'The Other Self' reveals the essence of my 'secret life' the private, personal side of me. My secret passion is creative writing - poems, short fiction, long fiction, historical narratives. I choose now to share the other me with you. Enjoy!
Sunday, July 09, 2017
She climbed the
last hill toward home, the heavy bag trailing behind her. Her calves ached; her
legs felt like jelly. She paused,
dropped the bag, and shook out her hands to get the blood circulating
again. The blisters on her feet hurt
almost as much as the red welts across her fingers and palm. Am army-green jeep
rattled by splashing smelly, slime-green canal water all over her already
stained clothing. She sighed and rounded the corner. From there, she could see
the rain-soaked boards of the two-roomed lean-to she called home. She sighed again.
Her two older boys
and their playmates were in the yard pitching marbles, and making typical
boy-noises. She entered unnoticed through the chicken-wire gate. They did not
skip a beat. Too drained to deal with her rambunctious two-year-old twins, she thanked God for Jean who was keeping them
overnight to give her a much-needed break.
Rhon was at home,
sitting at the dining table staring into a half-full bottle of Jack Iron as though it held the answers to all life’s
questions. She already knew.
He nodded, his
balding head bowed low. Like Ivy, he seemed much older than his twenty-seven
years. The customary twinkle in his eyes was long gone, his dimpled smile now
just a faded memory.
From his elevated
shoulders and hunched back, Ivy could tell he was bracing for another fight. He
said he hated her nagging and her accusing looks. She knew he was having none
of it tonight. Good, because she was not up to it either.
Once inside the
door, she deposited her load, walked over to him, and kissed his forehead. He
looked up. She could see the surprise in his eyes. It was not that she didn’t
enjoy showing him affection, but of late, he was making it near impossible for
her to feel any tenderness towards him. Since the construction site where he
worked shut down operations, every day he just sat at home and drank, claiming
no-one would hire him. It was Jean who
attended to the twins while she was working.
But tonight, she
needed the strength of human touch. Ivy embraced the only man she had ever she
loved. It didn’t matter that he was such a disappointment. He buried his head
in her bosom, his shoulders heaving. When he spoke, the smell of alcohol rose
to greet her. She swallowed hard and shook her head.
“I fed up, Momi,”he said. “A man can’t feel
like a man in this place no more. I try everything – carpentry, masonry,
plumbing . . . nobody building nothing these days. Everybody want you to work
but nobody could afford to pay.”
Ivy dug into her
pockets and produced eight crinkled dollar bills. She handed them to him and
gestured in the direction of the bag, full of cassava, green fig, and corn. “Don’t worry. We have food for today and
tomorrow. We going take it a day at a time.”
“ I don‘t want
your money, Momi.” He pushed them back in her direction. “I is the man of the house, not you. How you
think it make me feel to know is me wife that providing for me and me family?“
“Yes, but ain’t
you self say it easier for women to find work on this island than men these
Is true. And that is why every man leaving. They say it have plenty work in
Trinidad. Uncle Tommy, Cousin Arthur, Glenford, Ivan . . . they all gone.
Stowaway. That’s the last thing I want, but what choice I have here, eh? You
tell me, since you always know everything.”
”You better not be
thinking of going.” Ivy raised her voice an octave, her eyes wide, her body
trembling. “We could make it right here if we stick together.”
He pushed back his
chair and stood up, towering above her, but lacking the customary aplomb of his
“It ain’t easy,
Ivy hugged him.
“You not leaving me here alone. Rhon. How I going manage with the four boys --
Momi. You going be alright.”
He ate little that
evening. Ivy, too, had lost her
appetite. They sat facing each other
lost in thought. After the boys were
asleep, they lay side by side in their bed staring at separate scenes on the
ceiling, not saying anything. Ivy wanted him to hold her, kiss her, make love
to her like he used to, but these days he seemed to lack even that desire. She wanted to reach out and touch him but
dared not. Not again, because, of late, every time she tried, he pushed her
away and said, “I’m not in the mood. Go to sleep, Momi.”
Every night it was
the same thing, and when he did initiate any intimacy with her, it was more
like he was punishing her for his troubles.
So tonight, despite her deep ache for him, she willed herself to fall
asleep while he continued to stare at the spreading water stains on the celotex
By the time she
woke up to get Danny and Eze ready for school next morning, he was already
Daddy?” Ezekiel asked, his eyes wide, stark white, and unblinking. Daniel, the
oldest, just kept quiet, but his knowing eyes told her he, too, was awaiting
early. Gone up Craigston side to see if
But Rhondell did not
return that night, nor the next, nor the next. With only six thousand residents
and thirteen square miles, Carriacou did not have many places to hide. No one
had seen him.
“I sure Rhondell
stowaway like everybody else.” Jean said. “Ask Cap’n Crooks if he see him.”
But Ivy didn’t
have to ask; she already knew.
It took six months
for his first letter to arrive. He said he was in Trinidad lodging with his
Uncle Tommy in Belmont and looking for work. She received no more after that,
but refused to give up hope. And at nights, she still yearned for him. Veront and Vernon were turning three, too young to even remember what their father
looked like, but eight-year-old Ezekiel asked for him every day. Ten-year-old Daniel,
the oldest, never did.
