The car was parked nearby and it wasn’t long before we were driving down Palisadoes Road, along the strip of land that connected the Norman Manley International Airport to the rest of the island. Although I was concentrating on the conversation with my family, I just couldn’t keep my eyes on any of them. I was too busy looking out the windows. Every time that I came back to the island and was driving down Palisadoes, I felt like I had to devour everything I saw with my eyes, as if, if I didn’t, it might all disappear. As I talked about how school was going, I was staring out of my window, watching pelicans suddenly dive into the sea and scoop up their prey. As I laughed at my uncle’s cracks about Canada’s bitter winters, I was staring out the front windshield, fascinated by the speed and recklessness of the Jamaican drivers who were heading in the other direction and those overtaking us. As I sympathized with Bridget about how quickly summer vacation always ended, I was staring out her window at a goat and her kids walking through the brush.
The drive on Palisadoes ended at the Harbour View roundabout and suddenly I really felt like I was in the city. Now what was fascinating me out the window was the people that we were passing by on the streets. I watched, mesmerized, as they called out to friends, sat on stoops sharing jokes, hawked their wares, or chased stray dogs away. Nobody was doing anything particularly interesting, but with every thing that they did, they seemed to be oozing their national identity. Every movement seemed distinctly Jamaican.
Before too long, we moved into a more residential area and my view now changed to the houses of Kingston’s middle class. I had always loved the Jamaican architectural style, where the weather allowed the houses to be much more open than they could be in Canada. As I passed by the houses, I appraised each one, deciding which I would live in and which I wouldn’t. It was a complete shock to me when I suddenly felt the car slow down. “Are we here already?” I asked as I realized we were turning into my aunt’s driveway.
“Already?!” asked Bridget incredulously. “And it tek so long?”
Two hours later, the house was in sleepy silence. After a late lunch of pepper pot soup and hardough bread, my aunt and uncle had both gone to take a nap. Bridget had seemed intent on attaching herself to my side but Aunt Sharon had firmly put a stop to that and told her to give me some privacy. She had reluctantly agreed and was now quiet in her bedroom. I was unpacking a few of my things in the guest room, lost in my daydreams, when I was startled by the loud bang of the front door opening and closing. Suddenly the house seemed filled with noise, as I heard Jeremy’s voice call out, “You guys back yet? I’m home!” I started to grin as I heard his heavy footsteps jogging up the stairs. “What’s up, cousin?” beamed Jeremy, knocking on my open door. “Wha yu a seh?”
“What’s up, Jeremy?” I squealed, giving him a big hug.
He shrugged and grinned. “Nutt’n really. Sorry I didn’t come to the airport but I had to meet up with someone.”
I rolled my eyes. “Uh-huh. It seems you’ve become quite the player these days from what I’m hearing.”
“Me!? No way. Just trying to enjoy life, you know what I mean? Nutt’n nuh wrong wid dat!”
“Well, being in a relationship is overrated, I know that much,” I said wryly. “You and some guy just mash up?”
“Yep, he dumped me last week because I was coming here. Said he doesn’t do long distance.”
He shrugged and grinned. “That’s good news for you, why would you want to come here and be tied down to someone all the way in Canada? Anyway, come to my room, this guest room too boring, not even a TV in here.”
Bridget’s door flew open as she heard us passing by, and she trailed behind as we went to Jeremy’s room.
“So you ready fi start school in Jamaica?” he asked brightly after turning on his television. “You know is not vacation this time around!”
“Yeah, I think I am. I’m pretty excited about it. My parents keep warning me that it’s going to be so hard, but I think I can handle it. I know I’ll learn a lot, that’s my goal. Besides, U of T is no joke either.”
Jeremy rolled his eyes. “Well, Miss Straight A, I’m glad that one of us can seh dat! I’m sure this year gwine be tough for me. You have to make sure that I get my work done, especially since I’m going to be living on hall.”
