I had not had an opportunity to speak with Jewel face to face until the following year, at which time I had been given her full account of the wedding, although Jerome, through the magical facility of Polaroid, had placed a photograph of the event on the table of my work station on the Monday afterwards and many of the details had emerged in the course of telephone conversations.
Jewel had spent the Sunday afternoon after their “engagement” at Miss Millicent’s home, walking there in Jerome’s and her company after church.
Together they had showed her over the large house, and Miss Millicent had spoken kindly of looking forward to her coming there to live with them. A single photograph album had been produced from a table in the living room, which had contained mostly formal photographs of Jerome’s grandparents and parents, and some of him on significant occasions like christening, birthdays and school events such as soccer football matches, in most of which he had worn his typical serious expression, except for one along with Lionel and Robbie in their gear, in which they were squatting and looking up at “Miss Eileen” with wide and happy smiles, from which she had guessed that they had won their game.
As Miss Jessie did not work on Sundays, Miss Millicent had set the end of the long table in the dining-room while she and Jerome had conversed in what his aunt called the “parlour”; and they had sat down to eat at about 1.00 p.m. She had been surprised when Jerome had pulled out chairs seating Miss Millicent to his right and she to his left, himself sitting at the head of the table, an obviously established arrangement.
Used to the idea that the most senior person should be accorded this place of privilege, Jewel had eventually suggested a change in the seating arrangement in their household, Jerome had mentioned to Mama. Early in their married life she had asked him whether, as the owner of the house and them her guests, Miss Millicent was not entitled to that seat; and he had been happy to agree with her, as he had with most of her ideas.
When dinner had been over Miss Millicent had proposed a nap for all three, apparently a household custom on a Sunday afternoon, when she had washed the dishes by hand and turned them down to dry in the dishwasher after having refused Jewel and Jerome’s offer of help.
She had escorted Jewel upstairs into her bedroom and offered her a cotton duster to use over her underclothes after removing her dress in order to relax and be more comfortable; and had then showed her into what would be their bedroom after the wedding, suggesting that she nap on the couch there, providing her with a light coverlet.
Jewel admitted being impressed by the large and beautifully decorated area of their quarters, which she had said could easily hold her family’s house with space left over. It held a large bed with night-tables on either side, a double dresser, two six-drawer chest-of-drawers, a chest with a padded cover at the foot of the bed, extra chairs placed strategically on either side; a dressing room with walk-in closet opening into a bathroom, such as the kind featured in fancy magazines, with mirrors, closets and dressers, potted plants, stylish light fixtures, etc.; and a sitting area with a couch, two chairs and a coffee table, the whole room painted in different shades from pale cream to deep gold.
Jewel had been told by Jerome’s aunt that the whole house had been professionally redecorated by one of his friends from his days at university in the United States; and Jewel, who had frankly admitted to no knowledge of house design, had been impressed by the smooth blending of the modern with the traditional “figured” mahogany furniture crafted by the well-known local patriot and poet, James Sullivan Martinez.
After removing her dress and putting on the duster loaned to her by Miss Millicent, Jewel had slipped off her shoes and lain on the couch, but sleep would not come. So imposing had been her surroundings that she had spent the whole time looking around and daydreaming. She had been overwhelmed by the grandeur of the house’s interior, for she had never seen the inside before, although she was familiar with the kitchen area and the veranda stretching around two sides of the downstairs section of the structure. From as far back as she could remember, she and her family had often waited on the front veranda on the way to church for Miss Millicent to join them.
She had been startled when, at exactly four on the white and gold wall clock, there had been a knock on the door and Miss Millicent’s voice had called out that tea would be ready in half-an-hour; and when she had gone downstairs Jerome had already showered and changed into casual clothes and was drinking tea from a large cup of a different pattern from those set for her and Miss Millicent. Apart from the tea-things there had been trays with dainty sweet biscuits and sandwiches on the table, none of which Jerome had partaken, confining himself to two cups of the strong, hot, fragrant liquid with neither sugar nor milk added.
The tea ritual had lasted only a few minutes, after which they had set out on a walk along the seashore of the town, most of the time talking about themselves, wanting to know all about each other’s likes and dislikes; and Jewel had been taken unaware but pleased to discover that he, who always exuded such an air of self-sufficiency, had admitted that what he most longed for was to have a family, confiding that he was tired of being on the edge of a happy family life (such as Miss Eileen’s), being an only child of parents, especially a mother, who had always had other priorities.
During their marathon conversation of the day before, she had confessed to him that she had accepted the idea of a life of community service, like Nurse Pauline’s, when she had felt he was no longer interested in her, making the observation that people could neither stop themselves from loving nor make themselves love.
She had quoted her parents’ advice to her siblings and herself against marrying for any other reason than mutual love, urging patience until the right person and circumstances coincided. They, who were still deeply in love after twenty-odd years together, had spoken from personal experience, they had said; and Mam had admitted to having made a mistake in her first marriage by going into that relationship for the wrong reason and living to regret it.
On the other hand, Pap had fallen in love with Mam on sight when she had arrived in the town as the bride of another man; and had waited until she was free to marry him, although in his ethnic culture it was customary for males to marry from as young as fourteen!
