A Letter for her Cousin
Mama was sitting in her verandah, arms across her weighty breasts. Her lips were pursed as she surveyed the letter on the little table next to her. It was a foreign letter. Could it be from Austin, her daughter’s fiance? Perhaps he was coming back from studying to be an engineer and Jasmine would be able to realize her dreams of being Mrs. Rojas.
Her mind went back to the night she and her daughters, Jasmine and Petal, had met Austin at the annual school dance. The band was playing a castillan, a tune with a very fast Latin rhythm, to which you could dip and swirl on every fifth beat. To everyone’s surprise, Austin came over and asked Mama to dance. It was a dance in which the older folk showed off their expertise and for which very few of the younger ones ventured on to the dance floor, except those who had learnt from their parents.
“May I have this set,” Mrs. Noble?
“Why, of course. If you don’t mind having an ol’ lady as a partner.”
“You’re not old. Hope I don’t step on your toes.”
They were already in the middle of the dance floor, doing their whirls effortlessly, in time to the music.
Mrs. Noble’s daughters were giggling to see their heavy –set mother, spinning around in the arms of this tall and slender, good-looking young man. She, however, light on her feet, despite her size, was thrilled at the attention directed at her. She dipped and pirouetted to the strains of violin and banjo, cuatro and piano.
Country dances were such fun. There was a festive quality about them and an easy familiarity; even the strangers fitted in and got into the act. Spectators were either cheering the dancers on or clapping in time to the music. They lacked the sophistication of the town dances, as most people knew each other. Outsiders were welcomed openly, as they usually came with someone well known in the village.
The music had stopped with a flourish. Dancers and spectators alike showed their pleasure and approval with shouts and loud applause. They admired good dancing and the movements of both dancers were fluid and easy, like something well rehearsed.
Rosa opened her eyes and stared at her two daughters. She must have dozed off, she thought. Instinctively, her eyes darted towards the letter, then they rested on her older daughter, Jasmine. She, too. was engrossed in her own thoughts. She was reliving the dance at the school.
The golden moon, large and round, gave off its incandescent light on to the trees and branches silhouetted against it. This scenic beauty remained a symbol of that romantic night. Austin had whisked her away from the crowded dance floor, on to the school veranda, after he had deposited her mother into her seat. Rosa, exhausted from her whirls and spins and dips dropped heavily into the chair, chuckling and heaving and fanning herself with her tiny handkerchief.
“How beautiful!” Jasmine murmured as Austin danced her on to the school veranda away from the crowd that was beginning to converge on to the dance floor.
“Yes, it is beautiful, Jasmine”, admiring her ecstatic gaze at the moon. “I’ll have many wonderful memories to take with me while I’m abroad.”
“Abroad? You going somewhere, Austin?”
“Yes, my grandfather always had the ambition for me to become an engineer. He wants a lot of reconstruction work done on the estate.”
Jasmine’s heart sank. Just when she thought she had found him, he was going away.
“In three months.”
She gave a slight shiver.
“No, no. I’m alright.” She was not
She returned to her seat feeling less ecstatic than when Austin had proffered his hand to her. Her mother detected that she was a little restrained. But Austin was now extending his hand to Petal, who sprang up easily and effortlessly to be whisked away to the strains of “The Anniversary Waltz”.
Petal, too, was looking at the letter, wondering what mystery it conveyed. She was quite happy when Austin finally escorted Jasmine back to her seat and offered her his hand for the next dance. She knew, though, that she wouldn’t stand a chance with Austin. Mama wouldn’t allow it. There was already a hint of a threat: “Yuh know you wid yuh hot-up self, always pushing up yuhself to some man. Yuh only fifteen, yuh have time.
Petal resented this attitude of her mother, as much as she resented the fact that her sister was seventeen with a greater promise of a rich future than she. There wasn’t much to look forward to in the village. Most of the young men had left in search of a more exciting life, for jobs to enable them to earn decent wages, to live independent lives.
