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Authors: Makeda Silvera

Tags: #Fiction, #General

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BOOK: The Heart Does Not Bend
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“Here, carry dem home and read dem.”

I rolled them up in an old newspaper and hurried home. Mama hadn’t returned yet, and Uncle Mikey’s door
was still shut. I climbed into my cot, read Junior’s note again and slipped it in my panties. I covered myself up with a light cotton sheet and read the magazines. Late that night I heard Mama and my grandfather come in.

The good times ended as unexpectedly as they began. One Saturday evening we waited and waited for Grandfather Oliver, but he never came home. Sunday morning he arrived in time for breakfast. I didn’t hear what Mama said to him—I was on my way to church. After that, he rarely came home for supper. Instead, he’d come in late at night, drunk. Soon there was talk on the street that he was seeing a barmaid and visiting a policeman’s wife a few streets over. My grandmother paid no attention to the rumours, but I didn’t like them, because Junior lived on the same street as the policeman. Mama and I started going back to Grand-aunt Ruth’s on Saturday nights. She didn’t say anything about my grandfather’s goings-on. Instead, the conversations centred on Aunt Joyce, who was into her third job in America and dissatisfied with her new home, on my mother and her new husband, on my uncles and on Mammy.

One Saturday morning the policeman paid Mama a visit. “Miss Maria, ah don’t want to show yuh any disrespect,” he said, “but yuh husband running wid mi wife.”

Mama didn’t seem surprised. “Hold on, sah.” She turned and shouted, “Gatty come here!”

Miss Gatty hurried to the verandah, drying her hands.

“Gwan, sah, talk,” Mama said.

“As ah was saying, ah don’t mean no disrespect, but if ah catch yuh husband inna mi yard again, ah gwine to kill him.
Ah come warn yuh, because ah know yuh long time, and mi know all yuh children dem and mi respect yuh.”

Mama was calm. She lit a cigarette and invited the policeman to have a seat.

“Mr. Sergeant, ah thank yuh fi come all dis way to tell me dis, but yuh shouldn’t bodder. Yuh shoulda just kill him.”

The policeman was as taken aback as I was. As Miss Gatty was, too.

“But Miss Maria—”

My grandmother cut him off. “Yuh want a drink, Mr. Sergeant?”

“Ah wouldn’t mind one for de road, dat is, if yuh tekking one, too,” he said.

“Gatty, bring three glasses and some ice.”

I was proud of the way my grandmother handled the situation. I left them drinking and went up the street to see Punsie.

One afternoon, I arrived home from school and heard Mama shouting as I walked through the gate. A few neighbours were standing on the street, straining their ears. I passed them, cut my eyes and slammed the gate behind me.

“Ah want yuh to tek yuh rass claat outa dis house!” Mama waved her arms. “Come out for yuh nuh own dis house. A nuh fi yuh blood and sweat go into dem walls.”

“Yuh forget mi is yuh legal husband—yuh think yuh can just put me out like dat?” he shouted back.

“Tek yuh carochis and yuh rass claat outa mi sight. Her voice increased in volume.

“Woman, yuh nuh shame? Yuh nuh see yuh neighbours outside listenin’, and we granddaughter,” he said, pointing to me.

She gave a long suck on her teeth. “Shame! Den yuh think if mi did tek shame and stamp on mi forehead, ah would reach dis far? Sorry, Mr. Galloway, but mi don’t know dat word. Mi nuh have no secret, so de whole street can gather round and listen.”

Mama was standing next to the stove over a huge pot of boiling water.

“Come, come, if yuh a bad man, yuh dutty rass, yuh.”

“Maria,” he said, his voice going soft, “mek we sit down and talk. Dis is foolishness. Yuh know is you ah love.”

“Love? Oliver, yuh bring mi to mi senses, because ah forget dat love is a terrible weakness dat mi can’t afford. It hurt mi every time.”

“Maria, mek we talk. All dis is a misunderstanding,” he repeated, his voice going softer.

“Yes, de misunderstanding was to scrape up a piece a garbage like you and bring inna mi house!” Her voice was even louder.

“Maria, quiet nuh. We can work dis out.”

“Oliver, de only thing we going to work out is when yuh lef mi house.”

He reached toward her.

“Don’t come no further, or yuh face going to look like a punctured tire.” She lifted the pot of water and faced him. He backed away. “Oliver Galloway,” she shouted, “get yuh rass out of mi house. Ah don’t want fi see yuh when ah come back.” She left the house, slamming the gate behind her.

That evening I almost wished I hadn’t stopped talking to Petal. I wished I could crawl under the barbed-wire fence and up into the treehouse. I didn’t want to face the street or I would have gone to Punsie’s house. Instead, I lay on my cot, rereading Junior’s letter and
True Confessions
.

The next day when I got home from school, the cot had disappeared from the living room, and my dresser was back in Mama’s bedroom. My
True Confessions
magazines were gone and there was no sign of Grandfather Oliver’s belongings. Mama never said his name again, never played Duke Ellington again.

She began to drink heavily once more. During her binges we didn’t clean the house. She didn’t buy the morning paper. She didn’t crochet or embroider centrepieces. She didn’t read Harlequin romances. Miss Gatty didn’t come. The Chinese shops got no pastries, cigarette butts piled high in ashtrays, and the fridge was empty except for bottles of water to chase her rum and some fruit from the yard. Sometimes I boiled rice and ate it with butter. Rice was the only thing I knew how to cook.

I hated it when her binges fell on holidays. Lent and Easter were bad. The summer holidays were worse. On school days, I was free to roam till dinner. Sometimes after school I’d go over to Punsie’s house, see Junior, kiss him and let him feel me up. But during summer holidays I was trapped. The summer I turned fourteen I decided to do something about it.

