“Hi! Where are you off to this evening?” asked Arlene from my doorway. She had just come home from visiting a friend on Irvine Hall and when passing my room, had been surprised to see me all dressed up and putting make-up on. I had told her earlier I had no Friday night plans since Kevin was studying and I wanted to take a break from doing work. “What hot date you and your man have tonight?”
I grinned excitedly. “Kevin called me earlier with a surprise. He’s taking me out to Marketplace for dinner, just because! I think he’s fed up with studying for the moment and wanted to get out of the house.” The Marketplace was a collection of really good restaurants in the city, and a great spot to see and be seen. Friday nights were especially good because they had live music, and we could go to Fiction, one of the popular nightclubs, right afterward. We had first gone there for Valentine’s Day, to eat at Cafe Aubergine, and I had been dying to go back and try out one of the other restaurants ever since.
“Wow!” exclaimed Arlene. “That’s so sweet. I’m jealous!”
I winked at her. “I’ll brink you back some dessert or something.” I smoothed down my skirt and struck a pose. “OK, so how do I look?”
She squinted and looked me up and down intensely. I had my hair side-parted with a low ponytail, and was wearing an emerald green knee-length one-shouldered fitted dress. “You look great,” she declared finally. “It’s the perfect outfit.”
Aneeka popped her head in the doorway. “What a pretty dress,” she exclaimed. “You and Kevin have a big night planned, I hear. He’s here, you know. I just let him in. Are you ready?”
I scanned myself one last time. “Yeah, I’m ready. Thanks for letting him in. See you later, you guys!” I grabbed my clutch and hurried into the common area straight into Kevin’s arms for a big hug and kiss.
“You look amazing, as usual. You all ready to go?”
“Ready! I’m so glad you called, this is much better than my original plan for the night. Which was nothing.”
He laughed heartily. “Well, I’m just tired of studying, and I’d much rather have a nice dinner with you, than pretend to read my books and just end up staring at the walls instead. Come on, let’s go. I’m starving.”
As we stepped outside, I noted that the weather was perfect for our date; it had been a rainy, humid and hot day but now the sky was clear and the stars were out. The temperature was just right. Tonight’s going to be amazing, I thought happily.
“Hey, do you mind if we stop at the drugstore on the way?” Kevin asked as we headed out of the campus gates. “Shouldn’t take too long. I promised my mother I would pick her up some cold medicine. She’s not feeling too well.”
“Sure, no problem. Actually, I could probably grab some things for myself while we’re there.”
About ten minutes later, we entered a plaza with a pharmacy in it. There weren’t many cars in the parking lot, and there was just a handful of people in the pharmacy. The security guard sitting outside the door looked like he was fast asleep. As we passed him, Kevin looked back at me and rolled his eyes. “Working hard for his pay, I see,” he whispered.
I playfully swatted him on the arm. “Behave! I can’t blame him, I’m sure his job isn’t that interesting,” I whispered back. “Now go find your medicine. I’m hungry too!”
As Kevin spoke to the pharmacist about what would be the best thing to buy for his mother, I strolled up and down the aisles, looking for anything that might be worth buying. I had just picked up the latest issue of She Caribbean magazine and was flipping through it to see if it was worth buying, when I heard a loud pop that sounded like it had come from just outside the store. Puzzled, I started walking up the aisle, trying to get a view of the front door to see what was going on. Suddenly, I heard a loud commotion from near the door. I couldn’t see the door yet from where I was, but I clearly heard an angry voice start to shout, “Geddung pon di floor! Geddung pon di floor!” and then screams and the sound of people dropping to the ground in response. “Put yu ‘an’ pon yu’ ‘ead!”
For a second I was frozen, and in that second, Kevin appeared at my side. “Get down,” he whispered in my ear, urgently. His voice was all I needed for me to unfreeze and truly understand what was happening, and the two of us instantly dropped to our stomachs, putting our hands on the back of our heads. I kept my eyes shut, not wanting to see what was going on, not wanting to believe that I was really caught up in a robbery. Not when my night had started out with such promise.
But shutting my eyes didn’t make anything go away. As I listened, I could hear three different loud male voices shouting angrily as they walked through the drugstore. They were obviously going to each person and taking whatever they found on them. I suddenly realized with panic, I’m wearing the tennis bracelet Mummy and Daddy got me for Christmas!
But my thought came too late, not that I could have done much about it anyway. I heard footsteps right above me and then heard one of the men bend down beside me. He grabbed my right wrist and roughly undid the bracelet. The man went on to go through my purse, but fortunately I had very little cash. I snuck an eye open just long enough to see the same guy take Kevin’s watch and wallet, but when I saw the large gun that the man was casually holding as he took the wallet, I quickly squeezed my eyes shut again, my heart pounding as if it was going to burst out of my chest. What slight provocation would it take for the man to use that gun?
