From British Honduras to Belize: one family’s drama – a novel written by the late Chrystel Lynwood Hyde Straughan
There had been no noteworthy developments that we knew of during the month of July that affected the matter uppermost on all our minds, but in early August a rumour had started going around that Jerome and Dr. Francis had been seen having a discussion at a table in the far corner of the doctors’ lounge. Of course nobody had been near enough to hear what had been the subject of conversation. The only thing that could be said was that the meeting seemed a cordial one, which really provided no clue since both men were known for their polite manners.
On August 14th, memorable for being both Victor and Jewel’s birthday, we had had another visit from Lionel’s ex, who had asked exultantly if we had heard the news that Dr. Francis had been offered a very good job in the United States and was seeking to be released from the rest of his three-year contract with the government.
It seems that he had been hoping to leave at the end of November, when he would have completed two-thirds of his contract, claiming four months’ pay in lieu of leave due, the portion of the six months accruing at the end of his three-year contract, before taking up a new appointment at the beginning of the following year after spending the month of December on vacation.
By the time the dust had settled on negotiations, however, it seems that a more realistic arrangement from the point of view of his employers had been worked out. Dr. Francis had been scheduled to depart according to his chosen timetable but with only three months’ leave pay, his resignation only becoming effective after three months’ notice up to November’s end.
It was said that friends of his in the legal profession thought him deserving of a better deal, but that for his own private reasons he had chosen to accept these conditions; and the remainder of his time in the hospital had been marked by no unpleasant incidents.
At the end of August a very generous donation to the Nurses’ Association, earmarked for enceinte members, had been received from an anonymous donor; and the Association which, as part of its overall policy gave assistance to members who were having financial and other difficulties, had contacted Nurse Duncan and referred her to resource persons who could help her in obtaining suitable housing and in acquiring inexpensive baby clothing, furniture and equipment in preparation for her delivery, scheduled for late December/early January.
Once Dr. Francis’ future had been settled, the whole hospital had taken on a more relaxed air; and Sonia and Jewel had started work on their plans for after the baby’s birth. I had given them access to anything for which they could find use from the items stored downstairs in a portion of what had become the boys’ gymnasium, including two single beds and the crib, in good condition, last used by Alida. There had also been a small chest-of-drawers, and some tables and odd chairs with minor defects which they had cleaned, fixed, painted or varnished in their spare time, helped by Alida, who had had some of her questions answered as time went by. I also loaned them the two-burner gas stove that we used on holiday, along with some of the pots and pans.
Jerome and Nigel had remained aloof from the activity taking place downstairs of our house, only occupying the gym area when the girls were not around. My sons, however, had willingly leant a hand when called upon by Alida, without asking any questions.
Jewel, who usually spent part of her Christmas vacation at home with her family, had remained in town at the request of Sonia, who had emerged from her trying experiences in an emotionally fragile state; and, so, had not been able to join us at our annual open house. However, whilst we were serving out the food, Alida had proposed that we prepare and send her a large plate enough for two, including dessert, and volunteered to take it over to her at the hospital. Victor and Lloyd had offered to accompany her, and Jerome had said he could drop them off in his vehicle as he would be calling there before going later to some function to which he had been invited by Sister Havers.
A piece of good fortune had come Sonia’s way when, at Jewel’s instigation, she had approached her grandfather’s wife to baby-sit for her at the going rate at that time; and she had agreed to do it for free, as both her children (Sonia’s aunt and uncle) had migrated to the United States with their children, and she had welcomed the idea of having a young one in the house once again.
As we had eventually learnt when it was all over, Sonia had finally had the courage of contacting Dr. Francis and arranging a meeting with him, at which time she had acquainted him with the position of her department head regarding her continued services there, and his expectation of her making suitable provision for their child’s future along with her co-parent.
So it was that Dr. Francis had met with Jerome who, it was reported, had put to him certain points for his consideration, chief among which had been the current talk about the enceinte condition of a member of his staff, which had reflected poorly on the institution at a time when there was political agitation concerning the capability of natives to do their part in the efficient administration of key institutions in the government service; and the Medical Department attracting excessive attention in this regard, much being due to the matter associated in the minds of many with an action ascribed to him. Jerome, the most senior local official in the department, was concerned as to how the situation might be corrected.
As mentioned before, this meeting had actually been held in a public place – the doctors’ lounge at the hospital, at which time Jerome had been courteous but businesslike, allowing the young doctor little room for manoeuvre, and assuming a shared concern for the welfare and reputation of the department.
It was believed that as a result of this meeting, Dr. Francis had been influenced into committing himself to arranging generous and regular donations to the Nurses’ Association, earmarked for its indigent members and their children; and this had been followed shortly after by the tendering of his resignation.
Most people having interest in the case had voiced the opinion that Dr. Francis had gone as far as he could without making an open admission of his involvement; and there had even been those who had praised his unexpected action, so unused had they been to people in his social position even looking back on the consequences of their self-indulgence.
And although Jerome had had no other discussion about the case with me beyond that brief talk we had had at my parents’ home, I credited him with achieving the best solution possible in the circumstances.
With the migration of many of our young educated people to the United States seeking opportunity for advancement, there were many older retirees willing to rearrange their households to make rental space available as a source of supplementing their income; and luck, aided, I strongly suspect, by Jerome’s brother Justin, who had succeeded Mr. Reg in the day-to-day running of their real estate office, had made available to Sonia and Jewel at the beginning of the new year a small apartment downstairs of a retired schoolteacher and her teenaged grandson.
