I love when my mother told us stories…She would move her hands wildly about when she was telling the exciting parts. She would open her already big eyes wide when she thought we would be surprised. She would laugh when we asked insightful questions.
‘Dis yah generation smart eeh’ she would say to her partner. I loved to hear her laugh, it was pleasantly boisterous. I would rush from school on Friday evenings, do my homework and all the other chores that I had to before Mummy came home.
My older sister would run a boat (cook) as Mum told her that every woman should know her duties in the house. My sister was almost 13 yrs old at that time. Everything would be done by the time mom got home just so that she could tell us stories, sometimes she would bring us Finga and twist doughnuts as treats from the bakery she worked.
My brother would rub her feet and then she would begin ‘Mi did tell unnu about di time when duppy pinch daddy?’ We all laughed.
‘No mummy, duppies aren’t real’ I would say eloquently. My mother hated when I spoke Patois at all. She said I was her only child who had the brains to keep straight as and I should always practice English so that I could get one of those fancy Bank Teller jobs. She was confident that with my ‘propa English’ and my ‘high colour’ I would land that job as soon as I finished high school.
‘Who tell yu dat?’ Mummy asked with one raised eyebrow.
‘Teacha’ I replied then revamped and said ‘Teacher’
‘Oh ok, well teacheeerrrr nuh always right’ She stressed.
‘Ok mum, why did duppy pinched daddy?’ I said to avoid making a scene in front of my brothers and sisters. I didn’t want to be isolated later when we’re playing Dolly house. They always said I acted like ‘mi better dan di fabily (family)’
‘Well him madda always tell ‘im to not sleep on the ground. One night he drop asleep dey and something sting him. Wen mommy look at it, she see that he had a dark spot on his shoulder’
‘ooohhh’ we said.
‘A scorpion cudda bite ‘im’ my brother who was 14 years old knew everything about these things.
‘Yu right enuh, Delroy but daddy imself said to mommy dat him madda always tell ‘im not to sleep on di floor and she woul’ pinch him hard wen ‘im do so’
‘But Grampa’s mother wasn’t alive when he was grown….’ I stopped, getting the relevance of that point. ‘Oh’ I simply said.
‘So yu get it? Daddy madda was the duppy dat pinch ‘im. So yu see even afta yu madda gone, yu shoul’ still neva disobey har’ that scared us all.
Did duppies really exist? I thought when Mummy finished telling that story. Would mummy haunt me after she died? I shuddered; I never should have thought that. Please forgive me, God. I momentarily closed my eyes and said a short prayer. Mummy always said I have goat’s mouth….
Mummy continued with her stories. Soon she started with the lighter stories of her past with her brothers then she would tell us a couple Anansi stories and that always cracked us up. I especially adored the one with Brother Anansi and Brother Dog.
Stories weren’t the only good part of our lives, at least to me. I lived in a 4 bedroom, one inside, one outside bathroom, verandah, living room that also double as a dining room zinc house with my mother, grandparents, 1 brother , 2 sisters and 3 cousins. We had back space that was big enough to hold a mango tree that we would raid every mango season (nothing like pepper pots after school when the adults weren’t home to stop us), a sestion (an outside washing area), several clothing lines and a habitat for four mongrel dogs, Rex, Spotty (who was afraid of clappass), our beloved Anna (who was murdered by a dog hater several years) and Teeca (my favourite dog in the whole wide world).
We also had a front yard that was big enough for us to have a family game of dandy shandy, red-light, Chinese skip, ride bicycles when we weren’t allow on the streets, to dance to the road’s music and to keep birthday parties which the neighbours’ kids all attended whether or not they were invited.
Life was good to me. School was always a joy to attend. The teachers loved me. I was placed number 1 in my grade 2 and 3 classes in primary school. All 100s except for one simple mistake I made on the Science paper that earned me a 98%. I was a bit upset at myself for that. Nonetheless, my enthusiasm for learning grew. I would do extra homework. I would do the after school lessons even though I didn’t need it. I would borrow big girls’ books from my older friends and feed my mind with literature. My hobbies weren’t adoring cute boys and dressing up. I had real hobbies like reading, writing, speaking French, sketching among many others.
Why did you think I did so well? Many would say to get out of the ghetto, to gain upward mobility, to be successful. Well, at that time life wasn’t a struggle. I was, hard to believe it now, happy. I did it all because it felt good and it made the greatest person in my life proud, my mother….
