From British Honduras to Belize: one family’s drama – a novel written by the late Chrystel Lynwood Hyde Straughan
There is the local saying that sickness comes on horseback, but leaves on mule-and-cart, with regards to the rate of travel; and with our two other children away from home at their studies, Nigel and I, tending to pay more attention to the one at home, were becoming discouraged at being unable to detect noticeable improvement in Victor’s condition nearly a year after chemotherapy.
As a health care professional myself, I knew it was improper and unfair to burden either Jerome or Jewel for an opinion about Victor’s progress; but a feeling of hopelessness was beginning to overtake us, which we could not hide from each other but tried to keep from him.
One day when only the three of us were together in his bedroom, Victor, who had brought his books home and spent hours at his studies daily, had remarked that time was passing him by and that he was anxious about getting back to college and resuming his studies.
Hearing him say this had somehow sent a ray of hope to our hearts, reminding us of his stubborn nature and what it had been like when he had been faced with difficulties as a small child and we would encourage him by reminding him that he was “Victor” by name and by nature. Cheered, somehow, I had released the tension that had been building by laughing out loud and applauding him; and he had continued that he would not allow this sickness to get the better of him but would fight harder to conquer it and get to work.
I thought back to the time, before he had gone away, when he had been passing through a phase where he was reluctant to accompany us to church, remarking that he was like Matron and wanted to worship with other denominations. Instead of insisting, Nigel, whom everyone had expected to become a priest but who had changed his mind, had sympathized with his inclination to explore and question what was going on around him, just as his mother, Grandma Madeline, had done in his case; but, while acknowledging that youth was the time for that, he had also advised him to do in depth and serious searching and not be too hasty in coming to conclusions.
Having been exposed to Matron’s thinking about the difference between the institution of the church and the Holy Scriptures – which one could read for one’s self – Victor was inclined towards sampling the different denominations’ teachings based on these Scriptures. Matron held that all the churches, while worshipping one God, behaved differently to those of other denominations, in seeming contradiction to Jesus’ injunction to love their neighbour, which had begged the question whether they considered it justifiable to limit love only to those neighbours of their own denomination. Her personal answer had been to worship wherever she happened to be at any given time, and to follow the urgings of her conscience in interacting with all her neighbours.
Nigel, while still having many questions himself, continues to worship in the denomination in which he was raised, ignoring the practice of competition between them and interpreting the Scriptures’ injunction to apply to all fellow human beings. Thus, he had encouraged Victor to attend services with us whilst searching at the same time, reminding him that Matron had continued worship at the Anglican Church, only not exclusively; and that, in addition, there were also other faiths besides Christianity.
Since coming home, Victor had not accompanied us to church, although he was not actually bedridden, nor had we spoken on the subject of his beliefs, even though we were tempted, as on this occasion, to enquire whether they played any part in his attitude towards his illness.
I know that Mama, who was driven to service at the Cathedral every Sunday evening by Uncle Lito, on rare occasions accompanied by Daddy, had invited Victor to go along whenever he felt like it, and he had promised that he would let her know. So far, he had not gone but I had overheard parts of their conversations on the subject of religion, which had indicated that his commitment to spiritual matters was still very much alive.
Nigel and I had been pleased, therefore, when on his own he had begun to speak about religion, saying that without his faith he could not have arrived at the conviction that God had a purpose for him, as for all His children, which had given him the confidence to hope for survival to serve Him, if it was His will.
These words, uttered calmly and conversationally by Victor, had freed Nigel and me from all anxiety, confident that he was on a safe path.
I am happy to say, for all our sakes, but Mama’s especially, that Linda being next door, far from being the problem I had feared, had served to bring our family closer together. She had been especially kind to Victor, and following her example my nephew and niece had begun to take a great interest in him, asking all sorts of questions about the effect of his illness and willingly fetching and carrying for him. All three spent the greater part of their day over at our house while Nigel and I were at work, being company for Mama and Daddy, who had been given the opportunity to get to know the grandchildren who had been born and spent their lives so far away from them in a different town.
Linda’s husband, who was from a well-to do family, provided generous maintenance for the children; and she spent her time caring for them and supervising the housekeeping, relieving Miss Olive of all the shopping for the two households, allowing her and her niece time to cook and do the laundry and cleaning.
Daddy, Victor and my nephew Ernesto went for long walks together, often to the dockyard, where they hung out with many of Daddy’s old shipmates, learning much of their sea lore.
After Daddy had retired from “ship”, he had taken and passed the Pilot’s examination and had joined the fleet which operated from the Customs Department, whose members by assignment took turns guiding the large ships through safe channels into the harbour, a well-paying job, until his second retirement at over seventy.
I would say offhand that Daddy was closest to the youngest and eldest of his children, with Linda having an edge over Rodney, Jr., because he had spent the most time with her since piloting took only a few days out of his week, leaving much time to spend at home.