The proprietor of the largest estate in Maturite was old man Rojas. He and his grandson Austin lived in the large rambling old house. Many of the older folks remembered the annual crop dances at the Rojas’ “Casa Roja” The door, the jalousies (shutters), the wooden columns and the railing of the gallery that ran right around the house were painted deep red. The rest of the house was an immaculate white. The wooden floors were stained and varnished in mahogany. The lighting of the gaslight, which was accompanied by a hissing sound, threw the children of the workers into nervous laughter. They never forgot the time one of the lamps burst into flames and was thrown into the yard and a load of sand dumped on it to extinguish the fire. For safety, the lamp was always lit outside, then brought inside, where it would hang centrally from one of the rafters.
Rosa Noble was one of those ladies who remembered going to the “Casa Roja” to dance as a young girl. Together with her six sisters and brother, she timidly ascended the strong, wide wooden steps, led by their imperious mother and insignificant-looking father. Mrs. Rousseau, Rosa’s mother, would not have missed such a grand occasion, even if she were dying. It was necessary to show off her daughters in their pastel-coloured muslin dresses, trimmed with white lace edging, a hibiscus flower pinned in their hair. At least one, or perhaps two, might make a good catch.
The Rousseau daughters were giggling as they glanced at the young men lined up against the far wall. Some they knew, either because their parents were acquaintances, or their sisters were friends of theirs. But in the company of Ma and Pa Rousseau there was a certain diffidence and awkwardness. Just a slight wave of the hand or a timid smile was their acknowledgement.
Rojas was coming straight to the group, welcoming them, bowing to the mother and young ladies and leading them to seats in a perfectly gentlemanly manner. “I’m so glad you could all come.” Mrs. Rousseau assured him that she wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Rosa was remembering that dance too. She remembered the excitement that overwhelmed her when Raul approached the group, hands outstretched. She was out of her seat before he actually reached. “Don’t appear too eager,” her mother whispered. Raul felt the tremor in Rosa’s body. He whisked her away, away from the family, holding her firmly. She couldn’t get her feet to synchronize with the rhythm, even though she and her sisters and Pedro their brother practised these steps many times. Their father would strum these tunes on the guitar and their uncles joined in with cuatro and banjo. She made one or two faux pas and Raul, ever the cavalier, took the blame. “It’s I who am clumsy, forgive me.”
Now, out of the family’s gaze, he pressed her a little more closely to him and let his hand rest on her behind. Rosa felt a little thrill and some embarrassment. She wasn’t sure who was watching, but Raul had his eyes on her family and made quite sure that his hand movements were not seen by them. She thought a sense of decorum would demand that she object, but Raul’s status in the village gave her reason to be quiet. He had inherited the family estate, employed about one third of the workers in the village, and rumour had it that he was now looking for a wife to satisfy his father’s wish for a grandson before his death.
A knock on the door brought Rosa back to earth. Petal and Jasmine both rose to open it, but it was boldly pushed open by Mira, the village gossip.
“All yuh sleepin, the house so quiet” Her eyes didn’t miss the letter with the foreign stamps lying on the centre table. She threw a glance at Jasmine, hoping for some enlightenment, but no one satisfied her curiosity.
“Yuh hear Rojas get a heart attack.” Rosa sat bolt upright, her two daughters all ears and wide-eyed.
“Last night. He in the hospital.”
Rosa felt a slight constriction in her heart. She had carried that passion for him all these years, even through her marriage and raising her two girls. It was after the church bazaar when he had lingered after the others. When he thought it was safe, he pulled her into a little alcove, partly secluded by crotons and hibiscus trees, palms and bougainvilleas that played frontage to some abandoned house.
Excitement and fear had overcome her. She was pulling away. “Rosa, Rosa, I never see you alone.” “You know how strict Mama is. Don’t talk about Papa. Dey always warning me not to end up like the girls working on the estate, pushing a belly.” Raul tried to control his anger. “You know what you doing to me? Just one kiss before you go.” His mouth was on hers and his hands pressing her to him. She tried to push him away. She felt herself weakening. “No, Raul, stop!” He did. This was not the time or place. She was almost running, so as not to be too late.
