Chapter X – CHOICE NOT CIRCUMSTANCE
Uriah was a Rasta, he used to live in England and immigrated to Jamaica two years ago. The only son for his mother.
Uriah decided to live in Jamaica, deserting the mother of his two pregnant daughters, confessing: “It was too much pressure.” Now he would keep his mother company, protect her from the wolves in sheeps clothing and for this service, she should not charge him rent or money for food, he should live free.
Uriah was 45 but he looked about 34 years old — a virile looking man (he was now dating a pretty 22 year old).
Apart from the two teenage daughters he had in London, he had two sons for a woman in America. These two sons were aged 22 and 24. Uriah’s mother invited them to stay with her for a while — they never returned. A son born to Uriah’s father (different mother) visited the house also and Uriah’s mother, feeling sorry for him ‘adopted’ him also. She now had four unemployed men living with her, unable to contribute (three of them were furthering their education at her expense) and Uriah, who was investing whatever money he made from playing at ‘sessions’, back into his sound system. Her income (namely her pension which came monthly from England and which, once converted was a lot of money) dwindled quickly.
I would call Uriah in the morning.
I had a bath and went to bed… I tried to sleep but I couldn’t. I wasn’t going to call Sonia until the following week but I was restless. I called her number:
” Sorry, she has gone to the country for a week to a funeral — did she know you were coming?” the voice retorted.
“No” I mumbled, nonplused.
I replaced the receiver without leaving a number where I could be contacted. What was the point if she wasn’t coming back until next week? I needed her now.
This holiday was not turning out right at all. I mean, I did say I wanted to spend the first week alone but that was meant to be out of choice, not out of circumstance. “Next week?” I slumped back on the bed, started reading the book again which prompted my hands to drift to private places — for a moment I felt satisfied but ecstacy is always so transitional.
I got up and stepped out onto the patio. It had turned dark. The sea’s hue had changed from china blue to a hazy black. Silver-grey highlights made the sea even more beautiful in the evening mist, like a fluorescent blanket shimmering towards the horizon.
I felt a slight irritation and slapped my shoulder, ” Bloody mosquitos!”. I went back inside and turned on the television. Good, a movie on HBO. I started watching a movie until I dozed off, leaving the television on.. “Damn” I whispered to my guilt-ridden subconscious, “I should turn the television off to save electricity.” I did not want to get up. I knew that if I did, I would never be able to recapture this relaxed state of submergence… I drifted off. “.. the tel-e-vi-sion… the tel-e-vi-son..”. My conscience hauntingly echoed.
Chapter XI -A RIDE TO MANDEVILLE
In the morning, I called Uriah. “So wha you a do?” he asked me.
I thought it was strange since he said I should call him when I arrived. “Nothing” I said.
“So when yu arrive?”
“I arrived yesterday.” I was feeling uncomfortable because I had informed him of my dates before I left.
“So wah? Yu wan’ come up ya?” (He asked, passing the responsibility of choice to me.)
“That was what we had planned, wasn’t it?”
‘Well, me car naa work yu know, me ‘ave fe tek it to Kingston fe get fix. How long you ‘ave a Jamaica?
Feeling desperate and troubled at his lack of retention of information and knowing that if he didn’t take me out I would have a lonely weekend, I decided to speed up the programme. [I only had one more option left and that was my brother, Winston, who I had wanted to save until the very last, for my own reasons.]
“Well I am supposed to meet my sister on Friday, so I only have today and tomorrow to see you and Aunt Edna.”
“Well me will see what me can do, I will call you tomorrow.”
“Thanks a million.” I mumbled with sarcasm.
Early, the next morning, Uriah called confirming that he would be at my hotel by 9.30 that morning. I was relieved and calculated that he would arrive around 10.30. He actually arrived at 11.25. No apologies for lateness of course, it was the culture.
When I saw the car coast into the driveway, I noticed a protruding muscular arm and smiled with approval. I didn’t realize it was Uriah until he got out. I ran downstairs, happy to meet family at last. He was not as affectionate as he was in London.. he stiffened when I reached to hug him, I pretended not to notice and went outside. There was a man in the car who smiled at me — he introduced him as his brother ‘on his father’s side’.
