On Sonia’s return to duty at the hospital in April, it appeared as if a benign administration confined her work schedule to the daytime hours, a cause for comment among her colleagues, led by Gertrude Atkins, of course, who attributed this to favouritism, declaring that she bet that if anybody else had tried a “stunt” like Sonia’s she would have been turned out a mile-a-minute; but that from long ago it could be seen that the powers-that-be showed preference to her. It had been quiet Miss Jewel who had responded to this accusation with the calm comment that maybe this had been because of her outstanding efficiency and willingness, marking the adoption on her part of a more visibly protective role towards Sonia.
Gertrude had taken advantage of Sonia’s absence from the nurses’ dorm earlier by engaging in a campaign of mild harassment towards Jewel, such as taking more than her share of food so that there would be less for her if she came even a few seconds late for her meals, borrowing her toiletries without permission while hoarding and hiding hers, anticipating and running ahead of her to the laundry and causing her a longer wait for a machine and, finally, overstepping her bounds by taking and wearing Jewel’s wristwatch on duty when on different shifts, so that Jewel would often have to report without it, slowing down her work of checking on her patients until a stop-watch from ward stores was available. When Jewel had been packing to move, she had found the watch on her table, broken and minus the minute hand, a misfortune the more heartfelt for having been a cherished gift from her self-sacrificing father. Yet, despite all this, Jewel had still displayed towards her a tolerant spirit, conceding that only people who were insecure behaved in that way, and therefore one had to be sorry for her.
With respect to Sonia’s situation and knowing how cruel Dolores had been to her before, I have to admit a certain satisfaction at hearing the good news about Emerson’s attachment to Miss Ionie, a sweet-natured and kind step-great-grandmother, and of how much pleasure and pride his great-grandfather had felt at his becoming a part-time member of their household.
Sonia, in gratitude for the opportunity which Jerome had provided for her continued employment, had developed into a more mature, dedicated, and hard-working example to her colleagues in general, as also to her understudy on the operating theatre team.
On the Sundays when both Jewel and Sonia were off duty, they would attend the Holy Communion service together at our church, bringing Emerson with them, although Sonia was not a member of the Anglican congregation, after which they would visit with and join our family for the midday meal. I understand that there had been murmurings about this by Dolores, who had christened Sonia Roman Catholic, although she herself rarely attended any church services. When only Jewel was off duty she would come and bring Emerson with her, and in this way we developed a rapport within the group, which eventually had expanded to include Daddy and Mama when both Victor and Alida had departed in late August for studies abroad, he to take a degree in Sociology at my brother Rodney’s State college and she to pre-med studies in New Orleans after only one year at Sixth Form.
In the official education system operating in our country at the time, students desiring to matriculate to a bachelor’s degree programme usually completed two years of sixth form and passed two or more subjects at the “Advanced Level” of the University of Cambridge examinations; whereas, for entry to a degree programme in the American system one was required to pass the SAT examinations, offered in the Roman Catholic schools, their sixth form being the only one operational at the time.
Rodney, my older brother, who had only one child, a daughter named after Mama whom none of us had met so far, had offered to fund Victor’s tertiary level education; and Nigel and I had agreed to allow Jerome to pay for Alida’s medical course, which was at least twice as expensive, on condition that she repay half the cost once she qualified and started to work and earn a salary, his having advised not to delay but get her on her way early.
It had been some years earlier that a young Garifuna, Simon Serrano, had gone off also to study at Jerome’s alma mater in the United States to become a surgeon. We referred to him as Matron’s candidate because, always looking ahead, she had been so impressed by his academic record that she had offered his parents, both rural schoolteachers who had been transferred to the capital, to provide the funds for their brilliant son’s education if he agreed to serve the country for ten years after qualifying.
Sometime after her father’s death, as mentioned before, Matron had created a formal Education Fund from a substantial portion of his liquid assets, appointing Nigel, Mr. Reg and herself to a governing board to administer it. Eventually granted NGO (non-governmental organization) status by the government, Jerome had eventually joined its administrative body.
After my two younger children had left home for their studies abroad, only Nigel, Lloyd and I occupied our spacious house, so Mama and Daddy spent Sundays with us and we welcomed the visits of Jewel and company.
Before they had left, Nigel and I had decided to have one celebration of both their birthdays, as also a farewell party for them, on August 14th, to which they had invited guests from among their classmates. At that time parties for young people started early and ended at midnight.
Victor had insisted that Jewel, who was scheduled to report for night duty at ten o’clock, should still come, especially it being her twenty-first birthday, and she had arrived wearing casual clothes and brought her uniform in a bag. She had spent most of the time with me helping in serving refreshments and looking after the other guests.