The following morning Raul was up early to head for the capital to pursue his bookkeeping course. In about five years his father expected him to take over the business and manage it efficiently, to deal with brokers, customs, exporters and other businessmen. From Maturite, his father would drop him off at the Sangre Grande Station where he would take the train to the city.
The rhythm of the train – chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug – was sending him off to sleep. Coming back to Maturite on weekends always gave him pleasure. He couldn’t get Rosa out of his mind. She was unlike the girls who worked on his father’s estate. While they were not necessarily easy, they didn’t have the same taboos about sex before marriage. No family honour to uphold, their make-do existence and the harsh realities of life sometimes forced them into situations they might have avoided if they could. Even some of the others with whom he was acquainted didn’t have Rosa’s magic. Her smile brightened her lovely face and the swaying of her hips tantalized him.
In the city, Blanche was always hovering around. Bolder, a city girl, she felt no qualms about approaching him at the football games. She would ask him to walk her home, where he would bid good-day to her ailing mother and her father who had taken to drink after the loss of his job at the Bauxite Company. Raul would chat for a short while at the gate and leave for his aunt’s home, two streets away in Newtown, where he stayed during the week, ever since his college days.
When Blanche invited him to go on an excursion ‘down the islands’, one of the small island resorts off the north-west coast of Trinidad, he had declined. Accepting meant missing a whole weekend away from home. He was always happy to see Rosa, either at Sunday mass or at one of the church or school fetes, or running into her accidentally. He could never find her alone, and trying to arrange a clandestine meeting always proved unsuccessful.
He then thought perhaps it might be good for Rosa not to see him at church on Sunday morning or when she went to confession on Saturday afternoon. He would always walk in the direction of the church so he could join herself and her sister as they came out. Bella would sometimes walk a little ahead of them and so give those two a chance to whisper to each other.
The ride on the launch was full of fun and laughter. Rough, choppy seas did not daunt the spirit of the young people, their bags and sacks close to them, from enjoying the moment. The blue sky and fierce sun promised a beautiful day. The strong breeze blew through their clothes and kept them refreshed. Gatherings like these are not complete without music of some kind. One chap played some of the popular calypsoes on his mouth organ and the others joined in clapping, singing, or beating time with ‘bottle and spoon’. All joined in the chorus, adding a festive air to the occasion.
Raul was forgetting his earlier doubt in the revelry of the moment and Blanche was holding his hand possessively. “I’m so glad you decided to come after all,” she told him. He smiled a little sheepishly. They were mainly Blanche’s friends and he never truly felt at home with them.
Mrs. Rousseau was informing Mr. Noble that Rosa would be back soon. Chances were that if she had seen his bicycle leaning against the fence, she would have slipped over by the neighbours to avoid seeing him. Rosa was very polite to Mr. Noble, but she was tired of telling her mother that she did not want to marry him. Mrs. Rousseau was forever telling her stiff-necked daughter what a good catch Mr. Noble was, but Rosa was dead set against marrying him. Thirty was definitely too old, and he was too strait-laced and dull for her eighteen years. A teacher earning a regular income held no fascination for her. It was only Raul she could think of. “He has a good and steady job. You’ll be better off marrying him than some of the workers who have to depend on whether the season is good for the crops or those in badly paid jobs.
It was Raul she had all feelings for. Her parents thought he was too wild. Going to school in the city set him apart from the other males. He seemed a little too sophisticated for them. Now he was doing further studies there. Some weekends he brought down a high-flying set and their behaviour was suspect to the rural folk.
Raul returned from the outing with Blanche with mixed feelings. He had enjoyed himself immensely. What with the festive air, the food, the music and the drinks, the jokes. When a few couples began moving away from the group, Blanche was encouraging him to do the same. Lest his reluctance made him appear 'chicken’, he allowed himself to be persuaded.
