Adrianne knew how stressed out I had been about the robbery, and how stressed I now was about the Colin phone fiasco, so in spite of being really busy with her internship, she took the time out to come visit me a few days later. I had been lying on my bed, wallowing, so I was delighted when I got the call from the gate saying that she was there. She could always cheer me up.
“How yu look like that?” she asked me as soon as she saw me, screwing up her face.
“Like what?” I asked, surprised. I hadn’t realized the sight of me was so visually disturbing.
“So miserable! Like it’s the end of the world! Bwoy, I don’t know what you would do without me,” she declared, linking her arm through mine as we walked back up to my room. “Kevin isn’t cheering you up? How come I have to be the one to do it?”
I flushed from guilt. “He’s trying but I just feel so bad every time I talk to him. I can’t help thinking about Colin, and then I feel bad thinking about Colin…”
She kissed her teeth. “I don’t understand. You told me that Colin is no good! You told me that from long time! And you said you’ve never had a better boyfriend than Kevin.”
I shrugged despondently. “Well, he’s definitely not Kevin, but maybe Kevin is just fantasy-land stuff. This isn’t real. I’m just visiting. It’s a long visit, yes, but this isn’t my real life.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Is this all a dream? A figment of your imagination? Am I really standing here, or did you make me up too?”
I rolled my eyes as I opened the door to my room. “You know what I mean, Adrianne.” I flopped down into my chair as she climbed on to my bed. “I mean, part of it is that I want to go back to Canada now. I want to get back to my real life.”
“What?! Don’t say that!”
“But it’s true! I want to go back to somewhere where I feel safe. Where everyone doesn’t have to live in a gated neighbourhood, or have grillwork on all their windows and doors. Somewhere where you don’t have to keep your car doors locked at a red light. Geez, somewhere where I don’t have to worry about getting in a car accident every time I get in someone’s car. Doesn’t Jamaica have one of the highest rates of death by car accident or something like that? And we know it’s got one of the highest murder rates, if not the highest. This tiny little island! How can a thousand people a year get murdered in a place with less than three million people? Jamaica’s nice to visit and all, but there are so many problems here! There’s crime, there’s corruption… I can’t believe I was naive enough to think about coming back here. No wonder my parents thought I was crazy. No wonder so many people leave! I mean, really, what other country has half its population migrating?”
Now that I had someone to vent to, I was getting on a roll. “You know what one of my lecturers said the other day? That, like, 80% of kids in Jamaica are born in single-parent homes! Can you believe that? That is awful! Not to say that great people can’t come from single-parent homes, obviously they can. But that stat means that something is seriously wrong with the men in this country. I guess they’re all too busy out committing crimes to take care of their kids.
“Or maybe trying to be dancehall DJs. So they can write songs talking about burning batty man or chi chi man. And if not that, then songs about guns and killing, or derogatory songs about sex. Why don’t they write a song about getting an education? Or about not letting the Columbians use us as their drop-off point for all their cocaine? Something that says something sensible!
“I guess I just romanticized Jamaica and that was my huge mistake. I know my parents are planning to come back here eventually, although I’m quite honestly wondering if that’s a smart decision after all, but I guess at least they know what they’re getting into. But me…this is just way too much for me. You know what I mean?”
When there was no response, I looked at my cousin properly for the first time since I’d started my rant. Before that, I’d honestly just been looking through her. I could now see that she looked absolutely furious. She was silently seething.
“Adrianne?” I asked tentatively.
“Letting the Columbians use us?”
“You said,” she spoke slowly through gritted teeth, “letting the Columbians use us. How are you going to give that little speech about how horrible this place is and what horrible people we all are, and then refer to Jamaicans as ‘us’? You’re a Canadian, remember? That’s your real life, that’s where everything is proper and great and nice. If you want to come down here and hold up your nose at everything, I guess that’s your prerogative, but please do keep in mind that you are not a Jamaican.” She stood up and grabbed her purse. “And another thing. All these horrible Jamaican men you’re talking about? My father is one, your father is one. Kevin is one. But they’re all the same, don’t it?
