The next couple of weeks passed by fairly uneventfully for me. Omar and I went to the library together once to study, but that was the only time that we spent together in those two weeks. He’d called me asking to go out on various dates, for lunch, for dinner, to the movies, but I would always turn him down. After a few occasions like that, I could tell that he was gracefully taking the hint. He still called me often, just to chat, but he eventually stopped asking me to go out. Even our trip to the library just happened when we bumped into each other, and were already both headed that way. He made puppy dog eyes at me that evening when he thought I wasn’t looking, but I wouldn’t be guilted into dating him anymore. I knew I wasn’t interested, so there was no need to lead him on.
It was a different story with Gary. I saw him about once a week during that time, and was definitely enjoying his company. We went out to dinner and a movie one night, and another time I had lunch with him followed by a tour of the UTech campus afterward. We had really good conversation, I liked how much of an intellectual he was, and he was really cute!
But my eye was constantly open. As I said to Adrianne, “I need to be living it up, enjoying the single life in Jamaica. There’s no reason to date just one guy, right?”
She shrugged as she stretched out on her bed. “As long as you’re not making anyone think they’re your boyfriend, then why not? So does that mean you’re going to be on the prowl tomorrow night?”
There was a party on Saturday night that I was going to with some of the girls from hall. It seemed like everybody I knew was going, and both Omar and Gary had told me that they would be there. So I was sure there’d be a ton of other guys there too.
I grinned wickedly and put my hands behind my head and my feet up on her bed, leaning backing in my chair. “Of course I will be! I wish you could come.”
She kissed her teeth. “I wish I could too! But duty calls. Too much work to do this weekend.” She sighed dramatically. “Bwoy, poor likkle me.”
“What do you mean, poor you?! You’ve got your Friday night free, and you’re spending it with your favourite cousin! Do you really need anything more than that?”
She rolled her eyes at me. “You know what, I do! Come, I don’t want to just sit here in this little room all night. Let’s go out a road.” She jumped up and grabbed her car keys.
“OK, but where are we going?”
“Mi nuh know!” She shrugged impatiently. “We’ll find something!”
“Alright then,” I giggled. “Let’s go!” Even though we didn’t know where we were going, I had a pretty good idea how the night was going to look. It would be a night where we had ‘gone visiting’; just dropping by people’s places to chat. It was a very Jamaican thing to do to call someone and say you were around the corner, or down the road, or outside the gate, and would be passing through. As a Jamaican, you always had to be ready to offer some drinks or snacks to any prospective visitors.
We went out to Adrianne’s car, and as we started driving, sure enough, she took out her cell phone. “Cammy!” she greeted her friend when she answered. “What’s up?” I could vaguely hear a voice through her phone. “I’m just here with my cousin, Nadiya. We gwine pass through, alright?” More muffled voice on the other end, and then, “OK, see you soon.”
Ten minutes later, we were at her friend Cammilla’s house. She came outside to greet us as we pulled in to the driveway past the open gate. She had to, in order to hold the collar of her beast of a dog who was barking wildly, as froth flew off of his massive teeth. “How your dog still don’t recognize me, man?” Adrianne yelled out her open window.
Cammy laughed. “I’m sure he recognizes you, he just doesn’t like you! And he smells fresh meat too, so that has him really worked up. Anyway, come, I’m holding him, so just go inside.” She grabbed his collar and put an arm around him in a hold that didn’t look particularly secure to me, especially as I would have to pass a few feet in front of him to get to the front door. The dog completely lost it as I went by, but I tried my best to stay calm and not run screaming back to the car, and thankfully he didn’t break free.
“So you jus’ chillin’ out tonight, Camms?” Adrianne asked as her friend walked into the living room behind us.
“Yeah, quiet night tonight. Mummy and Daddy have gone to a party, Simon is in Miami for work, so it’s just me. You guys want anything to drink? We have coconut water, Ting, soursop juice?”
“I’ll take a coconut water.”
“Me too please,” I added as she started off toward the kitchen.
She returned with three glasses of coconut water and a bowl of guineps.
“These are from our tree in the yard. Nadiya, you know guinep?”
“Yeah, we used to have a tree ourselves when we lived here. I love them but my parents put the fear of God in me about eating them when they weren’t around.”
