I amble along to Enid and Edna’s house on Meyler Street. Holding vanilla cake on my left and Harry’s favourite roast duck on my right. Under my left arm is a large grapefruit, the absence of which caused me to go back to my home on Belmont Circular Road to retrieve it, setting me back close to an hour. No matter, I’ll get there when I get there!
Dogs bark with gusto as I pass their homes. The melodic birdsong is blotted out by their raucous warnings, which used to annoy me. I listen for the canines now… Mr. Dallo’s shepherd, Mrs. Malay’s mutt, and now Father Finley’s churchyard hound. I lean back on a palm to rest, and look up at St. Francis of Assissi’s white limestone contrasting against the blue of the sky. I am thankful for it these days. I chuckle as I think back to a time I certainly was not. The time I rescued Rosie sixteen years ago.
I had marched right up those high and mighty steps, through the heavy doors and straight on to the font. The priest had Rosie in one arm and was about to drown her into a Catholic with the other. I firmly relieved him of his commitment. “Rosie, we’ll be on our way now,” I shushed the inconsolable baby. I looked into the priest’s green eyes and told him, “My granddaughter is only interested in worshiping God, not a bunch of statues thank you very much. And rather than obey every word a Pope or priest speaks in ‘Latin’ of all things, she will be joining the more ‘democratic’ Church of Scotland.” Gasps rose and fell in the stuffy air as Rosie and I made our escape. There was no sense in arguing with me, and they all knew it. Sweet Rosie and I have never lived apart since. My philandering son, Henry St. Clair, allowed it as he knew I would do a better job of raising her than he could, what with his responsibilities to his progeny being raised by many women spread all over this island.
A hummingbird whirrs by my ear, and I continue on my way. A tramcar sloths past me, dusting my dress. “Lazy,” I declare. “You all have perfectly good legs wasting away!” I say to the noisy car. At the corner, I cross the street and turn right. I pass the bank on my left and hold my shoulders a little more square. After all, being the first woman of mixed race in Trinidad to get herself a bank account was nothing to shake a stick at, especially since I’m the granddaughter of a slave, and illegitimate to boot! Determination and looking into someone’s eyes so deep you can sear their brain will get you where you want to go!
On the third street, Zeus the bulldog roars at me to turn left. Soon Rosie’s laughter and Willy’s calypso roll down the street, until I hear Edna screech at her son to put his shirt on before his Granny arrives. Edna sees me and bellows, “Mother! You’re forty-five minutes late! What did you go back for?”
“Harry’s grapefruit, and I’m never late. I was born in 1855, and I get to a place when I get there, and not before! And if Rosie and Ethel hadn’t hitched a ride from your sister Enid, one of them could have run back for me!” I stop to guffaw, nearly spilling the roast duck onto the lawn.
I’m just settled in a rocker on the verandah when I hear the smack of Harry’s shoes galloping up the path and avoiding the porch steps entirely. “Granny!” he sings and we hug until we need air. I hand him the grapefruit and tell him he doesn’t look a day over twelve. He chuckles and thanks me as he rocks back and forth in his Sunday shoes with pride. “The duck’s warming as we speak.” I tug his cheek. “There was a star danced…” I prompt.
“…and under that I was born,” he replies. I squint at him hard. “Oh yeah, that was… um… OH, OH I know! Much Ado About Nothing! Right?”
I pull out a wrapped copy of Macbeth. “You’re going to relish this one. Bring it with you to the Botanical Gardens tomorrow.” I take hold of his hand and slip some money into it. “Shsh. And then we’ll go into town and you can choose something on Frederick Street!” I pull his head to my shoulder and kiss his ear. “That’s the sound of love, Harry. And speaking of love, where’s your father?”
“He’s still walking. I ran.”
I whisper, “You still having trouble with that boy at school?” Harry sighs heavily. “Harry, listen and remember, no one is better than us. And, we are better than no one.”
He kisses my ear. “That’s the sound of my love!” He pauses for a moment, and then asks hesitantly, “Granny, Daddy told me you wrote to Queen Victoria once and she did what you told her to do. Is that true?”
“Sort of. After my first husband, Charles Beckford Steel – God rest his Grenadian soul… He owned racehorses, which I’ll tell you about tomorrow! When he died of smallpox, I wrote to the Queen.”
“When Charles was sick, we were quarantined on an island off the coast of Granada. When he died – God rest his soul – the government burned everything we owned. So I wrote a letter letting Victoria know I was owed compensation for all my property that was destroyed. And wouldn’t you know it, I got it!” Harry whistles his surprise. “And then in 1891 I left Granada with your uncle Charlie Jr. and moved here and married your Grandpa, William Henry St. Clair Williams – God rest his soul.”
I hear my son, Henry St. Clair, shuffling leisurely up the path. “Crick Crack!” I holler.
Voices found their way to the verandah, “Monkey break he back! On a rotten pommerac!”
“What can run but never walks, has a mouth but never talks, has a head but never weeps, has a bed but never sleeps…” I offer.
“A river!” shouts Harry.
“What occurs once in a minute, twice in a moment, and never in a thousand years…” No response. “Well, I’ll leave you all with that one a spell. Fairy maids? Anyone?” Harry hasn’t heard this Nancy story (folktale) yet. My daughters Enid, Edna and Ethel snicker. “Fairymaids are heavenly and alluring with long beautiful hair, as well as one tiny foot in the shape of a deer’s hoof. A fairymaid lives in rivers and secret mountain pools. She can use her power to ‘turn’ a man’s head.” More snickering and snorting. “She can also steal his shadow and leave him quite unhinged.” I’m sure Edna has now wet herself. I give my son a wink. “To get his shadow back, he must go down to the river and plead with the water to restore his lost shadow. If this doesn’t work, and the crazed man wants to discontinue his relationship, he must make offerings of two pairs of shoes. The first must be burnt on the beach. The fairymaid will then rise out of the water and ask if she is to be paid for past services. The answer must be, ‘Nothing but this pair of shoes.’ The second pair must then be thrown into the ripples of the river.” I lean over to Harry and whisper loudly, “You might suggest to your father to stock up on shoes of every shade and size.” Enid has a coughing fit. I don’t need to look at Henry St. Clair. I know he is the shade of a pomegranate.
“The letter M!” Harry whoops.
“You are correct, my boy! Well done!”
Too soon, it’s time for Harry to go. We all kiss him and hug the air out of him. “Henry St. Clair, you make sure you drop him off at the correct house, do you hear me? But before that, give your Mama a hug.” I kiss his left ear, then his right. “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.” His ears are on fire.
“Alright Mama, alright,” he laughs sheepishly.
It’s my turn to leave too, and I head down the verandah steps with nothing in my arms to slow me down, or go back for. Except for my sweater. Back I go. I lean over the rocker to retrieve my sweater. I reach for the armrest. I miss it entirely. Down I go. The pain in my hip hurts terribly. “Crick! Crack!” I shout.
“Monkey break he back!” choruses out from the kitchen. “On a rott…”
“No! I’ve broken something!” I shout. In a second, Rosie is by my side, holding my hand and feeling my forehead. I look up at her and say, “You’re the quickest of the lot Rosie!” Silence. Then, a gasp of realization.
“Mother, it’s me, Enid! You can’t see!?” she growls. “Oh, I should have known! How long has this been going on?”
“A few years, Enid. Sorry sweets, but independence is a precious thing. You have to use it up until it’s gone. Otherwise you’ve wasted it, haven’t you?”
Story written by Tori Jones
copywrite 2009 Tori Jones