My last few days in Jamaica flew by. I went to Mandeville for a day to see those grandparents one final time and I spent a day with my grandparents that lived in Kingston as well. That evening, I went over to Adrianne’s house for dinner to say goodbye to that branch of the family too.
“I can’t believe you’re leaving me,” my cousin declared when we were in her room after dinner. “I wish you could be here to provide some moral support when I start school again! I’m so nervous about it.”
“Adrianne Joseph, you are going to be fine and you and I both know that. I can’t wait to see you perform, and I will, when I come back!”
“I still can’t believe it. That you’re moving back here, I mean. So many people pick up and leave Jamaica. It’s not a lot that come back, you know. Not at your age, at least.”
“I know. Everyone at home is going to freak out when I tell them.”
“And Kevin? Are you going to be able to survive being apart from him for a whole year?”
“I have to. I’m hoping this last year will go by really fast. And I’m coming back no matter what, whether I get into the master’s program or not.”
Adrianne dismissed me with a wave of her hand. “You’ll get in, Miss Genius. And you talk to me about being modest!”
I stuck out my tongue at her. “Whatever!”
“Seriously though, Nadiya,” started Adrianne, suddenly looking earnest. “It’s been so nice to have you in Jamaica for the year, and I’m so glad you’ve decided to come back. I’m going to miss you while you’re gone. I’m just happy that we got to know each other so well again this past year.”
Her words brought tears to my eyes. I tried to blink them away so that she wouldn’t notice, but it was too late. “Are you crying? Lawd, don’t get all emotional on me now! I mean, I’m not going to die without you or anything. In fact, I’m sure that by next week I won’t even remember who you are. So stop the noise, my girl.”
Now I was laughing and crying at the same time. I couldn’t even reply; I just gave my cousin a hug and a kiss (although she tried to pull away) and hoped that would say it all.
The next night, which was the night before my flight home, I felt satisfied that I had seen everybody I had to see one last time. The only frustrating thing about saying goodbye to all these people was that I hadn’t gotten to see Kevin as much as I would have liked to. But we had reserved this final night for the two of us alone, and decided we would say our goodbyes that night. I took extra-long to get ready; I knew that this would be the last time I would see him for a while so I wanted to make sure that the last picture he had in his mind of me was a good one. We had become almost inseparable this past half of a year. He was my stress relief, my confidante, my advisor and my best friend. But a year apart was much better than forever.
“This is going to be a rough year, you know,” he said quietly, as we sat at the Hilton poolside. The sounds of the live band playing melancholy jazz music seemed like the perfect soundtrack for the night.
“I know.” I looked down at my hands. “Do you think you’re going to be able to handle it?”
He was quiet for a minute. “I know I’m going to be able to handle it.” He gently raised my chin up so that I was looking straight at him. “What about you?”
I nodded. “I know that I can handle it too. It will only be a year. Just twelve months.”
“Yeah. That’s the plan at least. But how do you know that once you’re back in Canada you’re not going to come back to reality and decide to just stay where you are? Maybe you’ll realize that you don’t want to come back to this little Third World country to live after all. Maybe yu jus’ gwine guh back a foreign and fuhget all about likkle Jamaica.”
I laughed at the nervous look on his face. “Kevin, Jamaica isn’t some ‘little Third World country’ to me. It’s the place where I was born, the place where all of my family is, and it’s the place where you are. It’s home.”
The dimples slowly reappeared as my sentence went on. “OK. Enough said, I suppose. But just so you know, if you did decide that you wanted to stay there, I would do whatever I had to do to come up there when I graduated and do my residency training in Canada.”
I leaned over and gave him a big hug. “I know you would.” But I also knew how hard and complicated that would be for him. “Do you think we’re being naïve?” I asked. “I mean, really, we’ve only been together for a few months. Do you think it’s crazy for us to assume that everything is going to work out and we’re going to be together forever?”
“Do you think so?” he turned it back around on me.
I smiled up at him. “Of course not, but I just want some reassurance.”
He started to chuckle. “Alright, fine. Well, yes, it’s true that we’ve only been together for half a year. But we’ve known each other for almost an entire year. Actually, when you think about it, we’ve known each other almost our whole lives! Plus we’re both very picky people. So I think that says a lot for both of us then that we’re so happy with each other.”
“But don’t you think we’re too young to get so serious?” I was now completely teasing and he knew it.