As promised, Jerome had dropped in around nine o’clock, and had come straight to the kitchen and escorted me to the dance area for a piece. Halfway through, Victor had cut in at a signal from him, and he had returned to the kitchen and reappeared shortly after, bringing Jewel with him. She had told me later that she had tried to explain to him that she neither knew ballroom dancing nor had she been dressed for a party, as she had to leave shortly to go on duty; but he had said that whatever she wore looked well on her and, regarding the other matter, she could not use that excuse after dancing the Punta with him at Caye. All she had to do was follow his lead, he had said, placing her arm in his and escorting her to the dance floor.
When the set was over the three of us had returned to the kitchen, leaving Victor behind with the other guests, where we had been joined shortly after by Nigel, who had been dancing with his daughter when a young fellow had cut in.
We had served some food to the two men, who had eaten at the kitchen table, busying ourselves while they conversed, after which Jerome had gone in search of Alida for the next dance; and now being near to nine-thirty, Jewel had taken her bag to the bathroom and donned her uniform before leaving through the back door for the hospital.
My children, unlike many young people at the time who aped the sometimes silly practices of their “modern” contemporaries, were not ashamed to dance with their parents or older family friends, so Jerome, Nigel and I spent the rest of the night on the dance floor along with them.
Jewel was missed, and when Victor and I partnered again later on in the night he had complained of her having left without saying goodbye to him; and even after I explained that time had caught up with her and she had slipped out in order not to reach work late, his mood had persisted. I eventually got to the root of his ill-humour when he confessed annoyance at one of his classmate’s remark that she had mistaken Jewel for our servant until Jerome had taken her out to dance.
This was at a time when the black power movement had reached our country, and black awareness had become a strong feature of our young people’s consciousness. Never among those to sport the more obvious images of black pride, my children, nevertheless, had always questioned the anomalies and illogical practices of a subtle colour discrimination (in shades of skin colour, as the Calypsonian put it); and people like our family either overrode or ignored the mimicry of the outer world by the elite of our social order.
I invited Victor to look around and tell me how it was possible for his friend to avoid making such a mistake, given the colour shades of the majority of his classmates, with only a few of Jewel’s complexion among those present? Operation of the hierarchy of colour would not disappear overnight; and, for economic reasons, the more financially capable of funding higher education for their children still followed the age-old pattern. I asked him if he was sure he wasn’t vexed with himself for allowing Jerome to get ahead of him in taking her out?
I began to notice a trend in Jerome’s behaviour towards Jewel ever since she moved off the compound. He started to keep a close watch on her movements, often referring to my promise to her mother to keep her on track; and it was therefore no surprise when he made the observation to me one night that he had been told by her maternal grandfather, an acquaintance of Mr. Reg, who was scheduled for hernia surgery shortly, that she had never visited the family home since coming to the capital some six years before.
In the conversation that had followed, I had explained that Lucille’s friend, Virginia Holder, had mentioned to me that Mrs. Hendricks, whom she met fairly often because of their husbands’ business association, and who knew of her close friendship and regular contact with her daughter, had never once enquired after her; and, further, had learnt through a mutual acquaintance that she was vocal in her condemnation of her for “throwing away her life, after the death of her ‘up-to-date husband,’ by marrying that ‘barefoot injin,’” so that she “had no time to waste with her.”
I felt the need to share with Jerome the background to Lucille and her mother’s troubled relationship from her early years; and her unwillingness, expressed openly to Virginia Holder, myself and others, of having any child of hers exposed to what she called her mother’s “warped” outlook on life.
I could see that Jerome was uncomfortable, like most men in our culture usually are, at hearing details of personal relationships which did not concern them directly, so I had discontinued the conversation after a while, and he had commented on what a pity such a situation existed, since Lucille’s father seemed very disturbed about it.
Some weeks later, Jerome had asked me to give a message to Jewel that her mother’s father had made a request of him that he ask her to come and visit him in the post-surgical ward where he would be staying until the next weekend recovering from surgery; and when I had delivered the message she had informed me that she would be going as soon as she heard from her mother, which had given me the impression that she was consulting Lucille about family policy.
Although anxious to hear of the outcome, I had left it up to Jewel to bring up the subject; and several Sundays later as she rinsed and dried the dishes while I washed them, and young Mr. Duncan slept in a makeshift bed on the couch, she had confirmed how she had visited and found “Mr. Hendricks” to be a very nice person, as her mother had predicted when they had spoken on the telephone.
Their landlady had kindly offered the facility of using her telephone if they needed to contact anyone in the outdistricts, on the contribution towards her telephone bill of fifty cents per call regardless of its duration. This was in the days, of course, before the service had been taken over by a multinational, and fees then became steep.
I had learnt that they had used the facility sparingly, however, being an item outside their budget which they had to observe very strictly; besides which it had been a very complicated matter to arrange for her Mam to walk two miles into town for access to a telephone. She had confided that on this occasion she had been overcome by homesickness at the sound of her mother’s voice, not having spent time at home with her family for over two years, although they continued to correspond regularly.
To be continued in the Friday, February 14, 2020 issue.