Authors: Kerry Young
Tags: #General Fiction, #(¯`'•.¸//(*_*)\\¸.•'´¯)
Auntie seem like she content to say all a this to me. Me no more than a child. It hurtful. Maybe it even hurt more because deep down inside I know she right when she say, ‘Breeze nuh blow, tree nuh shake.’ So I reckon it time for me to go find some place for a live-in job. Time to leave Auntie to all the nastiness her mind meking and the way her mouth running off even though there nobody listening because I give up wid that weeks back right after she tell me, ‘Yu dripping di juice that mek di man dem beg fa jooks.’
But how I going find another job when I working from dawn ’til dusk in Mr Ho shop, Monday to Saturday? I tell Marcia I cyan see her Sunday afternoon no more. Not for a little while anyway. And I start walk the street every Sunday from sunup ’til sundown. Every week I mark out a good neighbourhood and go from house to house knocking on the door or calling through the locked wrought ironwork, ‘Hello, anybody home,’ until somebody come and shake their head and say, ‘No, no help needed.’ And then I go to the next house where maybe they sitting on the veranda, or maybe I got to run from the noise of some big Alsatian they got tie up in the front, or maybe I cyan climb over all the baby bicycle and pickney things that messing up the yard, that I know I going spend all my time picking up if they decide to tek me on. So I just pass that one by and hear my shoes scraping over the gravel a the next driveway, and flick the click a the next gate, and smile and say, ‘Thank you, Miss,’ even though she nuh give me nothing. And all of this wid the sun beating down on me like it cooking me from the inside out except I mopping myself wid a handkerchief because I want to look as fresh as I can for the next person that is going to open the door and then shut it in my face.
‘How old you say you are?’
‘Twenty years old, Miss.’
‘Twenty? You don’t look hardly over sixteen to me.’
‘They always say I look young for my age, Miss.’
‘And you don’t have any references?’
‘I just come from country, Miss, and the family didn’t think to give me no references.’
‘But you have done domestic work before? For this family you say in the country?’
‘Yes Miss, mother, father and three little children. Wash and iron. Cook and clean. I keep the place nice, Miss, and my food is tasty and nutritious. All I ask is you give me a trial and if after two weeks you not happy I will go look somewhere else. I just begging you for a chance to prove myself.’
‘I don’t like to employ people off the street like this you know. No references. No recommendation. You could be anybody, some delinquent for all I know.’
‘Look at me, Miss, I am no delinquent. I promise you that. I come from a clean, decent, God-fearing family. Church every Sunday; house clean spick and span every Friday; washing on the line every Monday. Routine, Miss, that is the answer. Everything in the right place at the right time. Neat and tidy. Spotless and fresh just like the good Lord mean it to be.’ But I can see that I am not meking no sway with her. She standing there with her hand on her hip and a curl on her lip looking down at me from the veranda. She not even ask if I want to take the five steps and go up there outta the sun. That would be outta order because then I would be looking at her eye to eye and that wouldn’t do at all.
She not saying nothing to me so I reckon maybe she thinking ’bout it at least. But then she start shake her head and I know it bad news. So I speak up quick, because in all the weeks a walking my Sundays away this is the closest I get to anybody even considering it.
‘Miss, I am a good, honest, hard worker. Right now I am working in a grocer’s downtown but shop work is not where my heart at. Looking after a family that is what I want to do. And right now all I need is to see the room you have for me to sleep in and settle with you when you want me to start.’ And I look up at her with a straight back and a conviction in my eye because I can hear the pleading in my voice and it sound weak and ugly. But she not convinced.
‘I am sure you are a good worker and I believe you when you say you are honest, but I just can’t hire somebody off the street like this. It would be different if you were just going to work outside like in a gardening position, but not somebody working in the house and helping with the children.’
My heart start to sink. But right then a man step out the house and walk over to where she standing. Him look at me. And then him look me up and down, slow and careful. And then him say to her, ‘All month you been telling me how you need some help since the last girl leave so sudden. So give her the job nuh?’ And he turn ’round and walk back inside.