“Mi gone. You stay here and pine over your fantastic ex and your wonderful Canada. But when you’re back there, and you’re missing Kevin, and you’re missing the sun, the warmth, the friendliness, the vibrancy, Jamaica, remember everything that you just said.” And without another word, she stormed out.
I was left sitting there with my mouth hanging wide open. I felt like a total and complete jerk. I had sat there and ripped Jamaica apart, not even thinking how it would make my cousin feel. I had hurt her feelings, and she had turned around and hurt mine just as much by telling me that I wasn’t a Jamaican. Why did those words hurt so much when I was feeling so eager to get away from my birthplace? I didn’t know, but it definitely smarted. You’re an idiot, Nadiya! I chastised myself. Apologize to her! I grabbed my cell phone and dialled her number, but she wouldn’t answer.
All the next day, I just couldn’t concentrate. I felt miserable about what had happened, and I couldn’t even tell anyone about the argument we’d had, because I was worried they would react the same way if I admitted what I’d said. I tried calling her about three thousand times over the course of the day, but at first she wouldn’t answer and then she turned her phone off. I didn’t bother leaving messages.
So when I was sitting in the common room late that afternoon and heard my cell phone ringing in my room, I ran for it like I was chasing down a gold medal. I was disappointed to hear Bridget’s voice on the other end of the line, but only for a second. If it wasn’t going to be Adrianne on the phone, at least it was someone who could cheer me up.
“Hey Bridge,” I responded, trying my best to sound like nothing was wrong. “How are you?”
“I’m good! Mummy said to call you and tell you that we’ll be there to pick you up in about ten minutes.”
For a second, I was completely bewildered. Pick me up in ten minutes?! What on earth- Then I remembered. I was supposed to be going over there that evening to hang out with Bridget! My aunt was supposed to be picking me up on her way from picking Bridget up from school.
Ten minutes. I had better hustle. “OK, no problem! See you guys soon.” When they called me from the gate fifteen minutes later to say that they were there, I was just ready.
“Hi Nadiya!” greeted Bridget, beaming at me as I got in the car. “I’m so glad you’re coming over. We’re going to have so much fun!”
“I know,” I responded, touched. Hanging out with my little cousin was probably just what I needed. “It’s been a while since we’ve hung out. What’s on the agenda for tonight?”
Before Bridget could answer, Aunt Sharon jumped in. “The first thing is Bridget’s math homework.”
”Mummeeeeee!” whined Bridget. “She’s coming over so that we can have fun!”
“It’s OK, Bridget, I don’t mind,” I interjected. “We can have fun even doing math homework, I guarantee it.”
Bridget didn’t look convinced and pouted the rest of the way. Aunt Sharon didn’t break though, she still insisted that math homework came first, and made me promise we would do it.
“OK,” I declared when we reached Bridget’s bedroom. “Let’s see it. We’ll get this over with and then we can chat.”
My cousin grabbed a textbook from out of her bag, opened it to a marked page and handed it over. “It’s everything on this page.”
I was shocked as I looked over Bridget’s assignments. Maybe we wouldn’t be “getting this over with” as quickly as I thought! I don’t even know if I can do this stuff! I thought she was in grade seven!
“So you think you can help her with it?” asked Uncle Wallie. He was standing in the doorway. “You look like it might be too much for you to handle!” he laughed, noticing the expression on my face.
“I’m just surprised. Aren’t you in first form? Isn’t that grade seven?” I turned to my cousin and asked. When Bridget nodded, I turned back to my uncle. “This is crazy. I was not doing this kind of stuff in school in grade seven. Probably not until about grade nine or so.”
“Because we have top quality education here!” declared my uncle proudly. “Our prep schools and traditional high schools are top notch, comparable to anywhere! Jamaica produces a Rhodes scholar every year, you know! A lot of countries can’t say that.” I knew that was because the Rhodes scholarship just wasn’t available in every country, but decided to keep that to myself. “You see all these rich Jamaicans, sending their children to England or Canada or America for school? Foolishness! They can get a better education right here at home if you ask me.”