Jean exclaimed, whistling through her teeth, when she walked in on Ivy that
morning, almost a year after Rhon left.
Just out of the shower, Ivy was examining her half-clothed body in the
full length mirror, wondering why she looked so much older than her years.
Jean plumped her
heavy-set, mannish frame down on the bed
causing it to creak and sag. She tossed
her locks and leaned back on both elbows laughing at Ivy’s embarrasment as she
watched her haul up the top of the dress
to cover her nakedness.
“Vee, why you keep
hiding under these big dresses?” Jean asked, getting up and coming to stand
behind her, putting her arms around her and snuggling against her neck.
Ivy shrugged her
shoulders and stepped away, deflecting Jean’s touch.
“I tell you
already, Jean, I ain’t one of you. I not no Madivine and ain’t never going be.
I have Rhondell; he coming back to me soon.”
Jean pursed her lips, but said
nothing, instead helping Ivy tidy the room. There were clothes strewn all over.
Ivy, always a neat freak, had been letting things slip since Rhondell left. It
didn’t seem to matter what she nor the house looked like any more. Nothing
mattered. Ivy stuffed the last of the dirty laundry into the wicker hamper
swearing under her breath “Damn Rhon!” and slammed the lid down so hard a loose
cocoyea arrow pierced her palm. She swore again and withdrew her hand, thinking
of the many travails of her life.
“You want me make you feel better?”Jean asked, taking hold of the injured hand, her fingers massaging Ivy’s palm.
Ivy thought she
protested but she wasn’t sure because the next thing she knew, she was in
Jean’s arms and Jean was kissing her making her hot, and hungry all over.
“No, No, Jean.
Remember Rhon.” But her No was frail and not at all what her body was
screaming. Her protests grew weaker the more insistent Jean’s caresses became.
Soon she was kissing Jean back without restraint and pressing her body into
Jean’s, wanting it never to stop. When it was over, Jean held her and comforted
her while she cried. If Rhon ever found out, she’d lose him for sure.
She knew then. She had to leave.
She stood with the
children on lower deck watching the schooner cut a foaming path through the
deep green waters, while the exhaust fumes rose thick and ominous. She had sent a letter to Rhon telling him
they were coming. She couldn’t wait to see him.
It had been a rough ride. The journey from Grenada on The Island Queen
took three days, overcrowded as it was
with its cargo of bananas and vendors carrying crates of seasonal produce for
sale in the Port of Spain market. Cap’n
Crooks had allowed them free passage on the Osprey to St. Georges. She bought
their schooner tickets with two hundred dollars she had scrimped and saved. In
her bosom was another hundred from Jean to tide her over. Her sister, Princess,
had given her the black dress with red and yellow hibiscus flowers, the Panama
hat and the white open-toe, wedge-heeled shoes she was wearing. They were all
too big. The dress swung, her toes pushed forward and hung over the shoes, but
she didn’t care. Soon she’d be with her
Rhon and they’d be a family again.
“If it doesn’t
work out, come on back home to me,” Jean had said, kissing her on the neck,
causing her to shiver. “I going be waiting. We can be happy together. You know
that. You just too stubborn to admit it.”
Ivy pretended she
had not heard.
They entered The
Dragon’s Mouth, that narrow, tempestuous channel between North-West Trinidad
and Eastern Venezuela where they said the waters of the Gulf of Paria waged war
with those of the Caribbean Sea.
Mountains towered on either side. Darkness descended swiftly over the
Bocas obliterating any distinguishing line between sea and sky until they
rounded the point and the flickering lights of Port of Spain came into view.
They were almost there.
Ivy hugged her
boys, imagining how harrowing this journey must have been for Rhondell, braving
the fury of Kick ‘em Jenny, then, stashed away below near the hot boilers,
praying not to be discovered. Tonight,
in his arms, she’ll show him how much she appreciated his sacrifice. This time
she wouldn’t care whether he was in the mood or not. It had been too long. Maybe she’ll get that daughter she hoped for
Uncle Tommy, a
short, casually dressed teddy-bear of a man with a ready laugh, gray goatee and
wiry hair protruding out of his ears, was there to greet them. Jessie, his prim Trinidadian wife -- tall,
stern, angular, be-spectacled, neatly-attired, with not a strand of her
professionally-styled hair out of place, stood at his side. Uncle Tommy scooped
up Veront, lifting him onto his shoulder while Vernon clung to his leg.
“You two the
spitting image of your Daddy!”
her hand to Ivy and said in an affected, city accent,
“I’ve heard so
much about you, Ivy.” She enunciated every word as though each was a separate,
“Pleased to meet
you.” Ivy said, looking around. “Where’s Rhon?”
away, took out her compact, and proceeded to powder her face. Ivy stood peeling
the skin around her finger nails, drawing blood while she awaited an answer.
“Said he had some
business meeting. By the time we get home, he should be back.” Tommy said.
meeting?” Ivy asked. “ He couldn’t set it up for another time? He didn’t know
we was coming?”
