The next afternoon, Kevin arrived to pick me up for his cousin’s wedding just seconds after I had finished doing my hair, my final step in getting ready. “You look great, as usual,” he greeted me with a kiss.
“Thanks! I bought the dress just for this occasion.” The aquamarine wrap dress with cap sleeves that I’d bought had not been cheap, but hey, the year was almost over and I was perfectly fine going back to Canada with all my spending money finished. “You don’t look too bad yourself,” I added appreciatively. He was wearing a beige suit that complemented my outfit well.
“So I didn’t tell you where the wedding ceremony is being held, did I?” he asked looking smug, once we were in the car and driving.
“No, you didn’t actually. Why, where’s it going to be?”
“Oh my God! Are you serious?” Kevin knew that I’d never been there and that I was dying to get a chance to see it for myself. Going there had been one of the things on my to-do list that had just never happened. Strawberry Hill was a retreat high up in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica that was famous for its privacy, beauty and calm. I’d heard and read so many good things about it, and seen so many beautiful pictures online. I was impressed that Kevin’s cousin could afford it! It was supposed to have beautiful gardens and be a perfect spot for a wedding, but it certainly wasn’t for those with a small wallet.
“That’s his family’s money,” he explained when I asked him about it. “The guy’s family is very rich, they own a coffee farm. They actually have a nice story, a real rags-to-riches kind of thing. They started off with a little bit of land, worked hard, bought a bit more, and then more, and more… You get the picture. And now they have enough money to host a wedding at Strawberry Hill. I know it’s tradition for the bride’s family to pay, but they offered! Audrey said there was no way she was going to pass that up. Her parents have two other kids in university in England, they were quite happy to not have to pay for a wedding as well.”
The drive up to Strawberry Hill was a long and winding one, but the higher that we got, the more beautiful the view became. I made Kevin stop several times just so that I could take some pictures from the side of the road, which was now becoming a habit for me for any long road trip in Jamaica. The drive made the whole thing worth it for me before we even got there.
But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when we actually arrived there. We went through the gates and entered into what felt like a secret paradise. The gardens of the resort were breathtaking, filled with flowers of all colours and kinds, many of which I’d never even seen before, and the lawns were meticulously cared for. Whatever price they’d had to pay, it was worth it. They had picked the absolutely perfect place for a wedding. But what really took my breath away was the view of Kingston. From the deck of the negative edge pool, I could see the mountains, the city and the sea all at once. “What a romantic spot,” I murmured to Kevin, my head on his shoulder, as we looked out before the ceremony. “No wonder they chose to get married here.”
“I knew you would like it,” he said with a squeeze. “Come on, I hate to tear you away, but we better go sit down before things get under way.”
The ceremony was being held in the gardens so we headed across the lawn to where everything was set up, and found seats on the bride’s side. A middle-aged plump woman sitting in front of us instantly turned around with a big smile. “Hi Kevin!” she exclaimed. “Who is this lovely young lady?”
“Hi Aunt Margaret.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek. “This is my girlfriend, Nadiya.”
“That’s what I thought! I’ve been hearing a lot about you, you know!” she twinkled at me. “It’s nice to finally meet the girl that has won Kevin’s heart. I hope to be a guest at your wedding someday,” she added, smiling now at Kevin.
He looked mortified, as if, if he could have sunk into the ground at that time, he would have. He gave me a weak smile and seemed to be begging me with his eyes to not mind her.
I smiled back. I didn’t mind her comment one bit!
Before she could say anything else, the cue music started, and Kevin breathed an audible sigh of relief as we turned to watch the wedding party come in. The ceremony was short and simple, but beautiful. The bridesmaids wore gorgeous bright pink dresses and carried assorted flowers of the same colour. The bride’s strapless white dress was spiced up with a bright pink sash around the waist. In the setting it was in, it was absolutely breathtaking. Kevin’s cousin and her new husband made a good-looking couple.
