Thursday 6:40 p.m.
Hi Dwayne. It’s Ma.
How you mean “Ma who?” Ma me—your mother
I’m fine, thanks. Your father too. He just step out.
But don’t you coming over for supper? Your father gone to pick up some curry roti and I making plantain tarts for dessert and we getting a nice avocado salad from Selma. I don’t need to remind you that is your first love.
You too stupid. I don’t mean Selma. I mean the avocado.
Why you getting so excited, Dwayne? If smoke mean fire, like the proverb say, the way you carrying on will make me think you and Selma is into a five-alarm conflagration!
Better you stay as good paseros. Her parents say them send her here for a education, not to find friend and company.
If you have work to do, so be it. But we would be glad to see you. Sometimes is like we don’t live in the same city.
Don’t bother with that. Plenty times if I don’t beg, you would never come.
Okay, okay. Tell me something before you go, though. You remember Kwame Groskopf? From Baldwin High?
Why you think nobody could have a name like that? It is very much the chap’s name. You never see yesterday’s Star?
Yes, Dwayne. I realize you are busy. But a big somebody like you should keep up with the news.
How old he was? Twenty-six, according to the paper.
True, he would be a small boy when you were a big boy, but like how you were a prefect and then deputy head boy, I thought maybe you would remember him.
No, my son…he wasn’t “any little first former.” Everybody say he was a musical prodigy. They say he could blow down a city wall with that trumpet from he was small-small.
No, no picture was in the paper. But we know those Groskopfs good. They are long-time friends of your father’s people. Red folks from St. Elizabeth.
Dwayne, I know no other way to say they are red folks except to say so.
Son, I know this is Canada, so you don’t have to remind me. I also know God make people different. Don’t they act different and have different personality? Well, they look different too, have different size, different colour skin, different hair, down to their very bones are different. You think anybody can make me fraid to describe what God make?
Keep your shirt on, Dwayne. The Political Correctness police don’t arrest me yet and is eighteen years I been here speaking my mind. All I trying to do is jog your brains by describing your schoolmate the best way I can.
Fine. If you don’t remember him, you don’t. Your Auntie Melly in Montreal say he was doing well, playing all kind of music with a small band: calypso, reggae, hip-hop, zouk.
Of course I know about zouk. You see, I read the paper. He is not a “jack-of-all music.” He was versatile, but he was practical too. His father advise him not to ghettoize himself and only play calypso and reggae.
No, not just clubs. Aunty Melly say they play anywhere, for anybody–school graduation, church fair, street fair, block party and fundraiser. Any gig they could get.
You mean hard working! We need more like him. Anyway, since you busy, you better go. I need a favour though. Your Pa going Sault tomorrow so I need a ride to the funeral on Saturday.
How you mean which funeral? The funeral of the said Kwame Groskopf, oh my sieve-head son.
You didn’t know he was dead? What you think we just been talking about?
They holding a service in Toronto for he have a grand-aunt and some cousins here. I suppose they will fly his ashes home and have a service there too.
Police don’t have no clue who or why. The report say somebody shoot him as he was leaving a club where the band had just finished playing.
No, not a Caribbean place, thank God. I think is one of those new Latin places.
What? If he’d ghettoized himself he might still be alive? How sensitive! I rejoice that I have a child capable of such deep feeling for his fellow man.
No indication at all, no sign of the shooters and nobody saw a thing, as usual.
But it is “as usual.” Sometimes I think black people is we own best enemy. Hold on one second, please, son.
Hello? Clarice? Hold on, please. I’m coming right back.
Hi Dwayne, it’s Aunt Clarice, so I going to leave you. I just pray no new crosses is bedeviling her life. Don’t know nobody like she to bring bad luck down on herself.
She’s a dear old friend, Dwayne. That don’t mean I must pretend she’s perfect. Look, you don’t have to say about the ride now. Tell me soon though, so I can look another lift, if need be. And try join us for dinner later. Okay?
Hello? Yes, Clarice. What’s up? I hope something good?
How you mean “If I have the time?” Of course I have the time. And even if I don’t have it I will find it for you.