I laughed and threw my hands up helplessly. “There’s only so much I can do, you know, we’re not staying on the same hall!”
He grinned. “Well, every time you’re going to the library, jus’ mek sure you link me first.”
Jeremy was going to be living on Chancellor Hall, an all-male hall and the same hall that both of our fathers had lived on. In fact, that was how our fathers had met, which had eventually led to my aunt and uncle meeting. Growing up, I’d learned that alumni of the University of the West Indies seemed to stay fiercely loyal to their halls forever. My uncle was so proud that his son would also be “a Lion of Chancellor Hall”. My own mother had lived on Mary Seacole Hall, an all-female hall and the sister hall to Chancellor. She always talked about the fun time that she’d had there, and she had done a pretty poor job of hiding her disappointment when I chose to live on a co-ed hall instead. I was going to be living on Rex Nettleford Hall, one of the newer halls on campus. Tradition was great and all, but now that I was single, I was very happy that I’d be having some testosterone around me.
“So what about you, Bridget?” I asked, turning to my little cousin. “Are you ready to start first form?” Bridget had done fairly well on her Grade Six Achievement Test and was now ready to move on to high school.
Bridget looked nervous as she shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m just used to being the oldest person in the school and now I’m going to have to be the youngest.”
I nodded sympathetically. “I remember that feeling when I started high school, and when I started university too actually. But it’s so cool starting something new that you forget all about that stuff really quick. And then, next thing you know, you feel like you were always there.”
She didn’t look convinced. “I guess so. At least most of my friends are going to be at the same school as me.”
“That will make a big difference, trust me. Imagine how I feel! Jeremy’s the only person I’m going to know, and he’s not even going to be living on the same hall. I might never see him.” The thought made me feel a little nervous. Who knew if anyone on hall would like me, or vice versa? What if I didn’t fit in?
“What classes are you taking?” asked Bridget. “What are you going to be when you’re done?”
I sighed, thinking how to answer. “That’s the million dollar question. I’m not totally sure what I want to do with my life yet.” I turned more toward Jeremy. “I’ve thought about that so many times in the last few years and still no answer yet.”
“You must have some idea,” he replied, eyebrow raised. “Yu’ been at U of T for two years already! Aren’t you doing history or something like that?”
“Well, I’m getting a degree in Caribbean Studies. And I’m really happy that I chose that, I love all my classes, they’re great. But as to what I want to do with that when I’m done…no clue. I’ve thought about going to law school, and going into international law, or maybe immigration law. I’ve thought about doing a master’s and a Ph.D and hopefully becoming a professor one day. I’ve even thought about going into politics. That would be kind of cool. But who knows? I think that this year might help me decide what I want to do once I go back, or at least I hope so.”
“See, that’s what happens when you’re too smart,” declared Jeremy, shaking his head. “Too many options. You see me? Accounts is all I’m good at, so that’s all I can do! And we’ll find out this year if I can actually even do it. Now come. Listen to this new riddim, it’s wicked, Nadiya, trus’ me.”
Later on that night after another light meal, the house had quieted down again. I was lying across the guest room bed reading a novel I’d picked up at the Toronto airport and, although the book was good, I was having a hard time concentrating. I found myself reading the same lines over and over again because I was feeling so antsy. I’d had a nap and a shower and both had invigorated me. I wanted to do more with my first night in Jamaica than just sit around but the whole household seemed settled in for the evening. Bridget and her parents were watching a children’s movie, and last I’d seen Jeremy, he was on the phone with some girl. So I was delighted when he knocked on my door and asked if I felt like going out.
“Of course! What’s the plan?”
He laughed at my enthusiasm. “Lawd, Nadiya, yu bored, eeh? Sorry, I should have realized that you would want to go out tonight. Anyway, nuttin’ too exciting goin’ on still. My friend, Kamal, called me just now. One of his friends is having people over to his house to watch movies. So you’ll get to meet some UWI people.”