“Are you going to help me, Nadiya?” interrupted Bridget impatiently. She wanted to get this over with and get to enjoying her evening. She clearly had heard her father talk a million times about how good a Jamaican education was and wasn’t interested in the topic.
“Sorry, sorry. Come on, let’s get started.” Uncle Wallie walked away, laughing heartily and mumbling to himself about Canadian schools.
After about an hour and more than a few mistakes on my part, we were finally done with her math homework. “So!” I proclaimed with a sigh of relief, leaning back against my cousin’s headboard. “Tell me what’s new in your life.”
“Um, let’s see…I have a new best friend! Her name is Candace.”
I raised an eyebrow. Last I’d heard, she and some girl named Michelle were the best of friends.
“What about Michelle? I thought she was your best friend?”
Her voice filled with scorn. “Not anymore. I told her about the boy that I liked, and then she decided to start liking him after that. And she never liked him before! So now he’s her boyfriend.”
“Oh, Stephen?” I asked sympathetically.
“Who? Oh, no, yuck! I can’t stand him! It’s his friend Derek.”
I knew talking to Bridget would cheer me up! I thought, as I stifled a laugh. Her pre-teen relationships were so cute.
“Well, I’m sorry to hear you and Michelle aren’t friends anymore, but I’m glad you’ve found a new best friend.” Saying the words made me suddenly sad, as I thought about my best friend being mad at me.
“Yeah, me too. So what’s wrong with you?” she asked matter-of-factly.
“What do you mean?” Apparently I couldn’t even hide my emotions from a twelve-year-old!
“You sound sad. And look sad. What’s wrong?”
I sighed. “Nothing, sweetie, just in a bit of an argument with a friend of mine.”
“What did she do to you?”
“I’m the one who did something to her,” I admitted. “I said stuff that hurt her feelings, and then she said stuff that hurt my feelings.”
“Did you mean what you said?”
That was a great question. I meant it at the time, I knew that much. And truth be told, I still sort of felt that way now. Obviously I’d gone overboard, like with my generalizations about Jamaican men for example, but I still felt I’d been naive to have any thoughts of living here.
“Well, I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings, that’s for sure. Hopefully she’ll calm down enough for me to tell her that soon.”
Bridget was quiet for a second, debating my problem. “Well, tell her. But if she still doesn’t forgive you, that’s her loss and you can find a new best friend just like I did.”
I burst out laughing. “Thanks, Bridget. Have you ever thought about becoming a counsellor when you grow up?”
“No,” she answered matter-of-factly, not getting my joke. “I want to be a talk show host.”
“OK, I can see that. You like to ask a lot of questions.”
“Yep! Like, what about you and your boyfriend? When are you guys getting married?” I couldn’t help blushing and Bridget noticed it. “Are you going to move back to Jamaica and marry him?” she asked, wide-eyed. She had probably heard some of the talk about me moving back.
I rolled my eyes. “OK, now you’re getting ahead of yourself. I am not moving back to Jamaica, and we are not getting married.”
“Well, I would love it if you moved back,” my cousin declared. “It’s nice to have someone like a sister around.”
“Aww, thanks, Bridget! It’s nice for me to be around family too. But my parents and my friends are all back in Toronto, you know.”
“That doesn’t matter. We’re here!”
I just smiled in response. I wasn’t about to tell a twelve-year-old that her home was too dangerous for me. As for Kevin, who knew what the future held for us? I’d never planned on getting in a serious relationship during this year away, but here I was in the midst of one.
“We’ll see, Bridge, we’ll see. Now come on, tell me more about Derek!”