I heard screaming in the other room. It must be a bad dream from watching Freddie. I heard the scream again this time muffled. I tried to get up but could hardly move. I felt something heavy on me. It was my darn brother’s long legs around my abdomen and my smaller sister’s hand over my chest. They slept so badly and this twin size makeshift bed did nothing to help the situation. I tried to remove my brother’s legs without waking him. He got so cranky when I did. My sister was a deep sleeper so I could throw her hands anywhere and not worry.
I looked over the other bed too see if the others were ok. The lamp provided just enough light to see the outlines of bodies I knew so well. I saw my cousin and big sister but I didn’t see the biggest shape. I looked around, where was she? I thought.
I got off the bed and sat on the cold floor which was comforting compared to the warmth I was just coming from. I waited a few minutes, still no sign of her. Probably she’s doing the Kaka (a French word I learnt from one of my teachers). I heard a strange sound. I followed the sound that led to the almost dark verandah. I stopped, held my breath in case I alerted the thief. I looked around for a machete, my grandmother always kept them near then I heard a familiar voice.
‘Yu think yu can get whey from mi gal?’ he said roughly. Wasn’t that…?
‘Di pickney dem inna di next room’ she pleaded
‘If dem brite, mek dem come out yah’ he said.
‘Wha kinda yah fadda yu be’ she said with a grasp. So it was Daddy, haven’t seen him in so long. Not that I cared, Daddy, Raymond as I rudely called him (What’s wrong with calling him by his first name?) was never nice to me.
I heard a sound that sounded like a slap.
‘ Yu dey pon coke again don’t?’ she barely said ‘Dats di only time yu hit mi’
‘Shut up and jus tek it, it nah hurt if yu nuh struggle plus yu nuh wann wake up di pickney dem’ Tears pricked at my own eyes. I wish I could save her. I remember those exact sounds he made several years ago when I was sleeping with them. I was so glad when she left him. He was such a bastard.
Some minutes later I heard a zipper being zipped. I walked as quickly as I could to the space between my brother and sister. I heard mom made a sound as if she was trying to prevent nasal fluids and probably drying her eyes too. I turned my back and stared at the wall. Life was good until he came around.
At the crow of the rooster, I got up to do some housework before it was time for school. Mom was already in the kitchen preparing our breakfast. I heard grandpa and grandma talking low on the verandah.
‘It really mek him dat strong fi open out the grill like that’ grandma said. I peeked around to see that two pegs of the grill were expanded so that someone could pass through.
‘Wait till mi rass catch him’ my grandpa said.
‘Dat bwoy cud be anyway by now. How wi a go fix dis?’
‘Him know sey wi sleep inna di back room, Brooks’ my grandpa said, ready to investigate how it happened without them knowing.
I walked away before they saw me, backed into my room to grab our Bible from the dresser. Grandma always told me to read my Bible before I started my day as God would protect us better if we praised Him first. Today I praised him to protect my mother.
As soon as I finished praying, my brother came to me. He had to get up early too to catch the bus to his technical high school.
‘A tru sey daddy come here last nite?’ he asked me, they always took me for a news reporter.
‘Daddy to you, sperm donor to me’ I said with venom.
‘Pickney hurry up and get ready before yu late fi school’ Mummy came in and hurried us to get ready. Normally I would smile at her unnecessary bickering as I didn’t have school until two hours time. We only really got us this early to help her with the morning chores.
I looked at her with a straight mouth and walk away. How could she act like last night didn’t happen?
The days didn’t change even though mummy’s partners did. Short & sweet I heard she told her friend once when she wondered why she ended it with Paul. Life still remained happy living in that zinc house on Fenton’s road. Soon we got a TV that showed us black and white images and mother’s stories would be replaced with TV eventually. Mum didn’t mind as long as we were contended.
In 1991, mom was pregnant. At that time I was 16, my sister 18 and my brother 19. My brother was doing well for himself by owning and operating his own community barbershop. I was in my last year of Ardenne High, one of the most prestigious schools in Kingston, Jamaica. My grandparents bragged all the time about their bright spark granddaughter.