He should have known that isolating themselves from the others could result in an intimate encounter. “What choice did I have?” he thought. He felt that doing the right thing sometimes puts you in the wrong. “Was I too weak?” he asked himself. “I must avoid seeing her again” He had no intention of getting seriously involved with Blanche. City girls were a bit too fast for him.
Raul, however, three months after the excursion, returned one weekend with a pregnant wife. Rosa fell ill and determined to end her life. The doctor’s prescriptions and medications , together with the mother’s nagging soon got her out of bed. Mr. Noble was now allowed to visit.
Rosa married Stanley Noble when she had recovered. Stanley was patient, loving and tender to his young bride. She performed her wifely duties without love. She made no effort to please him and he did everything to please her. In time, he was spending most of his evenings carrying out extra-curricular activities and teaching night classes. Rosa’s unhappiness submerged itself in her delight for food. The spread around her hips was not as pleasing to the eyes as the spread of food on the table.
Rosa’s two girls were born two years apart. The love she never gave their father, she showered on them. Never would she have thought that Raul’s son, Austin, one year older than Jasmine, would have been a suitor for her daughter’s hand. “Was this a good idea?” she thought. The son of her former lover wishing to marry her daughter. She had asked the advice of Bella who saw nothing wrong. “It’s not as if they were related by blood. She eventually overcame her misgivings.
Hope and anxiety played little games with her mind. Perhaps Austin was coming back to marry Jasmine, but why address the letter to Cassie. Unless it was Cassie all along. Perhaps he has met someone else and wants Cassie to break the news to Jasmine. Rosa sighed bitterly at the confusion of her thoughts. Where was Cassie anyway? Her sister Bella’s daughter. She tolerated Cassie. She had promised Bella to look after her, but she wished Jasmine was more like her – bright, very attractive, a favourite with most. Rosa was always trying to play down Cassie’s accomplishments – her lovely voice, her musical skills on the guitar and banjo
In the large estate house, Blanche found herself in a new world. Wife of the land-owner’s son gave her privileges she never experienced before. Everything was managed as if she were a visitor. She was given no say in what meals were to be cooked. Everything was done just as it was done before she came to live there. Raul and his wife were called to table and partook of what was presented to them and to Raul’s father. Things were on a far grander scale than what she was accustomed to. Large slices of bread, ham, bacon and eggs, egg dishes of different varieties, salted fish in olive oil with onions and tomatoes, avocadoes and cress, overlaid the long dining table. Three months before Blanche would have surrendered herself to such a repast, but today she squirmed inside as nausea overtook her. She excused herself from the table and made her way to the bathroom.
“Now that you’re a man, you have to begin managing the estate. A husband and father must accept responsibilities. Tomorrow we’ll get the overseers together and let them know that you’re now in charge.” From his earliest days Raul had followed his father about on the estate. He saw how his father handled the workers, arranged to have the produce harvested, ready for carting. Even when he returned from college in the city during the holidays, he was there taking an account of what trees had to be pruned, or to be cut down, what had to be picked and so on.
What Raul had always wanted to do was to go hunting at night with his father. Not until he was eighteen was he allowed this triumphant entry into the men’s world. When he was twentyone he was given his first rifle. During the day he was allowed to shoot at birds. At night it was the agouti, lappe and manicou. It was an experience his city friends did not have. Few of them had been out of the city, except for an excursion here and there.
On a tempestuous stormy night Blanche’s screams were barely audible above the roar of the thunder and the eerie screeching of the trees. The fierce winds surged up and through the branches. The heavy rains and barking dogs, the falling fruit and creaking of the older trees all added to the terror of the night. The midwife had come early in the evening and stayed on to carry out her duties. The assistance of the older women, servants though they were, under her direction, would make her task simpler.
