Cornelia smiled as she spoke with her mother on the telephone. She did not realize until now how much she missed hearing her voice. Cornelia had gone with her Aunt to work so that she could make a call to her mother who was also at her job in Kingston.
“Your Aunt says that you have settled in well, and even made a friend.”
“Well, Aunt Josie has been really good to me Mamma. Montego Bay is so pretty and relaxed, I think that I prefer it to Kingston.”
Her mother sighed.
“Yes, sometimes I miss Mo Bay as well. It is a lovely place, but be on your guard against evil my daughter. It comes in many ways. Do yourself and your family proud. Your brother and sister are fine and your father misses you. Can’t stay long on the phone my dear heart. Keep in the Lord.”
“OK Mamma. Love to everyone.”
After she rang off, Cornelia returned home by herself. She knew the bus route now. While riding back, the events of the previous day went through her head again. There was no way that she could be living in the Lord at this moment, and that is why she had skipped prayers the night before. After giving the Lord such faithful promises, how could she explain herself to him now? She decided to delay giving God an explanation and thought about Jimmy instead. He had said that he would ‘pass by later’ on the pretext of meeting her for the first time with her Aunt. She did not know if she had it in her to go though such a barefaced farce. Then again, why is she even thinking of meeting him again? The guy was an undisputed drug dealer. She had asked for evidence and she got it. There was just no excuse. Her thoughts ran to their kiss. That was really nice, she thought. It was not as she had expected. She tried to describe it in her head so that she could tell Marissa exactly what it was like, but the words could not come to her, yet. She’d have to try it again to be sure. Shocked to admit, even to herself, that she would want to kiss Jimmy again, the voice of her pesky conscience cut though her musings.
She bravely counteracted it. “Yes again! Why not?”
“But he is dangerous.”
“Not if you know how to control him.”
“What about Janvon?”
“What about him?”
“He likes you.”
“Liked me, until that tourist turned up.”
“Why are you jealous?”
“I am not.”
“Yes you are. You’re getting angry.”
“OK. I just don’t like some other girl taking over my turf.”
“You are allowing it.”
“But I can’t spend my time with Janvon and let Jimmy get away.”
“What does Jimmy have over Janvon?”
“He has nice things. Janvon’s father sells brooms.”
“Where are your morals, Cornelia?”
“What are morals but stupid rules? I am not hurting anyone.”
Her conscience remained silent, so Cornelia challenged it again.
“Is anyone getting hurt? No. Can I stop people from taking drugs? No! So live and let live, I say.”
There was still no reply. The other voice seemed to have admitted defeat and slunk away leaving Cornelia feeling strong and triumphant.
When she arrived home, Kaarina Kaye told her that Janvon had come by and that he
would pass by again around midday. Disappointed that she had missed him, Cornelia waited expectantly for his return. When he did, a thankful glow overcame her, which again confused her mind. Her feelings seemed to be all over the place, but she decided to put those thoughts aside for the moment and enjoy his company.
“Where is Leigh today?”
“At my father’s workshop, I am going there now. Do you want to come?”
She agreed and they walked on to the main road and continued up the hill. After a while of walking through several communities they turned on to a road where everybody that they passed was dressed in the Rastafarian style of colourful flowing garments and huge turbans or tams covering their dreadlocks.
“Is this where you live, Janvon?”
“Used to. My father just has his workshop here now.” Jimmy paused before saying
what had obviously been on his mind for a while. “Listen Cornelia, are you going to see Jimmy Barnett again?”
“What’s that to you?”
“I care about you and every time that you are with that guy, there seems to be trouble.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“You’re sure right.”
Cornelia decided against pursuing the argument.
As they walked up the street Cornelia noticed that there were three taxi vans parked in a line on one side along the street; one belonged to Uncle Roger. Janvon pushed a simple wooden gate that carried the sign, “Brother Devon’s Redemption Ground” over it, and directed Cornelia into the yard. Behind that, all that Cornelia could see was a lot of plants and a few chickens pecking on the ground. Janvon led her down a gravel path until they came to a wooden building painted in red, green and gold, the shutters of its large unglazed windows were open on every side. Inside the building were at least 20 tourists watching and listening to someone. On the verandah of the building were at least 20 pairs of footwear, mostly sneakers and sandals. Janvon paused to slide off his and Cornelia did as well before they stepped quietly on the straw mat inside. Brooms of every conceivable colour and shape were neatly hanging from the walls. A man, who Cornelia assumed was Janvon’s father, was seated at one end of the room quietly speaking and carving a piece of wood. Leigh sat at his feet. Janvon leaned over to whisper in Cornelia’s ear.
