I lay around in bed for almost an hour after I woke up on Sunday, and probably would have stayed there even longer if Cassandra hadn’t come knocking on my door. “Good morning, sleepy head,” she said after I had opened the door to let her in. “Time to get up. Arlene and I are going to the library, yu wan’ come?”
“Yeah, I probably should. I have a lot of reading I need to do.”
“OK, we’ll wait for you to get ready then.” Cassandra grinned. “Anything to procrastinate!”
I tried to get ready as quickly as I could, and forty-five minutes later, we were sitting at a table at the library. We had met up with two other guys, Philip and Matthew, from Rex on our way there who weren’t really the studious type so I already suspected that I wasn’t going to get as much work done as I wanted.
Sure enough, after all of fifteen minutes of silence, Philip threw down his pen and sighed. “Bwoy, dis borin’!” he exclaimed in a low voice. “The library is the last place I should be right now.”
“It’s the first place you should be if you want to pass all your classes this year,” Cass said dryly. “Didn’t you say you were worried about that not happening?”
He kissed his teeth but had no response. He turned to me instead. “School easier in America, don’t it?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Um, I wouldn’t know. I’m from Canada, remember?”
Matthew laughed. “Philip has no culture, yu hear, these foreign places are all the same to him.”
“But seriously,” Philip persisted. “It’s easier there, nuh true? I don’t know why you came down here, bwoy. UWI is too hard.”
“She came here to get some sun and go to the beach! No problem, mon!” Matthew exclaimed, putting on a horrible fake accent. “You don’t see how many tourists come here all the time? Same thing!”
“No, it’s not!” I retorted indignantly. “I came here because I’m from here. You guys know that.”
“I thought we came here to study,” Arlene said plaintively. “At this rate, I should have stayed at home. Can we get back to the books, please?”
“In a minute, man. But Nadiya,” Matthew looked at me, deadpan. “I know you were born here and lived here for a little bit, but you mus’ know seh yu’ Canadian now! Yu cyaah come claim JA just for the one year.”
I knew that the guys were just joking around, just trying to bother me out of boredom, but for some reason I was getting really upset. Yes, I had left the island when I was young, and yes, I was a Canadian obviously, but I was also a Jamaican.
“Listen,” I snapped, “I was born here, just like you. I went to school here, just like you. And I’m sitting here right now, just like you. You can’t tell me where I’m from and where I’m not from.”
Everyone was silent for a second, and the guys looked sheepish. Then I felt guilty for snapping at them. “You guys are troublemakers,” I smiled. “Can we please listen to Arlene, and get back to studying, boring or not?”
This time, Philip agreed wholeheartedly.
We managed to get a few hours of studying done, and when we left that afternoon, all was forgiven. But nobody had forgotten either. As we were walking back to hall, Cass was a little way ahead with Philip and Matthew, so Arlene took the opportunity to ask me about it.
“So why did you get so upset earlier?” she asked with concern. “I could tell how mad you were.”
I shrugged, feeling embarrassed. “Maybe it bothered me because I kind of felt that they were right. I’m not Jamaican the same way you guys are.”
“Why on earth would that bother you? You know how many people here would love to have that Canadian passport that you have? You have nothing to prove to anyone, Nadiya.”
I laughed. “You have a good point about that passport thing. I guess it just made mr feel like I don’t fit in 100% yet.”
She waved her hand. “Well, you fit in with us, you never have to worry about that. And anyway, it’s not like you’re here forever, it’s just one year. Remember, you’re going to be right back in Canada come the spring, so fitting in there is what counts if anything! At the end of the day, that’s your home. Your goal for this year is just to get an experience, and to have fun.”
“You’re right, I was just being silly. I promise my focus is back on fun!”