Tommy loaded their bags into the back of his shiny black Austin. The boys piled
in first leaving Ivy to sit jammed against the left door handle.
Port-of Spain was
all bright lights and flashing neon marquees, too much for them to absorb all
some nuts, boys?” Tommy asked when a vendor came to the driver’s window at the
The boys looked to
Ivy for approval. She nodded, her mind
later, they swung into a narrow, paved street. The car came to a stop in front
of a two-storeyed yellow concrete house
with baskets of hanging plants framing the upstairs verandah. Downstairs was a
shop of some sort.
salon,” Tommy explained.
Their living room
was filled with ornate Victorian furniture, red velvet throw cushions,
artifical floral arrangements and white porcelain figurines. There was barely room to walk. Rhon was not there but came soon
afterward. Something about him was
different. Ivy was overcome with shyness. When they were alone that night, she
cozied up to him. He didn’t push her away. And he didn’t say, “Go to sleep,
Momi.” She had questions, but they could
“Why you didn’t
write?” she asked next morning.
“You know I don’t
“Yes but . . . .”
I been busting my ass here trying to
earn a living.”
you ever wonder how we was eating?”
“You strong. I
know you could hold on til I send something.”
“And when that was
going to be, Rhon? When cock get teeth?”
“It ain’t easy out
here, you know, especially for us smallislanders. They laugh at us and tell us
go back Carriacou. Steady work hard to
“So why you didn’t
come back home?”
“To what? More
nagging and frustration?”
“You find somebody else, Rhon?”
He spun around,
his eyes glowing. “You see the same damn thing again. That’s why I could never
saddle horses with you. You always thinking the worst.”
There was a wall
between them she could not climb. She
thought of Jean, her adoring looks, her tender kisses.
What the hell was
she thinking? She was not like that. Besides, she had put an end to it.
“Why you fooling yourself, Vee?” Jean had
said. “The man ain’t coming back. You and me,
we good together, girl.”
Ivy shook the
image from her head.
They settled into
a comfortable routine -- Rhon going daily in search of work, the kids to
school, and Ivy helping Jessie in the salon.
But Rhon grew more and more distant. Every night he came home late,
reeking of alcohol, and railed at her lest she dared comment. Their lovemaking
had become infrequent, joyless sessions
she came to dread. She cringed internally and shrank away everytime he touched
her. Her fantasies of Jean helped her through each unpleasant interlude.
the Sunday before Christmas, Rhon got up earlier than usual. Ivy, too, was wide awake; she had something
to tell him that she had been postponing.
“Huh?” He emerged
from the bathrom, fully dressed.
“Where you going
so early this Sunday morning?”
“Going to try me
luck in the Maracaibo oilfields. Boat
leaving at nine.”
“And is now you telling me that?”
“Because I know
how you going react. You ain’t change.“
Ivy sprang out of bed. “So you abandoning us
eyes blazed. “Look, woman.” He never called her Momi anymore. “Nobody asked you
to come here, you know. If it bother you so much, go back home and continue
working zami with your Madvine friend. I hear she have cancer.”
slapped him hard. He caught her arms, pinning them to her side.
might as well,”he said. “Nothing I do ever good enough for you.”
Ivy screamed and spat in his face,
her head reeling from the news. Rhon shoved her away, picked up his
already-packed duffel bag, and headed to the door.
“Don’t bother to
get up. I going write when I get there.” He slammed the door and was gone.
He hadn’t even
given her the chance to tell him she was pregnant – not that finding out would
have made any difference. His mind was already made up. But hers was on Jean.
“Oh God! Oh God,
She had been in
premature labor a full two days before she felt the urge to bear down.
the midwife, coaxed her, “Push!”
She had no energy left, no will to
fight. Jessie was over in the corner,
powdering her face as usual.
Chrissake, put down that damn compact and bring the scissors. We have to cut
her,” Maudelyn shouted.
“Rhon! Rhon!” Ivy
cried. She had not heard from him once since his departure.
“Rhondell going be
here soon, darling. Come on, push!” Maudelyn said.
But Ivy was
slipping fast into delirium.
“Don’t leave me,
Jean!” she pleaded, digging her fingers into Jessie’s arm.
Jessie and Maude looked at each
they placed her daughter in the crook of her arms, wrapped in the pastel pink
blanket she had picked out. Ivy stared enthralled at the wrinkled, waxen, blue
face. She kissed the closed eyelids and cold, purple lips. The baby did not
cry. Ivy didn’t care. She had her Rhonda,
the little girl she always wanted.
And then, she
found herself in a field of wildflowers running towards a smiling Jean. It was so good to see her again. But wait, she must first let the boys see
their little sister. In the adjoining
room where they slept, she kissed each one on the forehead. Daniel
opened his eyes and stared at her.
good now. And take care of your brothers til Daddy come back, you hear.”
He nodded. He was
strong like her.
She smiled, took a
long, deep breath, and with her baby cradled in her arms, surrendered herself
into Jean’s embrace.