The other two girls laughed. “I know what you mean,” Cammilla nodded. “My parents were the same. Everybody worries that children will suck down the seed and choke. I still feel nervous when I eat them!” Guineps were a delicious fruit and eating them was a sensory experience. First, you had to crack the skin with your teeth, then squeeze out the contents into your mouth. Finally, you sucked off the fruit pulp until only the slippery seed was left. The times when I’d been allowed to eat them had been special childhood treats.
We spent the next hour drinking coconut water and eating guinep, chatting about nothing in particular, and watching music videos. As we talked, we started to notice Cammy yawning more and more, and finally Adrianne said, “Anyhow, Cammy, I think we’re going to push off. You look sleepy!”
She grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, I am. I was out pretty late last night.”
“Get some sleep then. You’re going to have another late night tomorrow.” Cammilla was also going to the party on Saturday night. When she’d heard, Adrianne had declared, “So what, is all of Jamaica going but me?”
So what are you guys going to do now?” Cammy asked as we started to walk toward the front door.
“I was thinking of passing by Nathan, he said he would probably be at home tonight.”
“OK, tell him I said hi. Alright, come, let me hold the dog again.” Her eyes twinkled as she looked at me. “Try not to look so terrified this time, Nadiya.”
We managed to make it safely out of the yard again and into the car. Nathan didn’t live too far away, so fifteen minutes later, we were at the gate of his complex. Adrianne didn’t even bother to call ahead to say we were coming. The guard called up, got his approval, and let us in. By the time we had found a parking spot and parked the car, Nathan was visible, standing at the front door of his apartment. He was on the second floor, but because of the open style of the complex, the doors all faced an exterior hallway, so we could see his front door from our parking spot.
“What’s going on, ladies?” he greeted us from above, coming to lean over the railing, as we started to walk toward the stairs.
“Nothing, just passing through,” I called up. “What are you up to tonight?”
“Nothing really, you know. Just watching a movie that I’ve seen a million times before.” We had now reached his front door. “I had a date, but she cancelled on me. Can you believe that? I was dressed and everything. I had to call the restaurant and cancel the reservation. So now I’m just here feeling sorry for myself.” He grinned a grin that suggested he wasn’t quite as sad as he made himself out to be. “Anyway, come in, come in. You’re in luck, Mummy dropped off some cake this afternoon. You guys want some?”
Adrianne grinned wickedly. “Of course! Don’t you know that’s the real reason we’re here?” Suddenly, her eyes narrowed. “Hey, why didn’t she bring some by me?”
Now it was her brother’s turn to grin wickedly. “Obviously because she loves me better!”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “Whatever, just cut the cake please!”
So we ate black cake and vanilla ice cream, drank ginger beer (although Nathan had Red Stripe) and laughed at Dancehall Queen, which he’d been watching before we arrived, until we were interrupted by the sound of Nathan’s phone ringing.
“Yeh man!” he said after answering and listening for a few seconds. “My sister and cousin are just here and we’re watching movies.” He paused to listen again. “OK, see you soon.”
He hung up and turned back to us. “Three of my friends gwine pass by. Should be here pretty soon.” Sure enough, fifteen minutes later, a couple and another guy arrived and suddenly it had become a full-on get-together. One of Nathan’s neighbours, a pretty dark-skinned girl who seemed quite happy to hear he’d been stood up, even wandered in. There was plenty more eating, drinking, chatting, and laughter. The guys even somehow ended up in a dance-off! We couldn’t agree on a winner, but it was a unanimous decision that Nathan lost. I couldn’t have had a better night if we’d planned the whole thing. We all finally left in the wee hours of the morning (although Nathan’s neighbour didn’t seem like she planned to go home anytime soon).
“That was a nice time,” I mused sleepily as Adrianne and I drove off. I didn’t often have spontaneous nights like this when I was in Toronto. “Fun.”
“Mm-hmm,” Adrianne agreed. “I still am completely miserable about not going to the party tomorrow, don’t get me wrong, but tonight was good.”
