“I really don’t know what to say to your mother,” Josie lamented.
She and Cornelia were sitting at home that very evening trying to get over the events of the afternoon.
“Don’t say anything Aunt Josie,” Cornelia suggested, then regretted it.
“Girl, are you crazy? For good or ill I must tell your parents what happened. My God,
maybe I should send you back to Kingston first thing tomorrow.”
Cornelia immediately felt her heart lurch. That meant that she would not see Janvon again.
“I’m OK Aunt.”
But Aunt Josie was not listening.
“When I think about the danger that I put you in Cornelia, I feel sick. What is Montego
Bay coming to? Where are our young people going, dear Lord?” “Can we tell the police where the drugs are Aunt Josie?”
“We could... then we could dig out own graves after that. You don’t know these people
Cornelia, they will kill you in the streets.”
“So what is going to happen?”
But her Aunt had gone off again.
“When I think of Jimmy Barnett, I weep. He is from a good family, you know. How did
he go so wrong, so early? How old is he? I am sure he hasn’t reached twenty years yet. Cornelia, we must pray for these people. Only the blood of Jesus can help them now.”
As her Aunt clasped her hands and started to pray, so did Cornelia, and as hard as she prayed for the drug dealers, she prayed even more for herself.
The next morning even before they set out for church horn blew at the front gate. It was Roger, Janvon’s uncle. Cornelia let him inside the house Aunt Josie came out of her
bedroom. She was dressed, but her hair was still under her headtie.
“Josie”, he said, “Janvon told me what happened, Christ, if I had known that you were
going to go out with Jimmy Barnett I would have begged you not to.”
Relieved, Cornelia thought to herself that this is where Roger will tell all. She will be released from the burden of her secret, but he only continued with lamentations.
“When I think that something bad could have happened to you, I just feel awful”
He sat on the sofa with his head in his hands. Josie joined him there.
“How were we to know? Somehow Janvon found out and, well, he nearly got himself killed too.”
Roger looked at her steadily.
“Josie, you are a strong woman, but you need someone to look after you. You never
know what these guys are going to do.”
“Roger, I just don’t know what to do. Should I tell the police? What if they come after
one of us?”
The stress of lurking terror caused tears to well up in her eyes and she willingly sank into his open arms for an embrace. He held her for a while then spoke quietly in her ear.
“Josie, yes. I think that you should tell the police. They may not catch him right away, but at least it will give them more intelligence on Jimmy’s and other drug operations. We both have sons to raise in this city.”
A few awkward moments passed when they just stood and looked in each other’s eyes, then Roger seemed to be distracted by something from outside and smiled broadly. He pointed to an orange butterfly that was poised on a scarlet hibiscus flower in the garden. Its bright wings were beating very slowly as it soaked up the sunshine.
He looked at Josie still smiling and spoke so softly, that had she not been listening keenly, Cornelia would have missed it.
“I heard it Josie, you’re making the butterflies sing for me again.’ Josie only looked down, then awkwardly pulled herself away without looking in his face.
“You’re making us late for church, so if you want to do something good just drop us over there. I think that you know where it is.”
It took two days for Aunt Josie to be convinced that going to the police was the right
thing to do. She felt guilty not telling her sister about the situation, but she did not feel safe discussing the matter over the telephone. So one afternoon, Roger quietly collected her from her workplace after having picked up Janvon and Cornelia, and after assuring themselves that they were not being followed went into the Barnett Street Police Station. They had to drive past Barnett’s Custom’s Brokers and Cornelia could not bring herself to look at the building. Roger had arranged for a private interview with his friend, an Inspector. After each of them had given their statements independently of each other, the Inspector thanked them for their commitment to fight crime and they went home.
Riding in the back of the van, Janvon asked Cornelia how much longer she had in town. Even as she thought of it, Cornelia was shocked.
“I go home on Friday, in three days! Less than three days, actually because the train leaves in the morning, I think. That means I need to buy a ticket tomorrow.”
Janvon shook his head at her.
“Girl, where have you been? Don’t you know that the government stopped train passenger service weeks ago? It was on the radio. As a matter of fact, I think that you came down on the last train from Kingston to Montego Bay.”
“So how am I going to get back?”
“I am going to have to take a country bus to get back into Kingston?”
Cornelia was horrified at the thought. Already she could see herself sweating and squeezed in between other passengers and the aroma of produce and live animals that will drift into the bus.
She snapped out of thinking about that scene as Janvon was speaking again.
“I still want to show you many things Cornelia.”
He looked a bit bashful.
“Well, simple things really, like my school. I am going to try out for the quiz team in September.
“Really, me too! Maybe our schools will play each other.”
Emboldened Janvon spoke again.
“And you have to meet my mother, I told her about you.”
It reminded Cornelia of something.
“Has Leigh met your mother?”
“Oh. When is she going back?”
“On Sunday, why?”
To Cornelia’s annoyance, her heart jumped in her chest and she thought to herself, “Two days after me.” For some reason that was important.
When they parted, Janvon asked if he could come by the next morning and she told him yes.
The following morning Cornelia was surprised by the toot of a horn at the gate followed by her Aunt heading through the door and into a waiting van.
“Roger is taking me to work”, was her quick explanation as she hurried out of the house.
Cornelia and Janvon spent the morning first visiting his school, then enjoying an ice cream while sitting on the sea wall on Ward Avenue and ending with a patty at a pastry shop in town. Janvon said that he had to go home and rest for that evening because he was accompanying Leigh to the street dance, it dampened the rest of Cornelia’s day.