I got the opportunity that I was looking for to increase my fun factor on Monday evening. Jeremy was a part of the inter-hall football (i.e. soccer) leagues on campus, and I had really come to enjoy going down to the Mona Bowl and watching his games. I had been skeptical at first, never considering myself much of a soccer fan, but now I had really gotten into it. The inter-hall rivalry was fun to get into, and the postcard-quality view of the Blue Mountains that I could look at during slow points in the matches didn’t hurt either. I always cheered for Jeremy’s team, except of course for when they were playing my hall. He had a game that evening against Irvine Hall, and I had gone down with Adrianne, who was an avid fan and footballer herself, to watch and support. It was also a good chance for she and I to catch up.
As the game (“It’s a match, Nadiya,” Adrianne would always reproach me) got under way, I noticed that there was a group of four guys who were also there watching the match. At least, I’m sure that had been their original intention, but now, they were just staring at us. “You would think they’ve never seen pretty girls before,” whispered Adrianne, kissing her teeth. I tried to stifle my giggles and turned my attention back to the game.
Only a few minutes later, I felt a light tap on my shoulder. When I turned around, there was a tall, good-looking guy standing beside me who looked very nervous. The group of guys had now decreased by one in number.
“Excuse me, but do you mind if I speak with you for a minute?” he asked with a deep voice and a smile. He had a baby face, but the voice of a grown man.
I smiled in response. “Sure.” I glanced back at Adrianne who, sensing that I was happy to talk to this guy, gave me a wink and a smile. He and I stepped a little bit away from the crowd.
“My name is Gary,” he said, extending a hand. “I’ve seen you around. You visit that guy on Chancellor a lot, I hear he’s your cousin? Anyway, I decided that I couldn’t see you again and not talk to you.”
I blushed, flattered that he knew who I was. “Well, thank you very much. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Nadiya, and you’re right, Jeremy’s my cousin.”
“And where are you from?” he asked, hearing my accent.
“I’m an exchange student from Canada.”
“OK, OK. How long are you here for?”
“For the whole school year actually.”
A big smile broke out on his face. “Well, that’s good to hear! I actually don’t even go to school here, I go to UTech.” The University of Technology was another university quite nearby, in walking distance of UWI. I had wondered several times when passing by if I would get to meet any of its students over the course of the year that I was on the island. It looked like this was my chance. “I’m studying architecture there, but my little brother goes here and lives on Chancellor, so I’m up here visiting him all the time.”
“Wow, architecture,” I said, impressed. “That seems like it would be really cool.”
He laughed. “Well, at times. Just like anything else in school, I guess, sometimes I can’t stand it. It’s not easy, let me tell you! But I’m glad I chose it, it’s definitely the right field for me. I was very happy when I got in; it’s a very competitive program.” He hesitated for a second and then said slowly, “If you really think architecture is that interesting, maybe I could tell you more about it over the telephone?”
I had been waiting for that. “OK, that sounds good. And maybe we can talk about other stuff too besides architecture.”
A few minutes later, I was back at Adrianne’s side, with Gary’s number in my cell phone and a smile on my face.
“So? I take it things went well?” asked Adrianne with a grin. “You look happy.”
“Yeah, they did. We exchanged numbers. He seems like a nice guy, and he’s cute, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, not bad at all,” she nodded appreciatively. “See? There are more guys on this island than just Kevin.”
I smiled, satisfied. It looked like life was about to get a little bit more interesting!
I planned on calling Gary the next night, but he beat me to it. He didn’t waste any time inviting me out to a place nearby called Guilt Trip. He was shocked to hear that I had never been there. “You’ve been at UWI all this time, and you say you come to Jamaica every year, and nobody ever took you there?! I promise you,” he guaranteed, “you will eat the best desserts around, outside of the ones that my mother makes, of course. Plus, it has a very nice décor.”
I was intrigued by Gary so I made an extra effort to look good that night. I put on dark blue skinny jeans and a yellow strapless top with nude pumps, added a large pair of gold hoops, and used the curling iron to put some curls in my hair. I knew that I looked good when I was finished, and for a second, wished that Kevin could see me. “No time to think about him,” I muttered to my reflection in the mirror. “I’ve got a guy to meet and dessert to eat. Let’s see if Gary is right about this place, and let’s see if I’m right about Gary.”
