Authors: Kerry Young
Tags: #General Fiction, #(¯`'•.¸//(*_*)\\¸.•'´¯)
‘Deh burning down Chiney groceries as well, yu know.’
So what I going to do? I go out there anyway and I find out that Auntie right. There is nothing but trouble and misery out in them streets. Everybody in Kingston been striking. The tram, the bus, the shoe factory, the tobacco and waterfront workers and every kind of labourer. Business come to a complete stop. Plus, there was all sorta crowds just walking the street and causing a ruckus over unemployment and starvation wages, and stoning the police when they asked to move on. And putting Mr Bustamante in jail didn’t solve nothing.
‘How long yu do shop work for Mr Chen?’
‘Two years a going there after school and weekends, and in the last year I working there six days a week.’
‘Six days a week! So yu well experienced then?’
‘Yes, sah. Well experienced.’
Mr Ho give me the job after I walk the full length a Barry Street squeezing between the long line a horse-drawn buggies to go into every grocery store and bakery and laundry and betting shop there was. He don’t want to pay no more than a pittance though. He say he going give me five shillings a week when I know the shop assistants in King Street meking eight or nine. But what I going to do? I tek it. When I get back to Auntie she start cuss ’bout how the Chinaman robbing me and teking me for granted.
‘The strikers in Spanish Town do it right when dem go shut up di shop a all dem Chiney and Syrians.’
I just say to her, ‘Beggars cyan be choosers.’ And she kiss her teeth so I reckon she nuh like me talking to her like that.
So now I got to go find Marcia something to do and Auntie say it best for her to put into schoolgirl service because she only young. Auntie say she know somebody can sort it out and Marcia will get her bed and board in exchange for a little light domestic work. So I agree and Auntie fix it for Marcia to go stay with some family up by Cross Roads. When I tek her up there it seem like a nice place wid a tidy yard out front and a tile veranda. The house modest but it look like they care for it. The live-in maid greet Marcia friendly. She call herself Norma, and she show Marcia where she going sleep, which is a dark little room with a wooden slat of a window that the two a them going share. Next to that they got their own toilet and they can wash themself in the outhouse where they do the laundry.
The lady a the house come outside and look us up and down standing there in the yard. Then she say, ‘Norma tells me that your auntie is a friend of hers.’
‘Yes Miss.’ And Norma say, ‘Yes, Miss Vilma.’
Miss Vilma light-skin. She tall and slim. And she holding some American magazine in her hand with a picture of some white woman on the front fetch up like she think she really gorgeous and that everybody who bother herself to read that magazine want nothing more than to be exactly like her, and do everything she do, and have everything she have.
‘Your sister has experience of domestic work?’
‘We from a big family Miss Vilma. There is always plenty to do.’
She stand there and look at me a little longer, stiff, like she forcing herself to do it.
‘I am taking Norma’s word for it that she is a good girl.’ She jut out her chin at Marcia. ‘I don’t want any trouble, you understand me?’
‘She is a good girl Miss Vilma, I promise yu that. Hard-working and no trouble at all.’
And without saying another word Miss Vilma turn ’round and walk back inside.
I feel bad leaving Marcia there but it better than sleeping under Auntie’s table and at least she doing something to earn her keep.
‘Yu not going forget about me Gloria is yu?’
‘No Marcia. What yu go say a thing like that for? When I can get enough for us to have a place together I will come get yu. I promise. I been looking out for yu all these long years didn’t I? Yu think I bring yu all the way to Kingston to just go leave yu here like this?’
She just look at me like her heart breaking at the thought that maybe this is the last time she going see me. I hand her the little grip with her few things in it and I turn ’round and walk outta the yard and shut the gate. And then I turn ’round and see her with Norma arm ’round her shoulder and I hope to God that nothing bad happen to her before I get a chance to come fetch her back to be wid me.