The next morning, on Bridget’s advice, I decided to finally leave a message on Adrianne’s phone. “Um, hi, Adrianne, it’s me. Nadiya. Uh, I just wanted to say that I’m really sorry about the other day. I totally got carried away, and I didn’t mean to offend you. And I didn’t mean to sound so high and mighty. And I shouldn’t have made such sweeping comments about Jamaican men, that was so ignorant of me. I’m really, really sorry. So…I hope you can forgive me. I miss you. Please call me back, whenever you get a chance.” I paused, trying to think of something profound to say. “Uh, so…call me. If you want. Sorry again.” I winced as I hung up the phone. I’d sounded like a complete idiot.
But in spite of my painfully awkward message, or maybe because of it, I finally got a call back from my cousin that evening.
“Adrianne!” I shrieked when I saw her number and answered the phone. “I’m so glad you called me. Listen, I’m so sorry for what I said. I was just sulking and whining, and I was completely insensitive.”
“Well, you were definitely that,” she said wryly.
“Can you forgive me? I really didn’t mean it.”
“Didn’t you?” She wasn’t making this easy for me!
“Honestly? I don’t know,” I sighed. “I don’t know if I meant what I was saying. But I do know that I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, and that you did hurt mine.”
She was silent for a second and then said sternly, “Well, I’m not going to apologize.” I couldn’t blame her for that.
She was silent again, then sighed and asked reluctantly, “Do you want to go to Mummy and Daddy’s for dinner tonight? Nathan and I are going, so I guess we could pass by and pick you up if you want.”
I grinned excitedly, even though she couldn’t see me. I was forgiven! “I would love to.”
“OK, cool. I’ll call you when we’re on our way.”
By the time I had been in Nathan’s car for five minutes, it was as if nothing had ever happened, and Adrianne and I were gabbing away just like always. I was so glad that we were cool again, but, although I would never say so to her now, I couldn’t stop the robbery from coming back to me in full force as we drove through Kingston. As I looked out my window, all I could think about was how unsafe the city seemed. Every house or townhouse complex we passed had a gate and grills, most of the townhouse complexes had a security guard at the gate, some of the houses had vicious-looking guard dogs, many had signs declaring that they were protected by one security firm or another… Back in Canada, this level of security just wasn’t necessary. Jamaica is great to visit, but there’s no way that I could live here, I thought for the thousandth time since the robbery. I’m not cut out for life on this island.
When we got to the house, dinner wasn’t yet ready. Miss Bettie, their helper, was in the kitchen finishing up the last parts of the meal. “Hi, Miss Bettie!” I greeted, sticking my head in the kitchen. I adored Miss Bettie; she had been with the family since Adrianne was a baby.
“Hi Nadiya,” she greeted in her soft voice. “How are you today, dahlin?”
I went into the kitchen and leaned up against the kitchen counter. I always liked to chat with her for a bit when I came over. “I’m OK, I guess. Things have been kind of rough for me lately.”
“What ‘appen?” she asked, wide-eyed. “Mi neva see yu’ stay so!” She wasn’t used to seeing me looking so glum.
“I got robbed.” I tried not to choke up as I said it. After Miss Bettie’s gasp of “Lawd Jesus!”, I continued on. “My boyfriend and I were in this store the other night and gunmen came in and held up the store. They robbed everyone in the place, they stole a bracelet my parents had just gotten me for Christmas. And the absolute worst of it all was that they actually killed the security guard that was working there. It was just awful, Miss Bettie.”
She looked distraught. “A so Jamaica stay, Nadiya. Tings here bad-bad. Every day and night mi worry fi mi son. ‘Im try his best to stay out of trouble, but de area where we live… Two of ‘im fren’ get kill awready! What ‘appen if one day ‘im inna di wrong place at di wrong time? And den mi dawta…she have two lickle pickney, de two baby fadda run weh gone, and every day is a struggle fi har to fin’ de money to feed dem. Every single day. Jamaica is not just sun and sand, dahlin, not fe all a we. Not everybody can live in dem big house like here.” She shook her head and looked off into space. “No sah. Life in Jamaica hard.” But she brightened again as she looked at me. “But don’ worry, dahlin. Soon enough, yu gwine fly away, and go back a Canada, and then yu can forget all about this cursed place and all a we living here.”