“That sounds good to me. Just give me about twenty minutes?” Fifteen minutes later, I had put on a little bit of makeup, changed into a casual, but pretty, colourful halter-top maxi dress and sandals, and was ready to go.
“So this guy, Kevin, whose house we’re going to, he’s a good person for you to meet actually,” Jeremy said as we got in the car and headed out of the driveway. “He’s the same age as you, I think. He’s a medical student.” It was crazy to me that, in Jamaica, it was possible to go to both med school and law school straight out of high school. I couldn’t imagine being able to handle either one of those at my age, or even to know that that’s what I wanted to do with my life.
“He doesn’t live on campus,” Jeremy continued, “but he’s a really friendly guy, he knows everybody, and he always knows where all the good sessions are.”
“Is he cute?” I asked teasingly. This guy sounded interesting!
Jeremy kissed his teeth. “Nadiya, I cyaan judge dem tings. But I will say, nuff girls like him, so they all seem to think so.”
As our journey went on, I noticed that our drive was taking us successively higher and higher into the peaks of Beverly Hills, and I started to realize what kind of money some people on the island really had. The closer one got to the sky in Jamaica, it seemed, the closer the housing prices got to the sky as well.
“Well, judging by his neighbourhood, I think he could be the hunchback of Notre Dame and he’d still have girls chasing after him!” I said as I looked out the window.
My cousin laughed. “That’s a good point. And just wait, you haven’t seen anything yet.”
He was right. I thought the area in general was impressive, but when we actually got to Kevin’s house, the sight of it took my breath away. It was the biggest, nicest one I had seen thus far, and that was saying a lot. There were huge black wrought-iron gates in front of the house, but they didn’t block the view of the circular brick driveway, the twostorey- high columns in front of the massive front door, and of course the house itself. You can’t even call that a house, that’s a mansion! It was absolutely gorgeous, with lots of balconies, huge windows and flawless landscaping.
But when Kevin answered the door for us, I forgot all about the house, and I saw the real reason he had so many girls chasing after him. The guy standing before me was the absolute definition of gorgeous. He was about six feet tall with a really low and tidy haircut, a well-groomed five o’clock shadow, and a complexion about the same colour as mine. He had teeth so white they were practically sparkling, eyes so dark that they did sparkle, and I would have killed to have his long curly eyelashes. I literally felt my heart skip a beat when he smiled at me and I saw his slight dimples. Even in his loose T-shirt, it was clear that he worked out a lot and had a great physique. I had thought that Colin was really cute, but Kevin was, quite literally, the best-looking guy I had ever seen in my entire life.
When Jeremy introduced me, my normally outgoing self was speechless. I just smiled shyly, mumbled a hello, and quickly looked down as Kevin led us into his living room. There was already a large group of people in there, but no more male supermodels. At least it will be easier to talk to them, I thought wryly.
And it was. Everyone there was around my age, many were students at UWI, and all of them were very friendly and receptive, typical Jamaicans. One of them, a girl named Tamara, was actually a third-year student at the University of Western Ontario, a Canadian university with a sizeable Jamaican population, so she and I even talked for a while about life in Canada.
In spite of everyone’s amiability though, I couldn’t help feel somewhat detached from the rest of the group, and not just because they all knew each other. It was funny, when I was in Canada, I always declared myself a Jamaican. But right then, sitting on that couch, I felt more Canadian than I’d ever felt before. The others talked about people, places and things that I had never heard of, and sometimes used words in patois that I couldn’t even begin to decipher. Although I had been feeling so at home in Jamaica since I’d arrived, I had to admit that I was now feeling a little bit like a foreigner.
But even while going through this self-reflection, I still managed to keep one eye on Kevin the entire time. Which meant that it was easy to see that I wasn’t the only one who was watching him. A lot of the girls there, even some of the ones with boyfriends, were clearly flirting with him. In spite of it all, he seemed completely blind to the attention. He appeared to be a very funny, outgoing guy just as Jeremy had said, but he wasn’t responding to any of the girls’ advances.
