Monday, 28 May 2012

The Promise to Rescue - Part 2

The Promise to Rescue - Part 2
(A Short Story by Claudia Williams)

As the bus neared its final stop, the women knew their conversation did not have further to go.  They passed the little time that was left talking about how the rain might fall that evening;  how it didn't fall as expected the night before.

"It was a good thing, too," Elaine said. 

"How you mean?" Miss Green asked.

"The roof, man, the roof.  It's quite a while now since it leaking, you know.  I just can't seem to find somebody who will do the job properly and done," Elaine explained.

"What about Bimma?  He fixed my own last year and it just start leaking again," Miss Green offered. 

"I didn’t consider him, you know.  I guess I could ask him.  I hope I see him before I see the next raindrop.  It not easy to set pots and basins and then turn round and have to iron out the bed on top of all of that,"  Elaine said. 

As the bus pulled into its last stop, the women said their goodbyes.  It was close enough to the market for Miss Green.  But, Elaine would have to take another bus.  A loud greeting caught her attention.  It was somebody that Miss Green knew who was calling out to her.  Miss Green, about fifty years Elaine's senior, was making her way with strong sturdy steps toward her friend.   Elaine made her way in the opposite direction of the two reuniting friends to a nearby bus stop.

It was only during the school term that it took her this long to get to work.  During the holidays when Winsome visited her grandparents in the country, the commute was much faster with one bus across town.  Even though Winsome tried to convince her that she could take the bus on her own; even when she pointed to a few other children who did it, Elaine would have none of it.  Maybe in another couple of years – or so.

Elaine arrived at work on time as usual.  She was fortunate to have got the job at the government agency.  After Rupert, she had moved from job to job. Twice she got laid off; once the boss wanted to get laid. And, once she found out about a racket that she felt it better to stay clear of.   She kept her mouth shut, but the reason she gave them was that the bus fare wasn't working out.  She felt that some of the girls in her community talked behind her back because of how lucky she was.  For some of them, they remained unemployed year after year.  As a matter of fact, it seemed their job was to have children.  But, she was not ghetto like that.  Winsome was her driving force.  When she had gone for the interview for her present job five years ago, she hadn't given them her current address.  She couldn't.   Instead, she gave them her church sister's address near Half-Way Tree.  She figured that if her boss found out, she could just tell him that things had got worse in some ways and she had had to move.  Surely her work as a good secretary would speak well for her by then, if push came to shove.  Her boss was a tyrant but she endured him.  The frustration he brought on was minor compared to her hope for Winsome.

Elaine walked into her community after the bus dropped her off.  It had been a long day at work and a bit of frustration had set in.  She was behind in her partner, but the banker, Mrs. Lewis was a very nice co-worker.   Stern, when it came to the partner, but nice.  She told Elaine to make sure she paid up by next week.  The next draw was going to be in two weeks' time.  It wasn't just about the partner, though.   It was the every day living hand-to-mouth that got to her sometimes.  It came in peaks and troughs.  One week she would be okay and just carry on about her business.  Another week the feeling of desperation would hit her.  It was hardest when Winsome came home with a new demand from school about an outing or some such thing.  How could she keep explaining to an eight year-old that they only had enough for food and transportation?  Once in a while, her parents would send something "for Winsome", but she didn't want to count on that. 

Before Rupert died, he had arranged for them to get light.  After he died, she arranged for them to get cable.   Water was not a problem, either.  Those were a few of the reasons she couldn't leave.  Her mother wouldn't understand.  Yes, they had to live with the occasional gun fire.  But, those were not so frequent these days.  The most volatile time used to be during general elections  - so she had heard.  In the time that she lived there, there had only been two elections.  The member of parliament had visited them often and made big speeches.  Over the years, Elaine noticed that nothing had changed.  But, she knew better than to complain.  Rupert used to tell her, no matter what, never say anything against the MP for even the walls to hear.  They never talked about politics more than that.   And, in the two elections, she did as Rupert had long ago advised, and voted with the rest of the community.  She hadn't dared do any different for they were known to check the ballots.  So, that was that. 

She knocked at the gate two houses away from hers.  A stout woman opened the door and stood in the doorway. 

"Winsome! You madda deh here!" said the woman, as she flashed a smile at Elaine.  "You alright?" she asked Elaine.

"Yes, Miss Ivy!  How you?" Elaine called back. 

