Chapter 31 continued
Nothing more had been heard of Mr. Hendricks for a while until Christmas, when Jerome had asked Alida, who had been treated to a brief holiday home as a gift from her loving father, to assist him in shopping for a suitable present for a patient’s grand-daughter,(presumed to be Jewel), on his behalf.
Alida had taken great pleasure in performing this errand and had been tickled by Jerome’s answer, when asked if he had any suggestions, that she would probably appreciate a wrist-watch, since she had not been wearing one for some time now. She had made a big thing of attracting my notice to the fact that he was paying her such close attention, contrary to the opinion expressed by me that he was only being his usual courteous self!
That Christmas had been historic for more than one reason, the first of which was that Jewel, now being twenty-one, was allowed to attend the annual staff dance, held this year on the last Friday night preceding Christmas Day. As Sonia was preoccupied with tending her baby, she had suggested that Jewel should go with three of her other colleagues (four to a table in the posh clubhouse of one of the more mature members of staff). Two other girls had organized the group, so that Jewel had ended up with, of all people, Gertrude Atkins making up the fourth.
Wearing a deep orange-coloured dress with silver trimming, a striking contrast to her smoky complexion, she was indeed a lovely sight, and the clerical and other male staff of the hospital had been drawn to her like a magnet.
Others, too, had been visibly impressed by her appearance as, for instance, Jerome, whom I had observed through the corner of my eye when he appeared escorting Sister Havers a little after ten o’clock. They had actually worked late in the theatre responding to a serious road accident earlier in the evening; and he had worn a sombre expression which had brightened at the sight of my protégé, observing that she must be very pleased to be finally grown up.
I watched with pleasure as one by one the male staff of the hospital took Jewel out to dance, until the band started to play a Punta Rock, a commercialized version of the Punta. This she had sat out with the young man who had requested a dance and who had pulled up a chair. They had sat conversing while the others at the table had gone to the floor, the girls rejoining them later when the piece was over. After a while the music had changed to a popular type called a bolero, and when they stood up and danced it together I had been reminded of the incident of Jerome speaking some words in Jewel’s ear when they had finished dancing the Punta at Caye and had felt strongly that there was a connection.
There was a short intermission, and as the band started the introduction to the next piece I saw Jerome, having satisfied custom by already taking out Sister Havers and myself, walk over to Jewel’s table and request the next dance.
You may wonder at how closely I had observed the interaction between my protégé and Jerome, but this was because of an anxiety which had developed in me towards such an association ever since Alida had spoken about it. I had become convinced that Jewel was indeed attracted to him and, also, that he had an interest in her. What had worried me was whether functioning in such a relationship would cause the loss of her graceful but independent style, which I greatly admired. I remembered the possessiveness of Jerome’s youthful days, and the many girls he had cut off on what some regarded as flimsy grounds. Elena Kisling, who had passed his stringent tests, had failed him in the end, which had seemed to result in greater skepticism on his part regarding the opposite sex. Since then he had busied himself first with his studies and, later, his work, showing little inclination towards venturing into any serious attachments.
After midnight Jerome had danced one after the other with the senior sisters until, a little after one o’clock, he started taking them home in groups, at one point stopping by to say a few words to Jewel on his way out.
It was not until the following day at work that I learnt the details of what had taken place after that. He had offered to take Jewel home after returning from the next trip, in about twenty-five minutes he had told her. It was his usual practice to offer lifts to those youngsters who could not afford taxis. Gertrude Atkins, who had noticed Jewel collecting her purse and jacket in preparation for his return, had told her that she was getting ready in vain as he would take much longer than twenty-five minutes to drop off the Gestapo (with most of whom she was on strained terms) all over the globe. Jewel, who was already sleepy, had become alarmed at the thought of being out later and had decided to walk home along with a group going in her direction.
On his return Jerome had approached their table but had been told by Gertrude that Jewel had already left, so he had come over and joined us. Nigel and I, who rarely went out during the year, usually treated ourselves to a late night out at the annual Christmas party and stayed until the end.
At one point during the night, Gertrude had come over to our table and boldly asked Jerome if he didn’t want to dance with the others at their table, only with Jewel? In response he had replied that he had refrained from asking as he knew how boy friends were and he was wary of trespassing. She had answered that the other two girls were not attached at the moment, and that her boy friend was at the bar “tanking up” (filling up with alcohol); and that she had come to dance, not to stumble on the floor with any “drunkaready” (drunk already)!
Thus, Jerome had spent the rest of the evening dancing with her and the two girls, ending up taking them home in his vehicle, with Sister Havers alongside him in the front seat.
