Where I Belonged: What Is For You – Part 25 – Tale of a Jamaican-Canadian student in Jamaica for a one-year exchange program

As could be expected, even though we’d talked, or pretended to talk, about the silence between us, that night made things no better. In fact, it made it worse. We went from being too quiet around each other to being incredibly fake and excessively chatty around each other. We would each babble away to each other daily about superficial things, like what we’d seen on television, what we’d eaten for meals, what pieces of gossip were going around campus. Not that we hadn’t always talked about that stuff, but before, we’d also talk about our feelings, our thoughts, our emotions…. Now we just spouted facts and information to each other every time we spoke, and nothing but.


“Nadiya. Come on now. You guys need to discuss things. This is getting ridiculous! It’s been going on for far too long, don’t you think? What are you going to do, wait until you’re getting on the plane to talk about it?” asked Arlene as she tied up her running shoes. 

She stood up and looked at her reflection in her mirror as she waited for my answer. Her outfit consisted of a teal-coloured, heavily beaded bra, a teal-coloured panty with a similarly heavily beaded wide belt, a headpiece with teal feathers spewing forth from it, and runners. I was wearing the exact same outfit, but with brown flat boots on instead of sneakers.  


“It’s not that I’m waiting…per se…,” I said as I adjusted my headpiece. “Well…maybe it is. But we’re going to break up, I know that, so why would I want to talk about that until I have to? And besides, he has a mouth too! He can talk to me about it.”


Arlene shook her head in resignation. “OK, Nadiya, if you say so. I think it’s always best to talk about these things, rather than let them drag out, but OK.”

“Let’s just drop it for now,” I pleaded. “Today is all about having fun, not talking about heavy stuff. The last few days have been more fun than I’ve had in a long long time, let’s try and keep it that way, OK? Please don’t bring this up again!” 


I didn’t mean to snap at her, but I couldn’t help it. It was the Easter season, the time of year for Jamaica Carnival, and my friends and I had been partying full-force, going to one soca fete after another. I had been having an absolute blast, and for once hadn’t felt the weight of my dying relationship on my shoulders. We had been up literally all night for a J’Ouvert fete the night before, and had happily stumbled home at sunrise absolutely covered in mud and paint. Now that we were finally all washed off and had gotten a bit of sleep, we were getting ready to play mas in the road march this afternoon. We had done the same thing for UWI Carnival a couple of months ago, and I was rearing to do it again. It seemed like only Carnival could bring that certain feeling of euphoria, and I didn’t want to lose that feeling. 


“Alright, alright!” she responded. I could tell I’d hurt her. “I just asked how he was doing, you’re the one who said things still weren’t going well. But I won’t bring him up again, I promise.”


I gave her a guilty hug. “Thanks for understanding, Arlene. I’ll talk to you all about it soon, just not today.”


She looked only slightly appeased by my hug, so I was glad to see Cassandra burst in to Arlene’s room. “Come on, girls, we’re all ready. Let’s go!” She gave us the once-over and squealed, “We all look fabulous!”


As we all squished into Aneeka’s car, my thoughts betrayed me and turned again to Kevin. One reason I had really wanted Arlene to stop talking was because I didn’t want her to ask me what Kevin was going to be up to today. He had been busy with school the last few days, so he hadn’t been at any of the parties we’d been going to, but he was playing mas today too. He was in a different section than me, and we had agreed that we would enjoy the day with our respective friends, but there was still a good chance that we would see each other. Jamaica Carnival wasn’t that big after all. The thing is, I didn’t want to see him today. I knew that seeing his fake smiles and hearing his fake conversation would just bring me down.


But the pull of Carnival was strong. It was hard to feel melancholy when soca music was reverberating through your body. It was tough to feel lonely when you were among a group of friends who were having the time of their lives. Slowly but surely, as we drove, I felt my mood pick up again. Today was not the day to be stressed out about the future, or lack thereof, of my relationship. Today was all about having fun and living in the moment. I hoped that the road march would be one of my stand-out memories for the entire year. 


“This is amazing, isn’t it?” I exclaimed once we’d hit the road. “I’m so glad I brought my camera!” The weather was perfect for Carnival, not a cloud in the sky, and not too hot. We were in our teal-coloured section and the sea of matching feathers blooming off the headpieces looked amazing! In front of us, there was a section of bright yellow, behind us a section of white. Looking off into the distance in both directions, you could see section after section of brightly coloured feathers and costumes.  All the women were dressed in outfits as skimpy as ours or skimpier, and there were all kinds of body types on display. Right beside me, there was petite yet curvaceous Cass next to long and lean Arlene in the exact same outfit, and they both looked beautiful. It was all about loving how you looked, whether you had the perfect body or not. Same went for the guys, all had their shirts off, some with huge guts and some with concave chests, and it just didn’t matter. 

The whole scene looked like a multi-coloured painting. But a moving painting. Nobody was standing still, it would have taken all of anyone’s willpower to not move in this kind of setting. All around us, people were dancing and jumping up, waving rags and flags, singing at the top of their lungs to the blaring music. The energy was almost palpable. 


“You think this is something?” bragged Kim. “Wait until you come to Trinidad and see our Carnival. The entire country gets into it, the parties, the two full days of road march… Trust me, then your mind will really be blown, once you see the greatest show on earth!”


