“I can’t believe my year is over,” I proclaimed sorrowfully. Kevin and I were at his mother’s house sitting on the back patio after finishing my absolute last day of school, and I couldn’t have been sadder. I had sought out each of my lecturers that day and thanked them personally for all that I’d learned throughout the year, and they’d all given me words of encouragement. Each of them had seemed really pleased when I told them what my future plans were.
So after a lot of thinking and discussion, I had finally decided what I wanted to do with my life. I had been debating between aiming for law or taking the academic route. I had even thought about trying to get into politics down the road. But Kevin had made the choice clear to me simply by pointing out how much I admired my own lecturers and how much I loved to learn about my culture and the culture of the Caribbean. He had helped me to realize that researching and teaching at a university would be the perfect choice for me and the best of all worlds. I figured that although I was giving up the option of law and politics for myself, I would be able to lecture to future generations of lawyers and politicians, and I thought that was even better. I hoped to be able to make an impact on my future students the same way that my own lecturers had made an impact on me.
“I have one year left at U of T to get my bachelor’s degree,” I had told my favourite lecturer, an enthusiastic young woman from St. Lucia. “After that, I’d like to come back here, to UWI, and get my master’s and then my Ph.D. in Cultural Studies. I already know what I want to do my thesis on: the sociology of crime in Jamaica.”
I exhaled slowly now as I thought about that decision. It was a scary one, but one that I was certain of. After months and months of internal debate and going back and forth, it had come to me in a flash. I had been at Rick’s Cafe one evening on a weekend trip to Negril not long after Carnival, overlooking the water with Kevin sitting across from me. As I looked out at the sun setting over the sea, instead of feeling insignificant in comparison to my view, I felt powerful. I realized that I finally felt like I totally belonged, like my country remembered me and wanted me back. Jamaica had a myriad of problems, I’d encountered some firsthand, but instead of running away from it, I wanted to make whatever contribution I could to make my country better and I felt I would best be able to do that from inside. I loved Jamaica, and at the end of the day, that’s what it came down to.
“Well, if all goes according to plan, you’ll be back soon enough,” consoled Kevin, rubbing my back. “I’m counting on that,” he added with a smile. My lecturers all said there were sure I would be able to get into the program without a problem.
“Yeah,” I said softly, more to myelf than to him, “I’ll be back soon.”
We had come to his mother’s house for dinner but we were heading back to campus that evening. Some people had already moved away from campus, but my closest friends were still there, and we’d decided this last night was going to be for reminiscing and saying goodbye, just us girls. The next morning, I would pack up my things and go to Aunt Sharon’s for a few days before heading back to Toronto. It was like my arrival to Jamaica played out in reverse.
As we got into Kevin’s car to go back up to UWI, I thought with a pang about how much I was going to miss all the friends I’d made: Aneeka, Ronelle, Lily, Kamal, Omar…and of course Cassandra and Arlene. I truly felt that I would be friends with those two until we were all old and grey. And everything was going so well for them! Arlene was loving law school and was already dreaming about Sheryl and herself opening their own practice one day. She had recently finally made it official with Jomo and, although it was still early, they seemed very happy. As for Cassandra, she and Jeremy were doing great. The two of them were thinking about coming up to Toronto at Caribana time to visit me, and I really hoped it would work out.
Then there was my family! I would miss my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins… Especially my cousins. I didn’t know how I was going to manage without Adrianne. Just like when we were little, she had become like a sister to me again. We had become so close over the past year that I couldn’t imagine not being able to talk to her and see her regularly. Sometimes she annoyed me, sometimes I got on her nerves, but we were family. There was never any question that things would be fine the next day, or even a few minutes later. When I was around all my Jamaican cousins, I was back to not being an only child anymore, but that was especially true with Adrianne.
But it wasn’t just the people I would miss. If I hadn’t spoken to a single soul all year, I would still miss the island itself. Jamaica had an exuberant personality and vibrancy all its own, and I had tried to experience as much of it as I could over the course of the year.
Of course I’d done the sea and sand thing: I’d gone swimming at Blue Hole and YS Falls, scuba diving at Port Royal, cliff diving at Rick’s Cafe, and snorkelling at Doctor’s Cave Beach. I’d been to both Ocho Rios and Negril several times over the year, and to Hellshire, Frenchmen’s Cove and Lime Cay. I had become a total beach bum, and I was going back to Canada a good three shades darker than I’d come.
But the beach and the sea weren’t the only beautiful parts of the island; there were the mountains, the rivers, the flowers and trees… I had taken lots of pictures of the scenery, but my photos could never do the real thing justice. How could a four-by-six two-dimensional image truly capture what the white sand, the blue sky, the clear blue water, the green mountains, the red and orange sunsets looked like when you were in the midst of it? How could it capture the sound of the tree frogs, the taste of a mango, or the smell of the sea? Jamaica was a place that you experienced with all of your senses, and looking at photos just wasn’t going to be the same thing as being there.
