Linval Lewis was fifteen years old in nineteen fifty-nine when he seriously began to think about what he wanted to be, or could be as an adult a mere six years away. Prior to that he thought that at age twelve he would be sent off to the Kingston Technical High school like his cousin Donavan and some other boys from his elementary school. He was very disappointed when his father told him that there would be no money for him to attend High School.
Elementary School rules did not allow students past the age of fifteen to attend full time. However, they were allowed to attend part-time to study for the Jamaica Local Examinations.
Linval at fourteen had taken the 1st. year J.L.E. and failed. His failure was due to a mix-up of papers at the Examination Center, and he happened to have been one of the unfortunates. The following year he transferred to a neighboring school that was served by a different center. There he studied for and passed the 2nd year Jamaica Local Examinations.
It was a very rough year for Linval. The new school was more than two miles from home, and although classes didn’t start until four in the afternoon, he had a multitude of chores that he had to perform, such as taking care of the animals by providing water and feed for the day before he walked the two mile distance to the school. The chores were the same each day that he performed when he attended the first school, but then he had some done in the mornings before school and the rest he did after school in the afternoons. With the new school hours he didn’t get home until after ten and then he had to stay up late to do his homework assignments.
He had some bright spots though. Maybe, he had too many bright spots. One; he was very handsome, and he knew it. All the ladies, young and old told him so. Secondly; he was very smart. He was number one in most of his classes.
He had an uncle in England who sent him expensive and fashionable clothes and shoes which he wore to school on Fridays that was the casual dress day, that made him appear as a teenager dressed for the GQ magazine. It was not his intention to be a show-off, but those were the only clothes he had.
All those attributes made the girls love him and the boys envied him. He only had one male friend in the whole school, a boy named Curtis. He and Curtis lived in the same neighborhood and were friends before he changed schools.
Because of the remoteness and the economics of the country-side, there were no telephones. The main form of communication, other than face to face talk was by letters through the Post Office, or hand delivered. There were weeks when Linval received dozens of love letters from not only the girls from his old school, but mostly girls from his new school. Some of the letters had money as gifts; some had fancy handkerchiefs with scents of girl’s perfumes.
It was hard for Linval to reply to all the letters. At one time he was devoting four hours every Sunday to writing replies to love letters.
He was very good at composing love verses, and his hand writing was excellent, so very often the girls he wrote would archive his letters, and after many months his verses, sometimes slightly altered would return to him.
At seventeen he was employed on a temporary basis with the Public Works Department as a Ticket Writer over the summer holidays. That position took him to parts of his parish that he had only heard about, and through that position he was introduced to more girls in the expanded areas, and they all wanted to be his friend.
Because there wasn’t enough time to keep up with all of them, he became selective, and only replied to the pretty ones from the different districts and to those that sent him money. Sometimes he used money sent to him to buy presents for some of his favorite girls.
One of his younger brothers was secretly profiting from his prose. Some of the girls could not wait on the Postal Service, so for a fee, little brother hand delivered their letters. At times he collected from the sender as well as the receiver.
Linval considered it as ‘one of those things’ when on a Sunday he was replying to a bunch of letters. Except for the name of the girl a letter was addressed to, they were all the same. The same love verses, the same promises of spending a lifetime together, and so on. One letter however; recounted a special event with a particular girl. The script was placed in the wrong envelope. He had no idea what he had done, until a younger sister of one girl told him. He lost both girls, but gained the younger sister.
When he turned eighteen, his father who was a maintenance supervisor at a nearby sugar factory, begged him to get a job where he worked. He flatly refused, saying that the factory work was too dirty. With that, and his staying out late at nights, he was put out of his parent’s house. He went and stayed at his grandmother’s with her. At first she was glad to have him there, because she lived alone, but when she could not take his staying out late at nights, she told him that he either had to be home by nine or leave.
A friend got him a job in Kingston, and he left. The job was to aid an elderly travelling salesman who traded in ladies cosmetics and lingerie. It took him all over the island, four days per week, every week. He met the most beautiful young girls in the whole wide world through his travelling. Many of them fell in love with him at first sight, and exchange letters with him every time he visited the stores where they worked.