“Hurry up nuh man!” yelled one of them impatiently from near the door. I could hear the one standing near to us kiss his teeth and hurry off in that direction. “Oonu nuh see nutt’n!” sneered the first voice loudly at the storeful of victims. “Yu hear?”
As the three voices appeared to congregate at the front door, I heard them laughing amongst themselves about their bounty. They sounded positively giddy. It was clear that these three had already lost all compassion and conscience that they may have been born with, it must have been sucked out of them years ago. After what seemed like an eternity, one of them pushed open the door and the three men hurried out.
As soon as I heard the door slam shut behind them, I let out a deep breath that I hadn’t realized I had been holding. The silence that had overtaken the store ended, and the two of us slowly stood up. Several women started to bawl, a man got on his cell phone and was angrily describing the encounter to the 119 operator, and tears started to course down my cheeks as everything hit me all at once. I had been forced face-down on the ground, skirt cocked up practically around my waist, and had my most valuable material possession ripped from me. I felt so…violated. Violated and degraded.
Kevin grabbed me as my silent tears turned into sobs and gave me a huge hug. “I’m so sorry this happened, Nadiya,” he whispered into my ear, his voice choking, as his hand ran up and down my back. “I should have just taken you straight there. Or I should have gone to a different store. Why did I pick this one?” he muttered to himself angrily.
“Don’t be silly,” I sniffled. “There was no way that you could know this would happen. I’m just glad that they didn’t use those guns that they had.”
A woman standing near us overheard what I said. “But you didn’t hear that gunshot before they came in?” she exclaimed. “They shot the security guard outside! Shot him dead,” she added sorrowfully, shaking her head and staring off at nothing. “What a set of wicked, wicked people.”
My eyes widened as it suddenly registered what that loud pop I had heard before all the ruckus had started had been. I had never heard gunshots before to know what they really sounded like. It hit me, somebody had been murdered right near me! The guns hadn’t just been for show; the gunmen had been perfectly willing to use them. I knew how upset it was making Kevin to see me upset, but I couldn’t stop myself. I started shaking uncontrollably and before I knew it, I was sobbing again.
I could tell that Kevin felt completely helpless as to how to make me feel better, and that it wouldn’t be long before tears started to fall from his own eyes, but once again there was a commotion at the door. Thankfully, this time it was caused by several police officers coming in.
An hour later, we were finally driving away from the drugstore. We had given our statement to the officers and reported our missing items, plus Kevin had wanted to make sure the body of the security guard was gone before we went outside. I tried not to look when we walked out, but I couldn’t help glancing at the pool of blood left behind. I felt myself turning pale as I quickly averted my eyes.
“So are you alright?” Kevin asked quietly as he pulled out of the parking lot and on to the road. “I guess that’s a stupid question.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know, I guess so. I mean, I’m alive and unharmed which is more than the security guard can say.” I was silent for another minute, then burst out, “You know, this is exactly what my parents were talking about when they were warning me about life in Jamaica. I’ve never had an experience like this before. Never.”
“This is the ugly side of Jamaica, Nadiya. You know, Lily’s great-aunt was robbed at gunpoint in her house a few years back, and she was shot and killed. A seventy-five year-old woman, completely harmless, but they killed her just for the sport of it.”
I was shocked. It was like my father’s friend all over again. “I guess I really do have to feel thankful. But how sad is that, Kevin? That I have to be happy that when I was robbed I didn’t get gunned down too?”
He couldn’t answer. What could he say? There was nothing to say. I had been so happy to go on this romantic dinner date with Kevin, and now my night had turned into a horror show. We spent the rest of the car ride in silence, both of us lost in our own thoughts. When we got back to Rex, he walked me up to the flat door. “I don’t want to go in there,” I said sadly. “They’re all going to want to know why I’m back already and I don’t want to relive this. Not right now.”
“Do you want me to come in for a while and stay with you?”
I nodded, grateful for the offer. “Please?”
When we went in, literally all of my flatmates were sitting in the common area, looking surprised to see me home so soon. Thank goodness he came in with me, I thought as Kevin went over the night’s events to the girls. I wouldn’t have been able to get through the story.
“A suh it guh here in Jamaica,” announced Arlene angrily, kissing her teeth. “Life in Jamaica nice, but it rough.” As everyone started to tell their personal stories or stories of friends or relatives who had been victims of crime in one way or another, I could hear my father’s words reverberating in my ears again. I started to feel sick.
“You better get home and tell your family what happened,” I said to Kevin when there was a lull in the conversation. I didn’t want him to leave but I knew he should go home and tell his mother what happened. I would have to call my own parents before the night was through.
“You’re probably right. Do you think you’ll be able to sleep?”
“I think so. Call me tomorrow, OK?”
After a very long phone call to my parents, both of whom were horrified to hear what had happened but thankful that I was alright, I realized that sleep would indeed be no problem and went straight to bed.