Jewel confided that Jerome had said nothing more then, but had later enquired whether a young woman as lovely as she had never received a proposal prior to his. Before she could answer, he had continued that he had wondered about this after her remark about being unable to make oneself love whether she had attempted to do this. She had replied that while not having received a proposal, she had been asked during a discussion on the subject of local dating habits if she would consider marriage under such circumstances, to which she had answered in the negative. When pressed on that occasion for her reasons for refraining from dating, she had replied that she was willing to wait to meet her future intended in the course of daily living when she could find out all that she needed to know about him and, also , what her feelings were, without their ever going out together. Jerome had asked outright whether the discussion had been with the Sociology lecturer, and had smiled knowingly when she admitted that it had.
He had then asked if she had any outstanding questions about him which he had not covered; or if there was anything about her that she felt he should know? The answer to both questions being in the negative, he had changed the topic of their discourse to work, during which she had given an account of her activities in the field. He had asked the reason for her late arrival home on that Saturday and her answer had been that she did not stick to the timetable as in town, because the circumstances were so different. She had always tried to ensure that sufficient time was spent at each location since, unlike town dwellers who could go to the health centres when in need of attention, people in the rural areas had no such access. She particularly enjoyed the interaction with the villagers who, irrespective of ethnic origin, were usually humble, uncomplaining and grateful for whatever services were provided, stoically bearing the extreme hardships of their lives, making her wish always that she could do more.
He had revealed to her how he had come to his vocation, and the part I had played in advising him how to go about making the decision which had brought such fulfilment to his life. He had mentioned briefly his romantic attachment at sixteen and its eventual dissolution, which had hurt his pride, mainly; adding that the timing had also been shocking as he had just completed a section of his studies, and had been looking forward to spending a relaxed time with the young lady before transferring to the U.K. for his specialty when the news had come. He had learnt then that she had already been married to someone else, whose child she had borne. It was while he had been spending time with his aunt before going on to the U.K. that he had made her (Jewel’s) acquaintance; and that he had always felt drawn to her although she was only a child at the time. He had watched her develop into the lovely woman she had become; and along the way had often been tempted to approach her once she had grown up, most notably after the Easter caye vacation when she was nineteen, but had restrained himself until she reached twenty-one. And, he had chuckled, she had frustrated his early intentions by bypassing his offer to take her home after her first Christmas staff dance by heeding the advice of the mischievous “Gatch,” another name for the irrepressible Gertrude Atkins!
After about forty-five minutes they had circled back to his aunt’s house, where she had picked up her handbag, and soon had been on the road to her home, her hands tightly held in his as they had conversed about looking forward to the next Saturday, Jerome complaining of missing her presence every day at the hospital.
When they reached her house he had come in for a few minutes to say hello to her parents and brothers before turning back, this time with loaves of Creole bread and bun to share with his aunt; and as she had walked him to the gateway he had told her he was leaving her with an assignment: he wanted her to practice calling him by his first name, as he had noticed that not even once had she done so during all their time together that weekend! Then, as it was still light, he had blocked the view from the house with his shoulder as he had taken her hands in his and covered them with kisses, said “See you soon,” and walked swiftly past her into the road.
Jerome had said nothing to us of his plans for the coming Saturday during that week when he had had dinner at our house twice, except that he hoped to visit his aunt again that weekend; and when I had asked him to deliver to Jewel a gift of the earrings I had loaned to her for the Valentine dance, as they had gone so well with her blue dress, which she had taken home with her, I remember having detected a questioning expression in his eyes as he had accepted it.
I had also overlooked the happiness on both his and Mama’s face when I had found them in close consultation on Friday evening, when I had overheard his answer to a question of hers that “they” had both been told, later learning that the reference had been to Matron and Mr. Reg, the former of whom had had a concern regarding the difference in their ages. It had been Mama who had reassured Matron that “she” was young in years but matched “his” maturity of outlook.
Lucille related how after Jerome had left, she and Abel had had a talk with Jewel about the new life on which she would be embarking, assuring her that she took the love of her parents and siblings along with her wherever she went; that she could always count on them to stand behind her no matter what, and wished she and Jerome a happy, God-fearing and productive life together.
She had pulled a shoebox from under her bed and brought out the plastic bag containing the engagement and wedding rings from her first marriage, the former of which Mr. Enright, Sr. had asked her to pass on to Jewel, his granddaughter, as it had belonged to his grandmother.
She had given both rings to Jewel, and she had requested her Pap to ask his friend who visited the town across the border every week, if he could have the engraving on the wedding ring changed from: “N.E. to L.H.” to “J.C. to J.S.J.” in time for Saturday so she could give it to Jerome on their wedding night, and had put away the engagement ring in her small jewellery bag.
In the week leading up to the nuptials, three different members of staff had commented to me on the improvement in Jerome’s humour and demeanour while at the hospital, suggesting that something out of the ordinary must have happened to bring this about.
“I wonder if he received a big donation to the Cancer Unit Fund that has him so mellow,” had been Matron Ebanks’ speculation. Sonia’s had been the second comment, to the effect that Dr. St. John had been caught drumming lightly on the table in the small room off the operating theatre that Tuesday as he had absentmindedly hummed while waiting for his next patient for surgery. Gertrude Atkins’ contribution on the Wednesday morning was that Dr. St. John should sleep on the same side of his bed as on the night before, as he had treated her tardiness in responding to his request for a chart as she had accompanied him on his rounds in the post-surgical section of the ward with the mild advice to “Speed up, Nurse Atkins! Time and tide wait for no man,” actually calling her by name, something unusual in his strict professional style!