Life was good in Kingston. He enjoyed going to night clubs, beaches, cinemas, and everywhere else that he could have a lot of fun and meet interesting girls. There were so many new girls that he stopped writing to those he once corresponded with in and around his home town.
On one of his trips out of Kingston, he met seventeen year old Pauline D of New Market in the parish of Westmoreland. She was a petite five foot five inch beauty with long black hair, copper colored skin that was smoother than that of an infant baby, and she had the prettiest green eyes ever. She was also a 3rd year Jamaica Local Exam ( J.L.E.) student. They became pen-pals, and letters were exchanged on a weekly basis. They had many aspirations that could potentially keep them together. She would try to get her parents to send her to Teachers College in Kingston; he would get his driver’s license and a new job that would allow them to see each other frequently, especially on the weekends when they both had more time to drive and explore the countryside.
Everything changed when one weekend he visited his parents in the country side. His mother was very distraught over the drinking and smoking habit that he picked up in Kingston, not to mention that she thought that he wasn’t eating right. His once chunky frame was gaunt. She begged him to come home.
His father, who still employed at Holland Sugar factory, showed him a paper from the factory bulletin board. It stated that positions for apprentices in the Chemist Laboratory and the Maintenance Machine Shop were available to immediate family members.
‘Wa u doing now may mek yu feel good’, said his father. ‘But dat is only a jab. Yu caa lose e any time. Specially how yah hangle money. Yu need to av a trade ar a profession. Wen yu av dat ina yu head, yu caa lose e’.
‘What you are doing now may make you feel good, but that is only a job. You can lose it at anytime, especially the way you handle money loosely. You need to have a trade or a profession. When you have that in your head, you cannot lose it’.
‘Tink bout wa u Pa seh bwauy’, his mother said.
‘Think about what your father says boy’.
Linval went back to Kingston, at the prodding of his mom and dad, he resigned his job.
When he reported for work at the factory a week later at eight o’clock the Monday morning everyone stopped working and steered at him. He thought to himself that the workers must be thinking that they were looking at a U.W.O. (Unidentified Walking Object).
His hair was cut low and was brushed back, displaying shiny black waves. He was clean shaven with a pencil-thin bat-wing mouth stash. His attire was a red Fred Perry shirt, a tight fit Wrangler jean, and Eaton suede shoes. When he spoke, a glittering gold capped upper front tooth was plainly visible. He naturally looked like a famous actor.
The Chemist Laboratory position that he was hoping to get was already taken, so he was placed in the Machine shop. His father gave him a pair of cover-all, and someone else loaned him a pair of old shoes.
At lunch time he sat with his father and shared the meal his mother had prepared for both of them. After he ate, he took an unopened pack of Chesterfield cigarettes from his pocket and opened it to smoke one. He looked around, and saw more hands reaching for cigarettes, than his pack of twenty could handle. He obliged them until the pack was empty. That was the last day that he smoked.
The shop foreman was a cousin of Linval, about seven or eight years his senior, but the two never got along from day one. He never called Linval by his name. Whenever he needed to get his attention, it was always ‘Hey Faceman! Linval complained to his father who told him that his cousin who was single, was jealous of him, because he feared the competition for girls.
The apprenticeship pay was not much, compared with what he was earning in Kingston, and the pay in the Lab. was a little more, but since he was not put there, he decided to make the best of where he was.
Although he had moved back to his parents household, his cost of living expenses were high, because he had to help with the grocery bill, pay for his laundry, and transportation to and from work.. He had stopped smoking and reduced his night life to Saturdays only.
The first letter he wrote was to Pauline. He wanted to tell her that the plans they had made needed to be altered because of this new job. He lied to her because he knew that the small amount of money he was earning could not allow him visit her and to help support her in college as he had promised. Moreover they would still be apart. The lie to her was that the new job would be sending him to Florida on a four-month study course, and his next letter would be coming to her from there.
The months went by, and Linval became extremely efficient in his trade, to the point where he got overtime pay to equal his base pay. He was able to save enough money to purchase a motor-cycle. He had developed a good rapport with a fellow apprentice by the name of Emerd who also rode a motor-cycle. They shared lots of their stories. Emerd had at one time lived in Kingston and was familiar with places and some of the people that he knew. They showed one another photos of girlfriends past and present.
