“Well! You see what they say ‘bout how easy river run deep? I tell you all, long time, how tha’ chile heart love tha’ man! Now you find out for yourself! The girl smart, though; ‘e take off and had the man running behind, and nex’ ting you know, she is Mrs. Jerome St. John, as cool as could be! Ah proud a’ ahn!”
I’m sure it was not difficult to identify the speaker of those words as the famous Gertrude Atkins, who had earned extra mileage from the fact of having “dressed” the bride, one aunt having been one of the witnesses and the other the designer of her headdress, thus reaping all glory accruing from her family’s close association with the event of the moment!
The news remained the topic of conversation all over the hospital for the rest of the week, while the groom had conducted himself with cool concentration on work, to the disappointment of the junior staff and the satisfaction of the senior, who were relieved that he had not allowed himself to be distracted but had performed his duties with his usual dispassionate efficiency.
He had come to dinner with us on that Monday night and given us all the details of the event in answer to our many questions, apologizing for the secrecy involved due to the circumstances of uncertainty about an emergency occurring and affecting the carrying out of the plans. We could all see his happiness, in which we shared wholeheartedly, admiring how he carried himself, taking his change of status in stride.
We learnt from him that he had visited his parents during the lunch hour that day, leaving with them one of the Polaroid prints, with the promise of a set of the conventional photographs to follow, as with us; and reported that they were both particularly pleased at his Aunt Millicent’s prominence in the bridal party.
A little after dinner he had apologized for interrupting the conversation at table to call home, as Jewel’s bedtime is eight o’clock,’ and he had promised to call. He returned not too long after with love and best regards from her.
They had eventually developed a system where she called him on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights just before going to bed, and he called her on Tuesday and Thursday nights, his regularly scheduled days for surgery, if events had not been too hard on him during that time; and they flung themselves into each other’s arms when they met on Saturdays behind the closed doors of the study!
The weeks went by with word coming regularly from Jewel, who visited by telephone, with Jerome’s encouragement to utilize the service, being willing to indulge his beloved wife in whatever would make her happy. I could well imagine how he must have had to coax her into doing so, however, knowing her habit of disciplined spending developed under the constraints of her former financial situation.
She told me how each week he had brought her an item or two of clothing of all description, including nightgowns and dusters, blouses and skirts, church dresses and footwear, right after their marriage, so that she had had to ask him to ease up or he would have to stay home longer so she could wear them for his benefit, her clothes from Monday to Saturday being her uniform!
Apparently he had devised a method whereby he had commissioned the gifted Gertrude, through Sonia’s good offices, to design and sew all the new clothes, authorizing her to select materials and styles for his approval, thus affording her ample opportunity to express her creative talent freely.
As expected, the marriage went smoothly during those early days, “all things bright and beautiful” being the motto as they adjusted themselves to each other; then the ninth Saturday brought the first sign of a return to earth when, after a late Friday evening emergency surgery, Jerome, who had spent a good part of the night with his patient, came by my work station after eleven o’clock with a request to borrow my vehicle in order to get to the airstrip in time for the flight home. His car had been taken for a tune-up but had not yet been returned and, to save time, he was being driven by one of the hospital mechanics, who would return my vehicle to me afterwards.
Just then Sister Hendy had shown up and, sidling up to him, had made the congratulatory remark: “Man like you!” Covering up his ignorance of the subject matter, he had turned to me for a clue with the light boast: “To which of my many accomplishments is she referring now?”
Put on the spot I had clumsily changed the subject, covering up with an elaborate explanation of the vehicle’s latest irregularity; and he, catching on to my subterfuge, had taken the car keys from my hand and left us both with a sardonic: “Thank you, and a good-day to you, ladies!”
The truth is that Nurse Pauline, who rarely called me at work, had done so that morning, being unable to contain the good news that she had seen Jewel leaving the office of the town’s only private physician on Friday evening, and not being near enough to speak to her had gestured with her hands to ask if anything was wrong. Her return signal in the negative had led to Pauline making the assumption that if nothing was wrong then something must be right; and, by natural progression, if a recent bride consulted a physician and was pronounced all right then there must be a good reason for this!
Knowing the reputation of the keyboard operators for inquisitiveness I would never have made the kind of speculations in their hearing as Pauline had done on this occasion; but, unfortunately, being human, the wisest of us make mistakes, and this had been one of them!