“My father carves and paints stories in brooms. Sometimes he meets somebody then as he talks to them, he tells them a story about life and as he tells the story he carves it in the broomstick. When he tells a story he cannot keep it, he has to give it away.”
“So how does he earn a living?”
“He says that he is a messenger, and that God watches over him. People drop big money for his brooms, and sometimes they order brooms that are not necessarily their own story but one that my father thought of and just carved. He has a set that he calls his Songs of Solomon. Those are all the same. He makes them and gives them to my mother and she sells them.”
There was quiet appreciative applause from the audience as Brother Devon handed Leigh a short “car broom” with a carved stick and she took it from him with a hug. Then the group of people got up. Some of them went to look at the brooms that hung there and dropped money in a Dutch pot if they took one.
Janvon held Cornelia’s hand and led her through the people to where his father sat. Brother Devon looked like an older version of Janvon. The same broad head and short
stature. He had eyes that were wide open and the whites looked red. His beard was dreadlocked and reached to the middle of his chest. The hair on his head had been piled into a black knitted tam with a golden star at the back. His robes were of a hand painted calico with heart and circle motifs. He had elegantly formed hands with slim fingers, each wearing a ring.
Leigh and Mr. Koeman were among the people around him. Janvon signaled to his father who held out his hand and grasped his son’s.
“Daddy,” Janvon said, “This is my friend Cornelia, she is...”
“visiting from Kingston”, his father finished for him.
Feeling awkward, Cornelia tried to introduce herself.
“I am Brother Devon”, said the man. He looked straight into Cornelia’s eyes and she felt as if an all-seeing sun were shining on the secret places in her soul and to conceal herself, cast down her eyes. “Why do you look down little sister”, he asked.
She raised her eyes to meet his and found that they were not burning into her anymore. She wondered if he had switched them off. This man seemed almost magical. Brother Devon spoke to Janvon, but looked at her.
“When the butterflies sing, it is beautiful son; be patient with this stubborn one, she needs a lot of time to grow.”
Cornelia had no idea what it all meant, but in the next moment, Leigh saw Janvon with Cornelia and joined them.
“Hi Lia. Janvon, your Dad is too awesome! I’ll cherish my prayer broom always.” She respectfully held her broom up for inspection. Janvon took it from her and looked at it.
“That’s your face, Leigh. You are looking for something, and here on the other side, behind these clouds is the hidden face of God. You are not seeing him, but he is calling you. He did Psalm 14 for you Leigh.”
The sign painted on her aunt’s pushcart driver’s cart flashed though Cornelia’s mind and she recited verse two of the Psalm automatically.
“The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see of there are any that act wisely, that seek after God.”
“Wow, that’s deep”, sighed Leigh happily. “I’m gonna think some more about that.”
The children then got into Uncle Roger’s van, and Mr. Koeman treated them all to lunch at the Jerk Pit. Aside from leaving some money for Leigh’s broom, Mr. Koeman did not buy a second. He figured that if he returned to Dallas with one as a gift for his girlfriend Shelby, she might misunderstand its intent and take it in one of two ways: either that he wanted her to be a housewife; or he was telling her that she was a witch. Roger warned the Koeman’s against eating too much pepper with the jerked meat, but both father and daughter insisted that they were used to spicy Mexican food and tried the hot sauce with no reservation. Halfway through the meal, they both turned red and sweat out much of the ice cold soda that they drunk, but afterwards said that they had enjoyed it heartily. Roger took them on the highlands of Flanker where they could watch the planes take off and land.
When dusk fell, they drove Cornelia back home and stopped to visit, as Leigh insisted that she had to see Isaiah. She was playing with the baby in the living room when Aunt Josie returned. There were general warm greetings then Uncle Roger and the Koeman’s left shortly afterwards. When the house was quiet again, Aunt Josie sat in the living room quietly with Cornelia and Isaiah.
“Cornelia, what is Mr. Sewell like?”
“That’s what you call him?”
The girl shrugged and nodded as if to ask, “Of course. What else?” Then she answered her Aunt. “Quiet mostly. He always plays old music in his van.”
There was silence between them, then her aunt spoke again. “Does he ever talk about himself?”
Cornelia thought then shook her head. “He only talks about his son who just passed seven
“Does his son live with him?”
“I don’t think so Aunt Josie. Uncle Roger said that he had to drop off something by his
son, so that means they don’t live together.”
“So... who does he live with?”
“Uncle Roger’s son? His mother, I guess.”
“I don’t know Aunt Josie. Should I ask... ?“
“No, no. Don’t bother.”
The sound of a horn distracted them and Cornelia got up to look outside. In the dark she could make out that it was Jimmy. She was about to go out to him when she remembered that she was not supposed to know who he was.
