One of the great blessings for our extended family had been the visit home of our daughter Alida for two weeks immediately after sitting her finals!
Due to the modern convenience of air travel she had arrived on a Wednesday and the whole family in the capital at the time, which included Jerome, Lloyd and Sonia, Safira and Emerson plus Linda and Ernesto with their two children, had sat down to a celebratory semi-buffet lunch; and I must say that it was the highest point of our lives for that year, even superseding the country’s Independence!
She immediately joined Jerome at work as an observer, accompanying him home on the first Saturday to spend time with Jewel and the children, staying on until Wednesday instead of returning with him on Monday, needing more time with her niece and nephews, she had said. I discovered much later, however, that there had been another more pressing reason for staying on, which she had not shared with me at the time but had confided only to Jewel!
Dr. Kevin Taylor, whom Lloyd and I had met on our visit in 1974, had proposed and wanted to marry her before she had completed her residency; and she wanted to discuss this with Jewel, who soon became aware that Alida had surprised Jerome by her decision to stay on instead of accompanying him back to the capital that Monday.
Very conscientiously, she had given Alida all the time she had needed, only including her in all the chores and activities entailed in caring for the children and the household throughout the day until the evening, when she had finally started by observing how happy she (Jewel) seemed to be, then put the question to her whether she was perfectly satisfied with the way her life was going.
Jewel replied that she believed that nobody should ever expect to reach such a state, since that was not the purpose of our lives; and, while we may be grateful for the many blessings of a generous Providence, there was always something which we wish were different; for instance, she and the children would love to have Jerome home with them for more than two days out of every fourteen or so, but knew how lucky they were compared to the older heads, like Mama for instance, whose husband had spent not days, but months, at sea away from the family!
Besides, there was the daily contact through the miracle of the telephone, plus the comfort and even luxury of their living conditions, so that it would be sinful and even greedy to want more!
With Jewel so forthcoming and frank, my daughter had become confident that she would understand her particular problem and appreciate the nature of her dilemma.
She had received loving discipline not only from Nigel and I, but from a caring godfather, grand-parents and older heads of the extended family, at the same time having the example of a dutiful commitment to the welfare of our fellow human beings, and, especially, patriotism towards our country struggling to emerge from the deprivation and oppression of colonialism; but was now faced with an invitation to put all that aside and choose a totally different future for herself.
She told Jewel how her suitor, who was the only child of ambitious and hardworking African-American parents who had achieved middle class status, had sacrificed to invest in his education and training, to prepare him to serve and participate in the upliftment of that segment of their country’s population.
Before he met Alida, his life had followed faithfully the pattern they had set for him, even to cultivating friendships with female acquaintances in keeping with their preferences: young women of a certain demeanour, style and outlook likely to adjust easily to suit his requirements in a spouse.
Alida, on the other hand, had captivated and intrigued him with her passionate enthusiasm and dedication to her chosen profession, unusual both for her sex and financial origin, as well as for her confident and independent style of behaviour.
She confided in Jewel that shortly after she had definitely decided in Kevin’s favour between the two admirers who had been courting her from the beginning of her years away from home, he suddenly become possessive, wanting to monopolize her time and prescribe her study habits.
She had baulked at this, retreating from his company and concentrating more on her studies, causing him to backtrack somewhat and give her more space during that last year. Then, just before taking her finals, he declared his love in no uncertain terms, and disclosed his intention of moving away and setting up in private practice as soon as she agreed to marry him.
Although she loved him and looked forward to their being together sometime in the future, it troubled her that he had never consulted her about her concerns, seeming to indicate her concerns to have no significance in his scheme of things and unworthy of being taken into account. This led the very impulsive Alida to put him out of her mind, sit her finals and immediately return home and take time to assess her position, arrive at a decision concerning her future independently of him, and conveying her plans to him when she returned, in the same highhanded manner in which he had behaved.
Jewel had asked mildly if it was a case of tit for tat? Was she paying him back for ignoring her input, instead of honestly registering her dissatisfaction at his treatment of her and taking it from there? After discussing the situation she had given her opinion that two people in love with each other should be able to talk things over and come to some agreement, rather than start fighting over every slight, hoping that they might be able to decide on a postponement, delay or adjustment to their plans. She urged Alida to communicate with her suitor and try to solve their problem together.
One thing Jewel later confided being concerned about was that Jerome be kept out of the decision-making, believing that being called upon to have an opinion would have been too troubling for him, given the sad state of affairs in the Surgery Department at home.
My daughter, I am proud and relieved to say, took Jewel’s advice to heart and made a decision which marked the beginning of her coming of age; and you will eventually hear more about it in the course of this narrative.
As an aside, Jewel had mentioned that when she saw Jerome on the following weekend, he asked what she had said to Alida to inspire such energy, as she had been like a dynamo at work and had departed that Wednesday to return to college in very high spirits!
