A sampling of my short story written in 2009. Of course, this is an autobiographical piece so names and locations were change to keep the peace.
I CAN NEVER TRULY RECALL MY INITIAL INTRODUCTION TO SARA Katlyn Galloway. Growing up in a small village none of us could recollect the exact moment we became aware of another person’s existence. There was a great sense that we were connected like family, although distant at times we were only separated by surnames, property lines, and the many alleyways in between. Everyone possessed an unconscious awareness of each other that didn’t involve tedious thought. We knew the members of our quiet community by general description, surname, or occupation; and that’s all it took to locate anyone of us. I’d seen this done many times as a child; someone would show up at the local superette ask for a villager by nickname or general description, and like magic, someone would be there to point them in the right direction. The first time I witnessed this, I was in preschool waiting at the superette for the school bus with my father. A boy showed up asking for someone called Willie describing him as an elderly man who was much too liberal with rum. The adults around me knew who Willie was immediately, and pointed the stranger in the direction of Mr. Williams known by the villagers for his constant state of inebriation. They directed him to the middle of the village, where a large overgrown mango tree stood in a front yard next to a tiny alleyway. They then told him to look for the houses on the right of the mango tree. Two houses behind that house he wouldn’t find Mr. Williams’ home. He would know it was Mr. Williams’ residence because of the overgrown guava tree in the front yard. It was then I learnt that rambling off any description would guarantee the exact location of a person’s whereabouts depending on the time or day. In the same manner, anyone looking for gossip about a particular community member could always find out whatever they needed to know with very little hesitation.
MOST CHILDREN IN MY COMMUNITY ATTENDED THE LOCAL PUBLIC PRIMARY SCHOOL a few miles away from the village, while a small few like me went to private schools in the city. Since I didn’t attend the local school, there was an invisible separation between most of the children in the community and me. Other than my force participation at Sunday school, I had no other opportunity to connect with other children in my village. The ones I was allowed to socialize with were my immediate family members and neighbors living within proximity of my house. It was through one of these neighbors; I got to know Sara. Tanya Hall was my friend who lived on the left of me and often came over to play after school. Unlike Tanya, I wasn’t allowed to leave the comforts of my front yard, so she was always visiting me. Tanya had an older sister Marsha, who was friends with Jenny Galloway, a neighbor who lived on the opposite side of the road in a house facing my grandfather’s place. Marsha was much older than us and preferred the company of children her age, so she often left Tanya with me while visiting Jenny. The Galloway family was different from what I usually saw in the community. Many children lived in a nuclear or single parent household where the mother was the head of the family. Then there was the occasional child who was being raised by their grandparents, aunts or some other female member of their family. The Galloway’s household was different; theirs was the only home where the father was the visible parental figure. This fact was how many of us knew the family and naturally assumed there was something strange about them. There was a total of three children; David the only and the oldest boy, Jenny the middle child followed by Sara, the baby. It was through Marsha and Tanya that I became acquainted with Sara. Although, I befriended Sara because of the Hall sisters I’d long been aware of her existence.
I WAS EIGHT-YEAR-OLD WHEN I MET SARA, during a summer break that was filled with vacation bible school and extended stays at my great aunt’s house. Visually she was a typical island girl; with aesthetic beauty that was always downplayed by her lack of modern convenience. She had a caramel skin complexion with eyes shaped like almonds surrounded by long lashes. She was apparently mixed perhaps with European blood, but like everyone else, it was certain that she was also part Carib. Her trademark feature was her concave face, which gave her the unwanted nickname of moon face. Her face was spherical in shape when you looked at her head-on, but it was only when viewed from the side you understood why they called her moon face. From a side profile, she had a concave silhouette where her chin and forehead perturbed outwards while the other parts seem to go inward. In theory, she had a less extreme version of Jay Leno’s face, but it was still severe enough for children to tease her. She wasn’t drop dead gorgeous, and most children weren’t, but she possessed a rear quality that I thought would blossom in years to come.
Sara’s life was a paradox, for every positive attribute there was something that threatened to crush her. For instance, she was well-spoken but was often picked on for trying too hard. She read many books and did well in school, but was regularly called a nerd. She was in tuned with fashion and was the only person I knew in my age group who knew what Yves Saint Laurent or the Champs-Élysées was. On the other hand, she often wore her sister’s old clothing, which gave her peers more ammunition to use against her. The downside of all of this was her father. I knew her father as Samuel Galloway, but everyone called him Sammy. Sammy and his children didn’t seem to have a very close relationship. He was the landlord, and they were his tenants who paid rent by following his rules. He was a figurehead with no real power, so all disciplining was left up to her David. When David graduated high school and moved away, Jenny took over. Jenny was responsible for looking after Sara, and the household. While, Sammy enjoyed the pleasures of parenting that involved bossing his children around, while he washed his hands of the parts that required hard work, love, and compassion.