“Aunt Josie, there is somebody outside.”
Her Aunt got up.
“Oh, it is the owner of that boat that I told you about. Hello Mr. Barnett.” Cornelia thought that it was strange to hear anybody call Jimmy ‘Mister’. After all, he was still a teenager like her.
Jimmy came inside and at Josie’s invitation, sat down and seemed immediately relaxed. To her, he seemed out of place in her Aunt’s living room. Thinking of what had happened between them in the past two weeks and what she knew about him, Cornelia felt as if they had allowed something dangerous inside of a safe place. Isaiah, who had been sitting quietly, started baby talking happily, demanding his own share of attention. Jimmy reached down and touched his head.
Instinctively, Cornelia scooped up the toddler and held him in her arms. Isaiah was an innocent child; she would not allow him to be corrupted.
“You know Miss Granville”, Jimmy was saying. “I really need someone who can just look after our boat. Keep her in tip-top shape, you know. See what happened the other day?”
“Well, how often do you take her out?”
“Hmmm, it varies, but nowadays maybe two times a week. Just around the bay, you know. But we plan to take her all over the coast after a while.”
“OK, well I can give her a complete check-up and then we can schedule regular maintenance.”
Josie gestured to Cornelia, “My niece is visiting from Kingston and she would like a ride out before she goes back.”
“Sure, sure,” nodded Jimmy. “Hi Cornelia, I’m Jimmy Barnett. Your Aunt rescued me this week.” Cornelia only nodded. “So maybe she can come out with us tomorrow then, Miss Granville.”
“No. I am responsible for her while she is not in her mother’s care. How about this Saturday afternoon after I come back from the market.”
They agreed to meet Jimmy at his boat on Saturday morning, and he left.
Most of that night, Cornelia lay in her bed in torment. The rational part of her mind said that things would go more smoothly now that her Aunt had met and had approved Jimmy.
“Isn’t that what you wanted?” the steady quiet voice in her head asked.
“I don’t know,” another voice, the one that kept her company most of the time, wailed.
“What’ the problem now?”
“Half of the fun of being with Jimmy was that Aunt Josie didn’t know.”
“So you are going to look for somebody else to hide out with?”
“Of course not! It’s just that seeing him here in the house and how he sat and lied barefaced to Aunt...”
“OK, we lied barefaced to Aunt Josie. I didn’t like it.”
“Well, I only wanted to have a little fun. I am just so tired of other people controlling my life and telling me what I can or cannot do. Especially when there is no good reason. That’s why I had to lie a little. But I am not happy going out with Aunt and Jimmy who is this big drug dealer.”
“But you don’t care about that. Live and let live, remember?”
“Oh I am so confused.”
Cornelia turned over on her stomach and covered her head with a pillow.
“I wish Janvon was here.”
“I don’t know, I just do. Is that wrong too?”
“I think that you need to understand why you do things or don’t do things. That is why we read the bible and pray, so that we can make the decisions that God wants us to make. Anyway, back to Janvon. Who says that he wants to be here with you? Leigh is treating him very nicely.”
“She push up on him too much.”
“And you push him away.”
Cornelia popped her eyes open in shock. What if he stayed away? The thought filled her with dread.
“But why”, Cornelia wondered to herself, “He is just this Rasta boy who wear sandals”.
Then she remembered how eagerly he looked for her over the gate when he came by their house, and how patiently he stood with her while she was shopping.
“And don’t forget that he saved your skin twice”, added the voice in her head.
Cornelia decided that she could not solve everything that night, so put away all thoughts and after a little while, drifted off to sleep.
The next day, Cornelia decided to stay at home and was relieved when Janvon came by in the afternoon. He said that he had been working with his mother that morning.
“Where are the Koeman’s today?”
“They wanted me to go rafting on the Rio Grande in Portland, but I had already told my mother that I would help her. Besides, I would want to go rafting with you.”
“Me?” she replied raising her eyebrows. “Why would you want to go rafting with me?”
He took a deep breath as if he were building up his courage, and then spoke. “Because that is something that you do with someone who is very special to you.”
The thrill of victory coursed though Cornelia’s veins.
“Good”, she thought, “Janvon likes me better than Leigh.”
That feeling was about to wear off very soon, because of what Janvon said next. “I told my Uncle about the drugs that you saw on Jimmy’s boat.”
“Are you crazy! I did not give you any right to tell him.”
Janvon ignored her and continued.
“He said that he had a police friend and that he was going to tell him about it and that
the police might want to question you.”
“Did I give you any message go give anyone”, Cornelia demanded
“Cornelia, come off it; this is serious. When those drugs hit the streets can you imagine how many people are going to get hurt?”
“You’re just jealous and want me to get in trouble.”
