My husband is by all accounts dead. My eyes refuse to drop water, though. Behind my back, many of my neighbours say that I am a wicked woman not to grieve a man who took care of his family. My friends conclude that I must never have loved him. The thing is not so simple. You see, the island is experiencing one of the worst kawenm that anyone alive can remember. There is no water to spare.
One minute my husband was walking along Bridge Street and the next minute, he had fallen brap, like the over ripe breadfruit that splatter on the ground each October. There was no big fanfare to accompany his fall; just broken eggs and shattered bottles of seamoss. And I would have entirely missed the picture of the lady in his wallet were it not for his comrades. Eager to do a good job, they had thoroughly scourged everywhere and found his wallet near the rocks that led to the slow-moving Rouane River. The wallet was stripped of its contents, save for his Driver’s Licence and a faded passport-sized photo tucked inside a little pocket.
The picture was of no one I knew; yet I know is She. She is the lady who has given my husband a new lease on life. Because up until the morning of this fall, I was certain that my almost 60-year-old husband was finally falling in love. The love at first dripped dripped dripped from the ceiling. But now it was a big wachow that had caught me completely off guard.
“Man, are you ready?”
I look up at my son. At six feet two inches, I always wondered if fate had landed him on the mainland, if he would have been a famous basketball player. Instead, he is a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Social Transformation, Physical Development and Urban Renewal. His job is as pointless as the ministerial portfolio that his boss holds.
“Yes, son,” I stand.
“That’s good, but we have to wait. Stephanie is in the gap coming.”
I sigh. He has always been useless. He could have said that before I wasted my energy by standing. He misinterprets my sigh and so stands with his hands awkwardly on my back. He pats me like I did when it was my turn to burp him. I feel the need to apologise to him for having made him endure this most awful sensation.
I shudder. Stephen correctly interprets that I do not want his hands on my body. He puts his hands down awkwardly at his side. I cannot be sorry that I embarrassed him. Perhaps he thought that the situation demanded sympathy but I am not interested in that; not from him. I have never been able to be affectionate with this child. He reminds me too much of his father.
She had first seen her children’s father with a group of his policemen friends. She was not impressed. In fact, she had been instantly disgusted. Policemen were all pigs. Her father was a Superintendent of Police and she had sisters and brothers in all 13 quartiers of the island, half of whom she had never met.
She again met the children’s father a few years later at Asou Square. She could not recall their first encounter. But he did. He was fascinated with dòglas, and so he had remembered her. She let him believe that he was eventually able to coax the memory of their first meeting from the recesses of her mind.
“I’m not looking for anything serious,” he told her as he slid her panties to a side.
“I would not want you if you did,” she responded breathlessly.
And as they screwed against the Masav tree in the middle of Columbus Square, his sperm met her egg and she discovered seven weeks later that she was plug.
When she told him that she was with child, he had closed his eyes and angry tears dripped down his cheeks. When he again opened his now unnaturally bright eyes he had said, “well, we will get married. I will take care of the child…and you.”
She could not believe her luck. She had half expected the man to curse her on her mother and walk out of her life. But instead she would be Mrs. So and So; never mind that she did not know Mr. So and So all that well. The alternative was the squalor of poverty, and she knew anything was better than life in the Vyé Fò manng.
“I’m here. Sorry I am late. Mum let me just rest this in the kitchen. It was hard to get a dollar bus; that is the only reason I am late. Clifford said “hi” and he would have dropped me but his child mother called to say that….we are not too late now, are we?” she turns to look at her mother. “I scheduled in extra time when I planned….we have plenty of time–” the whirlwind that was her daughter had landed. She was a welcomed distraction.
In spite of Stephanie’s boisterous talk, my still sharp ears have picked up the tòk. tòk. tòk. of kitten heels on tiles outside. With fingers on my lips, I motion wildly that we make a hasty retreat through the kitchen door. I am not prepared to deal with the hurricane of emotions that the sakwé ennitil of a mother in law is bringing into my home.
We drive along the motorway to the hospital. My husband was transferred from the small one in our district to the bigger, more expensive one in the city. Big hospital with shiny, fancy equipment has not changed a thing. The doctors on the island as well as those in Martinique, Barbados and Trinidad have told us that nothing will change. The internist who is best friends with one of the men who Stephanie says she does not sleep with, has also confirmed that my gal bwapen is as good as dead.