"Mi alright, man.  See your little one here," Miss Ivy said, as her outstretched hand guided Winsome through the door.

Winsome came bounding toward her mother, greeting her with a big hug.  "Hi sweetie," Elaine hugged back. "By the way, Errol dropped them off in good time?  I know yesterday he picked them up from school late.  Something about getting a roast?" she asked. 

"Yes, yes.  Him make good time today," Miss Ivy assured her. 

"It's only because him generally reliable you know - " Elaine started.

"And him know you and the other parents  won't fire him!" Miss Ivy interrupted.  They both laughed.

When they got home, Winsome and Elaine fell into their routine.  That night, though, instead of curling up beside each other as they watched an early favourite, Winsome asked her mother to read her a story.

"You're not too old for a bedtime story ma'am?" Elaine asked her daughter.

"Cho, Mommy man.  Just one?  I know which one I want to hear, too," Winsome leaped off the settee and went to get her book.   She was back in a flash.

"Really? Sleeping Beauty?  Again?"  Elaine asked in mock surprise.  She hadn't read it in a while, but, that was, hands down, her daughter's favourite bedtime story.

"Yes, Mommy, again," Winsome grinned.  "Come, I'll cover up in bed while you read, okay?" Winsome instructed.

"Okay, okay," Elaine followed her into the bedroom and waited until she got herself cozy under the sheets.  When she finished reading the fairytale, Winsome was no nearer sleeping than at the beginning.  In fact, her eyes were wide alert. 

"Mommy?" she began.  "Do you know why I love Sleeping Beauty so much?" She asked.

"No, actually, I've never asked you that.  Why do you?" Elaine asked.

"Well, it's because it reminds me of where we live," Winsome explained.

"What do you mean?" Elaine was now rather curious.  What was this child of hers coming with?

"Well, you know how everybody falls asleep for a long, long time? And the prince comes in time and he rescues Sleeping Beauty and everybody wakes up, and they didn't even know they were sleeping, and they all celebrate?" Winsome continued, excited.

"Mmhmmm," her mother replied.

"Well, it's like here. I can tell you're not happy here, Mommy.  You try to hide it, but, I see it.  Don't worry, Mommy.  It's ok.  I am your prince.  And, when I grow up, I'm going to rescue you!"


Friday, 18 May 2012

The Promise to Rescue - Part 1

The Promise to Rescue
(A Short Story by Claudia Williams)

Winsome and her mother lived together.  Winsome was eight years old and was very smart for her age. Her mother was very proud of Winsome, as she always got high marks in school.  They lived in a very small house.  Actually, the house had only three rooms – the bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen.  Winsome’s mother used a part of the kitchen as a small living room.  The settee, hassock and a centre-table made it so.  To get to the kitchen from the living room, you had to part the curtains she put up to separate one room from the other. 

Every night, Winsome’s mother, Elaine, would check Winsome’s school-work.  Then, she would help her with her home-work if she needed any help. Winsome then made sure that she packed her books in her bag for the next day.  Elaine made sure that Winsome’s uniform was ready, too.  She could only afford two tunics and two blouses.  So, she made certain to wash one set every night. She hung Winsome’s blue tunic over the shower curtain rod in the bathroom and put the white blouse behind the fridge.  They slept in the same double bed.  In the morning, after she had her shower, she ironed the uniform.  While she ironed, Winsome ate her breakfast.  Elaine didn’t eat breakfast.  When Winsome finished eating, she would climb up on the little stool by the sink and wash her plate and fork and cup.  Afterward, she would go to the bathroom to bathe and brush her teeth.  Her uniform would be ironed and ready for her by that time.  Her mother, would spend the next fifteen minutes or so hot-curling her hair, then combing Winsome’s hair.  Both of them walked to the bus-stop together every morning.  This Thursday morning was no exception.

“Good morning, Miss Green!” Winsome’s high-pitched voice did not catch the old woman by surprise.

“Morning, Winsome darling. How are you?” Miss Green replied smiling.  She gave Winsome her full attention. 

“I’m fine, ma’am!” The little girl answered with her usual liveliness.

“That’s nice.  Morning, Elaine!” Mrs. Green turned her attention to the adult.

“Morning, Miss Green, you alright?” Elaine asked.