One work-day morning Linval walked into the shop at the usual time. Emerd was already there, which was a surprise, because he was usually late. He had one hand behind him and as Linval approached him, he shoved the newspaper he was holding behind his back into Linval’s face and grinned. It was the centerfold of the morning’s paper, and on it was a half- page picture of Pauline D.
She had won the island-wide beauty contest for the parish, and would be competing with fourteen other girls for the Miss Jamaica Title. He was extremely happy to learn that she was competing for the title of Miss Jamaica. However, he thought to himself that this was a missed opportunity not to have a potential Miss Jamaica as his girlfriend.
Two weeks before that newspaper incident, Linval had passed by the bus stop across from the market and saw a girl he thought was about fifteen or sixteen standing there. She was alone. First he passed, and glanced at her, then, he had second thoughts and turned around. He stopped his bike at her feet, introduced himself and asked her if she wanted a ride. She did not respond, except she turned her back. She was a very pretty girl, medium built, five foot six-ish, black shoulder length hair and brown eyes.
He passed by the same bus stop the following Saturday at the same time, but she was not there.
Emerd was teasing one day about Pauline, when Linval wanting to change the subject, told him about the speechless girl at the bus stop. He described her to him, and he immediately recognized who she was.
“Oh,” he said. “Her name is Mercedes, she is a friend of some friends of mine, but she is only fourteen. She is a student of the newly opened Saint Elizabeth Technical High School. STETHS.”
“I like her,” responded Linval.
“Good luck on that my friend,” Emerd remarked. “She doesn’t talk to any boy. I do know a few including myself who have tried without any success.”
That was a challenge to Linval, so he decided to use a tactic that had worked for him many times before. He wrote his name and address on a three-by-five index card and folded it in two, so that the next time he saw her he would stealthily get beside her and stick it into her handbag, or her book, or anywhere he could.
He got his chance a full three weeks later. As it turned out Mercedes’ grandmother sometimes go to the market to sell vegetables that she cultivated, and she goes there to meet with her, then travel by bus to Santa Cruz where attended boarding school.
Linval’s plan was carried out. He visited the Post Office every other day with hopes that she would write. Four weeks had passed. He received lots of other letters, but none from her.
Finally it came. It was in the form of an invitation to a dance at her school. She stated that she would be chaperoned, and he could meet her at the school, but there was a stipulation that he first had to meet with her host.
The time of the meeting was noted and Linval promptly appeared to meet with the host. When he got there, he was met by Mercedes and five other girls of her age who also boarded there. The other girls were constantly giggling, and two of them purposely touched him with their fingers, maybe to prove that he was real. The host was not there, and Linval learned later that he was tricked into going there at that time, for the other girls to see that Mercedes had a date for the dance. That was her first date.
The fete was a great success, at least for her. Although she and the other girls had a mid-night curfew, she and Linval stuck together, and danced to every tune from the start of the music until her chaperone touched her on the shoulder for them to leave. That night, she had her first dance, her first real kiss and her first romantic hug.
Over the next three and a half years, Linval excelled at his job, and his earnings improved dramatically. With more money to spend, he lavished Mercedes and some of his other girlfriends with lots of expensive presents. He also moved from his parent’s home, and rented a house that he shared with a friend. Together they furnished the house with exquisite furniture and appliances. The setting was so cozy and romantic that some of the girls that visited had to be tricked, or physically forced to leave. What made it worse was that the house was at a cul-de-sac that allowed for extra privacy.
Linval was only months from completing his apprenticeship program when a rumor started that the factory was being sold, and that the prospective owners would no longer produce sugar, but different crops that did not require a factory. This came as a shock to everyone, and left them all with a feeling of despair.
Without hesitation he resigned and moved back to Kingston where within days he was hired as a Machinist at a small Automobile parts repair shop. The pay was not fantastic, but he had made application at places that paid higher wages and was hopeful.
He made a lot of new friends, male and female. One such friend was rookie policeman by the name of Celburne Gayle. He became his handball team-mate. They practiced every afternoon after work between five and six, mostly for physical exercise.
Celbourne was very humorous and was always fun to be around. In his spare time he would devise ways to pick up girls. One of his favorite was to call to a young lady, saying;
‘ Hey young lady! Can I speak to you a minute’.
