For nearly a century, from the late eighteen nineties to the early nineteen seventies, Jamaica enjoyed unprecedented growth compared to the other West Indian countries. The capital, Kingston was a melting pot. People from all over the world were taking up residences there. Along with the island’s lovely climate, cost of living was very low and many of the new residents enjoyed the island hop to Cuba for fanfare and gambling.
The island’s people fared well, because of the need for added housing and other amenities, especially in Kingston where there was plenty of employment.
Early in the twentieth century, the black man, third, fourth and fifth generations of emancipated slaves were virtually shut out of the employment opportunities in the big city. There were many reasons for this. One; the Chinese controlled the grocery stores, the laundry and the bakeries. The Indians controlled the transportation system. The English and Irish controlled the building and road construction. The Jews ran the banks and the jewelry stores, and on and on it went. Each of those nationalities brought their own people to work with them and only needed to hire the natives mostly for common labor work. The black man was relegated mainly to agriculture, which most of them were satisfied with, because, they were their own bosses, and they worked where they lived in the country side.
With the black woman however, it was a different story. To begin with, many of them marry men of those other nationalities, and others had jobs as cooks, domestic helpers, store clerks, dress-makers and so on. One such woman was Iris. She was a clerk at a woman’s apparel store in down town Kingston, and she was the Godmother to her best friend’s baby girl named Enid.
Iris and Enid’s mother Mary were the same age and were next-door neighbors and close friends from childhood days.
Enid’s mother got pregnant at age seventeen by a Deep Sea fisherman named Phillip, and married him just before Enid was born. The christening took place when baby Enid was three months old and Iris was chosen as her Godmother. Within months after that she went to live and work in Kingston.
As time went on, Mary had another child, a girl she named Pam. Life was good for Phillip and Mary. With proceeds from Phillip’s fishing, they were able to buy a piece of land and started to build a house, which they moved into with only two of the five rooms finished.
Enid was fifteen and her sister Pam twelve when Phillip drowned at sea. His body was never found. His partner, Darrell took over the business. Mary struggled to raise the two girls, and often had to seek financial help from Darrell, and pretty soon he moved in to live with her. Rumors spread that Darrell had killed Phillip to get his wife. Mary was aware of the rumors and promised herself that as soon as her daughters were grown she would end the relationship.
Enid dropped out of school and went to learn Dress-making with Mrs. Gooden. She was a Scottish immigrant who lived in the area. The payments for Enid’s lessons, were for her doing house-hold chores for Mrs. Gooden and her family two days per week.
When Mary wasn’t cleaning fish for Darrell, she would be working in her vegetable garden from which she sold or traded to help make ends meet.
Iris was aware of her friend’s situation, and every Christmas season she would visit with presents, especially for her Goddaughter.
Enid had not too long ago celebrated her seventeenth birthday when Mary noticed that Darrell had eyes on her first child. (making sexual advances) That night she sharpened her deceased husband’s machete that she had hidden under her mattress. She then waited until her man was in bed fast asleep before she rubbed the back of the machete across his neck. Darrell awoke, almost frightened out of his wit.
“Ooman,” he said. “Are you mad?”
“No,” answered Mary. “But ef yu mess wid mi pickni dem, nex time mi wei use de machete mout, an mi nah rub. Mi a chap”.
“No, but if you mess with my girls, next time I will use the sharpened edge of the machete, and I am not going to rub it. I am going to chop.”
That night Darrell slept in the storage room adjoining the detached kitchen, and had made that his sleeping quarters ever since.
That Christmas, Iris paid her usual visit, and Mary reported the incident to her.
“Pack har tings,” said Iris. “She is going to Kingston wid mi. A noh a lady who need a live een helpa. Har ne-aim is Mrs. Wright an she is de wife of de Presbyterian minista. E wei be easia fa yu to watch dat you noh wat wid one chile.”
“Pack her things. She is going to Kingston with me. I know of this lady who needs a live-in helper. Her name is Mrs. Wright. She is the wife of the Presbyterian minister. It will be easier for you to watch that you know what with one child.”
