Aunt Fern had been trying to get me to go to church with them for a while. I finally gave in. When I was in Jamaica my parents used to go to the Catholic church. It was more of a social club for me. I was an alter boy for a time. Aunt’s Ferns church was a Baptist church. It was located in a big building. The people were very friendly. I could not help but notice that the church was 90 % white. It was more obvious as Aunt Fern was a part of the choir. She was the only black face in a sea of white faces on the stage. I did not like putting things in black and white but since my incident at Burger King my view changed. I sometimes wish that it had not happened but the cat is out of the bag now.
The day I visited the church there was a guest preacher speaking. He was from a church in Palm Beach. When he started preaching it was like he was talking directly to me. He spoke about different people in the bible overcoming obstacles. There was an altar call. Something in my heart was tugging to go up. There were quite a few people that went up to the front. He made a second call. There was a voice telling me to go but another saying no. The voice was saying what your friends would think. I would be giving up music, my girlfriend and all the fun I had now. All the Christians I knew in Jamaica were really boring.
I did not go up but the feeling stayed with me that day. I was never going back to church.
My friendship with Mary Ann began to grow more. We spoke at least twice weekly. I made sure it was times when normally I would not talk to Sherri-Ann. I remember one day mentioning her and she was really angry. I told her it was nothing but she just did not believe me.
We got to the point where we met one day at the mall to talk. Mary Ann had a tough time at home. Her parents were going through a divorce and constantly fighting. As I got off the bus I saw her. She had a big smile. I was a bit surprised because she was smoking. She never smoked when we worked. I think she saw the look of shock on my face and quickly put it out.
I don’t mind men smoking but women are another case. I just don’t think they should. I was really hurt to see her smoking but I hid my displeasure as I knew she needed to talk.
We started walking and she started talking. Her parents divorce was affecting her as they still lived in the home together. They were constantly fighting and the police even visited because her mother threw stuff. She was getting really red in her face.
Tears started to roll down her face when she mentioned her mother was planning to move back to North Carolina. She would be going there as well.
She was now crying really hard and we sat on a bench. It was very awkward. I did not know what to do. I put my hand lightly on her shoulder and she grabbed it. Her head was now on my shoulder and she was hugging me tightly.
I did not know what to tell her to get her to stop crying. People walking in mall were looking at us. I found myself using some of the words from the church sermon on how she could overcome obstacles. It was working. She stopped crying but she was still hugging me. A few people were still staring. I was l feeling uncomfortable with us sitting and hugging. So I suggested we walk. That did not stop me feeling uncomfortable as she held my hand as we walked.
On our next call I asked about the smoking. She explained she was under stress. This phone conversation was a little different than usual. Mary Ann used the word “we” a lot. It was like we were a couple. I was uneasy with it but I also liked it a little. I could hear Ritchie encouraging me to keep two girlfriends.
That night Sherri-Ann called me. We chatted for a little while then she told me she had to see me the next day. I kept asking her why. She kept saying it was important. The next day was my day off so I would meet her.
That night I did not sleep very well. I wanted to know what it was she had to say. We could talk about anything on the phone and this was just a little strange.
Ritchie picked me up that morning and we went down to the shop where one of his cars was being fixed. He was putting headers and a modified carburetor on the car. The owner the shop was Jamaican and he was funny. Ritchie called him a “cardist” because he was always teasing people. We spent most of the day there just talking about cars, Jamaica and anything else we could. It was really a “loafers” paradise.
Ritchie dropped me off at Sherri-Ann’s apartment. He saw the worried look on my face.
“Whappen boss, yuh girl pregnant”…he said laughing.
I smiled back as I closed the car door and walked off. It was not funny but I was not about to give the impression that I was worried.
Sherri-Ann greeted me at the door with a big hug and kiss. She was holding me really tight. It was like she never wanted me to leave. Then she started to cry.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“My mother is sending me back to Jamaica to live with my father” she replied.
“What. But you did not finish school. Don’t you have another year left?”
“She told him that I was paying more attention to boys than to my work. He was very upset;” she continued to cry, “My mother knows how to play on my father’s emotion. She told him all sorts of things about you. My father always wanted me to marry one the boys at the Chinese Benevolent Association”’
As I listen to her I could not help but think how racist that sounded. Her father did not want her to marry a black man. I held back because when she spoke about her father in the past there was a sparkle in her eye.
“So when do you leave” I asked.
“Well I have a plan” she replied
“What type of plan”, I asked.