When the girl gave him her attention, he would say;
‘There is a reward offered for your capture’.
Startled, the girl usually asked;
‘What are you talking about?’
Then he would reply;
‘Yes mam. Heaven is missing an angel, and you fit the description to the tee’.
Linval was back to having fun again. Just like his former days in Kingston. By his own standard, life was good; with lots of friends, a good job, and best of all, he had no curfew. He challenged himself to have a girl from every parish, just like his buddy Celbourne. He would keep Mercedes from Saint Elizabeth, and then there was Doreen from Saint Mary, Lovie from Manchester, Doreth from Saint Catherine, Avery from Clarendon and a few others from some other places which he wasn’t sure of.
On his calendar he assigned a name to every other weekend and sent out letters to the girls inviting them to spend the particular weekend with him.
The first girl to visit was Lovie, but she returned the same day, saying that she wasn’t allowed to stay out over-night. The second was Avery. Everything went fine with her. She came Friday night and returned Monday morning.
The third was Doreen. She came on a Saturday with a huge suitcase that she packed with everything, from clothes enough to last until the fashion change, to pots and pans. She had no intention of returning to her home. The following day, Sunday, Linval hired a taxi and rode with her all the way to Saint Mary. There he met with her mother whom she lived with. He told her that he really loved her daughter, but where he was living was not suitable for her to live, and that he was saving to buy a house and marry her. The mother seemed satisfied, but Doreen was sad.
Two weeks later was Mercedes’ turn. He wasn’t sure she would be able to make it. He had timed her visit to coincide with the last week of her final exams at school. However she did turn up Saturday afternoon, and said she had to run away, because her grandmother had seen his letters and dared her to leave. Linval was faced with a situation that was worse than it was with Doreen. One; he had known this girl for four years, and she was faithful to him. Two; there were no place else for her to go, even temporary. Three; he had on his schedule for other girls to visit.
Saturday night Celbourne stopped by with one of his girls, and the foursome went on the town. Sunday all four went to the beach. Linval told Celbourne of his predicament, and he advised him to take a wait-and-see attitude. Monday just before lunch time a clerk from Linval’s workplace handed him a note. It was a telephone message that she received for him. It stated;
‘Got on the bus at ten, will be there before three. Please do not play any handball today’.
He used his lunch time to rush home. There he saw Mercedes sleeping. She was exhausted with all the travelling on Saturday, the night club on Saturday night, and the all-day sun and swimming on Sunday, not to mention whatever else that had transpired, that she was glad that Linval went to his job, so that she could get some well needed rest. She awoke, sat up in bed, and with glary eyes, looked at him.
“Merce, honey,” he said. “We have a problem.”
“Yeh what?” she asked.
They had thoroughly discussed her situation, and had concluded that if in a month she did not get a job, then she would return to live with her grandmother, but she was confident that she would be employed, so she was not willing to hear anything else.
“Remember the girl from Saint Mary that I told you about?” said Linval, in a non-enthusiastic tone. “She just sent a message that she is on the way here. Here is what I want you to do. Put those verandah chairs inside. That girl knows them very well. And then remove the window curtain and replace it with a bed sheet. When she gets here, tell her that I have moved and you are the new tenant. I have to get back to work. Love you.”
He went back to work, and she went back to sleep.
At a quarter to four Linval was watching the clock. In another forty-five minutes he would be clocking out to go home to his Merce.
Celbourne drove up in the police Jeep.
“Buddy, what’s up?” asked Linval. “You know I am not playing handball today, and you are in uniform.”
“This is serious man,” said Celbourne. “A domestic disturbance call came into the station from your address, and by coincidence I was dispatched to it. To my surprise it was your new girl and another one from Saint Mary fighting. I did not make an arrest, but I escorted the one from Saint Mary to the bus station and saw to it that she got on the bus.”
That night Linval and Mercedes moved to a different address and have been together ever since.
Note; Where destiny leads, you must follow.
About the Author
Laxleyval Sagasta is a freelance mixed genre writer from Jamaica. His books are on sale at leading booksellers; online and in stores. Like him on fb. Laxleyval Sagasta or Laxleyval LLC. Visit his page SAGASTABOOKS.COM. Join his book club and receive free books. Contact by Email [email protected]
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