Sonia, whose maternity leave had started then, had spent the first week in January preparing for the move, so that when Emerson Duncan had arrived on January 8th, mother and son had gone straight from hospital into new quarters, later joined there at the end of the month by Jewel.
Although Jewel arrived at the hospital every day when she was not on night duty, and spent many hours there, I missed not seeing her as much as before, preoccupied as she became with assisting in the care of Sonia’s baby.
After his birth, Sonia, now on three months maternity leave, had made a special trip to the hospital to ask Jerome to be her son’s godfather and to request permission to name her son after him.
In our culture boy babies acquired two godfathers and one godmother, and girl babies two godmothers and one godfather. Jewel, who was the baby’s godmother, had related to me how his naming had come about. Jerome had made no objection to Sonia’s request, but, at the same time, had suggested an idea which she had decided to accept. He had told her of Matron’s belief in naming children after relatives of a former generation or of someone absent from their everyday lives, the idea being that they would be allowed a better chance of creating their own individuality apart from immediate mentors. She had therefore given him her grandfather’s Christian name, Emerson, using “Jerome” as his middle name.
Another custom in our culture is that the godparents provide the christening outfit; so it was that Jerome had handed Jewel a fifty-dollar bill with the request (as was also customary) that she take care of this on their behalf; and the talented “Mouthamacy” had been asked to design and sew a miniature shirt and pants for Master Emerson Jerome Duncan, which he had worn with white socks, laced-up soft-soled shoes and a peaked cap with light blue trimming. As an aside, when the gifted young seamstress had not been able to resist the opportunity to enquire as to the baby’s surname, the reply had been as frank as it had been prompt – that children legally carried their mother’s surname.
Jerome had forgone the change offered by Jewel as her contribution to the ensemble, which she had passed on to Sonia; and had brought along the gift of a stroller/car-seat/carrier/cradle when he had arrived to take the mother and godmother along with the baby to the church.
Our whole family had been invited to the small event, (Nigel being the other godfather), and stayed after the normal Sunday service, where we had been joined by the rest of the christening party.
One unexpected and interesting feature of the celebration had been the presence of a well-dressed, attractive and subdued Dolores, who had ridden in the front seat alongside Jerome, the baby riding in the back in his cradle/car-seat between his mother and godmother.
The service had gone without a hitch, the recently breast-fed baby sleeping throughout in his godmother’s arms, only stirring slightly when the Holy Water had been poured over his head. My irrepressible daughter had not been able to resist commenting, quietly but audaciously in my ears, on the attractive picture created by one of the godfathers standing next to the godmother with the sleeping child in her arms, that she didn’t know what they were waiting for!
After the service we had all gone to their new home, where delicious light refreshments, sponsored and prepared by Miss Dolores, had been served. We had learnt later on that she had visited Sonia and her grandson at the hospital; and had provided and paid for the taxi that had taken them home, calling on them there and spending the first three nights getting them settled.
I had marvelled at the way some people’s conscience can emerge when pressure is removed. Dolores had not been afraid to offend her common-law husband by standing by her daughter now that her practical support was no longer a necessity, help having come from so many other quarters!
But perhaps I am being ungenerous and should take into consideration her own insecurities, having had to fend for herself from an even younger age than Sonia, without the relief of a father providing regular maintenance. Her own mother, having refused to turn her over to her father, had kept her with her from alliance to alliance, even returning with her to her native Nicaragua for a time, finally putting her on her own at age eighteen and departing for the hereafter a few years later.
With her good looks there had been no scarcity of admirers and, at nineteen, she had enticed Christopher Duncan, the soft-hearted twenty-year-old radio technician, into setting up house along with her. Inexperienced, he had not been able to resist her managing ways, which had worsened with the arrival of a daughter to provide for and a demanding mate who had wanted all the material comforts that had been missing from her former life. To satisfy her he had borrowed money wherever he could, including from his parents, to keep up with her wants, until his mother had called a halt to his excesses by advising him to leave his mate and come home with his daughter.
Like her mother before her, Dolores had refused to let go of her baby and, as mentioned before, had taken him to court for increased maintenance when the amount had been insufficient to allow her to continue as before.
Having been unsuccessful in having her income enlarged by this means, she had taken a job as a shop assistant in a store. Still unable to keep up rent payment, however, after a while she had moved in with her common-law husband, bringing with her all the household furnishings she had accumulated.
Life for Dolores with Byron Wilson had been very different from that with Sonia’s father, who was only a year older than she and had been somewhat in awe of her. This man was thirty-five years old and had had two children with another woman before meeting her. She had learnt, very early in the relationship, not to make demands on him, as he had been very self-sufficient and had told her from the start of their relationship that she could leave any time things did not suit her. With an invitation like that hanging over her head, she had made certain not to pester him for anything he could not easily afford and, with maintenance for her child from its father, had paid for her own extras by serving in the bar whenever he needed help. She had witnessed him making sacrifices for his own children, but had not dared to ask for anything for hers. In a way he seemed just the kind of man she deserved, as she might well have destroyed anyone as yielding as Sonia’s father had been.
She was the only person I noticed Jewel, normally pleasant and kind to everyone, keep at arms’ length, although there was no animosity between them. Dolores had enquired of Sonia what arrangements would be made for baby-sitting on her return to work, but had concealed any disappointment she may have felt on hearing that her father’s wife, Miss Ionie, would be providing that service for free.
There had been some irony in the thought that she had been relieved of all responsibility to her only blood relatives, and was now actively seeking a place in their lives.
(Chapter 31 in Tuesday’s issue of Amandala.)