As it happened, my dear protégé, although a nurse, was unfamiliar with some of the local signs sometimes indicative of pregnancy and could not understand why hitherto pleasant odours of some foods, toilet soap, or even her husband’s aftershave lotion should now have an ill effect on her!
As Jerome had related to Mama afterwards, Jewel on the last Sunday had entered the bathroom while he was shaving; and just before he was finished had whisked the aftershave off the dresser and replaced it with a bottle of alcohol, with the remark that he was already sweet enough and did not need it. He had been tickled by her venture into easy intimacy; and one of the things about which he had planned to tease her had been her availability every weekend since their wedding, suspecting the strong probability that she had been impregnated very early in their physical relations.
Miss Millicent had mentioned casually that during the preceding week when Jewel had been cleaning, a task she had taken on herself, she had asked whether there was a blander scent of toilet soap for use in the bathrooms. She had shared her private stock, an indulgence inherited from her father who had only used an unscented brand imported especially for him; suggesting that perhaps Jerome would be kind enough to arrange for it to be purchased for household use generally.
On Wednesday of the following week Jewel had finally confided her peculiar feelings to Miss Millicent, who had mildly enquired if she really did not know to what the signs were pointing? And, after quizzing her and realizing her innocence, she had taken the bull by the horns and given her assessment, advising her to check with a physician.
Arriving in town too late the next day to see the doctor, who usually closed his office promptly at six o’clock, Jewel had arranged to go straight there from work on Friday; and after a quick examination, he had confirmed the pregnancy. Elated, she had floated home on air, knowing that Jerome wanted a family; and it was while hurrying to reach the telephone to give him the good news that the episode with Nurse Pauline had occurred.
She had informed Miss Millicent of the result of the visit and had immediately put a call through to Jerome at the hospital, but had been told that he was in surgery. Two more unsuccessful attempts had been made to reach him before going to bed at eight-thirty and she had therefore decided to leave the news until she saw him the next day.
Jerome, Mama’s “fourth son,” was the kind of person with a passion for privacy, and nothing had given him greater pleasure than to have his wife all to himself, far away from the intrusive lifestyle of the hospital, when he went home to her on weekends.
As it turned out, he had been offended at being made aware of his wife’s pregnancy by an outsider and way in the capital at that! And if that had not been bad enough, the problem had been further complicated by an unfortunate incident; and, additionally, no fewer than three persons between the capital and his arrival home had congratulated him on his good fortune.
Normally expecting his wife to reach home after him, he had gotten into the habit of working in his study after lunch while waiting for her. He looked forward to her light knock on the door at about one o’clock, and usually stationed himself in a position to embrace her the moment she entered, satisfying both pleasure and privacy from the rest of the household. This particular Saturday, however, events had coincided to stretch his endurance further by the occurrence of a trivial thing like a tyre puncture.
On the return trip to town that afternoon the vehicle, a four-wheel drive type, had had two punctures, and although it carried two spares one had turned out to be defective. As there was little traffic on the road after noon on a Saturday, this had meant that they had been stranded until a stray vehicle had turned up to offer assistance, delaying Jewel’s arrival home by about forty-five minutes. Meanwhile, Jerome, already upset, had become agitated when Jewel had not shown up at the usual time and had begun pacing up and down inside the study in an effort to control his anxiety. When he heard a knock at the door at one forty-five, therefore, he had rushed to the door and jerked it open and, with great relief had swept Jewel into a stifling embrace with the exclamation, “Thank God you’re here! Are you all right?” lavishing kisses and caresses on her while she tried to catch her breath.
When things had calmed down, he had tried to discover the reason for the delay, while she, trying at the same time to give him the good news, had dismissed his question with the statement that it had been due to something simple.
“What do you mean simple? Anything that delayed you for nearly an hour can’t be simple! And in your condition!” had been his sharp retort.
“Oh! You know?” she had answered, wonderingly, reminding him of his earlier displeasure.
“Yes, I know! I and quite a few others it seems,” he had declared, adding: “How many people did you tell?”
“Nobody besides Aunt,” had been her answer.
“Then how did the news get out?” he had returned.
“I don’t know, Jerome,” she had replied soberly, troubled by his manner and tone of voice.
