4 Hazel loved her mother but she did not understand her. She knew that despite the smiles, the polite conversation and the compliments, that her mother did not like Ayana. I was nothing obvious in her manner but anyone who knew her would be able to tell that she wasn’t happy. Everyone in the room except poor Ayana knew. Hazel didn’t understand why. She thought that she was beautiful. Her clear smooth complexion and expressive eyes made Hazel like her straight away. She had not hesitated to hug her and Gemma when she came in. She laughed easily and talked in a sweet singsong manner. She was wearing a pale yellow sundress that flowed to her ankles and a light green shawl that matched her sandals. She was darker and a lot curvier than the girls Shawn used to bring home but she was beautiful. It was obvious to Hazel why Shawn liked her. Gemma came over to her and whispered.
“She’s pretty eh?”
Hazel nodded in agreement. She could see that her brother was happy. His eyes were practically twinkling.
“Zelly, short stuff, allyuh don’t want to know what I buy?”
“You eh buy nothing Shawn. You come here empty handed.” Marilyn glared at her daughter but Gemma didn’t look her way.
“Well you better not come outside with me then, since I didn’t get nothing…”
He laughed as his sisters pushed past him to the front door. You wouldn’t believe that they were sixteen and seventeen because at that moment they were squealing like five year olds
“Girls stop screaming. Remember the neighbours!” Marilyn looked at her son.
“What did you get them Shawn?”
“A barrel full of clothes Mrs Richards. You should see how many things are in there.” Ayana had joined her at the door to look at the spectacle in the driveway. Hazel was hanging off Shawn’s neck and Gemma was just jumping up and down. There was indeed a barrel in her driveway.
“How Shawn get that thing in the driveway?”
“My cousin owns a truck so he dropped it off when we came here.”
Marilyn didn’t know what to think about this girl. Yes she was attractive in a simple country way but she was nothing like what her son usually liked. Marilyn had great plans for her son, and a girl like Ayana could not be part of it. She had invited Michelle Campbell and Rosa Hospedales to the party tomorrow. These were the women who would take him to great places. This girl and Shawn’s early arrival made Marilyn very, very uneasy. He was not acting like the son she knew.
Later when Hollis came home she left Ayana and the girls with him and pulled Shawn aside in the kitchen.
“Why are you sneaking into the country? What if somebody saw you? I told everybody that you’re coming in tomorrow!”
“Ma calm down.”
“Calm down? And who is this girl? Shawn look at me.”
“You’ve been introduced Ma. I told you her name. It’s Ayana.”
“You were staying with her these last few days?”
“Yes with her and her father. Ma last time I checked I didn’t have to do no roll call.”
He wasn’t standing still and talking to her. He had his head buried in the fridge and this was making her angry.
“Shawn would you just stand up and talk to me!”
He closed the fridge door and looked at his mother.
“Ma what you want to talk about? You does get upset when you not in control. When you not running everything…”
“Don’t talk to me like that!”
“Get used to Ayana Ma. She not going anywhere. She going to become part of this family, even if you don’t like it…”
“The only thing you can do for me right now is give me some information about my father, so I can go and find where he is.”
Marilyn had to lean against the counter in order to keep standing. What was wrong with her son? Why was he talking to her like this?
“Why do you want to know where he is? He’s never been in your life Shawn. Hollis is your father.”
“Hollis knows I love him. He has no problem with me finding my father. The only person with a problem is you.”
They looked at each other for a minute then he walked out of the room. Marilyn could hear her heart beat thumping in her head. Everything was suddenly spiralling out of control. What was she going to do?
5 Shawn had barely said a word since they left the house. Ayana wanted to ask what was wrong but she was struggling the find a way to say it. She felt as though her fears were being realised. Meeting his family was indeed going to change things. She had offered to drive so she kept her eyes on the road whilst he stared out of the window. When they stopped at a traffic light, she reached over and gently squeezed his hand. Shawn looked over at her and smiled.
“I’m sorry baby.”
“You apologising for being quiet? Don’t do that.”
The light turned green and they started moving again.
“I told Ma I wanted to know about my father. I think she almost passed out when I said it.”
“Well you surprised her. This is the first time you two ever spoke about him right?”
“Apart from over the weekend when I called and mentioned him, yes. The first time in twenty-five years I work up the courage to ask her.”
He was hurting. Ayana had always thought that Shawn had an underlying sadness about him. Maybe because she listened to him so closely, almost analysing him she had recognised his hurt feelings. She understood in a way, because the death of her mother had left her with a similar vibe. She carried on with life but she missed her terribly. The only difference was that Shawn missed someone who he had never actually met.