“My dad has some Chinese friends down in South Miami. They have a son about my age. He called me a few times. I know he likes me. If I tell my parents I broke up with you and pretend I like him it could convince my father to have me stay” she explained.
I was not thinking straight but I asked “Will they believe you?”
“Of course they will. My mother is barely here when you visit and I would call your house before she’s home” she replied.
I liked the idea of going out with Sherri-Ann and even told her I loved her. However I was not sure if I could do this sneaking around and have another man “lyricsing” my girlfriend.
I spent a few hours at Sherri-Ann’s apartment. We just sat there watched TV and hugged. I did not like the plan but did not say anything. I did not like to see her crying. It was just easier to go along even thought I felt it was the beginning of the end. I called Ritchie to pick me up but he had to go somewhere. I had to take the bus back home.
The bus ride gave me an opportunity to reflect. I could not think straight. It was like I was punched. I thought about Sherri-Ann’s father wanting her to marry a Chinese man. I thought about her leaving. I thought about Mary-Ann and the irony. A black and white couple is also not accepted. I just could not focus.
I got home and the first person I called was Mary-Ann. The Tax Man Cometh…
The envelope I had been waiting for since January finally came. It was from the IRS with what I anticipated was my first tax return check. As I walked from the mail box up to the front door of the house I was already planning what I would do with the money.
I had filed my first tax return under my real name at the end of January. Aunt Fern helped me as she did her family’s tax return. She was an accountant while she was in Jamaica. The calculations showed that I would get a $350 refund.
I have been putting money aside for a car and this would help out. I had an appointment this week to take the full test. I was confident I would pass it. I had been practicing with one of Ritchie father’s automatic car at one of their big homes. They had a very big driveway.
As I stepped in the front door I could not contain my excitement anymore. I ripped open the envelope. To my surprise there was no check. There was a 2 page letter. I began to read it. It was blunt and to the point. My social security number was invalid. There is no record of me in the Social Security system. All funds for the refund would be frozen until I could verify my Social Security number. There was a number for me to call. I was in shock. I went to the bedroom sat on the side of the bed. I had to read it again. I could not believe this was happening. I carefully read line by line again. I kept thinking something is wrong. I loved torture so I read it again. By now I was lying on the bed. The letter did not change since I last read it.
No one was home yet. The silence was deafening. I felt the need to talk to someone. I was also a little paranoid. Were there people outside from the IRS watching the house? Is the IRS going to come looking for me? Is Immigration working with the IRS to catch me? There were many thoughts going through my mind. What was I going to do? I paid all this money for a social security card that is worth nothing. Should I go back to work? Will there be people waiting to arrest me at work? Will they tell my boss? The questions were running through my head a mile a minute.
The phone rang. I started to walk over to pick it up but stopped. This could be immigration calling to see if I was there. I let the machine pick it up. It was Mary Ann. She left a brief message for me to call her. She knew I was home. I told her to call me at that time. I was tempted to call her back. I need to talk to someone to clear my mind. I know I could not tell her what is going on but just talking about anything would help. I dropped the idea as Mary Ann would probably sense something was wrong. She was getting good at knowing me. I thought about calling Sherri-Ann. We could talk about Jamaica and our friends back home. Sherri-Ann never really picks up when there is something wrong with me. I think it is because the focus of everything or anyone in her life is always about her.
I laid there, closed my eyes, and just slept.
I was awakened by Aunt Fern. “Wake up. Wake up. Are you going to school today? Your friend Ritchie is parked outside waiting. Are you okay”
“Yes, but I have to talk with you about something”, I replied. I must have been sleeping for hours. I did not want to miss school as I would be penalized in my grades.
With a quick dash I ran outside to Ritchie. “Mi soon come”
I ran back inside and changed. As I walked out the door I gave the letter to Aunt Fern. “Can you look this over please?”
I rushed out the door in to Ritchie’s car.
“Whappen bass, yuh have dropsy tideh” Ritchie teased as he sped off.
He started talking but I could not hear. My mind was now on school. I had given them my Social Security number when I registered. Were they contacted by Immigration. Should I turn back and go home.
“Bass, yuh alright”, Ritchie asked. I am sure he realized I was not really into a conversation.
“Ya man, mi cool”, I replied
We did not talk the rest of the way. He was blasting a “Stone Love” tape.
When we got to school I slowly walked to class. I was contemplating if I should go in the classroom. People may be there waiting for me.
I peeped in through the door and it looked safe. I entered and sat down in the back.
I was a zombie. I don’t remember anything from class. I don’t even remember what happened between class and Ritchie taking me back home.
