By Felicita Robinson
When Martha invited me to spend the summer vacation with her, I was overjoyed. This was my first trip to the country part of Jamaica. Being a city girl, I was delighted that I was going to actually spend the entire summer away from the city. However, I didn’t bargain for what happened during that summer, which made it the most memorable vacation of my entire life.
Martha’s grandparents picked us up one Sunday morning and we headed for St. Thomas at the northeastern end of the island. St. Thomas is noted for its coconut trees and copra, which is the dried white flesh of the coconut from which coconut oil is extracted.
As we approached Bowden, the town where Martha’s grandparents lived, I noticed that a lot of coconut trees dominated the skyline. This did not come as a surprise as Martha always shared this fact with me.
My first night in Bowden, however, was filled with many surprises. First, there was no electricity! Kerosene lamps were brought out on the verandah and lit as we all met after dinner. This was the time of day when the family shared the day’s events. As I sat and listened to the conversations, I noticed the fireflies outside, as they lit up the dark sky. This was also another surprise for me, as we rarely see fireflies in the city. Fireflies are called peenie-wallies in Jamaica.
That night the countryside seemed like a different world to me. The air was cool, fresh and misty. Only the conversations on the verandah competed with the sounds of the frogs and the crickets. The moths buzzing around the lamps made their own music too. Then there was the sweet scent of the jasmine blossoms which hung heavily in the air. The night was truly magical and peaceful, and soon I started dozing. Suddenly, from a distant I faintly heard my name and thought I was dreaming, but soon realized that I was not.
“Cherie,” said Martha’s grandmother, Mrs. Archer, “come to bed and bring one of the lanterns with you.”
I jumped up somewhat confused and rubbed both my eyes. As I got accustomed to my surroundings, I noticed that except for the verandah, now brightly lit by two lanterns, the rest of the house was in total darkness and I was alone. Everyone had gone inside!
I was afraid to go to bed. Gingerly I took up one of the lamps and held it tightly. I needed the support as I was now shivering. Slowly I walked towards my room and got another surprise. The bed was shrouded with a soft, white, net. This was hung from a circular frame attached to the ceiling above the bed. I hollered,
“Martha, come here quickly!”
Martha came dashing in the room.
Pointing to the ceiling I asked, “What’s that for?”
“For the mosquitoes. It’s to keep them from biting you, dummy.”
I gulped audibly. Martha left the room giggling and shouted over her shoulder,
“Cherie, you need to come to the country side more often.”
I managed a weak smile in the semi-dark room. Seeing the long shadows on the wall and this white net over the bed reminded me of evil spirits. As a child I had often heard stories of spirits and ghosts which always seemed to take place in the country side. Now I was shivering more than ever. Climbing quickly into the bed, I covered myself with the sheet from head to toes, vowing that in future I would go to bed the same time with everyone.
At daybreak I was awakened by the sounds of cowbells, followed by mooing, squeaks and grunts. I dashed to the window to see what was causing all the commotion, and saw about twenty cows being driven by a young Indian boy. He brandished a piece of stick over his head as he shouted,
“Move, Charlie Boy! Move, Mary! Move!”
An older man was feeding green banana skins to some pigs in a pen. They rushed hungrily for the food and made a whole lot of noise. I had read about cows and pigs at school, and sometimes I had seen them at a distance in some parts of the city, but never this close. I can’t wait to tell my friends when I get back to school, I thought. They will be sure to envy me. Like me, a lot of my friends never leave the city!
There were several white birds with long necks perched on the backs of some of the cows. Others were just flying around. I was later told that these birds were called cattle egrets, known in Jamaica as long-necked gallings. The cows’ hides provided insects for these birds and the birds got rid of the insects for the cows. Symbiosis, they called this relationship. I thought this was neat.
The weeks that followed were full and varied. One day after it rained for two full days, we went walking into mud, knee-high and half a mile long! This was the only route to the mango grove. We had to climb the mango trees to get to the sweet, ripe fruits. I ate so many mangoes that I felt hot. We had lots of fun, too, drinking the sweet water straight out of the coconuts. Afterwards, a machete was used to cut the coconuts in two. We then used a spoon made from the green husk to eat the soft, white jelly found in the inside of the coconuts. Other days were spent catching crayfish or janga from a nearby stream.