The news of my husband’s condition at first infuriated me. Now mind you, I was not mad that death had come uninvited into my life and stolen a man I had married when I was twenty-three years old. I was infuriated because I felt cheated. We had so much to do now that he was retired from the force and now just like that, the salopwi had decided that it was better to die than to stay with me.
Honestly, I was mad because I was embarrassed. The little mystery of the identity of the lady from the picture in the wallet bothered me for days and most nights. Shame prevented me from asking the man’s mother or brother to identify the lady in the photograph. And then as the days passed, I became very happy when I realised that the lady from the picture in the wallet must be in agony after not hearing from my husband. This realisation finally made me experience the peace that passeth all understanding that the Head Deacon used to shout about from the pulpit during Divine Hour.
“Do you Andrew Joseph, take Paulina John to be thy wedded wife, to have, to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part?”
“I do,” Andrew mumbled.
“Say it loud!”
There was slight uncomfortable laughter in the church on the hill. Paulina’s father may have been drunk but he had spoken out loud what everyone gathered was wondering: why the hell had the groom whispered his vow?
I am startled back into the present. Somehow, we have made our way from the car, into the hospital and into my husband’s room. He lies under hundreds of feet of tubes and wires. The steady beep. beep. beep. of his heartbeat echoes throughout the room.
I am not even sure which child has called me. I do not answer and instead walk towards the window. This will allow the children slight privacy to say goodbye to the man. He was a good father to them: he played bat and ball with Stephanie and he cried when he told Stephen that he accepted him for who he was.
I am disturbed by the guttural sobs I hear coming from my son. I wish that I could slap him. He infuriates me. Stephanie is telling her father a tall tale about a man she met in La Cour Ville. She laughs and cries simultaneously. She fascinates me. I do not know how long I stood facing the sea but now I find myself looking down at the man on the bed. The children are in their respective corners. It is their turn to give me some privacy.
“Andrew,” I say. He does not stir. I want to scream his name. I want to shout at him. I want him to hear me. But ladies are seen and not heard, so I bend my head and place my mouth close to his ears. My words are only for him. “Sakwé chyen, you just get up and leave me. You dirty bastard. After all this time, you decide to check out. But you right. You hear me? You right. Is die you want to die? Well today is your lucky day. I come to pull the plug. Today, is me that is your judge, jury and executioner. And, let me tell you, is a good thing you will die today you piece of filth because death is easier than the hell I will put you through if you ever again open your eyes. Walking around with woman picture in your wallet. Who is she? What is she to you? It’s an old picture Andrew so I know she is your past but your present too because all these years you carrying some woman picture all around in your wallet and your heart and…” my voice catches in my throat. I close my eyes, breathe to ten and then continue, “yes, sir, is a good thing you good as dead because it would be me and you in your bloody ass.”
“Excuse me? Ma’am?”
I look up to see a nervous face. I wipe the tears that have mixed with mucous with the back of my hand. Part of me wonders if the nurse heard me. A bigger part does not care. I wipe the slime on the sheets that cover Andrew.
“It is time.”
The doctors had told us about this part. I take my children and we stand just outside the door until we are called back in but I ask the children to wait outside. I need to do this alone.
Andrew lies with the ventilator tube down his throat. The other wires and tubes have been removed. He does not have long now I am told. I look at the man on the bed. The man was dying and all I could think about was the woman in the picture in the wallet, the homewrecker, the skètél, the woman who I was now sure had caused his angry tears all these years ago, the woman who had prevented him from fully ever loving me.
The tears come unbidden. I feel betrayed but I still love him. I am ashamed that I love a man who I never realised was pining for someone else. Our whole life had been a lie. He must have resented me for trapping him and I was a motley fool to never realise that he must have had someone waiting for him at the end of his tour. He married me and stayed with me out of a sense of duty and obligation. He pitied me. This realisation causes a wave of anger to wash over me. Today, I will grant Andrew his wish; he will get his freedom. I know that he wanted to be with the lady from the picture in the wallet, but he will have to wait for her to join him in Paradise. These thoughts bring me comfort and I smile in spite of myself. I am ready. I nod my head. The doctor reaches and turns off the machine. I close my eyes. I wait in anticipation for the beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.
Tòk. Tòk. Tòk; it is the sound of kitten heels on tiles.
I whip my head towards the door.
The lady from the picture in the wallet stands frozen in the doorway.
Shanette Monrose is a St Lucian secondary school teacher who teaches English language and literature.