Two days later, Enid was on the Diesel train with her Godmother to Kingston, and the day after that was taken to see Mrs. Wright. When Mrs. Wright heard that Enid could sew, she was very elated. Enid liked the job very much. She would be getting a weekly wage of fifteen shillings, and she didn’t even have to buy her own food. Immediately she made plans to send ten shillings per week by the market vendors that bought vegetables from her mother to her.
Within days of being at her new place of abode, she met the boy next door. He said his name was Reds, but that was what he was called, because he was of German descent from Saint Elizabeth. Reds worked as a gardener for the neighbors, and had been there for almost two years. That first day, they talked for hours, he on one side of the fence, and she on the other.
For the first three months, Mrs. Wright brought Enid dress materials and measurements and had her make dresses for just about all the women in the church. Sometimes she gave her dead-lines that caused her to stay up late at nights sewing. Enid did not get any days off, but was thankful that she could use left-over material to make clothes for herself and her sister. Once per week she visited the market and gave the traders clothes and letters with money to deliver to her mother and to her sister.
One day out of the blue, Mrs. Wright visited the store where Iris worked. Iris was surprised to see her. She hadn’t been there since Enid started to work for her. She wondered if she came as a customer or just to say hi. There were no thought about Enid, because Iris spoke to her by telephone the day before, and all was well.
“Good morning Iris!” said Mrs. Wright.
Iris replied in kind.
“I want you to come to my house today after work. I have to speak to you and your niece together.”
With that saying, she walked out. Iris did not ask her about what. She could not contact Enid by telephone, because she knew that she had no access to the phone when Mrs. Wright was out of the house. It was a Tuesday, and Iris wished that Mrs. Wright could have waited one more day, because the down town stores are closed at mid-day every Wednesday. Now she would have to get off work at five, take a bus up-town, and get another bus to Stony Hill to Mrs. Wright’s house. For sure she would have to take a taxi from Stony Hill back to her house, because no bus runs there after six o’clock. That would cost her five shillings that could go towards something else. That upset her.
Iris arrived and saw Mrs. Wright sitting in her parlor waiting. Enid was summoned, and the three sat facing each other. She was very surprised to see her Godmother. She hadn’t seen her since she went to live with Mrs. Wright, and wondered what the occasion was all about. She was about to find out.
“Glad you could make it,” said Mrs. Wright.
Iris nodded in acknowledgement, and showed her anxiety about the meeting by her restlessness in the chair.
“Well, I have no children,” continued Mrs. Wright. “But over the years I’ve employed quite a few young ladies here, so I’ve gained enough experience to recognize when some are in the family way.”
Both Enid and Godmother looked at each other with the most surprising looks ever. Enid had suspicions that something was not normal, but needed more time to confirm her fears. She had never had sex before she met Reds, and every time since that first time she had insisted that they use protection.
“Did you come here with it?” asked Godmother.
“No mam,” answered Enid.
Iris was relieved that the damage was not done by Darrell, but she wanted to know who, and hoping that it wasn’t the minister. As she asked the next question, she braced herself for the answer.
“Well, who did this to you?”
“Reds mam,” answered Enid.
“Reds, who the hell is Reds?” asked Iris, furiously.
“The gardener next-door,” answered Mrs. Wright.
All three were quiet for a long while. Enid held her head down, and Mrs. Wright looked at Iris enquiringly.
“Do Mrs. Wright,” Iris said, pleadingly. “Since it is not showing as yet, please let her stay here a little longer, and then I will take her. You see mam it would be so shameful for her to go home like this. They would laugh her to scorn.”
“Okay, she is a nice girl, and a willing worker,” said Mrs. Wright. “But I will have to cut her pay to ten shillings, now that I will have to feed two, and she will have sick days.”
With the reduction in pay and the prenatal care expense, Enid could no longer afford to send the usual ten shillings to her mother, she continued however to write to her sister. They had made a pact that when little sister gets out of school that she Enid would have her own place in Kingston, and they both stay together, so she would assume that big sister is saving money towards that end. Enid asked Iris not to tell any of the country folks about her pregnancy.
Month after month, Mary had written to her daughter Enid and got no reply. Enid refused to write to her mother, because one; there was no money to send, and two; she knew that at some point the subject of pregnancy would come up, and she would have to tell her. Mary had warned Enid just before she left for Kingston that if she ever have to have sex before she was married to make sure she used protection, so she would definitely feel let-down, because that is how mothers feel when their daughters go off to Kingston to work, and within a short time period they return expecting babies. Mary did write to Iris to enquire about Enid, and Iris replied that she was okay, but was having some slight money problems, and that they would both be visiting for Christmas.