During the last 3 years, I learned a lot about the bad side of life. My uncle that had to run away because he dissed the local Don, my oldest sister being ‘adopted’ by my mother from my mother’s friend because her mother would have kicked her out if she found out. She was fat so no one knew but my mother that she was pregnant so they had a woman who knew what she was doing perform the delivery. My mother’s friend never got better after that. When my period came, my grandmother finally admitted that babies didn’t drop from the sky and warned me if I ever get pregnant, she would disown me as her granddaughter.
Now my mother is pregnant and she cries every day. I didn’t know why. Her job was lenient, told her she could get maternity leave without pay. I thought that was unfair, I’ve read articles of women entitled to maternity leave with pay.
‘At least mi still ‘ave mi job after’ she said sadly.
‘But!’ I started
‘Child, if you cann change di system yu go along wid it’ she said. I shut up, now was not the time to be stubborn.
‘So why are you crying?’ I probed. I got closer to my mother since my puberty years. She would confide her deepest secrets to me and it aided me in being mature and stayed away from guys who only wanted one thing. I’m glad I thought kissing was gross.
‘It’s not!’ my best friend would say whenever the topic was brought up. She loves kissing her boyfriend. I always hoped it would stay at kissing for her, she was so giddy headed at times.
‘It is, how does one enjoy exchanging saliva? Didn’t our Biology teacher told you that our mouths are one of the germiestest places in the world! Ewww’
‘There’s no such word as ‘germiestest’. It feels just magical connecting with someone you love like that.’
‘As a future journalist, I have the creative license to make words up. You need to stop reading ‘Mills & Boons’, you think of life as if it’s some sort of fairytale’
‘You have to try it to know it’
‘And you, my friend, has to stop saying you ‘love’ every boy that you’re only in a relationship for no more than a month’ I scoffed and walked away. When girls talked like that, they annoyed me.
Back to mom; she didn’t answer at first so I went for the softer route.
‘Mum, I’m worried. What’s wrong?’ I asked gently.
‘Mi don’t wann dis baby’ she answered with her eyes cast down ‘But killin’ it would be an unforgivable sin’
I sighed. ‘Why don’t you want to have the baby?’ I had no idea how she got pregnant but she can’t be that naïve as not to know to use protection. My English teacher, Ms. McDolly’s words came to me “if you’ve done the deed then you must face the consequences.”
‘Because…memba mi tell yu how babies mek’
‘Yes’ I remembered, school made it much clearer though.
‘Well, memba di word ‘consent’? I smiled, my mother always tried to use Proper words for my sake. I thought about the meaning of that word. Consent meant you have to agree to the act itself.
‘Yes’ I replied, now afraid of what she’ll say.
‘Yu fadda did dat to mi without ‘consent’ she said and started to cry.
‘He raped you?’ That bastard…that piece of Kaka! I shouted in my head.
She couldn’t say. Soon she revealed the details of what happened. It was a late night after work. He came out of nowhere and held on to her hand. She tried to push him off but the drugs made him super strong. He dragged her into a dark spot and took her there. She screamed for help but no one came to help her. I listened and tried not to be emotional. I hugged her when she finished telling the story.
‘Everything will be ok mum. Don’t worry’ we both knew everything wouldn’t be ok. My sister had her child a year aback; we only had four working adults that had to provide for 10 mouths. Now we’ll have three working adults to provide for 11 mouths.
‘I applied for that bank teller job’ I lied to make her smile.
‘Yu did?’ she looked up at me. That stopped her tears. I didn’t. I had plans to go to school aboard, my teacher helped me applied for them and scholarships. She was sure I would get at least one. I had an impeccable manuscript. She already secured a sponsor for my plane fare and part tuition. I wasn’t going to tell my mum until I was sure my plans could be acted on. Now it made no sense.
‘Yes mum, I did so you don’t have to worry’ I would take some secretarial courses in the summer I thought, already drafting my new plan. My dreams will have to wait, I thought to myself when I was alone. I will stand by mother like she stood by me.
Latoya Wakefield has been writing since her primary school days in Kingston, Jamaica. She's currently in the hospitality industry, but writing is her forever love. Her short story for children, "The Caterpillar That Was Afraid of the Cocoon", was published in Anansesem and her first book of poetry, Pieces of My Mind, Soul and Art was released in May of 2013. "Dreams and Reality" is excerpted from her, as yet, unpublished novel.