After the ceremony, while the wedding party were off taking their official pictures, there was a cocktail hour. The food was great; jerk chicken wings, callaloo quiche, plantain chips with ackee dip… If my dress wasn’t so tight and if I wasn’t trying to make a good impression on Kevin’s extended family, I would have stuffed my face! A steel band played old calypso music as we munched away. It was a really classy wedding, and Kevin’s Aunt Margaret would have been happy to know that her words had given me ideas. I was making mental notes. I could just envision Kevin and I having something similar someday… I was starting to feel like Cassandra!
Aunt Margaret wasn’t the only member of his extended family who already knew about me. Many of them did, and they all seemed just as excited to meet me as I was to meet them, even Audrey. “I’m so glad to meet you!” the new bride exclaimed as she and her husband greeted us in the receiving line before the reception. “I’m happy that someone has finally got Kevin to settle down,” she added, winking at him. Once again, he looked totally embarrassed. “Don’t mind her,” he whispered to me as we found our table. “Or anybody else in my family, for that matter. I forgot to mention that they’re all a little crazy.” I just smiled and looked away in response.
For the reception, Kevin and I were placed at a table with his two brothers, as well as a young married couple who were there from the groom’s side. The couple were both Rastas with long dreadlocks which the woman had piled on top of her head in a gorgeous updo and which the man wore tied back and flowing down his back.
“Blessings, blessings,” greeted the couple with wide smiles as they came over and sat down at the table.
“Hi, we’re with the bride,” introduced Kevin. “I’m Kevin, this is my girlfriend, Nadiya, and these are my brothers, Brian and Anthony. We’re Audrey’s cousins.”
They nodded and smiled at each of us in turn. “I am Terence,” the man started, “and dis yah queen is Isis. We are here for de groom. ‘Im and my family have been friends since he an’ I was two likkle yute. ‘Im turn big man today doe,” he added with a proud smile over to the wedding party’s table. “Is mi real bredren dat, fi true. ‘Im even mek sure seh we gwine have Ital food to eat tonight.” I knew that Rastas could be very strict about what they ate and how it was prepared.
As Terence continued to talk to the guys about growing up with the groom, Isis, who was sitting beside me, turned to me and quickly engaged me in conversation. I soon learned that Terence and Isis had three young children, six, five and three years old. They were both thirty, and they owned a small Ital restaurant in Kingston. I found myself totally charmed with Isis, she was as sweet as could be. Once I felt comfortable enough that they wouldn’t be offended, I started asking questions about Rastafarianism. Isis was more than happy to talk to me about her beliefs, as was Terence when he overheard what we were talking about.
“Women in Rastafari are respected as queens,” answered Terence passionately to a question I asked about how females were viewed. “They have an important duty, raising the children, raising the future. Yes, there are a lot of rules to live by, about clothes and make-up and ting. But is Babylon dat! Rasta women shouldn’t want dem tings anyway.”
“In the early days, woman was seen as inferior,” added Isis. “But times have changed, and are changing. I am very proud to be Rasta!” she proclaimed firmly.
We continued to talk in between speeches and the other formal parts of the reception, and the time flew by as we chatted about ganja, Haile Selassie I, Marcus Garvey, and the government. I was so happy at having been placed with them!
Later on, once the reception party had gotten into full swing, Kevin and I escaped the crowd again to walk through the gardens. “So are you having a good time?” he asked, putting an arm around my waist.
“I’m having a great time!” I responded enthusiastically. “I’m so glad you brought me. Everybody I’ve met has been amazing.”
“You thinking of turning Rasta now?” he teased.
I stuck my tongue out at him. “No, I’m not. You know I’m interested in all things cultural. Rasta’s not a religion that’s for me personally, but you know what, I’m glad to see two people who are so passionate about their beliefs. And it certainly needs to be respected just like any other religion, don’t you think?”
“I won’t argue with that one.”