“Her reaction make me wonder. She seemed terrified you know? Like I asked her about her rapist or something…”
“Shawn don’t say that!”
“Why not? I doh have a clue who this fella is? He could be anybody. She don’t talk about her family, her childhood or anything. Makes me wonder what kinda secrets she hiding.”
“Maybe it not even that complicated. Maybe he was just someone who hurt her feelings badly so she cut him off”
“My instincts telling me something else Ayana. I feel bad that she upset but I have to be selfish about this. I have a right to know where I come from.”
“Yes you do deserve that honey.”
They had stopped at another light waiting to turn onto the Solomon Hochey highway.
“Ayana turn in by the Bazaar. I go drive the rest.”
She turned the car into the mall entrance and took the nearest parking space.
“Shawn I cool to drive the rest you know.” Ayana protested as she took off her seatbelt
“Nah these fellas and them does drive like mad men on this highway. Let me take over before I have to get vex with someone.”
They were outside the car now, switching sides. Ayana reached up and hugged him.
“You would fight some man for me Richards?”
“Man, beast, plant, insect even”
They laughed but Shawn cut it short by kissing her. When they stopped he held her face between his palms.
“I love you.” He told her. Ayana was too shocked to reply. This was the first time he had said those words to her. Her eyes welled up with tears.
“I love you too.” She replied
“Enough to marry me?”
“I asked if you love me enough to want to marry me. Actually no. This not the way I had plan to ask. I don’t even have the ring with me”
Ayana laughed despite the tears that had started tumbling from her eyes.
“You have a ring? You plan this?”
“Well it wasn’t supposed to be the car park in the Bazaar. It was going to be on the Hill in San’do. Oh lawd let me shut up!”
Ayana was still laughing. She reached up and hugged him again
“Baby I will marry you anytime.” She whispered in his ear
They stood there holding onto each other for a while. Ayana felt like her feet weren’t touching the ground. She had just made the biggest the decision of her life and she had no doubt about it. Shawn just wanted to stay there and keep inhaling her baby oil and lavender smell.
“I don’t know how the next few months going be with me looking for my father and things….” He started but she cut him off.
“Shawn whatever it is we go do it together. Your problems are my problems. Right now I really want to go home and see this ring, is gold, silver, princess cut?”
“Baby is a ring. You really think I go get you something small?”
Ayana grinned at him,
“It better not be Richards…”
They talked all the way to Francis Street, excited about the future, despite the way the evening had began.
6 Hazel watched Mark do his daily laps. She sat at the edge of the pool, on the concrete, with her school skirt wrapped around her legs. Her shoes and stockings were at her side while her bare feet were dangling in the water. Mark did ten laps every evening after school. Sometimes like today she would sit and watch him. He was the junior swimming champion for Trinidad. He had the regional tournament coming up in three months. Hazel passed a towel to him when he got out.
“What was the time?”
She looked at the stopwatch.
“10 secs 45.”
“It was better than last time.”
Mark sat next to her and splashed water on her leg. She stuck her tongue out at him.
“So what’s the rest of the story?” he asked
She had been telling him about the night before.
“Well is not much really. Ma walked out the kitchen looking like she and Shawn had a fistfight and Shawn just got serious and quiet. He left soon after. I don’t know what happening with this party.”
“I don’t think it cancel. All of Cayenna would know. Mona would have said when we came in.”
“True. I wish she would cancel it though. I don’t feel for all those people in the house.”
“We could do the usual.” Mark suggested.
The usual consisted of appetizers from the party and an escape to the garage roof of whatever house was unoccupied. They would lie on their stomachs on the flat rooftops and talk. They had been doing so since they were seven or eight years old.
“We need a new escape Mark. Everybody know we does be on the roof.”
“That’s true. When I start to drive we go find somewhere else.”
“Oh lord, that’s another two years. That too far.”
“Zel your mother calling!!!!” Mona come outside with the phone.
Hazel sighed and took the phone from her.
“Yes Ma… No Ma…. Why? I’m not talking back Ma… Yes ok.”
Mark didn’t even have to ask what the call was about.
“That’s what I can’t understand with her. She acting like we over here rolling around in the bushes! I’m two houses down the road! She busy checking up on me but she not looking at what Gemma doing!”
“You tell her Steven like her?”
“She don’t care. She caught up with Reggie.”