A piercing scream helped project and propel Austin into the world. It was a night to remember. Raul was not even there. He had gone to the Pamponette’s eight miles away and the storm was too fierce to risk returning that night. He knew Blanche would be alright. There were sufficient people in the house and he had arranged with the midwife to come and look after his wife just in case. Sometimes the doctors are wrong with their predictions.
Raul’s return to the house was greeted with loud applause and laughter. “Congratulations!” The children of the servants were sheepishly offering theirs too, smiling and pushing each other out of the way. No word of criticism or condemnation for the young master of the house.
Pride and surprise overwhelmed Raul’s exterior calm. Was it possible to feel such tremendous love for a puny, defenceless little creature? He looked at his son in wonder as he caressed his wife’s brow and pecked at her face. Blanche felt reassured by his return. There were so many lonely days and nights in this strange house. She was removed from everything she was accustomed to. the bright city lights, paved roads, concrete houses, within calling distance of each other, parks, the Grand Savannah, the tram cars, well-dressed ladies and gentlemen taking afternoon strolls, the speech of people she could understand, not the mixture of patois and a dialect that was foreign to her ears.
The servants were a little in awe of her. Their children were always curiously watching her. The parents were forever shooing them away. It was worse at night. She couldn’t get used to the mosquitoes and sandflies that took delight in biting her light brown skin. To enjoy a cool night out of the house she had to be rubbed down with one of the insect repellants. She detested the smell but had little choice. Most nights Raul was away – gone hunting or off playing all-fours with other estate owners and overseers.
When loneliness took possession of her, she would walk along the pebbled road that stretched for about a mile to the main road. The large trees and thick vines provided cool shade and the flowers and shrubs that grew along the edges perfumed the air with their fragrant scent. This was the best part of the day for Blanche; she would return to the house at any point along the way.
Since Austin’s birth she started walking in the morning, just before sunrise. This got her back to the house before the heat made her walk unbearable. She would nurse the baby after her morning shower, while the women got breakfast ready. Sometimes she would stand at her bedroom window and look at the activities going on outside. Some of the children would be feeding the chickens, throwing corn and other grain on the ground. One or two of the women would try to catch one of the fowls that they intended to prepare for lunch.
It was on one of her morning walks that Blanche met Mr. Noble. Mr. Noble had spoken to Mr. Rojas, an important benefactor of the school, at the school sports. He had suggested that during the school vacation Mr. Noble could come to the house and teach the estate children the three R’s, at least for about a couple of hours. This invitation the teacher most gladly accepted “You see, Noble, the school is too far away for the children to get there and back in time to do their chores. They’re a great help to their parents.” “I think it’s quite a noble thing you’re doing for the children, to help them get an education.” Stanley Noble responded. “Who knows where this would lead?” he continued. Raul agreed that this was a brilliant idea. He saw it as a beginning to reduce the ignorance displayed by some of the workers.
Mr. Noble entered his new role with such enthusiasm that his recruits took his teaching with great humour. His chart displayed the first five letters of the alphabet – a for axe, b for banana, c for cat, d for dog and e for egg, with the pictures representing the letters. He chose other words to get them used to the sounds of these letters before he moved on. They were enjoying this little respite from work. There were about twelve of them ranging in ages from six to thirteen. Blanche soon came to assist and began teaching them short sentences and also telling them stories. These stories were quite different from the folk lore they were accustomed hearing that scared the daylights out of the younger ones. Blanche read them the ones taught in the government and denominational schools: The Three Bears, The Fox and the Grapes and other Aesop fables. The children enjoyed them and were really good students, eager to learn.
Blanche helped the younger ones to form letters. The opportunity to assist others greatly reduced the boredom and loneliness she had been experiencing. She actually looked forward to Stanley’s visit. He came at 10 a.m. and left at 2 p.m. Classes would cease at 12 noon when the children would go their various homes in and around the estate for lunch. About five of them ate in the large kitchen which stretched away from the house and was separated by a covered area. This area held benches where the women would sit, pick their rice and their peas, shell their corn from the husks, pound their green plantain in their mortar. Stanley was invited to stay for lunch so that he could resume classes at one p.m.