“Anyway, besides meeting them, I’m really happy I got to meet so much of your family.”
“I’m glad you did too,” he replied. “It was important to me. I’m glad there was a chance for you to meet all the important people before you left.” We both suddenly became quiet, and I wondered if we were thinking the same thing. Although we never talked about it, I was painfully aware that it was already March and that soon Kevin and I would be very far apart. What’s going to happen then? When we can never see each other, when we won’t be able to afford to talk on the phone that often…how are we going to survive on an e-mail relationship? Realistically, the most likely outcome would be that things would slowly die down, I would continue living my life in Canada, he would continue living his in Jamaica, and eventually we would forget about each other. He would be, as I’d said to Adrianne, my fantasy guy from my year’s escape from the real world. I would probably end up back with Colin, once we’d worked through our issues. My thoughts turned then to Colin, and I tried to picture myself laughing with him, having long conversations with him, kissing him… I couldn’t do it, at least not without feeling slightly repulsed and like I was betraying Kevin. As I stood there at Kevin’s side in that romantic spot, I suddenly knew there was no way I’d be able to even be friends with Colin again after having been Kevin’s girlfriend. Colin wasn’t a quarter of the man that Kevin was. I also realized in that instant that I was willing to put in the work and do whatever it took to make our relationship last once I was back in Canada. But would he be? Aunt Margaret’s words from earlier were running through my mind. I knew it was early yet in our relationship and that we were really young, but I really felt that we had something special! But we both needed to feel that way for it to work.
I didn’t say a word and neither did he. I wasn’t ready yet to voice what I was thinking. After a minute of silence, Kevin let out a little sigh, and then said, “Come on, let’s get back. We don’t want everybody to think we fell off the mountain.”
When we got back to the reception, Kevin was quickly pulled into a bunch of family photographs, and I wandered around the room, first talking to Isis and then talking to Audrey’s grandmother. Once it looked like the photo session was finally wrapping up, I started to head back over to Kevin. As I came up behind him, I saw that he was talking to Audrey’s brother. I was about to put my hand on his waist when I heard words that cut me to the core. “Bwoy, Neville, the long distance thing really isn’t for me,” he said, shaking his head.
“But you two seem pretty serious. You know how our family is, if you’re going to bring her here, everyone is going to start talking. You wouldn’t have brought her to this wedding unless you thought she was special,” Neville challenged him.
“I definitely think she’s special! There’s no doubt about that. But do you know how far away Canada is? And I’ll be busy with school… No man, I’m going to enjoy the time that we have left together, don’t get me wrong, but when she’s gone…that will have to be the end of us.”
I was stunned. Although I had been wondering how Kevin felt about me leaving, I hadn’t expected to hear this! He had just decided there was no chance for us, just like that, without even talking to me about it. I knew a long-distance relationship would be hard, but I was wiling to at least give it a try. Kevin, clearly, was not.
With tears burning in my eyes, I quickly turned around and walked away before either of the guys could see me. I hurried to the washroom, which fortunately was empty, wiped my eyes and regrouped. “Hold it together, Nadiya,” I muttered to my reflection in the mirror. “Just hold it together until you get home.” I left the washroom and went to find Kevin again. This time, he was looking for me too.
“Hi, I’ve been looking for you! All this great music is playing, I need my dancing partner.” I could only give a weak smile in response, and let him pull me on to the dance floor. We danced together for quite a while before deciding it was time to go home, but we hardly talked. I was very quiet on the dance floor and on the drive home, and I knew that Kevin noticed. It was totally unlike us for there to be so much silence between us. But disappointingly, he didn’t ask me what was wrong. He tried to start a conversation several times, but then eventually just gave up. He’s not asking what’s wrong, because he doesn’t want to have to tell me that he can’t make me feel better, I thought glumly as I stared out the car window. When we got to the gate at Rex, I gave him a quick kiss goodbye and hurried inside to my room, where I burst out crying as soon as my door was locked.