Auntie got the sink in the room but as for some water coming outta the pipe, well maybe it do and maybe it don’t. So when I get up from sleeping under the table, which I tek to because I cyan stand the feel of Auntie sweating up next to me, I try catch some water in the pan but there is not a drop a anything coming my way. I look at the standpipe in the middle a the yard and I know I don’t want to tek that walk out there, because every time I set foot outside the door there is some little bwoy that got something to say to me. It mek yu wonder how come they learn so young what they got between their legs. Sometimes they even throw little stick at me while the nastiness is coming outta their mouth. Or maybe he just stop what he doing and tek his time. Like he leaning on the standpipe and shut off the water so as to just look at me. And yu think to yourself they not even old enough yet to do anything with what they got down there but they already know exactly what they fixing to do with it. So much so it mek yu feel shamed and want to run and hide but yu too frighten to say nothing back to them. And that is just the children. The grown men, that is something else. That is not shame. That is fear. Like when yu standing in the shower out there in the yard. And the piece a zinc door only covering the middle part a yu. So they can see your head and everything yu got from your knees down. And they resting themself there against some post or they tek up seat on some old crate just so they can watch yu. They smoking a cigarette or maybe some weed. They chilling. And that is when yu realise how naked your feet feel. Even the soap and water that is running over your body and going down the drain seem suggestive because they can see it.
And all the time yu in there yu worried that one a them going step ’cross the yard and come grab up the towel or housecoat yu got hanging there on the two nails sticking out either side a the little cubicle yu standing in. But it nuh happen. Yu just keep thinking on it, because eventually yu going have to reach out and pick up the towel and haul it over the top a the half-door and dry yourself without bending down too far, and then stick out yu arm for the housecoat that is going to be your only protection to mek it back to Auntie’s room. And when it is your time a the month, yu just catch up some water in a pan and wash yuself inside because yu don’t want no pink tinge swirling ’round down into that drain like a open invitation to the vultures.
The thing is I cyan decide which is worse. The little bwoys wid dem sticks and foul mouth, or the grown men with them silence and hungry eyes. Sometime they even licking their lips. I cyan stand to see it. But truth is I more troubled when it happening at my back. At least if they looking me in the face we both know. We both party to it. The other thing, behind me, is just for them, and sometimes their friends. And all I get is the remains of the whisper and the laugh. The laugh so loud it feel like every man in the place must be joining in.
Not Mr Ho though. He don’t take no part in it. Mostly it seem he feel sorry for me. Maybe he would even prefer to get a young Chinaman to help in him shop. But he wouldn’t insult a Chinaman with the wages he paying me. So what can he do? He do the same as me. He bear it. But he grin, and sometimes he bow. That is how he protect himself. That is how he keep them coming back to buy the flour and rice and saltfish that is his livelihood. That is the truce between them, even though Mr Ho nowhere near as stupid as they think, and they nowhere near as harmless as he say.
‘Is just joke, Gloria. You know men. Tomfoolery that is what they call it. They just passing the time a day wid yu.’
It wasn’t no longer than three weeks before Marcia run off from Cross Roads and come back to Auntie’s.
‘What yu doing here girl? Didn’t I tell yu to stay there ’til I come fetch yu?’
‘I cyan tek it there Gloria. Miss Vilma, she is evil.’
‘What she do to yu?’
‘She mean and nasty and she shout at yu if yu nuh do things right, and she turn up her nose and kiss her teeth and tell Norma not to give me no dinner; and she throw things at yu like if she nuh like how a blouse iron or how the food taste, she just throw it, plate and all. And the husband he don’t do nothing. He just sit there or stannup and watch her. Never a word him say to her ’bout how she carry on. And the pickney, them no better. They just like her with the temper and the screaming and the stamping if there is something they nuh like. And the way they look at me Gloria, is like they think I just a piece a shit some dog leave behind.’
‘What yu talking ’bout shit? Yu nuh worried Auntie going come and hear yu?’
And then she start cry. So I put my arm ’round her shoulder and I stroke her hair and say, ‘Marcia it sound bad. I feel sorry for that. I nuh mean for yu to be having this misery put upon yu. But I cyan do nothing. Yu cyan stay here. Yu have to go back to Cross Roads and hope Miss Vilma forgive yu.’ But Marcia not happy and in truth neither am I. But what I going to do?
Marcia beg me to let her stay the night and promise she go back in the morning. I try talk her outta it because the longer she down here the less chance Miss Vilma going tek her back. But in the end she cry and plead wid me so much I don’t have the heart to mek her go especially after it turn seven and it getting dark. When Auntie come in she vex.