At one point I found myself alone in the kitchen with Tamara and worked up the courage to ask her about him. “So…tell me something. What’s the deal with Kevin?”
Tamara burst out laughing. “Bwoy, I should have known,” she said with a shake of her head. “Every girl who see my cousin seem to fall in love wid ‘im. He is single, if that’s what you want to know, and that’s by choice obviously.”
“But how come?”
“I suppose it’s because of medical school. He says he’s too busy right now for a girlfriend or for dating. When he’s not at the hospital or studying, which is most of the time, then he’s out with his friends.” Tamara shrugged. “But you know what, personally I think that if he met the right girl,” she said with a sly grin, “he’d be willing to make sacrifices.”
Before I could reply, the subject of our conversation walked into the kitchen. I felt my face flush, wondering if he had heard anything we’d been saying. “What’s up, girls?” he said with a smile as he opened the refrigerator. “Yu havin’ a good time, Nadiya?”
Once again, I felt speechless. “Yeah,” I responded shyly. God, you’ve got to say more than that, I reproached myself. He’s going to start thinking you have some kind of medical problem. “I’m having a really good time actually,” I continued bravely, noticing that Tamara was slipping out of the kitchen. “I’m glad that you had this get-together, it was nice to get to know some people from UWI before I started. And I met a girl who’ll be living on Rex, so that’s nice too.”
“Yu looking forward to being on campus?”
“Oh definitely! I’ve lived on campus the last two years at U of T, and it was always fun.”
“Yeah, I thought about it, but…” and he leaned in to finish his sentence, “I think everybody would laugh at my Spiderman pajamas and I just can’t sleep in anything else.” He winked at me. “Yu comin’?”
I had to do my best not to grin like an idiot as we walked back into the living room together. When Kevin had leaned in towards me, I had felt like I might melt, and my pulse was still racing from that wink. He was the most charming guy I had ever met.
As we entered the living room, I looked away so that nobody would see me biting the inside of my cheek or see that I was blushing. I ended up glancing over at a piano off to the side of the large hallway. I had noticed some pictures on the top of it before, but hadn’t been close enough to see what they were. Now, I slowed to take a closer look. They were the typical family pictures that you’d expect to see in a living room: children in various stages of growing up. There was a picture of what appeared to be Kevin graduating from high school, as well as a similar older picture for two boys, who were without a doubt identical. There were a few pictures of all the boys when they were younger (Kevin was so cute!), but one picture especially caught my eye. It was a picture of Kevin’s sixth birthday (I could tell by the banner in the background), and he was blowing out his candles, in the midst of a sea of over-excited children. Just at the edge of the picture, there was a little girl in a pink dress that looked like a cotton candy explosion who was reaching her hand towards the cake with a look of greed in her eyes. “Hey, that’s me!” I cried in surprise.
Kevin came back over to the picture to see what I was pointing at. He smiled widely. “That little girl who stuck her hand right in the middle of my cake was you, Nadiya? Yu serious?”
“I’m positive! I have a picture of me wearing that same dress at home, and I know I was on my way to someone’s birthday party. I guess now I know whose party it was.”
“Yeh man, I know my mother invited everyone in my class. You went to St. Peter and St. Paul Prep?”
“I sure did.”
“Wow, what a small world,” he said with a grin. “Well, for the record, I don’t remember it very well at all, but my parents tell a great story about my little girlfriend who completely mashed up my cake and ended our relationship!”
I couldn’t believe it. At one time, even though it was fourteen years ago, I had actually been this gorgeous creature’s “little girlfriend”! Well, hopefully he’s over the cake thing enough now to think that I’m worth dating again!
I definitely wasn’t in Jamaica looking for a serious relationship, and from the sounds of what Tamara had said, her cousin wasn’t looking for that either. But spending more time with Kevin, getting to know him better…that sounded intriguing!