From British Honduras to Belize: one family’s drama – a novel written by the late Chrystel Lynwood Hyde Straughan
Chapter 29 continued
Jerome had confided to Mama afterwards that on Holy Thursday night when he had been eating some fruit at the bar of the hotel at which he had been staying along with the Havers family, his eye had strayed over the room and noticed Nurse Duncan sitting at a table nearby, her back towards him. Since she worked in his department, he had decided to greet her on his way out to arrange rental of a speedboat to travel in our direction the next day; but, as he was about to do so, she had been joined by Dr. Francis coming in from the outside. Jerome had put the meeting off for another time and circled the dining room to an exit.
Returning to the hotel that night, he had met the couple going out together, and had greeted them then. She had appeared uncomfortable and it had struck him as strange that Dr. Francis was staying at the most expensive hotel on the island along with his family, and apparently only visiting her, whilst the news on the compound had been that he had invited her to spend the holidays with them.
Now because of developments, Jerome had been forced to put two and two together and he had been disturbed at results that could well oblige him to make decisions adversely affecting the smooth running of his department, as well the lives of these young people.
I knew that whenever Jerome was involved in major difficulties, he often sought my mother’s advice, so I resolved to reach her first to put in a word for Jewel, who had been distressed by his sharpness at their recent interview and was afraid that he might obstruct her plans to help her friend.
On my next day off, therefore, I had walked over to my parents’ home with the intention of preparing the groundwork for my mission, calling out to Mama as I ran up the back stairs. The door being open, I had entered, walked through the kitchen and dining-room on my way to her bedroom, which was off the living-room, but had stopped abruptly at the sight of Jerome lying down on the couch, shoes on the floor and eyes closed. Becoming aware of my presence, he had opened his eyes and teased: “Hello Janice, putting your day off to good use?” as I hastily observed that I had not noticed his car outside.
“Andrew took it for an oil change, so I’m resting until it comes back,” he had answered. “Miss Eileen is asleep and the ol’ man is at the dock-yard, I was told by Miss Olive before she left, so you’ll have to come back later; or, maybe I can be of help with your problem if you’re not too particular,” he had added.
From this behavior, I suspected he had guessed what was my errand and was issuing a mild challenge; and then and there decided to deal with the matter directly instead of going a roundabout way, resolving to be at my most diplomatic.
In the post-colonial culture that was developing in our country since self-government, I perceived a tendency towards male domination of all major decision-making and a resistance to women’s viewpoints, except for those of the more senior elements of the female population. This attitude on the part of the males was sometimes couched in humorous references to “you know how lady go!” as if joking about our multitude of alleged peculiarities. To counter this, women were obliged to act with caution when trying to influence opinion without giving offense. The militant style of some young women returning from studies abroad had accentuated the new attitude emerging between them and their male counterparts and seemed to serve to aggravate the situation.
I noticed that whereas in the past I would argue one-on-one with any and all males of my acquaintance, even my uncle, I was being encouraged, from various sources, to modify my behaviour in deference to the opposite sex. It seemed to me that my own mother, who had borne most of the responsibility of raising us, due to long periods of my father’s absence at sea, managed to give the impression that Daddy was the dominant influence, according him excessive credit and, further, gradually lessening authority over her sons, adopting a more advisory style in their relations.
While I admired the relationship that existed between my parents and tried to emulate my mother’s very feminine and self-effacing style, which I believed was deliberately in strong contrast to what had allegedly been Granny “P’s” quarrelsome and argumentative behaviour towards my grandfather when he was around, still I sensed among my own men-folk a guarded skepticism towards any ideas coming from me that might affect their status, and, so, consciously adopted a conciliatory manner when engaging in the simplest of discussions with them, in an effort to avoid contention.
Having detected a defensive attitude in Jerome, therefore, I decided to downplay my opinion about the whole situation and, instead, introduced the topic by sympathizing with him about the difficulties he was facing.
Relaxing a little he had said that fate was making up for the enjoyable holiday he had had at Easter; and when he casually praised my protégé’s contribution to that occasion, I had taken the opportunity to boost her cause by remarking on how pleasant and cooperative she usually was, both at work and at play.
Something I have always noticed about Jerome is an inclination towards what he called “balancing things out.” I wouldn’t go so far as to call it pessimism, but he seemed to expect that good fortune would automatically be followed by problems, and prepared himself psychologically for when this happened, describing himself as being realistic.
I had been relieved when he had come right out and asked my opinion of the idea of Jewel moving off the hospital compound at her age, and had answered that I was impressed by her reason for wanting to do so and, also, that I had no doubt that her behaviour would remain proper, as her parents had done a first-class job of preparing her to function responsibly on her own.
He had remarked that her behaviour was not what concerned him, but how she would be able to afford it on the small pay she was receiving. I commented that she had discussed it with me and that knowing how self-disciplined she was, I was confident of her ability to cope. Besides that, there was the pressing matter of the alternative for her friend, which would otherwise be very bleak.
I had related the relevant details of Sonia’s circumstances to him, and he had listened attentively and appeared sympathetic to both Sonia and Jewel, so I had taken the initiative of asking what he knew of the background to the situation.
He had replied that he had picked up information here and there from informal sources which, along with his personal involvement in the technical aspects of the case, had enabled him to form a picture of what had taken place. Sonia’s refusal to name the father and to request maintenance from him had tied his hands from taking any action so far to clean up the mess.