Granny “P,” Mama’s mother, who had passed on, and had been regarded by many as a too outspoken and even cantankerous old lady, had openly accused Daddy of spoiling Linda; but, if she were still alive, she would have been pleased at seeing their loving relationship, which extended to everyone around them. My sister was what some people called a “man’s woman,” meaning, I think, that she got on well with the opposite sex of all ages, bringing out the chivalry in them and inspiring them to want to look after her.
Now that I think about it, that quality had probably been her attraction to Ernesto Acosta, who in the early years of their marriage had been satisfied with the role of protector and provider to his good-looking and stylish wife.
After a while, however, he had become critical of her ways when she would not accept the somewhat communal style of his family life, where his mother had been a sort of overseer of the large group of her husband and three sons and their wives, making critical decisions about their spending, and even their wardrobes and interests. Linda, who had been used to receiving from Daddy what funds she needed for clothes and decoration of her quarters to her taste, had baulked at the idea of having someone else making decisions for her or being critical of those she made herself.
She had urged Ernesto, Sr., to agree to move away from such influence, and here is where their problems had begun. He was part of a cane-farming family in which the various members had played contributory roles in promoting the enterprise, militating against too much indulgence in individual actions.
The other wives were Mestizos, as were Ernesto and the rest of his family, and believed that Linda, a Creole, instead of becoming a part of them, was rejecting their life style and trying to lure her husband away from them.
Their relationship had reached a stage where both were unhappy and Ernesto, unable at that time to make the changes proposed by his wife, had agreed to a separation, without animosity, leaving the door open for possible reconciliation in the future.
The children had taken to Nurse Jewel, and hung around when she called to perform her duties, as had Linda, whose disposition had definitely improved, becoming more patient and less self-centred, probably the result of having children to care for and love, for she was a good mother.
Nigel often reminded me of my earlier doubts, teasing me of fearing that she would outshine me and adding that I should know that could never happen. He and I had grown more dependent on each other, becoming even closer through our shared concern over Victor.
One source of particular relief to me had been the reappearance of a tender quality in the relationship between Linda and Jerome, as had existed before that terrible incident so long ago. He actually seemed to have mellowed overall, becoming kinder and more tolerant and approachable by others, including the hospital staff in general.
Jerome had resumed a polite if reserved acquaintance with Elena’s parents a few years after his return home, which had included her younger brother and sister. Living in a small town, they had met socially every now and again, on which occasions they had interacted cordially and he had eventually been introduced to her children when they happened to be in their company.
His new attitude eventually extending as far as Elena, had led to a closer acquaintance with her three children, the eldest a girl named Carmen who, at seventeen, was attending Sixth Form since the beginning of the new academic year in late August, and her two younger brothers.
After the September patriotic celebrations which had taken place after the beginning of the academic year, the school had held a “Career Week,” when students had invited prominent persons to address them on the topic of their careers; and I had been pleasantly surprised, as had Mama, when Carmen had succeeded in gaining Jerome’s agreement to be part of this exercise as her guest.
The event had been scheduled for the last Monday in September at eight p.m.; and being free from performing surgery on that day, and knowing that the family did not have private transportation to the school and that the buses did not run at nights, Jerome had offered Carmen a lift to the function. The invitation had naturally included the whole family, but Elena’s husband, Jason Cadle, had had a prior engagement for a meeting of the Credit Union Loan Committee, of which he was a member, and could not attend.
Jerome had called us after six to say not to expect him until after the session was over as he was running late; and Victor, seizing the opportunity to have Jewel with us longer, had persuaded her to stay past seven o’clock.
After learning from Carmen while on their way that the “Question and Answer” part of the programme sometimes lasted past nine o’clock, however, Jerome had changed his plans and decided to drop in on Victor before going on. Thus, they had all arrived before Jewel had left, creating an awkward few minutes!
Nigel, my very dear spouse, had escorted us all out of the room, leaving Jerome with Victor; and, settling us in the living-room, had made pleasant conversation, introducing Jewel as our very valued friend and Victor’s part-time nurse. Elena had said at the time that she had heard of her from people who had attended the clinic and who had only good things to say about her. By now Jewel had become well-known to the general public, who nearly always complimented her on her good looks also, although, as she once mentioned, her Mam had already immunised her from pride over this with the warning that we were not responsible for our looks, only for our behaviour.
I had looked on as my poor, shy protégé suffered under the close attention she was getting, until I had excused myself from the group as soon as Mama and Daddy had joined us, inviting her to check with me on something in the kitchen.
When Jerome had been through with him, Victor had joined us there and I had left him with Jewel and gone to say goodbye, then had followed Mama and Daddy to their bedroom to say good-night; and by the time I had got back to the kitchen Jewel had escaped through the back door after accepting Victor’s apology, so I had not seen her again until the next morning, by which time she had long recovered her composure.
(Chapter 37 in Friday’s Amandala)