It was the night of Junior’s seventeenth birthday. Of course I was invited to the party and had planned for it with Punsie for months. I wanted it to be special. If Mama had
been sober, she would have simply given me a warning about men and their hands and let me be on my way. But she had started a binge three days before. The day of the party, Punsie sat with me on the verandah, watching my grandmother nod off, a cigarette still burning in her hand. I put it out and tried to get her to go to bed, but she insisted I go with her. I wanted to talk to Punsie, to plot a way out of the house. Uncle Mikey had given me a beautiful minidress for my birthday, and I wanted to show it off with the new shoes my mother had sent me. The sun was still high in the sky.

“Mi don’t know what to do, Punsie,” I whispered.

“Tell her yuh going to shop to buy something to eat. Give her some more to drink and den mek yuh escape.”

“Den what if she find out?”

“Lie.”

“Okay.” Punsie left and I got Mama to bed and offered her another drink.

“Put on yuh pajama,” she slurred.

“Mama, remember Junior party?”

“Mi nuh want yuh spoiled. Mi nuh want to hand over any damaged goods to yuh mother.” One hand clasped mine tight. I heard sounds of laughter coming from the street, where my friends were playing hopscotch and skipping. There was nothing for me to do but stare at the ceiling, hate my mother for going to foreign, curse the father I never knew. I had one of Mama’s romance novels on the bed and a notepad that I used for scribbling notes about plants, but I didn’t feel like reading or writing. The windows and door were locked tight, it was hot and I wanted to shake Mama like a rag doll, stick pins in her, poke her eyes. Instead, I stared
at the ceiling while tears ran down my face. I looked over at her dry and parched face, at the heavy black circles under her eyes, her lips pink from too much drinking. Her hair a matted mop. Her clothes were heavy with the smell of sweat and rum. There was nothing I could do. I thought about Junior dancing with other girls. Punsie would be there having a good time. Junior would know I was locked up in a room with my drunken grandmother. I wondered how I could face him the next day.

Throughout the night Mama woke up periodically and rose to make herself another drink. I thought of sneaking some rum into my glass of milk so I could numb my rage, but I didn’t really want it to go away. That night meant too much to me. I didn’t want to forget it.

I took my pen and a notebook and wrote, “Dear Uncle Peppie.” I stopped. I knew what I wanted to say all right, but I was scared of saying it. I crossed out his name, tore up the page and started again. This time I wrote, “Dear Mom.” Then I crossed that out and started again.

“Dear Glory, please come.” I crossed that out, too. I asked myself, come for what? She’d never come back here. I looked at her photograph on the dresser, and for the first time in my life I missed her.

I tore up that page and started again. “Dear Uncle Peppie, please, we are in trouble. Please send for us. Mama drinking heavy. I am scared she will die. Uncle Mikey vex with her. He’s hardly around. He spends most of his time with his friend Frank. Grandfather Oliver was living here for a time, until he and Mama quarrelled and he left.”

I crossed out half the letter. There was nothing new in it. Peppie knew about her drinking. All her children knew.
I didn’t want to take care of her anymore. I didn’t want to be locked up in this room. I couldn’t stand walking the street in shame. I didn’t want to hear another fight with Uncle Mikey. I didn’t want to see another man coming into our lives and then leaving. I crumpled the paper and hurled it across the room.

Everything was closing in. My throat felt hot and dry. I tore another piece of paper from the notebook and took up my pen.

The drinking stopped and our windows and doors were opened to let in the air. Our sheets were clothesline clean and Mama’s hair was washed. Fresh-cut flowers filled our house. Gatty came and did the washing. Mama began to bake for the shops again. Uncle Mikey still wasn’t around much, and when he was, he hardly left his room. He rarely ate with us anymore, but Mama still left a plate for him on the stove every night.

One day near the end of the summer the mailman delivered an airmail envelope to our house. I knew without looking at the return address that it had to be from Uncle Peppie. I watched Mama’s face as she read the letter to herself. Then she folded it and put it in her bosom.

A few days later, she told me that Uncle Peppie wanted us to come to Canada. “Tomorrow morning, we going downtown to look ’bout we passport. Now listen to mi. Ah don’ want yuh to say nutten to anybody. Not Ruth, Mikey or any of yuh friends. Nobody. When de right time come, we will tell people.”

Mammy was the first to know. We visited the house by the sea one last time. The flesh on Mammy’s fingers had shrivelled almost to the bone, but her voice was still strong and her body straight.

“Maria, go. It never too late to start life as new. Is time fi lef de island. It do too much damage.” Then she turned to me. “Molly, when yuh go foreign, try go see Africa. Go see where mi grandmother born, and kiss de dirt fi mi. Come let we pray and bruk bread fi de last time.”

The sea was calm, the sun shining against it, sparkling like Mammy’s blue eyes. We held hands and Mammy prayed.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
De Lord is yuh keeper;
De Lord is yuh shade on yuh right hand
.
De Lord will protect yuh from all evil
.
De Lord will guard yuh going out and coming in;
Him will keep yuh soul
.

We spent the night there. When we left, we promised to write and to come back to see her again. We promised to take hugs and kisses to her three grandchildren in Canada.

“If life spare, Mammy, ah will see yuh before long,” Mama said.

“If life spare, Maria, and wid God’s blessing,” Mammy replied.

Grand-aunt Ruth was the next to know, and then Miss Gatty. I whispered the news to Punsie and Junior, promising them both that I’d write.

Uncle Mikey was the last to know. Mama told him a day
before we were to leave. It was cruel, and I felt guilty and relieved at the same time.

“How long unnu know?” he demanded. “Dis …is a …conspiracy. Everybody turn pon mi. How unnu could do dis?” His voice a whimper.

BOOK: The Heart Does Not Bend
9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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