The baby, a bouncing boy was born in October at the new Kingston Jubilee Hospital. Iris took Enid and the baby to live with her three days after the birth. She was very proud of Enid and the baby that she took that week off work and had a party at her house, and boasted to the neighbors that she had a grandson. She was given presents and money.
Enid kept up the correspondence with her sister through the mail, but did not tell her of the pregnancy, nor the baby, although she had mentioned Reds in most of her letters, and told her that she would be bringing someone special that is related to Reds to meet her.
As the weeks went by, the two women made their plans for the Christmas season trip.
Four days before Christmas, on a Wednesday, Enid, her Godmother and the baby boarded the westbound Diesel train at Darling Street ten-thirty in the morning. Wednesdays are usually the best day to travel on the train, because the next day Thursday is not a market day, therefore there were no market people with food baskets to contend with. But because of the holiday, the train was packed like sardines in a tin with school children going home for the Christmas season.
By the time they got to Spanish Town, because of the clustering of people in the coach section where Enid and Godmother were with the baby, he was crying uncontrollably.
Iris asked the conductor to up-grade their tickets to the first class section where it was less crowded. He did, but at the cost of what it was from Kingston. They were glad for the opportunity, but Iris complained about the cost well after they were reseated.
A man in the seat behind her asked her what the extra charge was for.
“Five shilling sah,” replied Iris. “A whole five shilling. Yu noh hu much bread five shilling caa buy.”
“Five shillings sir. “All of five shillings?” Do you know how much bread five shillings can buy?”
The man gave Iris a ten shilling note and told her to put the change into the baby’s piggy bank.
A woman who was sitting beside the same man gave Iris a two shilling piece and said, “Put dis wid it.”
“Put this with it.”
Another man who was sitting in the same row of seats, across the aisle, got up, took his hat off, and in his drunken stupor said;
“Come on everybody. Let’s help out grandma here. Its’ Christmas, lets spread the joy.”
He walked up and down the aisle collecting money. Some people put money in hurriedly just to get him and the smell of rum from their faces.
When he handed the hat to Iris it was full and heavy. The paper currencies in all denominations were on top of the coins. There were gold coins, silver coins and copper coins. Enid picked up the baby from the basinet and Iris emptied the contents of the hat under the blanket. All the passengers clapped and sang Christmas carols the rest of the way.
Six hours and a hundred and nine miles after Enid, her baby and her Godmother boarded the train, the conductor announced; ‘Three miles to Catadupa’. They collected their luggage and waited for the train to stop. As the train crawled into the station, Enid noticed her little sister peering intently into the coach cars as the first class section of the train moved pass her. She stepped off the train with the basinet in hand. Godmother was behind her with the baby and paying close attention to the man handling their suitcases.
Enid tried to get her sister’s attention, but she was in the middle of the crowd of people getting off and getting on the coach section of the train. Finally as the crowd thinned and the train began to move, little sister looked toward the front of the train and saw Enid. Her face went from a frown to an ear to ear smile as she ran to meet big sister.
The two sisters hugged and laughed for a while. Little sister did not see Godmother with the baby. She looked at her sister from head to toe and said; “Sis you look thin. Are you sick? And where is this special person you said you were taking to meet me? Show him to me so I can help him with the luggage.
Enid pointed to Godmother whose back was turned. Little sister had the most puzzling look on her face. Just then Iris turned around.
“Jesas,” shouted Pam.
“No, not Jesas,” said Enid. “He is your nephew, and he is the special person.
Pam lightly kissed Iris and grabbed the baby from her.
Iris hailed for a taxi. It was the last one on the stand, and it was an old two colored Austin Cambridge that was teasingly called ‘Mayreach’. The two sisters and the baby sat in the rear seat and Iris seated herself in the front passenger seat. Some boys who were standing around gave the car a push, so it could be started. The car smoked the entire three and a half miles to Cho Cho Gulley. Not just ordinary automobile exhaust smoke, but big clouds of black smoke.