Mark stood up and wrapped the towel around his waist
“Well that might be a good thing. Steven not looking for anything serious. Especially since we going to be in London for the summer.”
Hazel looked at him.
“Oh, so that’s your way of telling me you not going to be here?”
“Oh shoot! I forgot I hadn’t told you yet…”
Hazel took another towel and started to dry her feet.
“Zel I wasn’t thinking. My parents just told us last night.”
“How long for?”
Hazel had her shoes on and her bag on her shoulder and was heading for the side path.
“I will see you later.” She wouldn’t look at him as she walked away. Hazel knew she was exaggerating the situation but she was upset. This was the second summer Mark was going to be away. Who was she going to hang out with? Who would she have to talk to?
Marilyn watched her daughter from her veranda. She was walking up the driveway with a face like thunder. Marilyn knew she was the reason but she didn’t care. Hazel would understand one day. Marilyn had no problem with Mark. She loved the fact that they had always been close and now they were getting closer. She didn’t want Hazel to destroy the future of this relationship before it even began. The Bartley’s were one of the richest families in Trinidad. In some ways they were more Trinidadian than the Richards. Patrick Bartley could trace his family history all the way to the late 1800s. Whereas Marilyn’s grandparents had come from Grenada in the 1960s. She could see that Hazel was accepted by the Bartleys but only as Mark’s best friend. She was sure that would change once they officially became boyfriend and girlfriend. Marilyn had to help her daughter change that.
She found her in the kitchen slamming the dishwasher door close.
“Hazel! Do not slam the dishwasher door! You better calm down young lady.”
“Ma I am calm.” Hazel poured herself a glass of lemonade and started to head out of the kitchen.
“I need to talk to you. Stay in here.”
Marilyn watched her begrudgingly sit down on one of the kitchen’s high chairs.
“Ma I have a lot of work to complete. Please don’t give me a lecture on Mark.”
“It is not a lecture just some advice. How many times have I told you not to hang out there after school?”
“I don’t understand why I can’t! Why all of a sudden? Since we were eight Ma I have been going over there. Mona is always there with us!”
“It doesn’t look right Hazel.”
Hazel wanted to scream. Her mother was the only person who called her by her full name. Every one else called her Zel or Zelly and that’s the way she preferred it. And she hated this new plan her mother seemed to have for she and Mark. She was turning their relationship into one of her projects and she wasn’t standing for it.
“Ma I really have to get started on my homework…”
“Hazel you will thank me for this one day.”
She stood up and stared at her mother for a moment.
“Has Shawn called today Ma? What time is he coming?”
Marilyn looked away from her daughter and started to rearrange the flowers on the counter.
“He will be here later Hazel. Now go up and start doing your school-work. Make sure you start getting dressed early.”
There was a slight smirk on Hazel’s lips. She knew that her mother hadn’t spoken to her brother since the night before and her question had reminded her of that. She had accomplished her mission.
Marilyn listened for her daughter’s footsteps on the stairs before she allowed herself to exhale. Shawn had left no phone number for her to call him and his cell phone kept going to voicemail. Since their conversation in the kitchen she had had a dull headache. One that was increasing has the day dragged on. She was planning a party and she had no idea if he was going to show up. Marilyn dialled her husband’s number.
“Have you heard from Shawn?” Marilyn was never one for preliminaries.
“No. Is he supposed to call me?”
“I don’t know if he’s going to turn up tonight Hollis….”She took a deep breath because she suddenly emotional.
“I’m sure he will come Marilyn. He’s knows about the party and…”
“He’s mad at me. Really angry with me.” It had been a long time since Hollis heard his wife sound so vulnerable. It was a strange thing to hear.
“Honey you two have to sit down and talk. You have to have a real conversation with him and answer his questions.”
Marilyn felt like her head was about to explode. It was easy fro Hollis to suggest that she just answer his questions. He had no idea about what she was hiding. A great part of her wanted to confide in him. She wanted unburden her heart to him and let him tell her that it was all not so bad.
“Honey? You there.”
“Hollis I can’t”
“I just can’t. I wish….” She let her words trail off then cleared her throat, moved away from the counter she had been leaning against and let the in control part of herself take over again.
“The party starts at 8 Hollis so you have to be back here but 6. Can you please be on time?” The switch in conversation let him know that his wife had closed the door to her emotions again. He wished he could reach out and shake her back into a few moments ago. It was the closest they had come to having a real conversation in a very long time.
“I will be on time. I will see you later.” He hung up before she could say anything else.Marilyn tapped the phone against her temple and wondered what she should do next