The CMO had now placed him in the position of making three crucial decisions: that regarding Jewel’s request for permission to live off the compound; whether Sonia’s services should be retained; and, finally, what should be done about the man most responsible for creating the problem!
I mentioned to him that earliest word had been that Sonia had received an invitation, as a birthday present, to spend the Easter holidays at Paraiso with the person believed to be the un-named father, who had assured her that if “anything happened,” he would do the right thing. They apparently had different ideas of what was the “right thing.”
I had emphasized that although no one had any doubt as to the identity of the father, only one person could say for sure, but Sonia refused to do so for fear of incurring the enmity of his powerful family for exposing him to professional censure, to which Jerome had added: “And more!”
I had left off at this point, hoping I had helped Jewel’s and Sonia’s case with the information provided; and this had been confirmed sometime later when Jewel had given me an account of her second meeting with Jerome.
She had approached him early one morning when she had met him when going off duty and asked if he could spare the time to speak further about the matter. He could give her five minutes, he had replied briskly, occupying the time talking as they walked along, saying that after a discussion with me he was prepared to agree to her plan on condition that she keep me posted about her actions.
Jewel had added that, according to Sonia, he had sent for her and spoken at length about her dilemma, which would have serious repercussions on the work of the Department and on her own future there.
Taking everything into consideration, he had told her, he had decided to keep her on, but would have to suspend increments to her pay for two years, admittedly at a time when she would be in greater financial need than ever; but that since he would be forced to appoint an understudy for her during her child’s early years, to accommodate the extra demands on her time, what funds were available would have to be stretched to cover that contingency. It was the best the hospital could afford presently and he would appreciate an answer from her by the next day whether she would accept the terms.
She had been so relieved by this offer, Sonia had said to Jewel, that there had been no way she could ever have thought of refusing it, no matter how difficult things later proved to be; and she had not been able to hold back the tears as she had thanked him profusely and promised to do her best to justify his faith in her.
He had continued smoothly, and had shocked her, however, by asking what her plans were concerning her unborn child’s future in the event, for instance, of either she or Jewel becoming incapacitated.
When she had said nothing for some time, Jerome had remarked that he was sure she knew that her child would have rights beyond its immediate needs. It would have two parents, and the time would come when the child would have to know what provisions had been made by them for its welfare. For a father to say that it was not his intention to start a family at this time was not good enough, as the way to ensure this had been known to them both, having ignored which they must now deal with the consequences.
When Sonia had quietly asked Jerome what he expected her to do, he had replied, quietly also, that he was leaving that up to her to decide, but remarking that she had only a short time left and it was important that she take the necessary steps and not put it off any longer. He had assured her of his availability for moral support and, wishing her well, had given her permission to return to duty.
During the months that followed, Jewel visited our home after church on Sundays quite often, but spent the rest of her spare time keeping Sonia’s company. My children were puzzled at an aloofness they detected in Jerome’s behaviour towards her, and questioned me about what had happened to cause this.
I believed his attitude to be tied to his preoccupation with the overall problem and being frustrated by Sonia’s continued silence about a key element for its solution; but, being hospital business, I could not give out any details, so I told them that it was in connection with a confidential matter, which would probably soon be resolved.
In the meantime, various colleagues had given me hints from time to time of what was going on behind the scenes concerning Dr. Francis. One very dependable person from the office had told me that Jerome had requested and been provided with documents pertaining to samples received by the Chief Dispenser and distributed to various members of the professional staff.
The urgent services demanded by the continuous traffic of patients to the hospital had been a welcome distraction to the heaviness that hung over us all regarding the outstanding case, as everyone was anxious about how the story would end. We knew of Jerome’s reputation, similar to Matron’s, for standing up for the underdog, and, also, for not shirking his responsibilities.
When one of Lionel’s ex-girl friends, who had married a person close to the party in power, had paid us an unexpected visit one evening and had steered the conversation to the situation at the hospital, sympathizing with Jerome who was one of the “powers” there, she had said, and such a hard-working and dedicated man, we had known that this had not been by coincidence, and that she had probably been sent to see the lay of the land. I had therefore entered into the spirit of the occasion by throwing compliments his way and lauding his fairness to all his fellow-workers, whether high or low.
She had taken the bait, and openly spoken of the young doctor whose family was much concerned at his delay in settling down, even though he had such an all-star group of admirers from which to choose. She had supposed that his people having money had made it necessary to be extra careful because of the many young ladies who were probably attracted because of it. She had rambled on that he didn’t really have to work, but wanted to be of service to his people! And although he had offers and opportunities from abroad, too, he preferred to work at home.
This had given me an opportunity to insert my own contribution about the importance of exemplary behaviour when in a position of influence, while at the same time commending the value of gaining experience from the outside world before taking on responsibilities at home.
With this last comment, I had been indulging my own private fantasy of Dr. Francis’ relieving the situation himself by voluntarily quitting the scene after making provision for the discharge of his parental obligation, avoiding the confrontation that would be inevitable otherwise, knowing Jerome’s inability to remain a spectator indefinitely in the face of the grave injustice threatening the young, defenceless member of his theatre team.
(Chapter 30 in Friday’s issue of Amandala.)