In the days that followed, in spite of the distractions of schoolwork, Kevin, and the budding romance between Cassandra and Jeremy, my thoughts regularly and frequently went back to the night of the robbery. If I wasn’t reliving the event as it happened, then I was trying to replay the night in such a way that we didn’t end up at the pharmacy at that time: we would go to a different pharmacy, we would skip going altogether because Kevin forgot, we would leave later because I wasn’t ready when Kevin showed up…
And in those days that followed, everything negative about Jamaica that I either hadn’t noticed before or hadn’t really cared about suddenly became almost overwhelming in its intensity. Guys calling out to me, which used to be funny and charming, now became offensive. Knowing that campus was right next door to August Town, a community that at times had had problems with violence, now became a source of fear when before it was just a fact. I had felt so safe on campus before, but now I was constantly looking over my shoulder, even in broad daylight. I don’t know why I did it, it was kind of sadistic, but I had actually gone online and looked up news stories of students and faculty getting robbed, attacked or killed on campus, and there were lots of them. If it wasn’t high noon, I hurried to and from the flat, constantly looking around me, half-expecting to be attacked at every turn. When I was off campus, it was no better. The hustle and bustle of the streets of Kingston, the higglers on the side of the road, the chaotic traffic, the aggressive driving, the dirt and litter…all of it now seemed annoying and unappealing instead of intriguing and exciting. My return to Toronto was now about two months away, and for the first time, I was looking forward to it.
The robbery was still very much on my mind a week later when my phone rang with a familiar Canadian number. I almost didn’t answer it but curiosity got the best of me. I couldn’t imagine what he’d possibly be calling me to say.
“Hi Nadiya,” he said sheepishly after I answered. “It’s Colin. How are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you. How are you?” I asked coldly.
“I’m OK. Listen…I ran into your mother the other day. She told me what happened, about the robbery.”
I silently cursed my mother. She was way too chatty to realize that Colin was the last person I wanted to know what had happened. It would make him think he had been right when he told me I was crazy to come to Jamaica. And I didn’t want him to think so, even if I was starting to think the same thing.
“How are you holding up?” he continued, sounding concerned. “Are you really doing OK, Nadi?” His old nickname for me affected me in a way that I didn’t think it would, and suddenly I was crying.
“No,” I sniffled, once I’d regained my composure. “I’m not OK. I know I’m lucky that nothing happened to me or…my friend but the whole thing still terrified me. That was the worst experience of my life, Colin. Somebody got murdered.”
“I know, Nadi, I know. I wish I was there with you to give you a hug right now.” The coldness that had been in his voice the last time we spoke was completely gone; I was hearing the Colin that I had fallen for.
“I’m going to be fine, it will just take some time.”
“You shouldn’t have had to go through that in the first place. I should have worked harder to convince you not go down there. It kills me that this happened to you.”
“There’s nothing that can be done to change that,” I sighed. “It happened, and now I’ve just got to forget about it and move on.”
“I can’t wait until you’re back home again. I really miss you, you know. I’ve been thinking about you ever since you left. A lot.”
I didn’t respond. Quite frankly, after meeting Kevin, I hadn’t missed him at all. But at the same time, I couldn’t deny that talking to him was making me feel better. Suddenly, the confusion of it all was too much for me.
“Thanks for calling, Colin,” I said abruptly. “I appreciate it. But I’ve really got to go.”
He sounded taken aback. “Oh…OK. Will I talk to you again before you come home? Can I call you again?”
“No, I don’t think so, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” I paused, biting my lip. “But we can meet up when I get back. Have a good night, Colin. And thanks for calling.” I quickly hung up, before he, or I, had a chance to say anything else.
I sat there for a moment after the call ended, just staring off into the air. I didn’t know why I’d told him we could meet up when I got back, just as I didn’t know why I hadn’t told him I’d been with my new boyfriend when I got robbed. My feelings for Kevin were stronger than they’d ever been for Colin, so what was I doing?
I called Adrianne right away to ask her that same question. “What am I doing?” I wailed after I’d told her the story. “I hate Colin.” Plaintively, I added, “Don’t I?”
“You should! Don’t you remember how he treated you? What a jerk he was? I can’t believe you even talked to him. If I had been there, I would have grabbed the phone from you and cussed him out.” I knew she wasn’t joking either. But she hadn’t been there, and even though our talk had been short, I’d stayed on the phone with him for way too long. I could only imagine how hurt Kevin would be if he’d heard the conversation.
Adrianne was right, Colin had been a jerk to me. But he was back in Toronto. And right now, Toronto was where I wanted to be, where I knew I would be safe. It would be so easy, to just end the school year, go back home, and start things up with Colin again. What hope did Kevin and I have anyway, once I went back home? Maybe it would make sense to just view my year in Jamaica, and my relationship with Kevin, as a fling that had been fun while it lasted and nothing more.