Even just within the Kingston borders alone, I had found places to fall in love with. There was the UWI Chapel with its archways and palm trees set against a backdrop of mountains (I’d decided that’s where I wanted to get married), Emancipation Park with its immaculate grounds and dramatic statue at the entryway (that would be where the wedding pictures were taken), and Devon House with its old-meets-new, plantation house-meets-shopping and dining style (ice cream post-reception?)
Speaking of food, leaving the Jamaican food behind was going to break my heart. I had gone to Devon House more times than I could count for ice cream, and I had become a beef patty connoisseur. Once, I had made Kevin take me all the way to Boston in Portland just so I could get some jerk pork. At Easter, I’d eaten enough bun and cheese to feed a small army for a year. I’d had festival at Hellshire, fried fish in Portmore and lobster at Little Ochie. Naseberries, soursops, sweetsops, pawpaws… Going back to Toronto was probably going to do my waistline a world of good.
With all my eating though, I’d found ways to burn the calories. I had gone to so many sessions both on and off campus (and now there was nobody who knew the latest dance moves better than me), performances by reggae, soca and dancehall artists, and UWI Carnival and Jamaica Carnival had been times of both excitement and exhaustion, the latter due to an abundance of the former.
And I’d covered cultural activities too. Adrianne and I had gone to see the NDTC perform on Easter Sunday and I’d been wowed at the show, as I’d expected. My cousin had been in heaven, imagining herself on stage. I’d gone to Pantomime, as well as a couple of other plays throughout the year. Arlene and I had gone to one of the Miss Jamaica pageants, and had a great time being pretend judges and checking out all the outfits. In November, Cass had taken me to visit her mother’s side of her family in Clarendon to experience Diwali, the Hindu festival that the Indian population in Jamaica had kept alive, and January had found me at the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival. And to think that some people come to Jamaica and never even leave their all-inclusive resorts!
I had bought so many souvenirs over the months and was bringing back a lot more luggage than I had come with. I had bought a picture by J MacDonald Henry (mandatory for every Jamaican home), two books by Rachel Manley and some clothes from local designers. For various friends back home, I’d bought Blue Mountain coffee, Jamaican white rum, and a wooden statue of a Rasta on a donkey that I had picked up one day on my way back from the country. For my parents, I had bought a coffee table book on the history of the university.
As we drove through the gate to Rex Nettleford Hall for my last time, I looked around trying to take a mental picture. I didn’t want to forget a thing about the little world that I had lived in for a year. I loved this campus. It was funny; I loved the downtown campus of University of Toronto too, even though the two were so different. Toronto’s campus was a bustling city in the middle of a bustling city, and it was hard to tell where one stopped and the other started. But UWI was its own little world within Kingston. It was a good-sized campus but still a cosy one and I had never felt overwhelmed by it. I smiled to myself as I thought about all the events that had gone on on campus: parties, pageants, sporting events…like the Ring Road race, for one. Everyone was loyal to his or her own hall and very competitive, but I had almost died laughing that morning witnessing the rivalry between Chancellor Hall and Taylor Hall.
But everything about leaving Jamaica and going back home wasn’t negative. I was looking forward to seeing all my Toronto friends again and catching up. They were having a party for me a few days after I got back. I was already having dreams of being back in my queen-sized bed in my bedroom, both of which would seem huge to me now. It would be exciting to have the water coming out of my taps be hot, no matter what time of day or night, and of course I was anxious to see my parents again.
“Nadiya.” Kevin’s voice woke me from my reverie, and I realized his car was parked and off. “You OK?”
I sighed. “I’m fine. I’m sad to be leaving UWI and Rex, that’s all.”
“I hear you. But this is your last night with your friends, so just mek sure you enjoy it.”
After Kevin walked me to my door, he quickly left my friends and I alone. “I’m going to miss you guys so much,” I wailed after literally hours of conversation and belly-busting laughter. “I had such a great year here.”
“We’re going to miss you too. But we’ll all keep in touch, and hopefully you’ll be back before you know it! Although I’ll be in Barbados by then.” Law students at the university spent their second year onward in Barbados, so it wouldn’t be long before Arlene was leaving Jamaica too. “But I’ll see you again soon somehow, don’t worry.”
“And hopefully I’ll see you at Caribana in a few months! So see, you can’t get rid of us that easily,” Cassandra declared.
“I hope not, you guys.” As I stifled a yawn, I realized that I was exhausted. I looked at my watch and was shocked to see that it was already three in the morning. My aunt and uncle were going to pick me up at eleven the next morning, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get up if I didn’t go to bed now.
I gave Cassandra, Arlene and the other girls their last hugs the next morning before I closed up my room. As I looked at the now-empty room that I’d lived in for the past year, I smiled remembering how small it had seemed to me on that first day. Now it seemed that it must have been huge to hold all the memories that it had. I looked around one final time and shut the door.