“And where is Mr. Dawson now?” he had continued.
“I told him he could go, as I felt his wife would be worried by the delay,” she had replied quietly.
“He brings my wife home nearly an hour late, and before giving me any explanation you told him he could go?”
“I didn’t think. I was eager to give you the news. I’m sorry.”
Taking a deep breath he had answered slowly, in a calmer voice: “It’s all right, my dear. It’s just that I was worried myself.”
Disappointed by his seeming lack of interest in the news, she had made the comment: “That’s understandable;” and adding that she was sorry for having kept him from his work for so long, she had walked towards the door.
Putting out his arm to restrain her, however, he had said again that he was sorry, but had not been able to leave matters as they stood as it was Mr. Dawson’s responsibility to transport staff safely; and part of his (Jerome’s) job to see that he did.
There was now silence and tension between them as they stood awkwardly looking at each other; so, shifting her body out of his reach, she had moved past him, saying softly, “See you later.”
“Wait Jewel, stop!” Jerome had said, reaching for her hand, “forget Mr. Dawson for right now and let’s talk this over,” he had continued, leading her to the couch. “I was distracted by all that happened. Sit down and let’s start again from the beginning.”
So, they had started over, with her relating the story from why she had removed the aftershave from the dresser while he was shaving that Sunday and ending with the doctor’s verdict, with laughter, some clowning and much friendliness in between.
Jerome had expressed his delight and satisfaction over the beginning of a family, speaking about his “daughter” and correcting Jewel when she referred to the embryo as “it.”
“How do you know we’ll have a daughter and not a son?” she had questioned him, to which his reply had been that he had already planned from long ago that his first child would be named “Arreini” after his mother’s beloved grandmother.
“But suppose it’s a boy?” she had persisted, to which he had replied that he had confidence that he would get his wishes as everything was going his way: didn’t she see this?
When she had finally left him behind to allow him to continue his work and to take care of her personal and household chores, she had thought over what had happened and his reaction to what he had considered an intrusion into his private affairs; and, remembering her distant encounter with Nurse Pauline the evening before, had realized how the news could have been leaked.
As they had prepared for bed that night Jerome had asked Jewel if the doctor had made any recommendations regarding her health now that she was carrying a child, and she had replied that knowing that she was a nurse he had only advised that she attend the well-known local midwife’s pre-natal clinic. Jewel had felt it necessary at this point to confess to Jerome her belief about how the news of her pregnancy might have spread by relating what had happened when she had left the doctor’s office.
When he had repeated his irritation at people’s constant intrusion into his privacy, she had defended this as maybe being a way of their taking an interest in the affairs of community leaders like himself and his family who were always concerned with the community’s welfare. This was what life was like in a small town, after all —people, wanting to keep up to date on what was going on, were happy about the good things and sympathetic if anything went wrong.
She mentioned occasions when Nurse Pauline had relieved dire situations in the community because of this type of concern. She herself had been helped many times when a schoolgirl through her generosity and interest in her, citing one particular instance, relating how she and her siblings all went to school in “tennis,” saving their Sunday shoes for church and special occasions. They scrubbed them on Saturdays to have them clean for the start of the next week.
It had happened that on one rainy weekend she couldn’t get her tennis dried in time for Monday, and had had to wear her old one (converted to slippers) to school. Classmates who were better off than they were had called attention to her poverty with jeers like: “Heh! Look whe Jewel Choc have on?”
On that occasion Nurse Pauline had discussed the matter discreetly with her parents, offering relief, if they were willing, by means of a gift from among second-hand sneakers sent to her by friends in the United States.
One thing their parents had always taught was that they should be satisfied with what they had and never stoop to begging, as it often happened that those who were not as poor were quick to throw in one’s face that one was wearing other’s cast-offs.
The source of Nurse Pauline’s gifts being anonymous, however, their children would be spared from humiliation by their classmates, so her parents had decided to accept such gifts on their behalf from time to time.
In bed that night Jerome had showered praises about Jewel’s good nature, beauty, kindness and generosity and what a good example she was going to be to their daughter; and declared that he took back any unkind thoughts or words he may have had about someone who had been so good to his beloved wife. He had expressed gratitude to the Almighty that after waiting forty-five years he had blessed him with such a prize, both finally falling asleep in the glow of their love.