Chapter 62 (The final chapter)
It is with a heavy heart that I start this final chapter, but I am relieved to predict that, like mine, your spirits will be lifted by how it ends.
Lucille called me the following afternoon to admit that she was worried by Jewel’s behaviour, as she had withdrawn from the company after most people had left the house the night after the funeral and locked herself in her bedroom, leaving she and Aunt the task of putting the children to bed.
Early that morning Matron and Mr. Reg had taken her into the living-room after breakfast and spoken with her privately, then had taken their flight back to the capital later that day.
She reported at another time that when their vehicle had stopped by the house the next Sunday morning to pick them up for service, Jewel had appeared in home clothes to send off Aunt and the children but had said that she was not coming, and, without any explanation, waved goodbye and re-entered the house.
Aunt reported that Jewel had consistently participated in preparing and serving the meals, embracing the children and joining them at table, but all in silence like a sleep-walker, and eating only a small amount of food.
I recalled that when I had tried to speak to her the night after we got home I had been met with the same soft, courteous but detached response as everyone else and had begun to become uneasy.
I called her every day and, apart from providing information in answer to questions asked, there was no indication as to her frame of mind or how she was feeling, only making sure to ask about Alida and reminding her to call her.
It was left to Lucille to give me details of what was going on with the children and the rest of the family, how Jewel was losing weight, taking Belinda to and from school every day and going on to work either at Nurse Pauline’s or the government clinic, maintaining a pleasant but unsmiling calm; and, most importantly, making no attempt to join them at church on Sundays.
This went on for some weeks until the first Sunday in June, when I received a call from her saying she had some news for me but would like to tell it to me in person. Was it possible for me to visit her at home for a day so we could talk?
There was no way I would not eagerly accept such an invitation and on the following Saturday I took the flight down there that was to end with my receiving one of the most unexpected and joyful pieces of news possible!
I should insert here that Jerome’s will had been read by their lawyer to the family and others concerned, including Nigel, who had been appointed executor along with Eric Coburn, within the required time period; and included generous bequests to most of those near and dear to him, including individual provisions for each of the children. A notable gift had been funds for the education expenses of each and every one of Mama’s grand-children and great-grand-children, as well as of all of his and Jewel’s nieces, nephews and god-children.
When account had been taken of all Jerome’s assets, what had been striking was that his inheritances from both his grandfathers alone, apart from his salary and income from the farm, were so substantial as to make it remarkable that he had seen fit to do any work at all during his lifetime, more so with such dedication!
The next most noteworthy detail about his will was that, after all the bequests were made, everything else that he owned had been left at the disposal of his beloved Jewel.
Having taken the 8 o’clock morning flight I arrived at the house when they had all breakfasted and, after I had been greeted lovingly by each member of the household, including Agatha, Jewel had escorted me upstairs to the bedroom, which, as usual, was immaculately tidy.
We had sat facing each other, then she had taken one of my hands in hers and softly apologized for the way she had been behaving since Jerome left us and asked me to please tell “Mr.B” on her behalf that she was sorry for being so familiar as to call him by his first name, which had been because she had not been herself for a while; and that Jerome always said that she should “ask Nigel” for help with any problem if she couldn’t reach him. She was now in control thanks to Pap, who had patiently helped to put her back on track.
I reached out and hugged her, assuring her that there was no need for apology, and that Nigel had been wondering for some time why she had been so formal and refusing to use his first name when they were no longer co-workers.
She made no comment but started to relate what had taken place the Sunday before when the family had come to pick them up for church and her Pap had got out of the vehicle with his wheelchair, assisted by Caleb, and wheeled it towards the house. She, who had walked out to see the rest off, had stopped in front of him to find out what he was doing; and he had explained that he was not going with them but staying to keep her company. They had gone into the house together and entered the living-room, where she had assisted him into the couch and placed pillows around to make him comfortable.
He had looked at her tenderly and asked how she was feeling, and when she had answered: “all right” had said that that was not what the children were saying; that they were worried about her since their father had left, keeping to herself and behaving like she didn’t love them anymore and wanted to follow behind him.
She had denied that that was so, just the opposite: she loved them so very much that she had been trying hard to keep herself under control so as not to upset them by going to pieces in front of them. She was afraid they would expect an explanation from her as to why their father had been taken from them and she could give them no answer since she herself didn’t know why!
Her father’s comment had been that of course she knew why: their father had finished the work God had sent him to do, so He had called him to his rest. It was as simple as that! None of us come here to tu’n rockstone. Jerome had served Him well right to the end and God would welcome his “good and faithful servant;” and those who loved him should be glad that he was now resting from his labours.
She admitted wondering why he had been taken from them just when they were expecting to have him to themselves for a long holiday together after waiting for such a long time!