But I don’t understand. I thought the doctor just gave you a clean bill of health. How you could have blood pressure so high this week, if you were perfectly healthy last week? Is what kind of bogus business that?
Clarice, for shame! I don’t mean your blood pressure is bogus! I merely wonder how reliable your doctor is.
Arrhythmia? So this is a new thing, different from the pressure?
Clarice, you can’t keep eating out your soul about Ivan! Of course, you are concerned about him, and I don’t doubt it affects your health, but I’m sure he’s perfectly safe. Our troops are helping keep the peace. They not in any war!
I understand that you worry. But if you having heart problems, it don’t help for you to fret about things you can’t control. Just trust God and give the case to Him.
You know, that’s a cruel thing to say. For certain I’m grateful Dwayne is here, at home, and not in any dangerous foreign country. But Ivan wanted to join the army. Look how often he said so, and told us his reasons, too.
But he was always telling them to us! He’d get an education, benefit from the discipline, have a chance to apply the engineering skills he had, and so on. I remember him saying he might even learn to fly, which you and I know he been dreaming of since he was a boy.
I never heard him speak like he was “making the best of a bad bargain.” Quite the contrary. He sound to me like he study things closely before he make up his mind and he was satisfied he had a good plan for his career and his life.
You talking as though I don’t know this child! Little most is me cut him navel string! And no week pass that I didn’t see him when he was growing up, Clarice.
I watch him turn into a fine young man.
You not serious? That’s not only hurtful, it’s ridiculous. You really think Dwayne got into university because he’s light-skinned? That must be a new development I didn’t know about: students chosen on the basis of their colour, not their grades!
But he never send any photo with his application, and he never do no interview, so how they know what colour he is?
My husband is plenty blacker than yours, Reecey, while you and I are one and the same colour. So if you want to argue with God about the fact that he let my near-to-white grandmother show up in Dwayne’s genes, feel free.
But that is your point. You say Dwayne is light-skinned and Ivan is dark and that is why my child get into university while yours had to enlist in the army to get a education.
My dear, everybody know children of colour have a hard time in school in this country. And no disputing that the darker they are, the harder the time they have.
So how come you not saying anything about where we sent Dwayne to school and where you sent Ivan?
Clarice, don’t you see you not arguing logically? One minute you saying Ivan didn’t do well in school because the white teachers and children gave him such a hard time. The next minute you defending your choice of school on the basis that where he go to school not supposed to affect how he is treated, since this is a multi-racial society!
You see Hugh and me? We consult a whole heap of people about schools, and is after nuff go-round and come-round that we decide to send Dwayne to a school with plenty black teachers and children, never mind some people say it wasn’t such a great school for academics.
Oh, we had no ambition for our child or we would never send him to a school full of brown and black children? But you see how life funny? After you scrimp and save to buy a home in a white neighbourhood so your son could go to a school with plenty resources–as in, white teachers and white pikni–you now saying it never do him any good!
I see. You and George were making sacrifices, while Hugh and I were leaving Dwayne’s education to the accidents of fate…. Make me tell you something, Reecey—or better still, make we don’t talk about this any longer. Two of we getting worked up and it generating more heat than light! I going mention one more thing to maybe give you some perspective, all the same. You know a family name Groskopf?
No, is Jamaican people. Red folks from St Elizabeth. They have a son, Kwame, a real talented youngster…
Just give me a chance to make my point nuh my friend? Not everything must have to do with race and skin colour!
You right. I apologize. We were talking about colour and how black children fare, or rather, don’t fare in school.
Glad you accept my apology. You see I know when I am in the wrong. Anyhow, to go back to my story. From him was little Kwame could play a trumpet like him navel string cut on blowing horn. Never want to do nothing else, so when he done school, he come join a auntie in TO, for he figure he have a better chance of earning a living from music here.
True! Nuff young people should well glad for them old auntie! Anyhow, he was lucky enough to get a job in Montreal, so he been living there these past few years. Last week he come to TO with his band for a couple engagements—no big thing, but is a good opportunity for the group, wider exposure and all that. He was leaving a club after they finish playing one night and somebody shoot him. Just like that. Bang-bang! No more Kwame!
