Miriam’s calls grew more insistent with each passing hour.
I feared this was the end
Months before, she’d made a peaceful picture in her casket Her face was fresh, as though she was asleep and her hair arranged around her shoulders, but only three of us knew what killed her Now, she was my constant companion, suffocating the life from me
I met Miriam in Kingston at school, when I was twenty She came from a farming community in Clarendon and was the first in her family to attend university She was proud of her achievement and wasted no time with frivolous activities like parties and social clubs
She belonged to a band of students who’d formed a study group While they were seen as a pack of book-heads, everybody knew where to go when they were in danger of failing their courses and needed help I was less serious about my studies, so I eventually found my way to Miriam Through a friend, I contacted her to tutor me in English She lived off campus and so two evenings each week, I’d turn up at her cramped apartment for her to help me brush up on my use of English
I will admit there were additional benefits Miriam’s roommate, Simone, was almost always at home. She wore skimpy tee-shirts and shorts which never failed to get my attention Since Miriam and I had a platonic relationship, I had no second thoughts about enjoying what Simone had on display I never got the feeling Miriam objected to my lack of attention whenever Simone passed through the tiny living room, but after a few weeks, Miriam moved us to the handkerchief-sized back verandah I tended to look over my shoulder whenever there was movement in the living room and my restlessness irritated Miriam.
“You’re not goin’ to pass if you don’t settle down and pay attention.”
I’d sigh and wonder who appointed her to take up where my mother left off I put up with Miriam’s bullying because she kept me supplied with drinks and snacks, and at my age, I still needed constant refueling.
Nevertheless, the back patio began to feel like a mini-prison and one day when Miriam left me to revise, I watched her progress toward the sliding door I hadn’t noticed before how nicely she fit into her jeans or how snugly her tee-shirt fit On her way back, the sway of her hips mesmerized me and I admitted I hadn’t looked at the book since she left She put both hands to her sides and said “Kyle, you’re hopeless.”
That day, I invited her out and soon we were inseparable The only time we were apart was when I went home at nights Sometimes I didn’t sleep at home, which distressed my mother She didn’t understand my sudden change of habits and warned me that ‘what sweet yuh, soon sour yuh’
When they met, I wasn’t surprised that Mummy disliked Miriam Anything that distracted me from home and my studies – including my weekend part-time job at a night club – annoyed Mummy But what concerned her more than anything was Miriam’s roots
According to Mummy, nothing good came from Clarendon Her prejudices ran deep because she had several bad experiences with people who originated from that parish, including my father She wouldn’t discuss her aversion to Miriam, but stuck to her conviction that Clarendonians were a bunch of obeah workers and nothing I said convinced her otherwise
As far as she was concerned, I needed to be purged because Miriam had tied her ‘one boy’ with some kind of nastiness But I refused to allow Mummy to boil potentially poisonous bush for me to drink What did she know about herbal medicine? More likely than not, she’d kill me with her experiment.
Miriam never gave me reason to be suspicious of her, but her attitude puzzled me She knew how Mummy felt about her, yet whenever I mentioned stopping at home while we were out and about, she insisted on coming inside with me
Each time Miriam visited, Mummy watched her closely I suspected why, but I ignored Mummy’s actions since I had intimate knowledge of her paranoia At first, Miriam said nothing, then one day she tackled me in my beat-up Toyota “Kyle, I don’t think your mother likes me.”
I fumbled before switching on the engine “You must be mistaken.”
I hoped the argument would die there, but it didn’t “Is like she don’t trust me or something She mus’ mention it to yuh.”
Miriam rolled her eyes “You’re just avoiding the issue.”
“What issue, Miriam? You’re in a relationship with me, not my mother.”
I was thankful she left things there, for how could I tell her of my mother’s phobia?
Time passed and we both graduated I was no longer enamored with Miriam, who had grown possessive and unreasonable as our relationship progressed, but somehow, I couldn’t work up the energy to end things with her.
I stole time away from her now and then A young man has to gather experience right? But I always went back to her and she knew every time I strayed. Her eyes would glisten with hostility and she refused to speak to me for days Despite our sometimes tempestuous relationship, eventually we married
Miriam turned irrational overnight, or that’s how things appeared to me I couldn’t leave the house without her accusing me of having other women By this time, I worked in a bank with plenty of female co-workers, but I never ventured into any relationships there
Things could get sticky in the workplace Miriam didn’t believe I was faithful and I soon grew tired of the constant arguments and ignored her when she threatened to fix my business.