“Yes man, I’m alright,” she answered.  Miss Green was seated in the bus shed as she and her neighbours waited for the bus.  She was strong for her eighty years.  Her voice was haughty and when she walked, her steps were sure.  The entire neighbourhood knew her.  

Elaine had met her when she came to live in the neighbourhood nine years ago.  She had just moved from the country to work in Kingston.  Not long after that, she met Winsome’s father.  And not long after that, she got pregnant with Winsome.  She moved in with Rupert who had grown up in the neighbourhood. Rupert – that was his name.  He agreed that they should not have the baby out of wedlock.  It was not a big wedding, but it was a nice one.   Her parents drove in from the country and her brother and two sisters came too.  His father and mother were both living abroad in the US and neither of them could come out for the wedding.  They still had not got their papers right after twelve years.  She was only seventeen weeks pregnant at the time, so it didn’t show to all that.  A few close friends attended, but none of them knew about her pregnancy.  She had confided only in her sisters and her mother.  Rupert had told his best friend – his best man.  

About a year after Winsome was born, Elaine was at home watching TV one evening.  She had just put Winsome  in the crib when she heard a knock at the gate.  Her first thought was that the noise would wake the baby.  When she heard the knocks getting louder, however, her mind started to wonder whether something was wrong. How could it be? She hadn’t heard any gunshots fired for weeks now.

“Elaine!  Elaine!  Come quick!  Elaine!” Marcia, her neighbour to the left was banging on the zinc structure.  By the time Elaine rushed to the door and opened it, Marcia was already on the top step.  “What happen, Marcia?” Elaine could feel the bottom of her belly sinking lower and lower as she looked into Marcia's eyes.  Her neighbour, who, just a moment ago was shouting her name, could not find her voice.  She just stared into Elaine’s eyes and kept shaking her head. After a few seconds, Elaine asked again.  “Marcia!” She was surprised at the level of her own voice that now sounded frantic.  The sound brought Marcia back from space.  Tears brimmed her eyes as she replied, “Elaine?  Is Rupert,” she mustered as her voice cracked on “Rupert”.  Elaine’s belly hit rock bottom.   

All of a sudden, she felt weak.  No.  Not weak.  Weak meant that there were still some dregs of strength to get you to the closest chair.  She felt numb. Lifeless. That was it.  Her mind formed the words but she could not utter them.  Why could she not utter them?  They were simple enough. It was a simple question.  She looked beyond Marcia who had taken a seat on the top step.  Her eyes rested on the small stream of people who were making their way to her side of the street; to her yard.  She had witnessed this type of procession before.  She had even been a part of some of them.  It was the usual.  Somebody was first with the news, then, as fast as the news travelled, the people from every street and lane would make their way to the house in question.  Yet, it wasn’t the usual.  For the first time, it was her time.  She stared at the crowd that had congregated outside her gate, spilling over on to the sidewalk.  She stared, but at no one in particular. Then the words came, out of the blue, into thin air. “What happen to Rupert?”  

“Dem shot him, Elaine.  The man dem open fire pon the taxi when it stop up the road.  Dem just let off somebody and, next thing, pure shot a fire!”  Marcia replied as if programmed.

She hadn’t noticed it, but, by this time, the yard had slowly filled up with neighbours.  Most of them had a similar version. The police had opened fire after it stopped to let off “Winji”.   It was not clear whether Winji had been the target but, all they knew, two of those in the back of the car had received gunshot wounds.  Rupert’s was the only one that had been fatal.  Even Winji survived – although with life-threatening injuries.   The accounts differed on how many persons were travelling in the back but, generally, they were pretty clear on who fired the shots.

Seven years.  That was almost as long as it had taken to get her life back together.  If you could call it a life – or one put back together.  Between her siblings who nagged her to “get the hell out of there!” and her parents, especially her mother, who broke Elaine’s heart with her pleading, Elaine’s will-power was tested.  Leave, of course. But to where?  It was hardly an option.  The three-room structure became her property and many of the neighbours were there for her.  Nothing ever came of the shooting.  After a while, she had stopped going to the police station for information.  About six months after the funeral, she decided to give it a rest.  After all, Winsome needed her. The blessing was that their daughter was just a baby when it happened.  That was also the downside.  But, Elaine took it one day at a time.  She purposed in her heart that she was going to do everything she could to make a better life for her daughter. 

