From British Honduras to Belize: one family’s drama – a novel written by the late Chrystel Lynwood Hyde Straughan
Chapter 38 continues
Kiah had responded with humility by thanking Jewel for her concern, and the conversation had been elevated to the level of a sociological discussion when Jewel had quoted Nurse Pauline, who was familiar with the problems facing Julia and had often praised her for taking on responsibilities beyond her years, which had led to the sometimes “put to rights” attitude resented by her peers.
But, to return to the story of Jerome’s visit south, mobile clinics had been introduced into the three largest districts some years before, serving widely scattered villages far from the health services available in the capital towns. Each of these mobile clinics was manned by only one staff nurse and a driver/orderly, which covered the villages in the interior of the district weekly from 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, and on Saturdays until noon. They went out each day calling at villages along the main dirt roads, where they treated sick persons on the spot, gave vaccinations and inoculations to the children against the usual childhood diseases and to the adults for current campaigns like influenza, etc., dispensed medication for common ailments, treated and bandaged injuries, performed maternity services and referred and transported patients to the doctors at the town clinics when necessary. A longwheel-based Landrover was provided for these outings, equipped with basic facilities and medicines.
On the Saturday that Lucille had seen Jerome coming towards their house she had been alone, as Abel and the boys had gone out together from early morning on their cleaning jobs around the town. He usually stayed out until evening, but sent the boys home for lunch; and they had already left to rejoin him when Jerome had turned up.
Lucille said that he had politely asked to speak with her daughter, and had expressed surprise that she was not at home when it was already thirty minutes past closing time for their operation. Quick to defend her child, Lucille had told him that she was sure Jewel had not known that he was coming or would not have kept him waiting; asking if something was wrong and/or could she give her any message. He had been quick to reassure her that he had not come to see Jewel about work, and had proposed to sit on the bench under the almond tree some distance away from the house and wait for her if she did not mind. She was sorry she did not have any reading material to offer him to occupy his time, but he had protested that he would be all right.
It had not been until one o’clock that the Rover had arrived, and Jerome later told us how he had watched from a distance an interesting transaction which had taken place between Jewel and Mr. Dawson, the driver, which she had later explained. Cash had passed between them, some empty cartons transferred from the Rover to the kitchen and later returned to the vehicle, after which Mr. Dawson had driven off and Jewel, who had changed out of her uniform, had come walking “gracefully” across the yard to where he had been sitting.
He said that Jewel had explained that Mr. Dawson had agreed to hold a portion of her money when they went out into the field so that he could pay for produce sometimes offered to them by villagers when they provided health services. Despite repeated assurances that these government services were free of charge, the villagers would insist on making gifts of produce to them. Having an idea of the cost of these items they would offer to pay, and sometimes it was accepted. If the husband was present, the payment was placed in his hand by Mr. Dawson, as money was not usually acceptable by a male from a female; only when the male was absent would the female accept payment, from her but not from Mr. Dawson.
She and her family donated the produce obtained in this way towards Nurse Pauline’s feeding programme, adding items from their excess supply, hence the reason for the empty cartons being taken to their kitchen to be filled.
Jewel told me that when she had gone inside the house her mother had let her know that she had a visitor, pointing outside to where Jerome was sitting. At the sight of him her heart had started to pound so hard she felt that her mother must have heard it; and, anxious about the reason for his unexpected presence, had asked her if he had mentioned anything being wrong. Lucille had assured her that he had not come to see her about work, and, advising her to change out of her uniform and leaving it with her for laundering, had urged her to hurry over to him as he had been waiting for nearly an hour.
Despite her agitation she had managed to walk calmly over and bid him a good afternoon. He had risen, returned her greeting, reached for and shaken her hand, telling her she was looking well, just as if they had been on the best of terms. He had held on to her hand and gazed at her for several minutes before proposing that they sit on the bench and talk.
According to her, in his calm deliberate manner he had posed the question without looking at her: “Suppose you cared about someone . . . a lot,” then had started over, “suppose you loved someone and, through a misunderstanding or a mistake, you hurt that person and wanted to put things right between you, how would you go about it?”
Seizing her chance, she had answered quickly: “I would humble myself, admit my mistake, say to that person how sorry I was, and ask that person’s forgiveness,” adding having blurted out: “but I didn’t get a chance!”
He had looked at her in puzzlement for a moment then, recovering, had said slowly: “I was referring to myself.”
At this, Jewel said, a wild feeling of joy took hold of her and all she could think was that if she had heard correctly he was saying that he loved her! She had revelled in the words that he “cared about her a lot;” then wondered why he was looking at her like that? Had he asked her something? She had hurried to find out!
“Excuse me, Doctor. You said something?” she had asked.
“You interrupted my train of thought,” he had replied, “as I was getting ready to follow your advice;” and had continued that he had learnt through a conversation at Sister Brandon’s home what had happened about the photographs and, realizing his mistake, knew he had to talk with her about this in person. By that time, of course, she had already taken off, so he had had to wait until pressure of work permitted.
“I’m sorry I caused you trouble,” she had said.
“I’m the one who caused the trouble in the first place by jumping to the wrong conclusion and by mistreating you before that,” he had replied, continuing with what had happened after the Valentine Dance.
