” She left immediately afterwards. Annette was delighted to hear that and because she wanted to have the last laugh she didn’t tell a single soul what Ma Betsy said.
Well she hadn’t laughed yet. Jay had brought her so much pain and disgrace that she rarely looked anyone in the eyes anymore. The boy was a thief. There was no way of sugar coating it. Even though his last attempt to break into Mr. Paul’s chicken coop caused him a broken arm from the beating he received from Mr. Paul’s three sons, that didn’t help. This morning she received a message from the District Corporal that he was in jail again for stealing a tire off John’s car that he used as a taxi. Annette sobbed louder and she made up her mind that if Ma Betsy came back to the salon for her once a month hair straightening she would burn her with the ironing comb purposefully.
Jay was twenty one years old. He wasn’t on drugs; he wasn’t hungry. He had all he needed and never worked a day in his life. “Why? Why?” Annette asked herself over and over again. “Lazy.” her dad would say, “Just pure lazy.” “Just like that cat you keep around here.” “Thief just like the boy.”
The cat shrieked. Annette looked through the window and saw the dog, making off down the street, holding the cat by the neck in its mouth. Annette shuddered. “Lord God!” she sighed, “What now?”
She hurried out the gate towards the station and saw the crowd when she got there. Everyone turned to look at her and though it didn’t seem possible she hung her head even lower. To her surprise though, some of her clients who had become her friends, rushed to meet her. She saw tears in their eyes and was puzzled. Well that’s a first she thought, they weren’t usually sorry for her, they were usually angry with her for not putting Jay out of her home and disowning him for all the shame he caused her. As she got nearer the station door she heard her mother crying. On seeing her, her mother hollered, “Him dead Annette him dead, right here in jail he was still tiefing and now it cause him his death.” Annette was confused but the District Constable who was always very gentle and kind because he had been good friends with James explained what happened. They had locked up Jay with another inmate and Jay tried to pick his pocket. The inmate got outraged and strangled him.
A week before the funeral James turned up at Annette’s home. She was only mildly surprised though. She had never communicated with him after the day she told him she was pregnant. But, he would send some money for Jay every other month through the D.C., though they never sent even short messages to each other. Both thought the other still looked as good as the last time they saw each other. She didn’t feel the urge to quarrel with him because she had always felt he was there even though he wasn’t. She knew that he was aware of what was going on through his friend.
They talked for a long time. Then they held each other and cried. His story went like this. He had loved Annette from the first time he saw her sitting on her parent’s verandah, reading a book on cosmetology, while he tried to sell her parents insurance. He was very impressed with how studious she was and her drive to get what she wanted. He was awed by her honey complexion, her shapely figure, and her bright smile. She was outspoken and laughed a lot. But he dared not let his feelings show; after all, he was married. Yes, he had just found out his wife was cheating on him but maybe, just maybe, he could salvage the marriage. He felt it was his fault, he worked too hard, he didn’t take her out often enough, he wasn’t the husband she wanted him to be.
Eventually he could hold out no longer. Annette took his mind off his problems. She made him feel wonderful, needed, like a man. The day before she told him she was pregnant his wife had finally got hold of the new cell phone number he had acquired before he left. She cried, she pleaded with him to give her another chance; she even threatened to kill herself. When Annette told him she was pregnant he was so ashamed of himself. He knew she deserved so much more than to be a mistress to a married man. He left. After all she was a fighter, determined that she would achieve her goals, and definitely become involved with someone who would love her as much as he did.
How was he to know she would be so crushed. He never stopped loving her. He kept up-to-date through the D.C. and his heart ached every time he knew her heart was aching. He had missed her so much. Well he would live without her no longer. His wife, Cindy, had cheated again and again and this time with his boss. As far as he was concerned she could go and hang herself now. Annette was also told of the life insurance plan that James had taken out on Jay with Annette being the beneficiary. She now had a tidy sum of money to do with as she pleased. Even if she had an elaborate funeral for Jay the cost of it would cause only a tiny dent in the amount she now had.
It was Saturday morning. Annette opened the windows of her delightfully furnished beauty salon then took her wedding ring off and placed it in the pocket of her smock. She didn’t like to get chemicals from the hair and nail products she used on it. Ma Betsy was to be the first of many clients this morning. She no longer had her hair straightened with the hot iron because Annette kept her looking her best with regular perms, washes, and styles suited to her face and age; free of charge.