Aunt Fern was up when I walked in the front door. She beckoned for me to come over to the dinning table were she was sitting with the letter.
“This is very serious”
I did not know what to say.
“Who got you the card?” she asked.
”A man named Charlie” I replied.
“Do you still have to number?” she asked
“Yes” I replied
“Go get it”
I went in the room and got the number out of my address book. I gave her the number and she started dialing.
“Let me deal with this” she said
“Hello, is this Charlie?”
Aunt Fern was very force full. It was an argument. I was shocked. She stated she was my Aunt and that I got a letter. She told him he needed to fix the situation or send my money back. I had never seen her like this before. I could imagine Charlie on the other end giving her excuses.
She hung up the phone and explained that he would try to get a new one for me. She said he wanted her to call back tomorrow.
“Aunt Fern, what should I do now?” I asked
“I think you should go to work. Carry on as normal. The only agency that knows the card is bad is IRS. They make mistakes all the time. They probably think you made a mistake by transposing a number. You also need to call your parents and tell them,” she replied “we will get you a new card. One that is good”
It was a reassuring answer. I was still worried, but I felt a little better.
That night I called my father and told him the situation. He was furious. He could not believe Charlie did this. He wanted to come up. I did not think was a good idea but I could not say anything.
“Let me speak to Fern and make some arrangements” he asked
I gave the phone to Aunt Fern who was now watching the late news. I went back in the kitchen to dish out some food.
A few minutes later Aunt Fern handed me back to phone. He was not coming. He told me that he and Aunt Fern would continue to discuss the situation and we may have to start the whole process over.
The rest of the night I tried to get into my usual routine but could not. I know I had to call Sherri-Ann or she would be upset with me. I called her and told her I was not feeling well. As I predicted she did not pick up anything in my voice.
Next I called Mary Ann. She instantly knew something was wrong. I told her it was private. She then started to tell me about how she handles things and was very sympathetic. She knew that I liked the song “Puttin’ on the Ritz” by Taco Ockerse. She started to sing it to cheer me up.
“If you’re blue and you don’t know where to go to why don’t you go where fashion sits Puttin’ on the Ritz….” she sang.
It brought a smile to my face. It was really good to have someone there. She asked no questions but just was there. I wish Sherri-Ann was like this sometimes. We spoke for about an hour and then I went to bed. I was exhausted from the day’s events.
The rest of the week I will still a zombie just going through the routines. The best part of the week was taking the driving test. I was feeling a little guilty because I did not tell Aunt Fern I was going to take the test that week. The way she stood up for me that week was really what made me feel bad. I made the appointment a few weeks back and Ritchie was going to take me in his father’s automatic car. It was my day off.
We arrived at the Drivers license office ½ hour before the appointment. Ritchie told me to watch how the cones are set up on the range and what each person does in the range. He also told me to listen very carefully to the instructions. We then sat in the office and waited till my name was called.
A heavyset man called my name. He asked me where is the car I was driving.
We walked over to the car. He had a clipboard in his hand and he was talking notes.
“Start the car”
I started the car and the test began. We drove around the range and he gave specific instructions on what to do. We were soon at the most difficult part of the range, the parallel parking. I was surprised how easily I did it. I was very calm through the whole test. I did not care because my mind was on other things.
Next he took me on the road just outside the office. We drove around for about 2 minutes before he instructed me to go back to the office. He told me to shut the car off. He then began writing on the clipboard. He handed me a piece of paper.
“Congrats, you have passed the test. Please go back in the office and wait till they call your name”
I was emotionless. I was happy but just did not know how to react with the other things happening in my life.
I waked in to the office. Ritchie approached me.
“Yuh pass” he asked
“Yeah” I replied
“Yuh a try trick I, yuh face screw like yuh fail” he replied
I gave him a faint smile.
We sat down and waited. The called my name, took my picture and told me to sit back down until they called me again. After about 15 minutes of waiting they called me, took back my learners license and handed me the license. To my surprise the picture was much nicer than the one I had on the learner’s license.
Ritchie offered me the car to drive back. I declined because I did not want Aunt Fern to learn I got my license this way. I wanted to tell her. I am sure Ritchie was wondering why I was not excited.
Things got worse that week on the Social Security situation. Charlie stopped taking our calls. The following week his phone was disconnected. He was in New York so I never had an address for him. My father was now steaming. We had paid a lot of money for the card.
The only thing we could do now is find a new “contact” and start over. Aunt Fern started to ask here Jamaican friends if anyone had a “contact” for a card. I now realize this is a gamble because there is no way to ever verify what you are getting until you file a tax return.
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