When Stanley sensed that Blanche was lonely too often and too long, he would bring books for her to read. She was more interested in romance and detective stories. It wasn’t easy to get his hand on romance, but he was able to get some used magazines from his sisters who were always discussing some development in a love triangle or some impending tragedy. He found one or two copies of Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner for which she was most grateful. After making sure young Austin was fed and rocked to sleep, she would curl up in the big bed and follow the activities of her new-found companions.
Blanche and Stanley would sometimes discuss the books they read, agreeing or disagreeing on some point. She defended a woman’s right to look for love elsewhere if her husband wasn’t providing it. “You talking about something else – not love.” he interposed “Well, you know what I mean.” she countered. Her hazel eyes flashed at him for a few seconds , then glanced away. His eyes penetrated hers. He said softly, “Don’t do anything foolish, you hear?” She sucked her teeth at him, “when, where, how?”
That night he thought about their conversation. The little signals that were ignored but now took on new meaning. Sighs, light touches when pointing out something to him, little gestures that he had put down to her being a city girl came to his mind.
Cassie had rushed in and rushed out again. She was barely paying attention to what her aunt and cousins were saying to her. She heard something about a letter. Her boss was impatiently waiting for her to bring the pay sheet and records for the labourers who had worked and the times they had worked. She couldn’t even stay to tidy her hair or fix the pins that came loose. She had gone as she had come – in a breeze.
Afternoons were pleasant times for Stanley and his daughters. They were four and six. He’d take them on his bicycle, one in the front basket and the other on the crossbar to a little spot by the river. The sun never got through on the eastern side, the huge trees with their spreading branches provided the coolest shade. On the western side of the river the sun threw its light on a wall of rocks and short trees. Some time previously, heavy rains had channelled out a path for the river to get rid of its water, bringing down large rocks and stones. Ensuing from this a little pool, separate from the river itself, had formed.
This little pool was a delight to Stanley and his two daughters, Jasmine and Petal. He took them there whenever he could. Little fish of different colours darting and swimming, under and above little rocks and pebbles, iridescent in the sun’s light, never failed to excite the children. Stanley was so proud of his two girls and their delight pleased him immensely. Whenever he was supervising football matches on the playground, he would sometimes take them along. They would sit with the other members of the football club until it was time for home. The girls loved these outings with their dad and would sometimes ask, “Dad you taking us by the pool today?” or “When we goin football?” and he would promise “Soon” and make time to do so.
One day, on impulse, Stanley asked Blanche, “Would you like to come along with the girls and myself to the pool? You can bring Austin along. He should enjoy the company of the girls. “Great idea!” She got the servants to pack a basket with food and drinks and off they went. It was a happy afternoon for the children, as well as for the adults. They entered into the joy of seeing the children so happy, trying to catch butterflies and to hold live fishes in their hands and picking flowers that grew on the banks of the river. The merry voices of the children were filling the air.
The school holidays would end soon and new arrangements would have to be made for the teaching of the estate children. Blanche suggested she could take them in the afternoons during the week and Stanley could come on a Saturday morning to do his bit. Austin by this time was attending a private school nearby. Going to the pool in the river was left for Saturday afternoons when Stanley was free from supervising a football or cricket match for the school. He was always busy, but in the country everything was done in such a leisurely manner that there was no tiring of the body. Then there were always school holidays.
At the pool the wild games of the children sometimes sent them rolling in the water and the adults would rush to steady them. They would find themselves bumping into each other and having to hold each other as well. Sometimes their hands lingered as they touched. Their presence was filling a void in their lives. The children were too happy and perhaps too young to notice anything.
