Rain on a Zinc Roof Fence
In the end, your stories are all you have.
When the body is weak and no one is listening, you sit and think of the days when your back was a little straighter. Walked a little prouder. Sweat sweet with hard work and the satisfied smile that comes with knowing there are people who survive another day because of you.
You tell those stories to a house of noise: the television, the chatter of children, radio chirping an old Sparrow. The older children are absorbed in their phones and laptops and things you will never learn how to use. You don’t need to.
The time has come now.
Resting in my favourite chair, hand under my chin, fingers feeling for the rough of my beard, I remember. No one is listening, but I don’t do it for them. I do it for me.
When I am gone they will miss my stories, and try their best to recall them when they dust me off and make me look more handsome in hindsight. And when I do, I hope some days are easier to deal with than others. Sometimes the mundanity of a photo, the lilt of a song, a halo of grey hair you pass on the street on the path to everyday will bring you back.
And it will hurt; when the seemingly insignificant reminds of you of the fact that she never sleeps on the right side, and the room is still heady with camphor concoctions, dabbed ever so lightly on the worn blue and brown plaid of an old handkerchief she uses to calm unwavering tears.
No one ever tells you the calm never comes. But these stories — my stories — can give you a moment of peace.
Even when yellowing snowflakes of London in winter chill my bones in a Barbadian summer, and my eyes are heavy, and my breath is a muddy, shallow pool.
London: that’s where I met her…and thus begins my favourite story of all.
I saw what my life was going to be, so I ran; as far as I could and as far as I knew I would.
There was a man — there always was a man at that time — and he was a drunk. Not the productive kind that would work most of the day and then give you a lil something and then drink out the rest. No, he was the lazy kind. No work, no pay, but too much play.
I saw what was ahead of me: a house-full o’ children, only me to wuk for them and real misery that would drive me to the brink of something I did not want to see.
So I got on the steamship.
I had no idea what I would do once I was there, but there were enough people from Barbados that I could find something to do to and somebody to live with. And send back a lil something when the month come and my children would be fed, even if I wasn’t there to put the food in their mouth.
Thirsty. I was thirsty. A kind of thirst that not even sea water could fix. But it would do for now: I just have to trust and pray and believe.
I sat alone on that steamship, in a new, yellow cap-sleeved dress. I couldn’t make, so I asked Priscilla to make it for me. I save a month to afford the material, and when I finally buy it I was talking ‘bout the dress so much Cilla decided to do it for free. She didn’t want me to leave. We had been friends since forever — since heaping with bush out of gullies and feeding them to cows we had to help kill a few weeks later. We both had dreams, and believed that with the right kind of help, we could all make it work. She found somebody: she hated him, but he was supportive. Delbert hit Cilla even in front of company, but it was less than she was used to. Every day, she put a little too much salt in his food.
Every day she waited; and I was right there with her.
But now, I had to look after my own dreams and look for my own things, ‘cause the man I had was no good – just in another way.
I found out I was pregnant sitting at my desk at work.
There was a tug in my stomach – one that told me I was screwed. Again.
Again, I said yes to a certified lying, cheating, cheap-ass bastard.
The last time I had said yes to him was five years ago, and things were good and he had promised promises of a good government job. Civil service was something I tried to get into once, but I wasn’t good enough. I failed the test twice before I added up that that life was never going to be for me. I was always good at numbers. I could add real quick in my head. So I ended up working as a petty cash clerk at an American company that had just start up assembling computers.
I liked it, but it wasn’t enough. I was barely making it. My stepfather kicked me out of the house when he found out I was pregnant with the first one. Mickey said he would help me make out, and that we could be a family. I don’t know who else he promised it to, but I used to see him less often than a blue moon; and that was in a good year. My mother helps me out. I don’t know how she manages with that man, and she doesn’t know how I manage with mine. Truth be told, I don’t think I do.
Seven weeks ago, he came by smelling like more than a good time: grimy from a day of work as an island constable and tongue soaked in spiced rum.
Seven weeks later, my vagina smells like sun-caked soil, drenched by a summer downpour.
There is no smell of rain in Ottawa.
Showers do not evoke; nothing rises from its slumber, thirsting for the hope of new beginnings.
The sound of a downpour is dampened in the highrise I temporarily call home. It is Spring. In three days, I will return to Barbados. I slide open the small window to my bedroom, straining to hear the pitter-patter of raindrops hitting window panes and drains.
It is not enough.
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