They pulled up at the gate, and Darrell approached the car. The baby was sleeping, probably being drunk from the exhaust smoke of the car. Pam rushed with him into the house to avoid the mosquitoes buzzing around in the yard.
“Don’t just stand around,” said Iris to Darrell. “Get the suitcases. Where is Mary?”
She paid the driver and he drove off.
“Mary gone fe get de goat dem,” answered Darrell, as he balanced the two heavy suitcases, one in each hand.
“Mary is gone to get the goats.”
Pam had secured the sleeping baby under a mosquito net and was getting the kerosene oil lamps lit as darkness was setting in. Mary and the goats arrived and she locked them into a fenced area before stepping up on the verandah where Enid and Iris were standing.
They greeted each other with much excitement. Then Mary looked at her daughter. Up, down and up again.
“Gyal, a how yu soh mawga?” she asked. “Dem noh feed yu weh yu ben deh?”
“Girl, why are you so meager? Don’t they feed you where you were?”
Before Enid could respond to her mother, the baby awoke and made a short discomforting sound.
“A wa dat mi hear soun like duppy,” said Mary.
“What is that I hear that sounds like a ghost?”
All three looked at each other, and for about ten seconds there was complete silence. It was as if they were waiting to hear the sound again to verify whether it was a ghost or not. Pam had finished lighting the lamps and picked up the baby. As she walked through the doorway with him in her arms to the verandah a ray of the lamp light shone on his red face.
“Jesas Cryice,” shouted Mary.
“No Mama,” said Pam. “He is your grandson.”
Mary spent the next few minutes weeping uncontrollably before she said;
“Gad bless mi eyesight. Phillip look dung ya. Yu have a gran pickni.”
“God bless my eyesight. Phillip, look down here. You have a grandchild.”
She hugged both of her daughters, and chided Iris for not telling her of Enid’s pregnancy.
Mary did not leave dinner for her visitors. She was not expecting them until Friday. Pam however had gone to the train station every day since Monday, and every evening she left the greater portion of her dinner for her sister, plus she had roasted sweet potatoes and yams she had hidden. Darrell milked some goats and they all ate and retired for the night. The two friends sat up talking into the night and so did the two sisters.
At the light of day, Mary went out to the kitchen to make breakfast. Darrell had already left. He and his partner would be gone all day and all night, and return early Friday morning to catch the Christmas-eve grand market with their catch of fish. Mary also needed to procure produce from her garden in time for the traders, who usually show up between nine and ten in the morning. She was anxious to talk to Enid about the baby’s father, about marriage, and about saving money for Pam to learn to sew and to get a sewing machine. Also the house building needed to be completed. No work had been done on it since Phillip died, and Darrell refused to spend any money on it until Mary is married to him. Her thoughts were full of what she wanted to say and to know.
Iris, the girls and the baby were up, had freshened up and ate by the time Mary had finished her chores. Mary called for them to sit around the kitchen table with her.
“I have a lot of things to talk about,” she said. “But, first things first.”
“Yes mama,” Pam interrupted. “First things first. While you two were up gallivanting last night, and Enid was asleep, I took the liberty of counting the money that was in the baby’s basinet, and guess how much it is. Nine hundred and thirty-five shillings.”
“Laud mi Gad,” said Mary. “Weh all dat money come fram. Teekya oonu mek police come come tek weh all a wei.
“Lord my God. Where did all that money come from? Take care you all don’t cause police to come here and take us all away.”
“Godmother,” called Enid. “Please explain to her quickly, before she gets a heart attack.”
Iris explained the incident that happened on the train. Mary was relieved.
“Now back to wa mi wawn noh,” she said. “De be-aiby is tree mont ole. A time fe im chrissen, an Sundey a come is Chrismus Sundey. Dere is no betta time. Every Dick Taam an Harry wei deh deh. Wei caa kill two guout an a pig an mek all de neighbor dem come nyam. Mi proad seh mi pickni neva dash weh belly like some a dem weh gaw a Kingston fe goh look wok. Instead dem goh look man.”