He picked me up right on time, and actually got out of the car to open my door for me, both of which scored him big points with me. He was just as well-mannered at the restaurant, pulling out my chair for me, and telling my order to the waiter before his own. Best of all, he was so right about the food!
“Oh my God, I think I’ve died and gone to heaven,” I sighed as I took my first bite of the cheesecake I had ordered. I looked around the open-air restaurant and had to admit that it really was a travesty that I had never been there before.
“I told you!” he declared proudly. “I’m glad I could introduce you to here. Now tell me, Nadiya, what made you decide to grace our little island for a year?”
As we talked, I sensed that Gary was a very different guy from Omar. He was much more serious and reserved, but was still able to hold a good conversation, and I found his quiet intensity appealing. I started to feel excited at the prospects with this one.
In spite of the cavalier way that he had spoken to me about it earlier, as we talked, I could tell that he was really passionate about the field he’d chosen. Like me, he was in his third year, and he was anxious to finish his bachelor’s degree and then do his master’s so that he could start working, doing what he loved to do. “How about an after-dessert drive?” he asked as we were finishing up. “I want to show you some of my favourite architecture in the city. It’s much more interesting than talking about it.”
“Sounds like a plan! Let’s get the bill then.” I reached for my purse when the bill came, willing to go dutch, but he put a firm hand on top of it and said, “Come now, I’m the one taking you out, so let me do it properly.” How could I argue with that?
“So where are we going?” I asked as we turned out of the parking lot and started driving.
“We’re going to look at some of the more interestingly designed houses and townhouses of Kingston’s richer neighbourhoods. We’ll start out tonight with Norbrook, Cherry Gardens and Jack’s Hill. There are many other places for you to see, but we can’t do it all in one night. Hopefully there’ll be more opportunities for me to show you around beyond just tonight.”
The way things are going, I’m sure there will be!, I thought excitedly. But I played it cool and just smiled in response.
I couldn’t keep my composure, though, when I saw some of the houses that Gary showed me that night. I was blown away. Some of my own family and family friends lived up in the hills, yes, but many of the mansions that I saw on that drive were unparalleled by anything that I had ever seen before (except of course for Kevin’s home). Because of the weather, the finer houses of Jamaica were often characterized by balconies, open spaces, high ceilings, large windows, beautiful grills and wrap-around furnished verandas. Most of the houses I saw had big, beautiful gates with spacious carports, and gorgeous ceramic tile roofs (I had never thought of roofs as gorgeous before until I heard Gary talk about them). Most were white, but many were brightly coloured, in tropical colours I never would have seen in Canada. Then there was the landscaping surrounding the houses: gorgeous green lawns interrupted with tropical trees and flowers. Some of the houses had tennis courts and pools on the property, and several had both. I loved the tour, and it was even better having a tour guide who felt such reverence for the beauty in what he was showing me.
“It’s hard to believe that Grants Pen is so close to here, isn’t it?” Gary asked softly as we were staring in awe at one particular behemoth of a house in Cherry Gardens. The Grants Pen community was one of the most dangerous districts on the island, and although only a short drive away, seemed like it was on the other side of the world from where I was now. Two worlds so close, but yet so far apart. I frowned as I thought about it. It didn’t seem fair.
At the end of the night, he took me up to the top of Long Mountain, not to show me any particular house, but to show me the spectacular view. “What you see looking out from your house, I think, is just as important as what you see inside your house and the house itself. When I build my dream house, I promise you it’s going to have the best view in Jamaica.” The view from up there, looking down on the lights of Kingston and Portmore, almost took my breath away. It was a great way to end the evening.
When he dropped me back at my gate, he gave me a quick hug, and I breathed a sigh of relief that there seemed to be no expectation of a kiss. It had been a wonderful night, and I told him so.
“I had a lot of fun too,” he replied, flattered. “I can’t wait to do it again.”
I walked through the gate, singing good night to the security guard, and then looked up at the starry sky above me. It must be a sin to be this happy, I thought with a sleepy grin on my face. If all goes well, I just might be able to get my mind off of Kevin once and for all!