“Well, I’ll miss you tomorrow, and I’ll try to have fun on your behalf.” As I thought about the party the next night, I couldn’t help thinking about the last time I’d been to a big party, when I’d first seen Lily. After a moment of silence, I admitted, “But you know what, I keep catching myself wondering if Lily and Kevin will be at the party. I’m trying to force the thought out of my mind, but it’s hard. I’m even tempted to ask Jeremy if he’s heard anything about them going, but I won’t.”
“Good.” She matter-of-factly asked the obvious question. “Because what does it matter anyway? If they’re there, then what? If they’re not there, then what?”
I couldn’t come up with a good response.
“Listen, you need to stop thinking about them,” Arlene reprimanded me sternly as we were getting ready the next night. I had just been telling her as well that I was trying not to think about Lily and Kevin. “Bwoy, Nadiya, you can’t stop talking about Kevin, eeh? And Gary so nice?”
“I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I try, I promise you that I do. Anyway, you’re one to talk! You’re not obsessed with Jomo?” I asked, eyebrow raised. Arlene blushed. I knew that she would have been staying home tonight to study if she didn’t know that he was going to be there. Jomo was one of Arlene’s classmates and she had completely fallen for him when they first met. She was convinced that he was her soul mate. He was one of the few guys around campus who was taller than her, and they had very similar upbringings and personalities. Jomo was also from a humble background; he had grown up in a small town in Portland, Jamaica’s wettest parish. Through hard work and determination, he had completed a first degree at UWI and was now in law school, determined to be successful so that he could help to support his family still in Portland. Arlene was much too shy to tell Jomo how she felt, so she just pined after him by talking about him to her friends. “But Jomo doesn’t have a girlfriend!” she rebutted.
“I know. But Arlene, there’s something special about this guy, you know?” I was interrupted by the noise of my cell phone telling me I had a text message. “We’ll have to continue this conversation later, that’s Jeremy,”‘ I said, looking down at the screen. “They’re out at the gate. Let’s let Kim know that we’re ready to go.”
I took one last look in the mirror before the three of us left. I had my hair in a sleek low bun, and was wearing a little black dress with black, peep-toed kitten heels. I was satisfied. “OK, let’s go!”
Kamal was driving us there that night, and after about ten seconds in the car, I started thinking I should have taken a taxi. He was a real Jamaican driver, so much so that I eventually decided to keep my eyes closed the rest of the way there. Jeremy thought this was the funniest thing he’d ever seen, but I think I might have been too tempted to jump out of the car at the red lights that he paused for if I didn’t. Although to call what he did pausing was being generous. Since it was late, the streets of Kingston were relatively quiet and he took full advantage of that in order to live out his apparent fantasy of being a race-car driver. Some things about Jamaica I’d really become accustomed to in my time on the island, but the bad driving was something I knew I would never get used to. I breathed an audible sigh of relief as we finally arrived and the car came to a merciful halt. Looking at the other people in the car, and seeing their reaction to my reaction, it was clear that nobody else had been bothered by the drive at all. I’ve got to watch him all night and make sure he doesn’t drink! I vowed to myself. Because if this was him stone-cold sober, God help us all if he even has a sip of alcohol!
Just as Kamal had parked the car, his cell phone rang. “Whapp’n, Kevin?” he answered after looking at the caller ID. My ears perked up instantly. Kimberly was in the middle of talking to me, but everything my friend said after I heard Kevin’s name went in one ear and out the other.
“Yeh man, we just parked the car. It nice inside?” He listened to his friend talk for a second as we all got out of the car. “Alright, we gwine come find you.”
Arlene had picked up on what was going on and grabbed me by the shoulder as we were walking. “Bwoy, yu in a daze now!” she laughed, leaning in so that only I would hear. “And poor Kim don’t even see seh yu not payin’ her any attention!” Kimberly was still chatting away in ignorance.
I blushed, embarrassed, and whispered back, “I know, I’m terrible. Do you think that-”
“Nadiya!” interrupted Kim, sounding peeved. “Have you been listening to me at all?”
“Um, sorry, I got distracted for a second. What were you saying?”
As Kamal had promised him, we went and found Kevin as soon as we went inside. I noticed that he was standing with only two male friends and that Lily was nowhere in sight. After everyone greeted each other, Kevin turned towards me. “Geezum, you don’t let any party in Jamaica miss you, eeh?” he teased, shaking his head. “Every party I go to, there you are.”