Life in the country side was different, lazy, beautiful, and, sometimes, quiet until I broke the glass on the door of Mrs. Archer’s China cabinet!
I had gone to fetch a glass to drink some water. Feeling happy-go-lucky and energetic, and anxious to get back to the hide-and-seek game outside, I slammed the door of the cabinet so hard that the glass cracked. My eyes popped open in horror. I didn’t know what to do. These people were kind to have invited me into their home. How could I tell them of this awful thing? Wrestling with my thoughts, I felt weak and afraid. I decided not to say anything because I was too scared.
That evening while we were having dinner, Mrs. Archer saw the crack in the glass.
“Who did this?” she asked angrily.
No one answered. I looked down at my trembling hands, and said nothing.
“Which of you children broke that glass?” she inquired.
I heard several voices. “I didn’t.” “Not me.” “I don’t know anything about it.” I didn’t go into the cabinet.” I remained silent.
“Well it’s strange,” said Mrs. Archer. “This morning that glass was not broken.”
Martha’s grandfather saved the day. “Come, come, Maisie, it must have happened accidentally. Why make a fuss about it now?”
“I suppose you’re right,” replied Mrs. Archer. “I guess I’ll never find out who did it.”
I stifled the big sigh that almost escaped my lips.
That incident put a damper on the rest of my vacation. The guilt of what I had done weighed heavily on my head. I wasn’t happy anymore. Martha’s grandmother must have noticed the change in me. She asked me one day,
“What’s come over you, Cherie? Don’t tell me that you’re getting homesick.”
I tried to smile, but couldn’t. Should I tell her, I wondered. She would certainly be mad with me. I remained silent, again, as she drew me to her bosom and kissed me on my forehead. This made me feel so bad, I almost burst into tears.
I wondered if Martha had also noticed a change in me. Maybe she wouldn’t even invite me here again. Just then my thoughts were interrupted as Martha dashed into the room.
“Hey, Cherie, let’s go play,” she said, pulling me outside. I guess she noticed how sad I looked, because she immediately asked.
“Girl, what’s wrong with you?”
I decided then and there to come clean.
“Martha, I have something to tell you, but promise me that you will not hate me.”
“Why would I do that?” How could I hate you when you’re my best friend?” she added.
I looked at her and whispered,
“I’m the culprit.”
“What are you talking about?”
I’m the one who broke the glass in the China cabinet.”
For a moment Martha remained speechless. Rolling her eyes towards heaven, she pointed her finger at me and asked disbelievingly,
“Are you really the one who did it?”
“Yes,” I mumbled, looking down at my feet and wishing I could disappear. “I just couldn’t admit it Martha. Not in front of everyone. I was ashamed and too scared.”
Putting her hands around my shoulder, she said matter-of-factly,
“Cherie, I forgive you, and understand how you feel. Promise me one thing, though. I want you to tell my Grannie just what you told me. I promise you that she will understand.” With a big grin on her face, she added, “I also promise you that she will not eat you!”
I smiled weakly and said, “Give me some time to think this over. Okay?”
“Okay,” said Martha. “Let’s go catch some janga.”
For the next couple of days Martha kept looking at me. She never asked if I had told her Grandmother the truth. I never said anything to her either, but I knew by those looks that she wanted to know what was happening. After thinking about my predicament, I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to tell anyone else about what I had done. Sharing it with Martha was enough. Besides, the summer vacation would be over in a week and I was now really feeling homesick.
On the day of our departure to return to Kingston, Martha’s Grandparents each gave me a big hug. Mrs. Archer said to me,
“Cherie, it was a real pleasure having you here.”
“Yes,” Mr. Archer added. “You’re such a well-behaved child. You should come again to visit with us.”
I had that feeling again of wanting to disappear. I felt choked up inside. The tears started rolling down my cheeks. Before I knew what was happening, I blurted out,
“I’m so sorry, but I was the one who broke the glass in the China cabinet, Mrs. Archer.”
“I knew,” she said.
I was surprised and asked,
“You knew all along?”
Her eyes seemed to light up as she hugged me again.
“Yes, I knew all along, Cherie. But never mind dear, you finally owned up to it. That’s the important thing.”
As I walked towards the car, I’m sure my smile was brighter than the noonday sun. I felt so happy. This was a vacation that taught me a lesson to always speak the truth no matter what. It was a vacation that I will always remember. Actually, it was a most unforgettable experience!