Very few people knew Sara’s mother, and only the older adults remembered her from a time when she was a functioning member of society. One afternoon while playing in Sara’s backyard, I saw her mother standing at the kitchen back door window. I did not know her name, but I would never forget her face. Her mother looked much older than her father, but I assumed her appearance was due to her mysterious illness. She had the trademark concave face and was very pale due to lack of direct sunlight. I recall that her hair was long and thick, styled in a way that reminded me of my great-grandmother. Her hair was a curious mixture of black and white, parted down the middle with two large braids dangling just above her décolletage. It was the same braids my great-grandmother wore and would often refer to as the standard hairstyle of Carib women. The afternoon I saw her, both Sara, and I were playing in their backyard. Seeing her mother that afternoon was like glimpsing a magical unicorn in its natural environment. No one in my peer group had ever seen her, and many rumors blew around the village about her existence and illness. After a few moments of watching us play, she called her daughter over who then proceeded to introduce me by name and lineage. Sara introduced me by my first name, then said this is Mr. Descoteaux’s granddaughter then immediately followed that by telling her who my mother was. Introducing someone by their name followed by their lineage was another unconscious act we all did. It was our way of identifying outsiders. Her mother then gave a nod of approval then vanished behind the window. When it came to the rumors about her mother, there were many stories. The only element that was consistent was the fact that she was once an attractive woman with a budding career as a pediatric nurse. The first rumor I ever heard about her mother painted her as a well-liked individual about to become the lead nurse in her department. Then she was passed up for the job then suffered a mental breakdown shortly after. When Sara told me this story, it was the same, but she claimed that an envious colleague made her mother sick by poisoning her which caused her illness. The illness was never quite clear to Sara or me. She knew her mother was sick, but could never tell me the exact cause of her ailment. I quietly assumed that she was insane like many of the villagers suggested, but poisoning wasn’t too far off my radar. Since I often heard the adults speak of the various ways they exact their revenge on others. No one knew what her sickness was, but whatever it was it wasn’t visible to the naked eyes. After her mother had disappeared from public, many people assumed that Sammy gave her no encouragement to return to work and kept her locked away from the world. All of the reasons for her mother’s reclusiveness seemed plausible, but the gossip that sprung up around it was utterly ridiculous and didn’t come close to the truth. Like all scandalous stories passed around by the villagers, there were many over embellished tales about Sammy beating, starving, and isolating his wife. While our minds willingly took us to very dark places concerning her mother, no one knew the truth about the Galloway family.
AS I GOT TO KNOW SARA, I became sympathetic towards her life, but also jealous of some parts of it. There was something about the inner working of her mind that amazed me. Even as a third grader, I observed something in her that I never saw in an individual then and even now. She wanted things for herself that I couldn’t begin to understand back then. In comparison to me, she handled bullying very well and never let it get to her. She had a degree of freedom and zest for life that I didn’t possess. I couldn’t see the incomprehensible parts of her life during the first three years of knowing her. I saw her father’s neglect and the constant bullying by other children, but in some ways, I felt like we all had to deal with some degree of both.
During my first summer as Sara’s friend, every day after vacation bible summer school I invited her over to play, or I sneaked over to her place. My second time at her home we spent an hour crouching on a hot aluminum roof trying to hide from my grandfather while picking genipaps from a tree that hung over her house. I hid from my grandfather out of instinct that day, because I was sure he would tell my mother I was in a place I shouldn’t have been. Then there was the fact that he did not care for the Galloway family. My grandfather and Sammy had a history of arguing publicly over property, livestock, and poaching accusations. That day I noticed something peculiar about Sara that would clearly establish the kind person she was. At this point, I knew that her peers shunned her, but on this day the same children who carelessly sling words of insult at her were all begging her for genipaps. Sara never rejected them or reminded them of all the callous things they said to her about her family. As she collected fruits for herself, she also gave more than she should have. It was the first of many similar incidents that would clearly illustrate her giving nature.
After picking the genipaps, I helped her organize them into individual bundles. We placed them in clear plastic bags, then walked over to the local farmer’s market. There I stood with her on the side of the road, waving bags of genipaps in the air to get the attention of pedestrians. I knew I was taking a risk standing there with her selling those fruits, but due to my naiveté, I found this activity extremely entertaining. If my mother learnt about this or saw me, she would be horrified that I was engaging in such behavior and would forbid me from seeing Sara, but I did it anyway. That day we made about sixty Eastern Caribbean dollars which weren’t bad. I wasn’t sure if her father forced her to do this, but I got the feeling that she did this out of necessity, and her innate entrepreneur spirit would never let her lax on the opportunity to make extra money. She wasn’t like the countless others who claimed that they were impresarios, Sara was a real self-starter. Years after when she started working on the weekends to purchase clothing and school supplies; she told me that she discovered a way to get clothes much cheaper. She said when she went shopping she took a red pen and used it to mark the fabric of the items she wanted. When she decided to purchase articles of clothing, she would complain about the mark and ask for a discount. While it was deceitful, she managed to get many things for half price doing this. This separated her from the rest, as she was able to possess and act on original ideas logically when it came to money making ventures. After that summer, Sara and I became very close. As I grew to know her, I found her personality and attitude strangle intriguing.
….to be continued….