‘What di hell dis girl doing here? She nuh in service up di road?’
‘The woman giving her a bad time Auntie. She just come down here tonight. She going back in the morning.’
‘What morning? Yu think dem going tek her back? By morning dem got some other girl sleeping in her bed, glad to have di chance to do something useful. Glad yu hear me. Not snivelling and feeling sorry fi herself. Glad. Yu know how many people sleeping under a piece a cardboard or zinc sheet right out there in di road? And she so proud that she can afford to run off from hot food and a roof over her head. Because what? Because some woman talk bad to her. If I turn tail every time somebody talk bad to me I would be falling down dizzy from all di spinning ’round I would be doing. The chile have to learn to mek di best a it. Goat feed wheh im tie.’
Next morning Marcia get on the bus and go back to Cross Roads and I keep my fingers crossed that I don’t see her again on account a Miss Vilma turning her back. But even though Marcia gone Auntie still vex, and every day she is cussing and clattering the little pot and pan she got boiling the banana and frying the plantain. She say I am crowding up the place and so likky-likky I nyaming up everything in sight. She say the money I give her not enough.
‘Yu think it nuh cost nothing to have yu a sleeping and eating day after day like dis? Yu think it nuh matter that every night I get up to sit on di pot yu legs is sticking out from under di table ready to tek a little swing to knock me down and mek a stinking wet mess all over dis floor? Yu think I nuh hear yu breathe and heave and twist and turn all night like yu doing hard labour down there? Yu think it easy for me to have to sit outta di way while yu wash yuself under yu arm and down below because yu too fraid to go out di yard? This little room is only mean for one person. Me. Me and me alone. I nuh tell yu dat di first night yu come here? Dat first day yu just come from country? Yu think it all right to just sidung here like yu take up residence, like yu nuh need to go nowhere? I was doing yu mother a favour. Yu know that? And I never ask no questions ’bout how come you two young girls have to run from country so sudden and so fast. Dat was your business. But now yu come here and mek it my business because day in day out all I have to look pon is your face staring at me like yu think it me forcing yu to live hand to mouth in this pit.’
This is how Auntie gwaan day and night. But the time she really turn hateful was the day she come and find me looking in the bottom drawer a her dresser, and all I was doing was seeing where the smell a the mothballs was coming from. I dunno what madden her so because all that was in there was a few pickney baby clothes all neat and pressed and fold real nice.
‘Yu think yu too good for dis place. Yu think yu high and mighty working in di Chiney shop instead a soiling yu hands on other people dirty clothes, or scrubbing dem floor, or cooking dem food, or wiping di pickney nose or better still backside. Yu too good for dat. You and yu sista. So what yu think yu good for? Yu think I don’t know? Yu think I don’t have eyes in my head to see what gwaan every time yu step foot outta dis room? Yu think I not got no nose to smell di stink a dogs on heat? Yu gwaan like yu think it dem. Like dem coming at yu from every corner fi no good reason. But is not every woman got dem foaming at di mouth. Every other woman living in dis yard can go ’bout her business. She catch water. She go to di toilet. She wash down in di shower. It not no major event. You step out and it like a pack a wolves closing in for di kill. Tracking yu, homing yu. Yu think I nuh see it? What yu think dat is? Yu think it some freak a nature that mek dem turn like dat wid yu? Yu think dem just pick yu out random like it have nothing to do wid you? Well I know dat is what yu want to think, but dat is your little daydream. And if it mek yu feel better so be it. But you is the only one yu fooling. Because just like every man in dis yard got him eye train on you so every woman can see di heads that turn, and di ears that go deaf, and di motion that stop any time you turn out. And every one a dem can feel di stream a cold air dat yu carry wid yu up and down these parts. Yu think yu big woman but you mark my words. Going to yu bed hungry still better than di suffering yu get if yu let some man breed yu. Better sleep hungry than play wid bwoy pickney. Next thing yu know yu a panhandle for dem dirty business. And if yu want money yu know already is only one bank dem want put it into. Di hairy bank. Better di shame a being poor than mixing wid evil. No tek shame and go shake di debbil’s hand.’