I grinned up at him. I was perfectly happy to be teased by him if it meant he’d be giving me that big, dazzling smile. “Hey, I’ve only got a year here, you know. I have to have as much fun as possible. I’ve got to maximize my time!”
“I know, I’m just kidding you. As you can see, I’m at all of these events too! But you know what, medical school is so stressful sometimes, I have to enjoy myself when I can, you see it? Anytime I catch myself without schoolwork to do, and I’m not dead tired, you can be sure I’m going to be out having a good time. I can’t let life pass me by.”
“That’s exactly how I feel. You’re only young once, right?” We were both quiet for a moment, nodding our heads to the music. I tried to hold it in, but finally couldn’t resist asking, “So where’s Lily tonight?”
“Oh, Lily doesn’t like going to sessions, you know. It’s not really her thing. Remember that last one that I saw you at? She was there that night and that was a very rare occurrence for her. She said that was her one session for the year, that’s her quota.” I was secretly relieved. I didn’t know how I would have responded if Lily had been there and had asked me point-blank why I hadn’t called her yet. Plus, I didn’t want to have to watch them dance together again.
Kevin and I stood in the same spot and talked to each other even as everybody else we were with drifted off to walk around, get drinks and talk to other people that they knew. The DJ was playing hip-hop and R&B, but nothing too popular yet, and the crowd of people were for the most part standing on the periphery, nodding their heads. Some were talking, some were at the bar, a group of Rastas in the corner were smoking ganja, and only a very few were dancing. I knew this behaviour well from my time in Jamaica, and could easily predict what was going to happen next. The selector would eventually switch genres and start in on some old dancehall. Once the old Beenie, Buju and Bounty tunes started to play, the big empty space in the middle would start to get smaller as the periphery slowly started to close in. Now the head nodding would get more animated, and people would start to move more. When a big tune came on, the crowd would let the selector know it. Some people would start to do the old dances, like the Bogle and the World Dance. As the music started to get more and more recent, the crowd would get more and more hyped up. Soon they would be listening to Wayne Marshall, Vybz Kartel, Mavado… It wouldn’t take long for the circle in the middle to disappear, and soon the crowd would be loud, animated, and doing the latest dance moves all together.
As the music was getting better and better, I got my second chance to dance with Kevin. It just sort of happened as the vibe of the party picked up. Dancing with him was just as great as the first time, and talking to him came just as easily. I had really good conversations with both Omar and Gary, but I couldn’t deny it, Kevin had them both beat hands down. As we danced, his voice interrupted my thoughts. “Hey, do you know that guy over there? The one in the yellow Cooyah T-shirt. He’s looking over here like he’s not too impressed with me. But it’s not Omar. Maybe he’s hired bodyguards to watch you when he’s not around?”
I looked over to where he had motioned with his chin and saw Gary. I had to agree that he was staring at us and didn’t look very happy. “Yeah, I do know him actually. I met him not too long ago, he goes to UTech. We’ve actually gone on a couple of dates already, so that’s probably why he’s not delighted to see me dancing so long with someone else.”
Kevin looked thoroughly surprised. “But…but,” he sputtered, “what happened to you and Omar? You two mash up areddi? When did that happen?”
I couldn’t help feeling embarrassed about misleading him before. “Well, he was never my boyfriend, you know.” I paused. “Never even close actually. We just went on a few dates and spent some time together. I still do see him and he’s a cool enough guy, but I’m not tied down to anybody. Remember what I told you that one time? I’m not settling down with just anyone. I’m just trying to have fun.”
“I remember that conversation very well, but people had been giving me the impression that you and Omar were about to elope!”
I rolled my eyes. “You know how people at UWI love to gossip already. People need to get their facts straight. We are nowhere near that, at least I’m not.” I looked back over at Gary, who was now definitely pouting. “Anyway, I think I’m going to go over and talk to Gary for a bit. I think his ego’s getting more and more bruised by the second.”
“Yeah, I understand. That’s probably the best for both of us! I would like to go home in one piece tonight after all. Anyhow, enjoy yourself tonight, yu hear?” I didn’t see him again for the rest of the night