On the way to Mandeville he kept saying he was hungry. I wasn’t sure whether he was hinting that I should buy some food for him or what.
“Yu don’ hungry?”
“Well, not really, I can wait until I reach Mandeville.”
He pulled over sharply into a ditch so that the car was as far off the road as possible and got out. There was a hut across the road where mangoes of different sizes were spread out. (I loved mangoes!) I squeezed myself out of the door that was wedged against a rock, (since to get out of the driver’s side would be to commit suicide) and went over to the hut.
The Rasta who owned the ‘store’ had one of those faces that you recognize but can’t remember where from.
I picked up one of the mangoes, it had $20 label neatly stuck on it. (At least I didn’t get the feeling I was being exploited.) I took up three and was just about to give him the $60 when Uriah stopped me:
“No, man, we mus can get dem cheaper up so..”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yes, mon.. but if you really want one now, buy one”
I bought one. It was a nice big one and it smelled ripe. I couldn’t wait to buy some more.
He drove recklessly for what seemed hours, deciding not to overtake until he approached a bend; exaggerating his swerves to avoid potholes and dead goats. I wished I had sat in the back of the car, crouched in sleep so I did not have to see the miraculous swerving from gullies that pleaded for corpses. Just one swerve too far to the left or to the right and we would be over, delivered prematurely to our graves.
He stopped again:
“Yu wan’ some sugar cane?”
I saw him reaching into his back pocket for money, so I nodded. Then he asked his brother if he had any change. He got out of the car with his brother and came back with two sugar canes, one for me and one for himself. We chewed them for the duration of the journey. It made a change being treated, even if it was just to a piece of sugar cane. I was appreciative.
“Dem seh Jamaica small — yu tink it small?” Uriah asked.
After driving for two hours, it definitely did not seem small to me, I said to myself rather than to him.
“Mandeville is over 90 miles from Montego Bay.”
“But I thought you said it wasn’t far when I called you. You said you would come to pick me up as if it was around the corner.”
“It no far really… Kingston is 150 miles away from Montego Bay.”
I was really beginning to appreciate the way Uriah had gone out of his way to come and pick me up. No wonder he didn’t arrive at the hotel until 11.25 — I didn’t realize he was coming from such a distance. I would never have arranged for him to come and pick me up had I known. Anyway, he was here and he didn’t seem to mind as he travelled with fury to reach his destination. Uriah was a Scorpio, he challenged danger.. a risk taker… the drive confirmed this.
Before we reached Mandeville, Uriah hailed two old ladies as if he knew them. They were standing by a bush, under the shade of a tree. They were selling mangoes which had been separated on a cardboard box according to size, and priced accordingly. On enquiring, we found out that the prices ranged from $10 for the very small ones to $35 for the large ones, the same size I had paid $20 for earlier on! I knew I should have followed my mind and bought the three that I’d seen earlier. I remembered the saying ‘bird in the hand was worth two in the bush’.
“Dem too teef man,” Uriah exclaimed “..we can get better and cheaper mangos up soh.”
“Up soh, weh? H’eny weh yu go, a de same price.” the lady retorted.
“I don’t think we can get them any cheaper.” his brother said (speaking for the first time).
So, we continued the drive, humiliation drove the car to Mandeville.
Chapter XII – ME BELLIE A BAWL!
Somewhat shaken up, I arrived eventually at his mother’s house in Mandeville.
I remembered his mother from London, she had always loved entertaining. She was a stout woman with thick straight legs.. she had no ankles. After her husband’s death two years ago, she decided to sell their house and move to Jamaica. She had always considered herself the underdog, so, to make her feel more acceptable, she decided to buy “one big house in Jamaica” designed to give her status and prestige.
When I arrived, I was not impressed… neither was I impressed with Uriah’s ‘apartment’, which is where I would sleep if I had to stay the night. He was a D.J., so his room was full of records and equipment. His surroundings proved that he was a man without a female to indulge him. No bathroom towels, the toilet bowl had not been flushed, his pillow cases were dingy grey and the bedspreads looked shabby.
I went on a mental expedition. Why did I leave Montego Bay, the comfort of my hotel room to attract, once again, a substandard existence?