The room I got is hot. The window barely big enough to let in daylight never mind any bit a breeze that might dry the sweat off yu skin. It small and it smell like it never catch the slightest bit a fresh air since the day they nail on the last piece a wood and screw on the door. The bed look like it come out the ark. Just big enough for me to lay down sideways with a mattress so thin if yu turn over too quick yu would catch it in the springs. The drawers I think somebody make outta some old orange crate and the hanging rail is nothing more than a piece a old wood. It seem shameful that they would mek somebody live like this while they busy in the house with their big wide open windows that catch the light and drapes that waft on every little gust a wind.
But it no matter. I leave Auntie behind and I was glad and thankful for that because her cantankerousness never stop. Even after I say to her that I was going she was still telling me ’bout how ungrateful I was for the roof she put over my head, and the food she put in my belly, and the kindness she show me and Marcia when we just come to Kingston a pair a country bumpkin who didn’t know nothing from nothing. Even as I am walking up the yard to the gate she is shouting out to me, ‘A no one time monkey want wife.’ But I just keep walking with the tears rolling down my face.
‘I didn’t tek anything, Miss.’
‘The children say they saw you.’
‘I don’t know how that can be, Miss, because I didn’t tek nothing.’
‘Are you calling my children liars?’
‘No Miss, no. Just maybe they mek a mistake. Maybe they think they see something but it not what they think.’
This is how it is with her every other day. But I cyan think she really believe that I taking food from the shelf, or crockery from the cupboard, or jewellery from her dresser. If she really believe all a this she would have call the police by now. Still, it nuh stop her carrying on wid me. Every time I turn ’round is something else. The pickney, they just cower ’round the doorpost and anytime she ask them, ‘You see her?’ they say, ‘Yes Mommy, yes.’ But they know it not true. They know me better than that because when she not here all they want to do is watch me fold the sheets and hang out the towels to dry, and fix the lunch, and tidy ’round the place. And maybe they try their hand at a little bit a ironing like a square handkerchief or pillowcase; or peel some Irish potato for the beef soup; or grate the coconut for the rice and peas. And talk. Bwoy they can talk. They talk about everything under the sun. Yu would never know they have so much to say when yu see these three little girls sitting so prim and quiet at their mama’s side. But she don’t know nothing ’bout it. She would fire me faster than buckshot if she know what these girls busy doing every day they come back from school, because this sorta activity is no fit thing for these light-skin girls to be doing. No fit way for them to be behaving wid the help. So when she not here, they is this way wid me and when she come they turn tail completely. They distant wid me, and moody and sour, and they eager to say, ‘Yes Mommy, yes.’ Gloria is a thief.
But it not the pickney that really bothering me. It is him, leaning on the doorpost in room after room. I can feel his eyes burning into me every time I reaching up to tek a pot off a high shelf, or getting on my knees to scrub the floor, or even just bending down to pick up a dolly. It mek my body sweat and my hands jerky. So from time to time I drop something and he is there, quick as a flash to catch, to rescue, to pick it up and give it back to me wid a smile like he happy to be of service as he put the pot or can or yam into my hand, resting him fingers on my skin and teking more time to do it than it really need.
The worse time is every morning when I have to make the bed. Rubbing my hands over the sheet to straighten it out. The sheet his body been twisting and turning on all night. Fluffing up the pillow his head been resting on. Shaking out the top sheet that maybe he wrap himself in or maybe he throw off in the night to cool his nakedness, because I never get no pyjamas in the wash for him. Turning down the top, fixing all the corners, putting on the bedspread, running my hand down the pillow line for neatness. And him watching every move with a body so still I can almost hear him breathing. It not so bad when he on the seven ’til two shift because he outta the house in the morning. But when he do the two to ten that is when I really feel it strong in the bedroom.
I don’t say nothing to nobody ’bout it. I just carry on and hope that he don’t mistake my sweating and clumsiness for excitement. That he don’t tek it on himself to start do something more than look.