Sister Havers came to town in early August to allow for Sonia to go on one month’s pre-maternity and two months’ post-maternity leave; and Madeline, Nigel’s and my first grandchild, hastily made her appearance on Jewel and Victor’s birthday, giving us three reasons now to celebrate August 14th. She was named after Nigel’s mother, whose maiden surname had been “Hulse;” but, starting out with such a Christian name being combined with “Brandon” seemed too long, so Sonia and Lloyd had decided against adding a middle name, making her the first child in our family to have one name besides the surname!
Clifton Pemberton, Sister Havers’ brother, had accompanied her home this time, in anticipation of being present for the country’s Independence celebrations; and, being wealthy and a bachelor, Clifton soon became popular in elite circles comprised mostly of expatriates and their descendants, and children of light or white-skinned businessmen, bankers and professionals, etc.
It was always claimed that there was no overt colour prejudice in the country, but this group of people kept mostly to themselves, frequenting their private social clubs and, occasionally, hotel restaurants and bars, where they rarely met or socialised with the local inhabitants.
Only the more adventurous among them sometimes visited the local night clubs and bars, meeting and rubbing elbows with a variety of the general population.
Dating as such was not a practice among people of our kind and generation, but the upcoming younger folks, under the influence of the American culture as depicted in the movies, were gradually adopting a new lifestyle, so it was not unusual for modern young women like Gertrude, for instance, to meet socially with people of different backgrounds at the places they frequented.
Getrude was very popular among such groups, being attractive, stylish and a very good dancer, not to mention an exceptionally gifted seamstress who catered to an increasing clientele from among the people she met at such venues.
Once, on a dinner date with a pharmaceutical salesman to whom she had been introduced by one of the doctors on staff, she found herself at one of the upscale hotel restaurants and sitting at a table next to a party of expatriates which had included Sister Havers. Sister Havers, unlike most of her countrymen and women of that class, was totally without prejudice; and, on that occasion, had stopped by their table on the way out, greeting the couple and introducing her brother, who had accompanied her.
Gertrude and Clifton had met again soon after at one of the nightclubs when she was in the company of three girl friends, and he had greeted her and requested a dance. He was alone and, after the piece, she had introduced him to her friends when they returned to the table. Asking if he could sit with them, he had taken each out to dance one after the other.
After meeting up with her and her friends at the club a couple more times, he had eventually invited Gertrude out on a date, asking if she would like to visit the same club or another which had been recommended to him.
They had tried out this other club, which she found more to her liking, except that she had had an unpleasant experience there when her long ago boyfriend, Karl Sanchez, had come over and asked her to dance shortly after they had been seated.
Asking a woman to dance when she was in the company of another male was considered bad manners, but Karl Sanchez, during the lapse of twelve or so years, had continued and become even more macho than before; and now, supported by what was called his “posse,” that is, a group of male friends with similar interests, he was contemptuous of ordinary courtesies and made his own rules.
The normally contentious Gertrude, however, surprised him by graciously suggesting maybe another time, but that she and her date had agreed to sit that one out; while he and his group had retreated in disarray, dispersing around the room and taking out partners willy-nilly as they went.
But the affair between Gertrude and Karl Sanchez had been too public to disappear so tamely, and she realized all along that it was only a matter of time before there would be another encounter.
Since their separation those many years ago, both had been aware that their relationship had been left in limbo, and she tended to bide her time while waiting and preparing herself for the next round.
In the meantime, Karl had carried on with his original girl friend off and on while at the same time forming temporary liaisons all around. The girl friend had boasted that he was only making fools of the other women, but that he always came back to her; so they should all take warning, including the high and mighty Staff Nurse Atkins, Gertrude having continued to advance in the profession and, in Karl’s girl friend’s eyes, remaining her chief rival.
After some years Karl had put his girl friend in a house, the local terminology for setting up housekeeping together without benefit of clergy, and began to have children with her every two years or so, three in all, and all boys at the last count.
Sarita Ayala, which was her name, seized the opportunity of giving childbirth in the Maternity Ward of the government hospital where Gertrude worked, to harass, antagonize, criticise and “throw words,” a local term to describe a quarrelling technique, at the woman whom she hated most from among his many women, she having been the one people said had taken him away from her, although fully aware that there was not nor had been any contact between them since they had broken up.
Gertrude, on the other hand, pretended indifference to the actions of Karl and his common-law mate, while lying in wait for either or both to overstep their bounds, when she planned to bring the full force of her powers down on them, silencing them once and for all she hoped; and, in this endeavour, she had eventually had the unwitting assistance of Sister Havers’ brother, Clifton Pemberton.
(Chapter 56 in Friday’s issue of the Amandala)