Aunt Josie had already said that they were going to mid-week bible meeting, so there was no chance of her going with them.
“Mr. Koeman is going too?” she asked fearfully.
“No, he says that he is saving his strength for golf tomorrow morning.”
Try as she might that evening to concentrate on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Cornelia could not help but imagine Leigh in some skimpy summer outfit being held by Janvon from behind as they ‘bump and grind in the Congo line’.
“Love is not jealous...” the scripture in her hands said, “... it is not irritable or resentful.” Cornelia looked over at her aunt and saw that her face was uplifted in sincere prayer.
She shut her own eyes and tried to think kind thoughts of Leigh, but after a few moments gave up and prayed instead for her own deliverance from evil.
“We are going to visit your grandmother this evening,” said Josie on Cornelia’s last morning in Montego Bay.
“Grandma Phoebe?” Cornelia was truly surprised. Her maternal grandmother was never mentioned in the family. Apparently she was not considered by her daughters to be a good influence around their children. Then the second impact from that statement came home to her. If she spent the evening with her grandmother, when was she going to say goodbye to Janvon?
She waited in vain all morning for him to appear, and by early afternoon was practically in tears. It was time for her to get her things together for travel the next day. Aunt
had found out where the buses to Kingston parked and the times that they left. Roger was going to pick her up the next morning and take her there. As she packed her bags she saw
the swimsuit, sandals, wrap and tote bag that Jimmy bought for her the day that they went to Dunns River. Because of her, they were all nearly killed. They were beautiful things, but how could she keep them now? Because she did not know what else to do, she packed them anyway.
Janvon did not appear until they were about to leave in Rogers’ van. Despite herself, Cornelia could only demand, “Where were you all day?”
“I had to get up and help my mother then went back to sleep. I was so tired from last night.”
“So when were you planning to see me? We’re going out now and I don’t know how long we will stay and I am leaving the house at 8:30 tomorrow morning.”
“Cornelia, I’m sorry.”
“That can’t help us now, can it. So, goodbye Janvon Sewell. It was nice knowing you.”
She got into the back of the van and slammed the door in his face blinking tears back from her eyes. Josie and Roger in the front were oblivious of the tension between the young people and only asked if she was in, then drove away.
Phoebe Sunderland lived the life that she loved. In her younger days it meant sleeping
In the days and working as a limbo dancer in the hotels and cruise ships at night. She was good at what she did and it earned her more than a living wage. She had twin daughters when she was only 17, two years older than Cornelia was, and was able to pay for someone to care for them. So Penny and Josie were raised by a series of women who were paid to look after them while their mother pursued her dancing career. She seemed to be never home when they were awake, and worked on weekends and all holidays. The girls grew up barely knowing their mother and later resented her for it. It included her not giving them proper names such as Penelope and Josephine but shortening it to Penny and Josie; Phoebe had said that the longer names were too old fashioned and heavy for her babies.
Then when they were twelve years of age Phoebe was nearly engaged to an American millionaire. She left the girls to travel around the world with him, only to return single and broken-hearted eleven months later. By that time the girls had learned that her behaviour was wrong in the eyes of the Lord and they set themselves above their own mother. They scorned the fabulous gifts of dresses the Austrian crystal and Dutch china that she brought back with her. Nobody else’s mother in their school dressed so outlandishly or had a job like hers. What the girls did not appreciate at the time was that it was the money from her job that allowed them to have the private church school education that they received and appreciated. Nowadays, Phoebe rented rooms in her house to aspiring showgirls and cabaret performers. She saw herself in them, passionate about their art and hoping for their big break. So her house was usually a carnival of people and music and costumes. Josie felt out of place in that environment as she stood on her mother’s doorstep for the first time in years.
“Phoebe”, shouted a young man who came out at their call, “Some people here to you.” He was dressed in a white frilled shirt and black tuxedo trousers under a silver jacket. His hair was the result of a careful curl. He smiled the visitors a goodbye as he hummed a tune and danced down the driveway and out into the night.
Josie grimaced when she saw her mother. Phoebe had refused to grow old gracefully. At the moment she wore heavy makeup and had gold jewellery on almost every exposed part of her body. She was also wearing a brightly coloured tight t-shirt that stretched over
brassieres pointed like torpedoes, tight jeans and red stiletto sandals. Phoebe however, was warm to her visitors.
“Ah Josie, Josie, or is it Penny? I can’t tell! Who is this little fellow? Everybody, come meet my daughter and this is my granddaughter, Lia. I remember because they sent me pictures.”
After enduring the first swarm of introductions from a host of residents who seemed to be part of a circus cast, Josie got a chance to speak to her mother.
“Phoebe, I want you to forgive me for not being a good daughter. Cornelia has been here for a month and she is going back tomorrow, I wanted her to visit you.
Cornelia looked at her grandmother and realized that it was like looking at her own spirit. This unconventional woman, the survivor of her brave decisions, many of them probably questionable, still had the generosity of heart to love her family in absentia and wish them well. Cornelia did not know if she had that level of selfless love in her, but at that moment, wanted it. But to be loved completely for yourself means that you have to present yourself with total honesty. Phoebe’s eyes, dulled by cataracts and under brows drawn in a high arch with a black pencil, looked into hers.
“Do you like Montego Bay mi dear? Tell grandma Phoebe about it.”
Her approach was so open and so unlikely to be not condemning, that in front of Aunt Josie, Roger and baby Isaiah, Cornelia told her all.