We planned to have children, but wanted to better our financial situation first Whenever she made her threats about castrating me, I’d laugh and taunt her
“Remember you’re not pregnant yet, so careful you don’t end up without a chick or a child.”
She’d fold her arms, push out her bottom lip and glare at me “Yuh take this dam thing for a joke, but I’m as serious as a judge.”
I’d flap a hand at her and shake my head. “Miriam, just get hold of yourself. You’re worried about nothing With the way you watch me, If I was cheating, you wouldn’t catch me already?”
She hissed her teeth and then flounced away, leaving me alone Having launched her career as a lawyer, I often wondered where she found time to keep tabs on me.
Over time, I grew uneasy An unexplained fear gripped me whenever I was alone in our apartment This made no sense until one afternoon, when I went home early I was feeling off-colour and my supervisor gave me the rest of the day off.
I poured lemonade from a jug in the refrigerator and then rooted around in the freezer for ice My hand bumped a package that didn’t have the size or consistency of frozen meat I frowned and reached for it Inside the small plastic bag were two vials of red-gold substance and a tiny square of cardboard For what felt like ages, I stood in the kitchen, undecided as to what approach to take Then I made my decision, but fear clogged my throat while I cut into the package
Inside, was what looked like certificate paper, only it was more pliable On the paper, my name was written within a cluster of unpronounceable words I attempted to read the words aloud, but my mother’s cautionary advice over the years took root and I scanned the text in silence
The presence of a tag from one of my briefs and some strands of my hair chilled me I knew they were mine because whenever I shaved, instead of waiting for me to finish, Miriam would busy herself, scooping up clumps of hair She’d mutter about my untidiness, never mind the fact that I would have cleaned up after myself, given a chance.
Though still not feeling a hundred percent well, I confronted her when she came from work Only her eyes admitted her guilt and in a heartbeat, I understood my mother’s worry over her ‘one boy’ Had Miriam ‘tied’ me like Mummy thought all this time? I shook my head Did it make sense? Though I had the evidence, I refused to believe that any harm could come from a clothing tag, some hair and words that didn’t make sense.
That evening, I asked Mummy what to do, after I showed her the evidence of Miriam’s duplicity My mouth fell open when she suggested I fight fire with fire.
I gawked at her from the settee “Mummy, what you mean?”
“Well, Miriam really leave you no choice Either you stay tied to her for life or you break the tie and get on wid yuh life Ah did warn yuh ’bout dat Clarendon gyal, but yuh wouldn’ listen.”
She raged like that for minutes, before she calmed down She sat across from me and rubbed her hands over her face “What to do? What to do?”
Eventually, she got up. It took her a while to get to her feet and I noted she was getting older and subject to the vagaries of old age She left the room and I hunched in on myself, clasping my head in my hands How could Miriam love me and do this sort of thing?
I knew obeah from the same distance as most Jamaicans In school, we talked about it in abstract terms, having no intimate knowledge of what it involved I supposed people dabbled in it for a variety of reasons, but couldn’t reconcile my wife taking this route, and for what? Didn’t she believe she could maintain our relationship on the virtue of who she was?
My mother’s words over the years swirled around my head and when I slumped against the back of the sofa, I wondered about my sudden loss of interest in Simone, my inability to break off the relationship with Miriam and then a shaft of revelation shattered my innocence Almost from day one, I’d been eating and drinking at Miriam’s house as though my mother never fed me at home It would have been easy for her to slip me anything And to think I’d waved away Mummy’s offers of bush tea as the desperation of a lonely woman who felt she was losing her son.
Mummy dropped into the sofa opposite me and sighed “Kyle, I…somebody I know recommend a place…”
She wouldn’t meet my eyes “Yuh know how I feel ’bout dis sort o’ thing, but I have to make an exception dis time or dat gyal goin’ kill yuh.”
About the writer:
J.L. Campbell lives in Jamaica and is always on the lookout for story-making material Her short stories and articles have been published in Bookends, the literary pages of the Sunday Observer When she isn’t plotting and researching new projects, she enjoys cake decorating, gardening, and reading. Her action/adventure/romance novel, Contraband, will be published in April 2010 Visit her at http://thejamaicanwriter.com