“Well, then, I promise you, in the next few years, I will be there.” If it was better than this, it had just officially been added to my list of things to do before I died (or got too old to enjoy them). 


As the afternoon wore on, we danced, sang, waved, jumped, chipped, wined, jooked, drank, sweated and splashed. I should have trained for it. I was exhausted by the time that sunset was nearing, but the euphoria helped me to find the strength to keep going. I could just imagine how sore I was going to be the next day though. Wining requires a lot of quad strength!


As the sun was setting, I stopped and pulled out my camera again. The feathers and outfits that had been nicely separated by colour earlier in the day were now all mixed up as people abandoned their sections, and it looked so beautiful in the glow of the sunset, I just had to get a picture. As I looked through the viewfinder, trying to compose the perfect shot, I felt a guy start dancing up behind me. Now, that in and of itself wasn’t unusual. I had danced with what felt like a million guys that day. That was just part of Carnival culture, I assumed Kevin had done the same and didn’t have a problem with it, as I knew he wouldn’t have a problem with guys dancing with me. But what was unusual is that I was standing still taking a picture. That made me much less appealing of a choice to dance with, especially as I was surrounded by girls who were more than ready to wine and be wined up on.


Next thing I knew, there were two strong arms wrapped tight around my waist, too tight. I turned around, annoyed, and was shocked to see Kevin standing there! He had  on red board shorts, the remains of a red beaded headband, and a big, mischievous grin on his face, the first real smile I’d seen from him in what felt like an eternity. Even if I hadn’t wanted to, I couldn’t help giving him a big grin back. “How did you find me in this sea of people?” I asked happily.

“How yu mean? Cyaa miss yu!”


That answer was good enough for me, and we happily jumped up together, going down the road. I had dried off a little bit as the day cooled down, but as I danced with my favourite partner, it wasn’t long before I was drenched in sweat again. Normally I would have been embarrassed but I was having too much fun and felt too comfortable to care.


There is nowhere else I’d rather be right now, I thought to myself as I looked up into Kevin’s eyes, my arms around his neck. Suddenly, I felt an irresistible urge to tell him exactly how I felt, right then and there. Before I had time to think, I grabbed his arm and pulled him off to the side, out of the crowd of people.

“What’s wrong,” he asked, wide-eyed. “What happen?”


I took a deep breath, and just let whatever wanted to spew forth spew forth. “Kevin, I love you. So much. And I don’t want us to break up when I go back to Canada. I know long distance is hard, and I know that you’re going to be so busy with school, and I heard you talking to your cousin at the wedding about how we’re going to break up once I leave. But I’m asking you to please not give up on us. Please give us a try. I know we can make it work, I know we can.” I shocked myself with the words. I hadn’t known what I was going to say, but I hadn’t expected it to be that! I was not usually the type to beg. 

He was quiet for what felt like an eternity, just staring at me. Even though I knew him so well, I couldn’t read his expression. I started to turn red with embarrassment (on top of the redness I’d already gotten from the sun). But then he wrapped his arms around my waist, smiled his heartbreaking smile, and said, “Nadiya, I love you too. And I don’t want us to break up either. That’s the last thing I want, and for the record, I never wanted that. I am so sorry that you heard me talking to my cousin that night. If I’d known… You know I can be an idiot sometimes, I was just saying that. A pride thing, you know? I didn’t think that you would want to have some likkle Jamaican boyfriend once you were back in Toronto, especially after the whole robbery thing. I was convinced that you were just biding your time until you could get off this island and that you were going to dump me soon enough. And then my family had embarrassed me so much at the wedding by talking about us getting married that I thought you must have been wondering what on earth I was saying to them and what kind of crazy guy you had gotten yourself involved with. So I was just putting my armour on.” 

I swatted his arm. “Kevin! Do you know that’s the real reason why I’ve been so quiet lately? Because I thought you wanted to end things?”

He looked embarrassed and relieved, all at the same time. “And I thought things were awkward because you were thinking about how you wanted to end things. Me being  so quiet lately had nothing to do with school. I was just waiting for you to break up with me.” He rolled his eyes. “Bwoy, if Lily were here, she would cuss us both. This is just like New Year’s all over again, eeh?”

I grinned and laid my head on his chest. “Um, yeah. Well, can you tell her that we’ve finally learned our lesson? And we have learned our lesson, right? No more letting pride get in the way of talking? If we have an issue, we’ll let the other person know?”

As he nodded happily, I closed my eyes with relief. Now I knew that we were going to find a way to make this work. After the robbery, I probably had been acting differently, and probably had given him reason to doubt my commitment. After all, I’d actually humoured Colin for a conversation. But there was no doubt in my mind now that this was what I wanted. 

He must have read my thoughts because he said into my ear, “I know you won’t be in Jamaica too much longer, but they have telephone, e-mail, pen and paper, and flights every day going from Kingston to Toronto. So you may leave the island, but you’re definitely not leaving me, yu hear? We’re going to make this thing work, no matter what it takes.”  

I hugged him even tighter, not needing to say a word. There in his arms with the sun setting, the loud soca music playing, and the crowd of people jumping up, I felt totally at home. Kevin wasn’t perfect, he had his insecurities that made him do very silly things at times, but I was prepared to deal with them. He was where I belonged.


About the author

Aisha Scales