Lord have mercy, Clarice. How you always manage to take everything the wrong way? I’m not trying to upset you. I am trying to show you that there is no guarantee of safety anywhere. Them shoot Kwame right here in Toronto.
All right, all right. Don’t make no sense to keep this up. But even if Ivan is in danger where he is, what use is it for you to worry? Worry not going accomplish anything.
Listen, make we finish the argument. Why you don’t do something to take your mind off Ivan. Get into bed with a good book, or better, the Good Book. Or go out and do some work in the garden.
Joyce? No, I never hear Ivan or Dwayne or Selma mention any Joyce. But maybe they all know each other…. Who to tell?
If she’s Ivan’s girlfriend and she white, your grands and mine going be browning up the world same way, for if Dwayne have light skin, Selma is coal black. Not that Dwayne and she into anything, mark you—that is, if I am to believe him.
Is a joke I running with you, Reecey. Neither of us know if our sons have any serious relationship with any woman, and besides, who can tell what colour children going come out?
Okay, dear. If you say so. I have a perfect life. God love me, and it’s fine for me to give counsel about prayer and so on for my son is safe here at home. As ever, you right, me wrong! Sorry, a call coming in, so I have to go. I hope you soon feel better and I praying Ivan will be fine. Bye.
Thursday 7:10 p.m.
Sarah Houghton here. Oh, hi Dwayne! I hope you calling back to tell me you coming for dinner? Selma will be here shortly and your father is coming through the door with the curry roti as we speak. Smell good, you see!
How you mean, “Why everything is Selma this and Selma that?” All I said was that she will soon reach here…
I don’t have to be finding anything for that young woman—most certainly not a husband. Besides, what make you think I would be recommending you as husband material?
I love you more than life, son. That don’t say I’m blind to your faults. Anyhow, I can’t talk no more. Your hungry-belly father is signaling me to get off the phone. So, we going see you or not?
Sure, sure. I understand. Don’t I always understand?
What about the ride to Kwame’s funeral? You can manage it?
Thanks very much. You can collect me at about half past nine? I like to get to those things early.
Have to go, son—dinner, plus it look like Aunt Clarice calling again. Thanks—and make sure to eat some bickle!
Hello, Clarice? What’s up?
I’m sorry that you’re still so worried, but I don’t know what to do except to repeat that worrying don’t help. It just waste energy, and energy is precious.
I would love to hear you out, dear, but we were just going to sit down to dinner. Would you mind if I call you back in another hour or so?
You needn’t apologize. How you could know we were about to eat? I’ll call you a bit later.
Yes, I know I don’t always call back, but I promise solemnly that I will this time. Cross my heart and hope to die, stick my finger in my eye!
Okay. Bye now. And do, try not to worry.
Saturday 9:55 a.m.
Hi Dwayne. It’s Ma. It’s almost ten o’clock, and you were to collect me at nine-thirty, so I’m wondering what happen to you. I hope nothing is wrong. If you get this, please call me right away? Thanks.
Hi, Dwayne, is that you? Oh, hello, Clarice.
No dear, I’m not disappointed that it’s you, but I’m expecting a call from Dwayne. He was to pick me up half an hour ago. I was planning to ring you this morning and say sorry for not calling last night, but I’m late for Kwame Goskopf ’s funeral. We got to talking after dinner last night and next thing you know, it was nearly twelve, so I never bother to call, as I know you go to bed early.
Well, if I had any idea you’d turned into a lady of the night, I would have called.
Oh, for shame, Clarice. Would I be suggesting you are that sort of woman? I was just making a little fun with you. You know how we say, if you don’t laugh, you cry. And if you were up late fretting, why you didn’t call me back? You know we go to bed late in this house.
Can you hold on just a bit for me please? There’s a call coming in. Coming right back to you.
Dwayne? No, I’m sorry I have no time for a survey. Bye.
Hi, Clarice? Don’t know if I said, but Dwayne supposed to be picking me up and he’s late. So I going leave you again, for I have to find him, but I will call this evening. Okay?
