I have always lived in the country. For as long as I can remember – as long as the sky was blue, the grass was green, the beaches were welcoming and the air was nice and warm – I have lived in the country. I was born here and grew up here. I went to school in Kingston because my father knew someone who knew someone else who could get me into school at a lowered cost in Kingston and so that is where I went. I commuted daily. Every morning I would get up at 4 to catch the 5 o’ clock bus to get to school and be seated by 8 a.m. And every evening I would catch the 3 o’ clock bus and make it home by about 6 p.m. I couldn’t do any after school activities because that would mean missing the 3 o’ clock bus and having to wait for the last bus which would be at about 5 pm. I didn’t mind though…I was labeled as “Country Gyal” and even though I was proud of where I was from, the way my classmates said it in disgust caused me to hate the red dirt that surrounded my yard – the same dirt that caused my shoes and sometimes my socks to be discolored. I attended an all-girls’ school. Those girls came from different walks of life. And though it was evident that we were all from different backgrounds, the “country gyal wid di dutty shoes an socks” stuck out, like a sore thumb.
It was at those times that I hated where I was from. I hated the fresh air that I breathed in every morning on my way to school. I hated the natural beauty that surrounded me as I looked on the landscape and waited for the bus. I hated the beach that was just 5 minutes away from my yard. I hated the sound of the rain on top of the roof reminded me that there was a zinc roof above me.
I hated it all.
I had an English Language teacher named Miss Robinson. She spoke so well. I could sit there for hours listening to her talk about the simplest of things – it didn’t matter – as long as she spoke, she had my attention. When I grew up, I decided I wanted to be just like Miss Robinson. She was a sharp. Crisp looking too. And she drove a pretty blue Fiat. Wow! I wanted to be just like her. It was said that she went away to foreign to study and when she came back, she started teaching at our school. It was settled then. That’s what I would do. I would go to foreign, study hard, learn to speak as well as she did, and come back to get a good job and maybe even drive a pretty car too.
I was always bright in school. But I was shy. Especially when I started going to high school. The teacher would ask me a question and although I knew the answer, I was scared. I knew the minute I opened my mouth I would hear someone from the back of the room whispering: “Den di country gyal cyaaan chat nuh betta dan dat?” Then they would all start giggling…no, I prefer not to answer – which usually meant detention – which usually meant staying after school – which usually meant missing the 3 o’ clock bus – which usually meant getting home at 8 pm – which usually meant getting a fine beatin when I got home. I didn’t care – I hated that I didn’t know how to speak as well as the other girls. So I would just endure the punishment.
Summer time involved me going with my mother to sell food to the tourists as well as regulars who came to the beach in our area. Mommy cooked boiled corn, soup, fish and bammy. She had a stall and was well-known and loved by many. Sometimes when things got a little slow, Mommy allowed me to go on the beach to see the sites. It was those times that I enjoyed the most. Times alone with myself. I would look at the tourists and returning residents and even those who came from Kingston – just for the day – to enjoy the beach. I would fantasize. I would look at someone and pretend that was me years later. After I went away for a college education like Miss Robinson. And after I bought my car.
The Summer of 1989 is the one I remember the most. I had just finished 5th form and taken 5 CXC subjects. I would have taken more but we didn’t have the money. I was feeling despondent. My father was terminally ill and there was no money. I knew I would go no further and all hope was basically gone. There was no money for sixth form either. So I knew I wouldn’t be going back to school in Kingston…I knew I wouldn’t get the chance to go abroad to study…I knew I would never get the money to buy a car or to take care of my parents like I really wanted to.
I went as usual with Mommy to the beach where she sold her corn and soup and fish and bammy. I admired my mother. Her struggles depicted the blackness in the Jamaican flag. Her livelihood depicted the greenness of our lands and her sunny disposition showed the yellow stripes in the flag. In my opinion, she was the epitome of the island and her people. Her sayings would always leave me thinking for a long time about what they meant: “Dog a sweat but long hair cova it” “Every haat know it owna sorrow” “One day outta di seven” “Rain a fall but dutty tough”. I could sit and listen to her and her sayings all day. To me, she had the wisdom of Solomon and the strong will of David.
I sat there and watched as beads of sweat popped up on her forehead. She was obviously tired, and weary. But she continued to serve with a smile. Yes, I would have to take care of my mother – she deserved much more than this.
Later that afternoon, I sat under a tree on the beach in my usual spot and allowed my five senses to take in any and everything. I stared lovingly out at the Caribbean Sea while my nose enjoyed the aroma of the sea mixed with the sand and the heat and the smell of the festival and fish. My ears laughed with pleasure as the sounds of the waves crashed into them…the laughter of the children in the background, or perhaps it was the pulsating rhythm of the reggae music that infiltrated the air also made love to my ears. I could taste the saltiness of the sea and the sand as I sat and played with the hot sand between my fingers…Yes, I loved this place – but I couldn’t stay here…some way, somehow, I had to go and find something better for my family – for my mother, for my father, and for all my younger siblings.
I didn’t hear the commotion at first. I didn’t hear the scream. But suddenly, I saw everyone start moving toward the street. I decided to go and take a look at what was going on. It was then that I saw what had happened. There was an accident. A truck had gotten out of control while coming around the bend…it veered off the road and plunged into the sellers that sat by their stalls…as I looked a little closer, my heart started racing as I noticed that I couldn’t see Mommy’s stall. I started to walk towards the scene, the walk turned into a trot and before I knew it I was racing towards the now totally mangled truck. “MOMMY!!!???” I yelled in a frantic panic searching for my mother. “MOMMY!!??!!??” I couldn’t see her stall and I didn’t see her. Just then, Miss Vi let out a huge wail. Miss Vi was the woman whose stall was next to my mother’s. As I spun around in the direction of the wail, I froze. I looked over and saw Miss Vi clutching to a bloody mass – it wa s my mother’s dress – and as I looked closer, I saw that my mother was still inside the dress.
I stood there and stared and I cried. I cried until the sun went down. I could see Miss Vi’s lips moving, saying something to me. What was she saying? I didn’t know. I was just crying. I tried to speak but words failed me and I cried. I thought of my younger siblings and I cried. I thought about my sick father and I cried. I sat on the sidewalk – and I cried and cried and cried. My mother was gone. And she was not coming back. And so I cried.
It’s been 6 months since the accident and I now live on the sidewalk on Main Street. I never went back home after my mother was crushed by that truck. I am now known as “di mad ooman of Main Street”…I don’t care.
And as I lay on the cold concrete which has become my bed, I see a little girl – teenager – on her way to school. With her crisp and clean uniform. I hear the girl tell someone she is walking next to: “I have always lived in the country. For as long as I can remember – as long as the sky was blue, the grass was green, the beaches were welcoming and the air was nice and warm – I have lived in the country”
And as I listened to her speak about her dreams, I cried.