He humoured me and proclaimed, “Yes, we are very young, but when you know it, you know it. We just happen to be lucky enough to have found our soul mates at a young age, that’s all.”
I reached out and grabbed on to his hand. “OK, fine, good answer. You passed the test.”
We sat at the poolside for another hour. I didn’t want to go home and he had to cajole me to leave. “I want to stay here all night too, but it’s getting late. You have to get up early in the morning.”
He had the best of intentions, but I didn’t end up sleeping at all that night anyway. I lay in bed with a million thoughts running through my head, alternately crying about leaving Kevin and Jamaica and smiling as I relived our goodbye and the last words he said to me. (I’ll keep those words to myself, but trust me, they were very sweet!)
The next morning, my last morning, as I loaded all of my luggage into the car, I said goodbye to Uncle Wallie, Bridget and Jeremy at their house. “What a way a year goes by quickly, eeh?” Uncle Wallie said, shaking his head sadly. “I can’t believe the time gone already.”
Bridget looked miserable as she said goodbye, and it made me want to cry. The two of us had had a lot of fun together and I thought of Bridget more now as a little sister than a younger cousin.
Jeremy seemed overwhelmed by the emotion of us two girls. “It’s no big deal, you know,” he declared, looking bewildered. “Don’t bodda bawl, yu soon come back.”
I gave one final wave goodbye to the family and got into my aunt’s car. “OK,” I sighed, “I’m ready to go.”
Several hours later, a little bit of turbulence woke me up from my nap. It took me a second to get oriented and remember where I was. Then it all came back; I was on my way back home to Canada.
Once I had gotten on the plane and it was comfortably up in the air, I had quickly fallen asleep. My body and mind were completely worn out from the last few days. When I woke up, the woman sitting beside me was looking at me, smiling. “Yu feel better now?” she asked. “Yu did look so tyad when you get on de plane.”
I couldn’t help smiling back at the friendly old woman with the soft face, large glasses and big black church hat. “I do feel better now. I didn’t get too much sleep last night.”
“How long were you in Jamaica for?” The woman could obviously tell from my accent that my permanent address was in Canada, not in Jamaica. For now!
“A year, actually. I went there to do an exchange program at UWI.”
“Oh! How nice. Your parents come from Jamaica?”
“I come from Jamaica,” I announced proudly. “I was born here. It’s my home too.”
“Is so nice to hear you seh dat. Mi glad to know seh yu consider it yu home. But you know what?” the woman leaned in conspiratorially with a small smile on her face. “No matta how long people leave Jamaica, is de one place dat dem can call home. De one place.”
We chatted some more until the old lady fell asleep herself. I no longer felt sad, and all I could think about was getting off the plane and seeing my parents again. I couldn’t keep the big smile off of my face when I walked through the exit from the customs area and saw them standing right there, front and centre.
I hurried over to them, pulling my suitcase as fast as I could, just as I had done to my aunt and uncle when I had arrived in Jamaica. Soon the three of us were locked in a hug.
“So how does it feel to be home?” asked my father when my parents were finally able to let go of me. “Were you sad to leave?”
“Yeah, I was really sad to leave. I was blubbering when Kevin dropped me off last night, but it feels really good to be home too. Really good.”
“Your friends have been calling the house already looking for you,” my mother told me. “They are all so anxious to see you. And Colin called twice already.” She raised her eyebrows and looked to see my reaction.
Colin. I remembered when he’d called me in Jamaica, and how I hadn’t told him about Kevin and had told him that we could talk when I got back. What was I thinking? But I knew now what I had been thinking. I had been scared about an unknown future in Jamaica and with Kevin, and the familiarity of Colin had been comforting, even if it was a mediocre option. Now I knew that I wouldn’t be returning any of his phone calls, and that I would proudly and gladly tell him all about Kevin whenever I did happen to see him again.
I didn’t even bother responding to my mother. Instead, I told them all about my last few days on the island, and as the three of us chatted, my thoughts drifted again to Kevin. It felt like he was a million miles away, but at the same time, I knew that he was right there with me, and that soon enough I would be back home in Jamaica.
There’s a famous Jamaican proverb that says, What is fi yu cyaa be unfi yu. What is for you can’t be un-for you. Well, I knew now with certainty that Kevin was for me, that Jamaica was for me, and nothing was going to change that.