Miss Olive and Ruth, her niece, having agreed to look after Mama and Daddy during our absence, supervised by Linda next door, Nigel and I had accepted an unusual invitation to spend the Easter holidays with one of his few cousins on his mother’s side, who lived on a farm in the Western District, far from anywhere near to the sea (our usual haunt) or other relatives; and had returned to work on Easter Tuesday just in time to greet Jerome before he vanished into the operating theatre, not seeing him again until Wednesday night when he ate dinner at our house.
In the meantime, I had received an interesting call from Jewel when I got home from work on Tuesday evening, which she had asked that I keep to myself until all the details of her plan had been worked out. What she had in mind was to bring the children with her to spend the weekends with Jerome, starting on April 19th, and continuing until his department had been organized to his satisfaction, allowing him to start coming home again on weekends.
After his marriage, Jerome had moved back to his apartment in the large family home and Sister Havers had purchased from the government the house they had shared. His unit in the large wooden house was self-contained but shared the front stairs and long veranda with his parent’s apartment, both front doors opening on to it.
What Jewel was asking me to do on her behalf was mention her plan to Matron and Mr. Reg, and enlist their help and cooperation in allowing for the apartment to be arranged and prepared for their arrival while Jerome was at work. She begged me to use my ingenuity to provide a feasible explanation for the action as she wanted to surprise him.
I had been able to hit on the right reason for having access to Jerome’s apartment to make the preparations by the ruse that we needed Lloyd’s room to entertain the cousins for a return visit and to discuss some business, and would appreciate if he could stay with him during that time.
I think some background about Nigel’s family would be in order. He was born and lived in the most northerly of the country’s districts, and only moved here with his mother after his father’s passing, leaving behind all his relatives on his father’s side. His mother’s parents had both died young, leaving the family home to herself and older sister, who had married and gone to live in the United States.
We had lost touch with this cousin, a teacher, after my mother-in-law’s death, and she had been transferred to the Western District. Now retired, she had married a farmer from one of her early teaching posts and had had two children: a boy, now graduated from the Belize Technical College and working in the Meteorological Service, and a girl, who was attending Nursing School.
Nigel’s aunt on his mother’s side had kept in touch and had given him power-of-attorney over the property, the ownership of which, as his mother’s heir, he now shared with her.
The cousin we had visited over the Easter was interested in buying this property for her son, who was renting now but planned on getting married soon and settling down.
When I had made the request of Jerome, not only had he agreed willingly, but had immediately turned over his extra key and offered the services of his cleaner who came in twice per week. The apartment had one large master bedroom with bathroom on the first level, (apart from living, dining and kitchen areas); and two other spacious bedrooms and another bathroom in the attic. Matron and Mr. Reg had both been enthusiastic over the idea of having their grandchildren so near during the weekends and had given their full cooperation and support to the plan.
By Friday of Easter Week, I had been able to give Jewel a progress report and hear from her how things were proceeding at home. She had succeeded in gaining Miss Jessie’s agreement to spending the weekends as companion to Miss Millicent while they were away, she being fearful of flying and not up to travelling by bus for the long five-hour journey by the coastal road.
I should mention that Miss Jessie’s regular hours had been cut to 8.00 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. on weekdays only, although her pay had remained the same, Jewel having decided that she could take care of the housekeeping the rest of the time, her own mother having cared for them all by herself, in smaller living space and without all the labour-saving conveniences she enjoyed!
Thus, by Friday evening the 18th, everything had been ready for the arrival of Jewel and the children without Jerome having a clue about what was going on!
He was invited to lunch with us on Saturday, while I was to collect the family at the airstrip at noon and bring them to my house, where they would all meet for the meal, after which I would take them over to the apartment and get them settled.
Everything had been going according to plan when, just about fifteen minutes before twelve o’clock, Jerome had dropped by my work station and casually enquired who would be going to the airstrip? Not catching on right away, I had answered that I was taking the car and collecting them, and Nigel would walk home, because our small British vehicle could only carry four persons besides the driver. Not until I had heard him say: “If you like I could save you the trip and bring them with me,” had I realized that somehow he had found out the plan!
He had received a call late that morning from the airline company, apologizing for not having deducted his usual discount when his wife had purchased the tickets earlier, so they would be crediting the amount to his account, which would show up on his monthly statement! And, just like that, the cat had been let out of the bag!
Jewel said later that, when they landed a young man had come up and said he would be looking after their luggage and put it in the gentleman’s car. She had been holding on to Adrian’s hand while she had looked around to see which gentleman he was referring to, as she had been expecting me; but Adrian had suddenly bolted from her and run off shouting: “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” Arreini and Edgar soon following him and taking up the chorus; and what had been planned as a surprise for Jerome only had ended up being one for herself as well!!
Luncheon had involved introductions all round; and Mama, especially, had been overjoyed at meeting Jerome’s children for the first time!
I should mention that Linda’s residency in the capital had now become permanent when she had reconciled with Ernesto, Sr., who had rejoined the senior staff of the commercial bank with which he had been working when they had first met, amidst comments from his family, his brothers in particular, that he had let himself be ruled by his wife. They were paying rent for my parents’ home, which was going towards the housing loan we had taken out, and had even made an addition to the building which originally had had only two bedrooms.
When we had finished eating Jerome had returned to the hospital, while we had taken the family to settle in at the apartment, using our vehicle and Lloyd’s. We had pulled out from storage downstairs the crib which Sonia had returned after Emerson had outgrown it, dismantling it to fit in Lloyd’s trunk with a few other items.
Lloyd and Nigel travelled together, bringing some basic tools, and we had all worked in arranging the apartment while the children had spent time with Matron and Mr. Reg; and when we left at about five-thirty, Jewel had already started preparing dinner.
When we met at church the next morning Jewel said that Jerome had come home after seven o’clock from the hospital; and that by the time they had eaten and put the children to bed it had been nearly nine o’clock. She had said that as long as she lived she could never forget the expression of pure joy on his face and those of the children when they had first seen each other that afternoon; and that when they were getting ready for bed that night he had thanked her for what she had done for them and himself. She had added softly: “For me, too,” at which he had teased that he had been wondering about that!
Reaching out across the short distance between them, he had pulled her into his arms, confessing that he had been going out of his mind without her and the children for ten whole days and had not known how much longer he could take it when she had turned things around by giving him such a wonderful surprise.
When they had woken up the next morning, he had been cheered at the sight of the children coming in search of him at daybreak and had hugged and romped with them as they made breakfast and got ready for church.
(Chapter 50 in Friday’s issue of the Amandala)