Soon they were coming without the children. Blanche would leave Austin with the children of the servants Her walk would take her to an abandoned shack, covered with thatch. Stanley would ride from the opposite direction and wait for her. She would sit on the crossbar and they would make their way to their favourite spot. They chose times when they thought they were safe. Blanche’s hazel eyes would look sadly at him. There was usually a grave look on her oval face, her smooth hair brushed back and held by a rubber band. His dark eyes penetrated hers and she would move closer to him to avoid his stare. “What you thinking?” she would ask. “That we shouldn’t be here like this. I’m more concerned for you than for myself. Women pay more dearly for indiscretions than men.”
The twittering and chirping of the birds, the lapping of the water on the stones and the humming of the bees and other insects, added to the romance of the moment. He, tentative at first, soon responded to her amorous playfulness. They were lying on a crocus bag side by side. She knew that she couldn't or shouldn’t stay too long. She pulled his hand over her breast and leaned over, kissing him full on the mouth. She ran her hands along his body. His response was total and immediate. Stanley hated leaving her to walk from the shack to the gap, but it was wiser, she thought. He would give her time to get on to the road then take a different path and exit at a point lower down the road.
It was their third or fourth rendezvous. Settled in their relationship, earlier misgivings on his part were replaced by expectancy and a feeling of being wanted. They were rolling and laughing on the crocus bag. Was that a crack? Heavy boots on dry branches. They turned to look. Raul and his overseer were standing over them, the rifle in Raul’s hand pointed at them as rage glowered in his face. As he cocked the rifle, the overseer lowered Raul’s hand and whispered to him: ”There’s a better way.”
The overseer drove Blanche back to the city that very afternoon. His only words to her were, “Mr. Rojas, he say, doh ever set yuh foot on the estate again.” The following day the overseer told the workers that Mr. Rojas had left for Venezuela on business.
Rosa was surprised that her husband hadn’t come home that night. He came home every night. She felt a constriction in her throat. Did he begin following the all-night card playing crowd, getting home in the wee hours of the morning. She tried not to panic. Could something have happened to him? Early in the morning she received a message that her husband had drowned. “Drowned?” “How?” she asked in disbelief. She let out a howl. “Dey say he hit his head on a rock” was the only answer she got. Rosa collapsed on to the nearest chair, weeping as the messenger asked if there was anything she wanted him to do. “Go and ask Bella to come for me, please. How I go tell my two girls dey father drown?” She knew she was hardly ever a true wife, now she was a real widow and her girls, five and seven, were now fatherless. “Who was to provide for them?” She couldn’t help feeling that this was her punishment for not confessing to Father Sebastian her withdrawal of her conjugal obligations. Perhaps his prayers for her might have absolved her of her sin. Doubt and confusion overcame her as she pondered about her future.
Cassie had returned in a rush, breathless from making up for her slip in forgetting important documents. Petal had gone to a rehearsal for a part she had in the church. concert. Jasmine had reluctantly left her mother to attend her sewing and embroidery classes. Mrs. Noble was now wedged in the rocking chair in the gallery ‘to get some breeze’. Mrs. Noble called out: “Yuh see yuh letter? “Not yet, ah coming now.” She came out, picked up the letter and went to her room. After her initial surprise at hearing from Austin, she was further shocked to read the contents of the letter.
He was asking Cassie to convey what he felt was too painful to write directly to Jasmine about. The information would pierce her heart like a dagger. He could never come back to the island He needed an intermediary. Austin was asking her to tell the family that his father had killed Mr. Noble in a fit of jealous rage. This disturbing confession from an alcoholic Raul in Venezuela, where Austin was studying, had thrown his son into the deepest despair.
How was Cassie to convey this news to the family? It was better to give Aunt Rosa the letter while the girls were out. Rosa groaned under the impact of this tale; her heart began to palpitate. Cassie ran for a glass of water. When she returned, Rosa was in a dead faint. Before she ran for help, Cassie picked up the letter from the floor, where it had fallen, and hurriedly tore it into pieces.
Author: Phyllis M. Inniss
4th April, 05
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