Good. You take care of yourself till then. Bye. Dwayne? It’s me again. It’s five past ten, and if I don’t hear from you in the next five minutes, I’m going to call a cab. I hope you’re okay and nothing’s wrong. Bye.
Saturday 11:10 a.m.
Hi, Hugh. Lord, I so glad to get you! You reach okay?
And settle in and all?
Glad to hear, honey. I don’t mean to trouble you, but I am kind of upset. You remember I was going to Kwame’s funeral this morning, and Dwayne said he would give me a drive?
Yes, that’s what he said but I never end up going, because he didn’t come to collect me, and till now he hasn’t responded to either of the messages I left on his phones, and by the time I manage to call a cab and fuss and fume waiting for it to come, it get too late. But it not like Dwayne to break a promise and not call to let me know why.
I know, Hugh. Is true there’s any number of things that could have happened and it’s too early to fret. But I have a bad feeling about this. And then Clarice been calling…
I’m not overwrought—not really. Just annoyed with myself for not calling Clarice before she called me, and worried about what could have happened to Dwayne.
All right. I always feel better just talking to you, and I promise to keep in touch and try my best not to be anxious. Good luck with the meeting. Love you, and take care.
Saturday 12:20 p.m.
Hello, Dwayne! Selma? But what are you—? Sorry. Selma, dear, how are you? How come you sound so breathless?
Take your time, dear. I can’t make out what you saying. Dwayne? An emergency? Oh Lord Jesus! What kind of emergency? Are you okay? Are the two of you okay? So fire truck and police and ambulance are there?
Thank God! I’m so glad. If you sure you are both okay. But tell me, now you have your breath, what really happen?
Dear God! That is plenty crosses! I can do anything? You need money? Food? Clothes?
Well, let me know if you think of anything, dear. You go and do what you have to. We’ll talk when you call back.
Saturday 1:50 p.m.
Hi, son. Well, I’m glad to hear from you finally. Are you and Selma all right?
What about Joyce?
Good. Praise God. And the baby?
That’s good news. Sometimes it take forever before they admit you. So what happened?
You mean the whole apartment was on fire?
Well, thank God Selma was home to notice the smoke, for I know sometimes she goes to the lab early on a Saturday morning. So how come you find yourself in the middle of it?
A long story? Well I very much look forward to hearing all of it. Has anybody told Joyce’s family?
How you mean no family? She must have family.
Nobody don’t drop out of the sky like Topsy! What about the baby-father?
In the army? Look like every young man of colour in this city is in the army–except you, of course, as your Auntie Clarice would hasten to remind me.
Him bad-lucked for true if him end up in that town of fanatics and mercenaries. Look like every black Canadian soldier also manage to get posted to that place! So don’t Joyce have any friends, church people?
Well, if I didn’t have family, friends, church community, and if on top of that my husband was away in the army, I would probably burn down my house too.
You never say she did, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
I am not a gossip, Dwayne. To whom do you imagine I’d be giving that news?
That’s why nobody, young or old, should live alone. The baby can’t be company. It helps if there’s somebody to have a conversation with, muster up a hello for. No matter how you feel bad, most people will make that effort.
For sure it’s all very complicated, son. You probably need to get some rest now. Selma too. You can fill me in later. We’ll have to go to the hospital to see how they are doing.
I’ll wait for you to call then. Bye-bye.
Saturday 2:15 p.m.
Hello? Who is this? Clarice? What’s the matter? You sound awful. I couldn’t tell that it was you. Slow down. Sit down. Are you sitting down?
Good. Now, take some deep breaths. Come, breathe with me. In, one, two, three. Out, one, two, three. In again…. You feeling a little better?
No? I’m sorry. But can you at least tell me what’s wrong?
The news? No I haven’t seen or heard any newscasts. Has that warmonger started another war?
Twelve soldiers killed in the area where Ivan’s troops are posted? That’s awful. I’m sorry. It must be heartbreaking for their families. God rest the young people’s souls.
Clarice, Reecey my love, listen. There are lots of troops stationed in the area. Hundreds. There’s no reason why you should conclude that Ivan is one of the ones who have died.