On Saturday morning Jewel had come to my work station during a short break to ask my opinion whether she should apologise to Dr. St. John for leaving last night before he had returned, as one of the girls had told her that he had showed up on time.
I had advised that it wasn’t necessary to seek him out just for that purpose, but to do so when next they met casually. Gertrude, who had come up just after she left, confided that Jewel was upset with her for giving bad advice. I could not resist asking why she had done so, knowing that Dr. St. John usually kept his word, and had been surprised at her reply that it was to save Jewel from heartache!
She had gone on to declare that she knew for sure, although Jewel would deny it, that she “heart loved” Jerome, but that she was too inexperienced to “handle” a man like that! I had listened in astonishment as she expressed the opinion that men like him – who looked good, were in high position, making big salary, would be too much for a simple girl like Jewel!
When I had said that I thought she had been out of order, she had asked me not to play as if I didn’t know that a man who was attractive like him and had passed the age of forty without getting “hooked” was what people called “bad man”; and I had marvelled at the congratulatory tone of voice in which she had expressed this opinion of him.
I was uneasy at her obvious jealousy of Jewel, further aggravated I later learned by her Aunt Pauline’s having made her a gift of the attractive dress she had worn to the party. And there was more to come! That same day a transparent plastic bag containing a small parcel wrapped in gold Christmas paper had been delivered in full view of her colleagues to Jewel, just as she was going off duty; and before anyone could comment, she had slipped it into her uniform pocket and hurried home.
When she had visited on Sunday, bringing Emerson with her as Sonia was on duty, she had handed me a package which she had asked me to keep for her until after she heard from her Mam. Right away I had realized that it was the gift from her grandfather that had been delivered the past Saturday.
At work on Monday Gertrude had confided to me that Jewel had been seen taking receipt of a gift from one of her male patients which she had hidden before anyone could see, knowing the hospital’s policy against personal gifts to staff from patients.
I remember thinking at the time what a danger it was for Jewel to have the close acquaintance of someone like Gertrude; and wondered whether I should warn her to be on her guard, when an incident occurred which had taken my mind away from this latest threat to her well-being.
Gertrude had started a tour of duty on Tuesday night after a day off, and on Wednesday morning, Christmas Eve, news was all over the hospital that when she had reported for duty the night before her face had been swollen from blows she had received from her boyfriend who, on escorting her to work, had detoured by way of a short street called Lovers’ Lane and taken advantage of its seclusion to “slap her up” for dancing with the doctor at the Christmas party while he waited for her downstairs!
Jewel had been horrified by the news, and more so when it was said that Gertrude’s father’s only comment had been that she had looked for that! Jewel could hardly believe that Nurse Pauline’s brother could be so cruel to his own child and, instead of standing up for her had put her on her own! When next she and Gertrude had met in the Nurses’ Lounge, she had hugged and commiserated with her, who had responded surprisingly by baring her despondency at both her father and boyfriend’s ill-treatment.
In the past it had been common knowledge in our society that many men, and not only those at the grassroots, often beat their women; but, with the arrival of greater opportunity for education and advancement, the effect on a part of the male population seemed to be the appearance of a more macho and assertive spirit in even the younger men, at every level, manifested by the exercise of authoritarian behaviour over their female counterparts.
Karl Sanchez, half-Hispanic and from the Western district, had been attracted to the vivacious and self-confident Gertrude when they had met at the Agricultural Fair. She was an excellent dancer who had challenged him to become her partner then. He already had a girl-friend, but had escorted her home and returned to pursue the more exciting and sophisticated Gertrude. He had later moved to the capital to live, while visiting the other young lady on weekends.
In short order, the relationship between the couple had grown into an affair, with Gertrude then demanding that he give up the other young lady or she would leave him. The grapevine had it that the macho Mr. Sanchez had declared that women didn’t leave him: he was the one who left women when he was tired of them; and he had continued to show up on various social occasions where he met Gertrude and commanded her attention.
With this latest behaviour on his part, Gertrude was at a loss about what to do, since her father had washed his hands of her, and neither of her brothers wanted to stick their necks out for her because of her quarrelsome nature. As a last resort, she had had to subject herself to a self-imposed confinement to the hospital compound to be rid of him; and after some five months or so Mr. Sanchez had finally left her alone. But the aggravation to her already rebellious spirit had brought shame and resentment which, combined with the frustration of the separation from her cherished sewing-machine, which had had to be left at home, festered and went underground, to emerge later on in their lives. However, more of this later! For the present there was peace of a sort.
(Chapter 32 in Tuesday’s Amandala.)