The bus pulled up and Miss Green, Winsome, Elaine and two other people got on.  It was already packed.  The little E-20s didn’t have much room to begin, but, that never deterred the driver nor conductor.  They squeezed in, with Elaine making room on her lap for Winsome.  The child held both her school bag and her mother’s work bag in her lap.  As the music – if you could call it that – blared over the speakers, most of the passengers cast their looks outside.  A couple of the brave ones tried holding telephone conversations, shouting into the mouth-pieces.  The less brave listened in, trying to make sense of the lewd lyrics, and certain pieces of the two or three cell phone conversations they could catch.

After stopping to pick up and let off passengers, the driver finally reached the school.  There was a crossing guard at the light.  Winsome slid off her mother`s lap and clutched her school bag.  

“Okay, Mommy! ” Winsome said, as she gave her mother a peck on the cheek.  Her mother hadn’t taught her that.  She had picked it up from one of the shows on Nickelodeon.  But, oh how it pleased Elaine!   "Bye, Miss Green!" Winsome shouted from outside the mini-bus, as she waved to the older woman.  The child's view was terribly distracted by the other passengers and the closed door, but, she waved just the same.  Elaine craned her neck to watch her as she approached the crossing guard, along with three other children.  The driver of the bus in which she was still sitting, knew better than to move.   Elaine watched through a little space between a couple heads out the front windshield as the crossing guard stepped out, held up her sign, then beckoned the children to come.   They were safely across when she beckoned the driver to go ahead.

"That little one going to be bright, you see?" Miss Green said to Elaine after they began moving again. 

"She is already very bright.  You should hear her read!" Elaine beamed.  

When Winsome was younger, the teachers tested her ability to read and write.  They were very impressed with how she did.  To their surprise, she read all the words. Not once did she stumble over any of them.  And, when it came to her writing, she had good penmanship.  They did not know that Winsome’s mother used to teach her at home before she started primary school.  That very day, the teachers arranged for Winsome to skip Grade One.  So, at six years old, Winsome joined the Grade Two class.  The other children were about a year older than her.  But, Winsome was not afraid. She had never been one to show fear.  Her mother had always secretly admired that about her.

(To be continued with Part 2 of 2 on the 28th of May.)


Tuesday, 8 May 2012


Some people are like Kryptonite.  Ahhh.  That feels so much better.  Bear with me.  I'm not about to "get all negative up in here". But, I discovered some time ago that when you get bold enough, and call a bad thing a bad thing, it takes quite a load off your shoulders.

I was reminded of this the other day as I listened to a story.  In this story, based on actual events, one person was being completely horrid to another. It was not the first time but, hopefully, with the right intervention, it would be the last.  Many are wont to defend or justify or rationalize ugly behaviour.  How often do we hear of persons who are at the receiving end of a behaviour that causes stress; damages self esteem or crushes spirit?  Whether it is suffering at the hand of an abusive partner or narcissistic boss or a thorn of a co-worker, the first step to relief is calling the bad thing a bad thing; calling it what it is.  We are superwomen and supermen, and these people are Kryptonite.

This post is not about process - as in, how to remove oneself from this offensive source.  Instead, it's simply to remind us of the huge value that is within the simple act of calling the thing what it is.  Sometimes, it's just the realization that you are under no obligation to try to "pretty things up" or rationalize ugly behaviour, that starts to lift the weight. Each person's process to get away and/or deal with the offending character will be different. But, I can pretty much guarantee that once you muster up the courage and bravely admit to yourself what is what, you're on your way to better.

I imagine that some people feel that way about their jobs.  I'm not being insensitive to those who, at this time, do not have a job.  I'm saying that, for many who have jobs, there comes a time when, one morning, it hits: "I do not want to go to work! I hate my job!"  I have been there.  And, that's why I'm no longer there.  Just saying that relieved quite a bit of anxiety, and actually added pep to my step as I went out to said job thereafter.  (At the time, I didn't use the term "Kryptonite", but the idea was the same.  There was that something that was debilitating to my "superwoman-ness".)  I was then able to put some constructive effort into the job hunt.

It goes without saying but, I'll say it anyway.  The good things?  Let's be brave and call them what they are, too.  If someone makes you feel good; lifts your spirit and all that jazz, for some, it takes a bit of courage to come out and say so.  But, again, you'll feel so much better if you do.  And that's a breath of fresh air.