Instead of sympathizing, however, her father had spoken sternly in his best effort at correct English: “So, you are questioning God now? When Jerome asked you to marry him, did you ask God why He was making you so happy? Didn’t you feel the time was right? Now that he serve Him straight out of school from the time ‘e qualify as a surgeon until ‘e finish the job, you questioning God’s timing? Back up, daughter, and think careful ‘bout what you doing! Remember that the Bible say: ’The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away: blessed be the name of the Lord!’ You should bless and thank Him when He is giving the same as when He is taking away, because Almighty God know everything, while you can’t know what is around the bend. You’ husband work with a will so long as he had health and strength. What you think would happen when a surgeon eyesight start to fail an ‘e han’ start to shake? You ever think about how he would feel to have a job an’ can’t do it? Well, God see the whole picture, an’ love him more than you!
“So, thank an’ praise Him; and explain to the children about God’s love so they will know that He is not punishing you and them but calling their father home to his rest now that ‘e finish his labours. Your job now is to cherish and love the children all the more to make up for losing their father, and prepare them for when their turn come to serve their Maker!”
Jewel said that as her father spoke, she began to realize how selfish she had been and how much she had hurt her children and the tears had poured from her eyes. They had been tears of relief, however, which had started to melt the grief that she had kept bottled up inside since Jerome’s passing. Pap had calmly and dutifully spoken the truth which she had rebelliously refused to accept all the while, preferring to be sorry for herself; and, when he had finished, he had asked her what she was planning to do now.
With the awakening she had confessed to him that she intended to attend Evensong later on in the day and speak with God in private, as she was not ready yet to attend service along with the family; and just then she had caught sight of their returning vehicle, and become aware of how long she and her father had been speaking together.
The children had rushed into the house, Bel in the lead, and, seeing her tearstained face, had turned to her grandfather with the challenge: “Pap, what you did to my Mam to make her cry?”
She hugged and reassured her youngest and the rest of the children, while Pap had made his way outside in his wheelchair, telling them as he left that their mother had something to say to them.
She spent some time in conversation with the children about how their Dad had finished the job God had sent him to do, and that was why He had called him home; and it was natural to miss him but it was now their turn to prepare themselves for their time of service to God. She would accompany them to church as usual from now on but would be attending Evensong alone that evening.
The church was quiet, with only a small congregation, and Father Craig conducted the service in low and empathetic tones. She enjoyed the intimacy of the moment, appreciating that the background music had been a favourite of Arreini’s, which Jerome had taped for her. She had been able to unburden herself and seek God’s forgiveness, and had left the church comforted and consoled. Since then she had resumed regular attendance at service with the family and had slowly become aware of a lurking feeling of some undisclosed pleasure awaiting her discovery.
She had a first clue of its source when Agatha had admitted one morning that she had burnt the fish through carelessness and had had to replace it with bacon for breakfast! Yes, Jewel realized, she had been having the same reaction to certain odours as when she had become pregnant with her first child; and not only that, but preoccupation with her grief had made her overlook practical matters of life such as her period, realizing it had been missing that month!
The feeling of a possibility had lifted up her spirit as she had recalled Jerome’s proposal that they put responsibility away during their holiday, and she had started noticing other signs! She now shared with me the belief that she was pregnant and asked if I would go with her to Nurse Pauline’s for a physical examination!
Neither of us had been surprised at the result, and for a few moments she, Nurse Pauline and I had hugged the discovery to ourselves with delight. She had wistfully started with the words: “Jerome always liked it when I was pregnant” and had stopped suddenly, continuing: “The children will be happy to hear the news, especially Bel, who will be glad to have someone in the family younger than herself!”
As you can imagine, all our lives were affected by the good news of an addition to the family nine months after we lost Jerome, and in time the events had balanced themselves out and we could see them as inevitable developments in the course of our lives and that of the life of our country.
Eventually, Alida had got up the courage to go along with me to “spend day” with Jewel, and the subject of that last day with Jerome had come up, with Alida confessing a feeling of guilt she had been living with ever since then. Jewel had been exceptionally kind, and truthful, in admitting her satisfaction that the pair had spent those hours together; and that she had been longing to hear about it ever since, saying how happy she had felt that he had spent his final hours involved in what he had most enjoyed in his lifetime and in the company of one of his and her favourite people!
As scheduled, Doctor Serrano had shown up the middle of June and, as planned by Jerome, had been immediately appointed Senior Surgical Officer, a post acceded to by my daughter three years later when he became Chief Surgical Officer. But let me not get ahead of myself!
I wouldn’t be speaking the truth if I said that it was smooth sailing from there on, but all of us who loved Jerome filled the void of his absence with new loves in time while still cherishing his memory; and when on January 15th, 1989 Jewel gave birth to a nine-pound boy, she had remarked that, like Arreini, his name was awaiting him. Nigel and I had been given the honour of being asked to be godparents of our dear friends’ youngest child, coincidentally their “fourth” son, along with Victor by proxy. A particular and personal delight of our lives had been his visit home the summer of Jerome’s passing for a few weeks to be with us during that intense period of mourning.
Three years later, having earned his doctorate by then, he had accepted the offer of a post of Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the national university; and as good as that had been, there was even better to come when Arreini, the daughter and grand-daughter of beloved friends, came to the capital some years later to study that subject at that institution! And, as I had defended myself to Nigel and Lloyd, there was no law against looking ahead!!!