“Yu should-a never check into a hotel..” Uriah said, simultaneously shaking his head with disapproval; his mother reconfirmed proudly:
“Even if it mean the two a we fe sleep pon de floor.”
“Like hell.” I thought. I looked down at floor, uneven tiles jutted out belligerently through the threadbare covering.
” We would be only too glad to ‘ave you stay here..”
(Not in your cozy bedroom, Aunt Edna, I bet!) my silent voice challenged.
I knew why they would have preferred if I had stayed with them instead of booking into a hotel. It was because they knew I would have contributed during my stay, even if it was just a couple of hundred $US dollars to help towards the food — they would have been able to benefit. With me staying in a hotel, I was not obliged to them in any way, that is how I liked it and that is what they did not like. They were trying to make their invitation seem charitable but their motives were purely selfish.
“Me bellie a bawl, me a go dead fe hungry. Me no h’eat from morning, yu know.” Uriah moaned.
(I noticed that when Jamaican’s became emotional and really wanted to place emphasis on a vowel, they always added an ‘h’ in front of it.)
Uriah was in the kitchen opening all the cupboards and kissing his teeth at their nudity. He opened the fridge and took out a ‘chuka-chuka’ plastic bag that contained two so-so slices of bread. He put it back and looked once more inside the cupboards for something more substantial. He was standing on tiptoe this time. I saw him reach inside to the back of the cupboard. He had located a tin of something, he took it out.
“Myrns, yu ‘ave any petrol money? Me don’ ‘ave any gas in me car.”
I was no longer appreciative for the ride. Honesty can be cruel but I would have preferred if he had just asked me for some money because he was broke, instead of transferring the ride into a price. As the saying goes ‘nothing is free, there is always a price in one way or another’.
Where was charity? Generosity? Kinship? The mental crusade continued. I was disappointed that my cousin could not see his way clear to give me a lift, free of charge. I guess times hard in Jamaica. That is what I didn’t understand; if times were so hard, why live in Jamaica and suffer? Surely, the hot sun, the clean water, the pure air, the fresh fruit did not compensate for lack of money, lack of work, lack of the basic ingredients to sustain a healthy existence.
“How much is gas?” I gave him JA100 dollars, but his _expression signified it was insufficient. I gave him another 100 dollar bill, his sullenness lifted. “Give Tanks.. Jah Rastafari, Selassie I” I had bought him a Cross-Colors T-shirt as a gift and as he was hard up, I gave him US$20: “It’s not much, but it might help.” I said.
“Give Praises to Jah Rastafari, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God…” he chanted with respect and appreciation.
Uriah absent-mindedly groped his protuberance. He opened the tin of sardines and mixed it with some not-so-finely-chopped onions. He then took out the bread from the fridge, there was no butter or margarine:
“A me mudda favourite bread dis.” he said cheerfully, waving the two slices that were left.
“Yu wan’ some a dis?” (pointing to the dish that contained the sardines in tomato sauce).
I wasn’t sure whether I should — his mother’s favourite bread and the last two pieces? But then, did I have a choice? My stomach had grown accustomed to the Pelican’s regular breakfasts, lunches and dinners, it was reverberating inside. The sardines were served on a timeworn chipped dish — a gooey red substance with grey mounds and fish bones resembling strands of hair, jutted out precariously. I ate it nonetheless and the saying that ‘anything tastes good when your hungry’ was false.
His mother arrived from somewhere and threw some desiccated looking yams on the large wooden table.
“Dem bwoy will ‘ave fe cook de food yu know, becaw me naa cook… me foot tired… If me never ‘ave fe send dem bwoy to school and if Uriah was working, I could live like a queen, but I don’t get a penny from any of dem.” she lamented bitterly.
I was surprised at her martyrdom.
“Get rid of them.. kick them out.” I said, scathingly.
“Uriah iz me one son, you know and besides, me feel sorry fe dem.” she retaliated.
“What happens when they start to have girlfriends?”
“Girlfrien’? Girlfrien’?” [she repeated for emphasis] “Girlfrien’? hah-hey! Dem ‘ave girlfrien’ already. A young men dem,” (she proudly admitted) “De gal dem come fram all over to see dem.. de phone don’ stop ring… a sweet bwoy dem me ‘ave here, you know.”
She invoked no sympathy from me.