‘Yu sure keeping the place nice, eh, Gloria.’ So now I got to turn ’round and look at him.
‘Yes sah. Thank you, sah.’ He take a couple steps towards me and lean up on the next doorpost.
The kitchen long and narrow, with only one way in and out and he is standing right there in the gap. So I trapped, unless I plan to jump outta the window and maybe break my leg and have to explain to Miss what been going on here. It ten o’clock in the morning. The pickney not getting back from school ’til one o’clock and she gone to office all day ’til six.
‘The whole place more settle since yu come here, eh, Gloria?’
‘Thank yu, sah.’
‘How long yu been with us now?’
‘Almost a full six month now, sah.’
‘A full six months, Gloria. That is good.’ And he tek two more step towards me. Him cotch him hip on the edge a the stove and cross him arms and legs.
‘Yu like it here, Gloria? Yu happy working here in the house?’
‘Yes sah. It is a good job.’
‘And yu like yu room yu sleep in out back?’
‘Yes sah. It is a fine room. Everything I need.’
‘Yu fix it up nice?’ That is when my heart stop. Just for a split second because right after that it was pumping like I was running up the mountain to Cinchona.
‘I do the best I can, sah.’
‘Your best is good enough for me, Gloria.’ And then him say, ‘Yu know, I haven’t seen inside that room for such a long time. Well, almost a full six months.’
So I say to myself, ‘How much yu want this job girl? How much yu want a roof over yu head, running water and regular food from the table? How much yu want to spend yu Sunday afternoon, yu only half-day off a week, with Marcia, walking the street or sitting on a bench outside Cross Roads market or catching the bus to Hope Gardens because it free to go see the trees and flowers? How much yu want that?’ But then I realise I already done lose the job because either I go willing to him and the wife find out and fire me, or I kick up a stink that nobody going pay no mind to and most likely call the police and have me arrested for a thief, or I just walk outta here right now. Sudden, like the last girl. No last week’s wages. No references. And that is even supposing I going mek it past him to go pick up the few things I have in the room out back.
‘So what yu say, Gloria?’
Him smiling at me because he know he got me cornered. All I can hear is my own heart beating, and feel the cold sweat a fear on my skin, and the rough, dry hands of Barrington Maxwell on my arms and pushing open my legs and I know I cyan be doing that again. But neither am I going to go grab up a knife or pan. For one thing my arm don’t feel strong enough to swing it. And afterwards what I going to do? Go jump on another bus? To where? Spanish Town? And tek Marcia with me? Or leave her here in Kingston? Or maybe this time they catch me and send me to prison which is where I belong anyway. And what going happen to Marcia then?
‘I would just like yu to let me pass so I can be on my way.’
‘Wa’ppun, I too old for yu? Too ugly maybe?’
What I going say to him? So I say, ‘You are my employer. You are a married man.’
‘Since when a thing like that matter to a girl like you?’
I dunno what kinda girl he think I am. Where he get the idea. I always dress prim in the little black and white uniform she give me. I act decent. I talk respectable. And the personal things I have to do I do in my room behind a closed door. So maybe it what Auntie say, I dripping di juice.
‘I would just like yu to let me pass so I can be on my way.’ And he just uncross his leg and wave his arm and bow like as to say, ‘Yes, yu can pass, your ladyship.’
So I put down the bowl a gungo peas I was getting ready to soak for the soup and I dry my hands on a cloth. And I slowly move to walk past him. But just as I get there he stick out his arm.
‘So I block yu way now Gloria just to give yu one last chance to change yu mind because yu know yu want it.’
I don’t look at him and I don’t touch him. I just say, ‘I would like you to let me pass so I can be on my way.’
I go to the room out back and change my clothes and leave her uniform on the bed. I put my things in a brown paper bag that the groceries come in, and I walk up the driveway and close the gate behind me. Him sitting on the veranda with him feet rest on the little table reading the newspaper and eating peanuts, flicking the shell over the railing into the yard.