You can’t “know it”, Clarice. Old time people would say ‘Don’t put goat mouth on yourself.’
Reecey, Reecey, Reecey girl, you are not making any sense.
Listen, I’m coming over right away. Give me ten minutes.
Saturday 2:26 p.m.
Hello. Sarah Houghton here.
I’m well, thanks, Reverend Wilson. How are you?
Oh, you’re calling from Clarice’s? Well, I’m glad you’re with her. How is she?
Yes, I know. I spoke to her a few minutes ago and she seemed terribly agitated. I was on my way over. In fact, I was just stepping through the door when the telephone rang.
But that can’t be. Who said so? Are you absolutely sure?
I don’t believe it. And all this time I’ve been…
But after that is not any surprise! He was a brave, caring young man. But no medal can make up for the loss of a child. Oh dear sweet Jesus, why Ivan?
Reverend, is that Clarice? Don’t let her carry on like that! She will give herself a heart attack!
Hello? Hello, Reverend? Clarice? I’m so sorry, my love, so, so sorry. Words can’t say how much.
All right. If sympathy don’t help…
My love, if I could, I would give my own life to bring him back, but no use to think that way. You will just drive yourself crazy.
You would prefer to have a son who is a live coward than a dead hero? Don’t say that, Reecey.
Very well. I won’t call you Reecey if you don’t want me to. But never mind it’s very hard, and I know it is, you have to try to get a hold of yourself, girl.
Beg pardon? Not girl? Sorry. Okay, woman, lady, whoever! It don’t help to lose control, especially not now. You have to keep it together, for there are things you will need to do, arrangements to make. You will need a clear head for that.
If you don’t want to talk to me, I will certainly shut up. But remember, the world not going to stop because Ivan is not here. Nobody’s death means that.
You are entirely right, Clarice. Nobody’s death means that except in the case of the person who has died.
Sure. I think I know it all and I really don’t know a thing. I’m going now. If there’s anything we can do, please let us know. Bye. Take good care of yourself, you hear?
Saturday 6:30 p.m.
Houghton’s. Hi son. How are you? Where are you? I so glad you could see her–them, Joyce and the baby. Well, at least one of you managed to visit. Did Selma get an idea of how they are doing?
Yes, better to let them both get some rest after all that. They need anything? I was thinking I’d pick up some things for the baby and for Joyce and leave them with the nurses.
Aunt Clarice? Oh Lord! I realize that I haven’t told you. It’s Ivan, Dwayne. Ivan! Ivan is dead!
You know? But how you could know?
That’s a lot to take in, son. But why they never tell anybody?
I don’t know if I can persuade Clarice but I’ll do my best. For sure, a light-skin grandchild with tall hair going be a big comfort to her.
Saturday 6:30 p.m.
Hello Clarice? Look, I know you are angry and not speaking to me, and probably with good reason but we have to put all that one side for the minute. I coming over to pick you up.
No, you’re right, I can’t be sure how you feel, though I can guess. But even if you have to crawl, Dwayne insists that you come.
Clarice, I doing my best here. You in shock and overcome with grief, and I probably not putting things too good, but believe me, this is serious business.
Better you just come. Is too much to explain, and I not sure I understand it all myself. But I trust Dwayne, and he say it’s crucial that I collect you and come.
Dwayne loves Ivan, Reecey. Sorry, Clarice. He love you and he love Ivan. And he say that once we get there, it will all be perfectly clear.
For God’s sake, Clarice, just say yes and come!
Sorry if I’m shouting. I just want you to agree to come. Good. I’ll be there in ten minutes. Bye.
Saturday 7:20 p.m.
Hi, Dwayne. We’re in the lobby. Your Aunt Clarice is a bit calmer, thank God. How are Joyce and the baby?
Praise God! They find out yet whether Joyce set the fire herself or if it was a accident?
Yes, it had better wait till Joyce decides to talk about it. You think I should tell Clarice about her and Ivan and the baby now? We don’t need any more crosses, like how she trouble with her heart…
Photo by Flickr user Nate Steiner