Since that night she had occupied his thoughts constantly, and, just as he had been making wedding plans in his mind, he had been faced with the urgent need to deal with the matter of going after the politicians for the Cancer Unit. His source had given him information about the ruling party’s attitude towards him as a result of his stand in the case of Dr. Francis and Nurse Duncan and, acting on impulse, he had decided to postpone his marital plans until the matter of the Cancer Unit had been settled, to avoid involvement in controversy with officialdom.
Selfishly, having taken her for granted he had not considered the effect his withdrawal at that time would have had on her. One result had been the incident of the photograph with the Area Representative, which had hit him very hard, having wrongly interpreted it as her turning away from him in favour of someone else because of his neglect.
In his disturbed state he had hated the fellow for being so close to her – where he wanted to be; and she, for not loving him as she had made him believe!
At this point Jewel had expressed hurt that he should think she could turn to someone else after having given herself to him! Was that the kind of person he thought her to be?
He had not been thinking straight then and now took all the blame for how things had turned out. He was deeply sorry for the pain he had caused her, for which he now asked her forgiveness.
Jewel had assured him that he could never do anything she could not forgive; quoting her father who, when they were small and apologized for wrongdoing, would often say this, adding that they should not take this as an invitation.
Jerome told her that he had taken note of her point; but that there was one thing that still puzzled him, which was why she had planned to return home after the Valentine dance.
She had confessed her despondence at the thought that he had lost interest in her because of her behaviour that night when she had “pushed” herself on him and thereby caused him embarrassment; and being ashamed and afraid that she had made a mess of things, had wanted to run away.
He, in turn, had taken offence and had chided her for underestimating him by considering him a hypocrite! How could she think he would sit in judgement of her when it had been at his instigation that she had responded exactly as he had hoped and expected she would? He had taken the initiative of kissing the woman he loved in order to explore her feelings for him. Far from embarrassing him she had made him happier than he had ever hoped to be. Did she mistake him for the type of man to play games or that he even had time for that?
She had defended herself by saying that that had been the only explanation she could think of when it seemed he had cut her off right after the dance, since her feelings for him had not nor ever could change; and that she had sensed his surprise at the loose way she had given herself to him, and was grateful to him for preventing her from disappointing her parents and all the others who had high expectations of her.
Jerome had denied having been embarrassed by her behaviour, asking whether she did not think that those people who had high expectations of her might not consider a man of his age as having taken advantage of her inexperience.
She had replied that being tempted did not excuse wrongdoing, and that if one had a conscience it was natural to expect consequences; and that when she had been transferred from the hospital compound to the public health clinic she had interpreted this as his way of easing out of an unpleasant situation.
He had stated flatly that he had had nothing to do with staff scheduling outside his department, nor did he mix his professional with his private concerns, as she should know.
Her comment on this was that she had been guilty of behaving badly, and that her Mam would probably say that “the wicked fleeth when no man pursueth.”
Having reached an empasse they had retreated into silence, from which Jerome had emerged after a while with the statement that they both had made mistakes for which they were now sorry, but were getting nowhere with discussions about the past and the assignment of blame. He had suggested that since they agreed that they love each other, they should take it from there and look to the future. Wouldn’t that make better sense?
Jewel had nodded agreement, and Jerome had followed up with the proposal that she marry him and give him a chance to make up to her for all the trouble and pain he had caused her; and had brightened when she had accepted his proposal in a quiet voice.
He had queried whether they really needed permission from her parents to get married considering they were now both adults? At her reply that it was not permission but agreement, as they would trust her judgement, he had taken her hand in his and pulling her forward urged that they go to her parents and settle the matter right away! But just before moving off he had backtracked with the news that he had something for her; and had taken a small plastic bag from his pocket, extracted a ring from it and, placing it in her hand, had asked whether she wanted him to put it on before or after they had spoken to her parents.
In thanking him she had exclaimed over its beauty but asked if he would mind if she wore it on her chain instead of on her finger, as she could not work with something so valuable on her hand. He had agreed and offered to do it for her and she had unloosed the clasp, removed the chain and handed it to him.
He had added the ring next to the tiny gold cross on the chain and clasped it around her neck, at the same time asking whether she would now do him a favour? She had nodded, whispering: “Anything!” and he had told her that before coming to see her he had promised himself that if things had worked out between them he would ask her to set the date for their wedding before anything else, as too much time had already been lost! Would she oblige? At her answer that she had nearly nine months to complete her contract, he had groaned and asked whether she would really make him wait that long?
She had answered that she was willing to leave the decision to him, as the Principal Nursing Officer had told her that having jurisdiction over that district he had requested that staff signing on for service there do so for a year, to assure continuity!
This had started another discussion, with his exclaiming surprise that Sister Isaacs should have required such an undertaking from her knowing she was from there originally, and had ended with his asking what was her wish. She had answered that what she wanted was impossible and that was why she was leaving the decision to him. He had insisted that he still wanted to hear what she wanted, and she had finally admitted that she wanted to be with him but, also, to live up to her obligation; and since she could not be in two different places at the same time she would agree to whatever he decided!
Jewel said that Jerome had studied her for awhile and had made the decision that they would get married as soon as possible and live with his aunt until her contract was up; and that he would fly to work in the capital on Monday mornings and return to her on Saturdays after the hospital office closed.
Concerned, she had asked if flying wasn’t very expensive and would it not be too costly to do that every week? Also, wouldn’t travelling up and down be too harassing for him considering his already heavy work schedule? He had flippantly reminded her that it was she who had left the decision to him, adding that it would only be for nine months, anyway, after which he would remove her lock, stock and barrel to the capital with him!!