“Now, back to what I wanted to know. The baby is three months old. Its’ time for him to be christened. Sunday coming is Christmas Sunday. There is no better time. Every Dick, Tom and Harry will be there. We can kill two goats and a pig and let all the neighbors come and eat. I am proud that my child never had an abortion, like some of these girls that go to Kingston to look for work. Instead they go looking for men.”
“Stop Mary,” Iris yelled. “The child is already christened. His name is Phillip James Peter Eubanks. Mrs. Wright is his Godmother.”
“Enoh mek no difference,” retorted Mary. “Im caa chrissen aghen. Nutten wrang wid a double duouse of blessen. Wei ha fe goh ahead wid de plan. Mi wawn everybody to noh dat mi proad a mi pickni.”
“It makes no difference. He can be christened again. There is nothing wrong with a double dose of blessings. We have to go ahead with the plan. I want all to know that I am proud of my child.”
The arrangements were made and on Sunday the baby was christened again. People from far and near attended the service and brought presents for the baby. Mary was surprised to see some of Phillip’s relatives at the reception. Ever since he had married Mary, the family ostracized him, because he married out of the Indian race. Now they brought gifts of chicken and young goats for the baby. The girls were happy to see them, as this was the first time they were meeting most of them.
Monday the twenty-sixth, was celebrated as Christmas, and Tuesday was celebrated as Boxing- day. That day Iris and Enid boarded the train and travelled to Kingston, leaving the baby to be taken care of by Mary and Pam. The following day Iris went back to work and Enid started on a new job at the Children’s Clothing Store next door to where her Godmother worked.
Over the ensuing months Enid would visit Mrs. Wright on some weekends in pretense so that she could see Reds. They had no telephone contact, so they both looked forward to her visits. Occasionally when he got a Sunday off, they would meet at a hotel near down town, but it was always Enid who had to pay the ten shillings for the room. On one such meeting, the subject of marriage came up. It was then that Enid realized that, one; Reds could not read or write, two; that he was only earning twelve shillings per week despite working seven days at two adjoining homes which belong to the same family, and three; out of the twelve shillings, he had to send ten to the country for the support of his fatherless siblings.
Enid was earning an average of twenty-five shillings per week, but that was not enough to pay rent for them to stay together and with money left to send to her mother for the baby, and for work to be done on the house. She explained the situation to her Godmother.
“If you are serious about this, then I applaud you both,” said Iris. “Here is my advice. First you have to prepare yourself to see this through. It might be a better idea to rent a cheap room for him, say fifteen shillings a month. Have him register in two of the free government programs that will provide both literacy and skill. He could also get a weekend gardening job to provide money for food. If his head and heart are in the right place, in six months he’ll be earning good money. I did the same thing for my ex-fiancé”
“For real, Godmother?” asked Enid. “I didn’t know you had a fiancée. You never talked about him.”
“No, we split, because he wanted a family and I was not able to get pregnant.”
In the mean-time Mrs. Wright was of the opinion that Enid and the baby was living with Iris. One day she visited Iris on her job and enquired about Enid and the baby. She was on the way out of the store when she turned around and said;
“By the way, lately there has been something that is weighing heavily on my mind, and sometimes I stay up all night thinking about it.”
Iris was bewildered by the complaint, and wondered if Mrs. Wright was blaming herself for Enid’s pregnancy, or if she doubted who the baby’s father was. She had not seen the baby, since the christening and could have doubts about the Minister’s involvement. That was not a worry for Iris.
“Oh Mrs. Wright,” said Iris. “I am so sorry. Please tell me about it and if there is anything at all that I can do. I’ll be glad to do it.”
“My dear, this is not easy for me,” said Mrs. Wright. “I would love to have your niece to come back. The first time I did not treat her right. All those dresses that I had her to make for my church sisters, I did collect a reasonable price from them, which I should have shared with her, but I did not. Now I want to give her half of that money that was due to her, if she comes back. If I can sleep half the night, I would be contented.”
The two women shook hands, and Iris promised to talk to Enid, but she knew that Mrs. Wright wanted to make money off her, besides the job at the Children’s Clothing store paid well.
By the baby’s first birthday, Reds had completed the Skills program and had secured his first real job as a carpenter’s helper. He continued in the Literacy program. The wedding was planned for the Christmas Sunday at the same country church where Enid’s parents were married.
Note: You can get there from anywhere!
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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