“Now I know that you are crazy!”
“No I am not. Listen to this, Aunt Josie is going on his boat on Saturday to look at the engine and she is taking me and Isaiah with her.”
“Come clean and tell her everything, Cornelia.”
The girl leaned on the wall and looked up at the sky.
“If I do that, I will lose the trust of my family forever. Don’t you understand?”
She thought of Jimmy again. Her feelings towards him changed so drastically from moment to moment. What was the right thing to do? She and Janvon stood in silence, and then he asked her if she wanted to go for a short walk. She agreed and told Kaarina Kaye that she would be back soon.
Janvon led her on a route where she had never been before. He took her down the hill and near to the market, but not quite reaching it. They crossed the railway track and entered
into narrow back streets. Now they were in a part of the town that bore no relationship to the glamourous City Centre that she had become used to. Here the road surface was scarred with potholes that were sodden with puddles of sewage and littered with uncollected garbage.
Ramshackle houses in need of repair and paint lined both sides of the road, or were hidden by sheets of rusty corrugated zinc. Yet in the middle of this street some boys were happily pIaying a game of cricket. They used a slab of plywood as a bat, a piece of zinc held up with a stick as the wicket and bowled with a
threadbare tennis ball. Their audience was children stood and skipped on the broken pavement and were rheumy-eyed old men who gazed from inside of a dim rum bar. Cornelia walked carefully, afraid that something nasty would touch her. Then Janvon pushed the zinc gate of a compound and went in. Hesitantly, she followed.
Behind the gate was a yard that housed a warren of buildings and rooms that were
also in a run down state. There was no greenery inside save one scraggly mango tree and the ground was unpaved dirt. Janvon went to a door in a wall and pushed it open. Cornelia adjusted her eyes to the dim light and immediately backed out. The room smelt foul, but Janvon remained inside and cautiously she took a deep breath, held it and went back in.Inside was a woman who looked very, very sick. She lay on her back on a small bed and at that moment was smiling and holding Janvon’s hand. When she spoke it was just above a whisper.
“My youth. Glad to see you.”
“You looking good today Precious.”
“Who come with you?”
Janvon turned to a nauseous Cornelia who was standing just inside the room with her hand over her mouth and nose.
“My friend Cornelia. She knows Isaiah.”
The woman sitting on the bed smiled wider and reached for Cornelia.
“How is my baby?”
Cornelia only opened her eyes wide in amazement. Janvon spoke in her place.
“His latest thing is to pull the leaves off the plants. He likes to check out everything; and he likes music a lot.”
Janvon spent about ten minutes telling Precious of Isaiah’s exploits then told the woman that he would have to leave her. When he did, Cornelia had been standing outside of the door for almost that length of time. There were tears in her eyes. Cornelia waited until they were back out in the street before she burst out in anger.
“Why did you carry me there? We all know that Isaiah is adopted, so what was the point?”
“Precious is like that because of Jimmy’s drugs.”
“Yeah, she and Jimmy were in high school together and she was one of his customers. Well, she had to drop out of school, and to support her drug addict started prostituting herself. Her parents kicked he out and she ended up here when my father and I used to live here, that’s how we got to know her. Well, she got arrested when she was trying to get on a flight to England as a drug mule. She found out that she was HIV positive and also pregnant while she was in prison. After Isaiah was born the prison authorities convinced her to give up the baby and Miss Josie was lucky enough to get him when he was six months.”
“How comes she is not in prison now? Does Aunt Josie know about her? Is Isaiah HIV positive?”
Overwhelmed, Cornelia had so many questions.
“Because she was so sick and my father promised to look after her, she was released on compassionate grounds.
He comes here every day. No, Aunt Josie does not know that Isaiah’s mother is very sick, anyway they agreed to no contact. No, Isaiah does not have the virus.”
“So why do you tell her about Isaiah?”
Janvon looked at Cornelia, and for the first time, she did not see affection streaming from his eyes, instead they were as hard as rocks.
“I don’t understand you Cornelia. You want people to think that you are this big Christian, and yet I can’t find anything about you that is Christian. Yes, it’s obvious that Precious made some wrong choices in her life, some that she hasn’t even fully accepted as yet; and she lies back there dying without a family. Can’t you understand why she would want to know that she will leave at least one beautiful thing here on the earth? Can’t you understand that even though she is nineteen and it is too late for her, seeing you today made her happy knowing that there are still girls out there who are enjoying their lives and who have a future? She said that she is going to pray for you Cornelia, because you are helping to look after Isaiah. She said to me, ‘Keep her safe Janvon’.” The boy hissed his teeth, “I wonder why I bother.”
For the return journey to Aunt Josie’s house, neither of them said anything else.