You are no longer employed here.Your contract has been terminated
Ok. I wasn’t expecting that. Having returned to the UK during the vacation, this was simply a courtesy call to inform the principal that I’d be back this weekend. I would return one week late and had warned her that may be the case. The training at the beginning of each term was not challenging. In fact, the trip had been a great excuse for me to miss this. I hated in-service training that didn’t provide any new information. Maybe it had backfired. I needed to think quickly. Would I return to Jamaica with my two children or stay in the UK? Jamaica was still calling me so we boarded the plane for year three. There was no knowing what that return trip would bring. I was more than willing to find out though
Our home was owned by the school where I no longer worked and the children attended the school where I no longer worked. Schools fees needed to be paid and I had very little reserves. I was figuring it out as I went along. Sitting on the bed thinking about how best to manage this, I thought about another credit card. My current plastic options were limited and if the truth be told, I was in no state to apply for another one. They were too damn easy to get anyhow. The rent for month one was there. We’d have to see what happened in month two.
Being let go from positions is a humbling experience. I had been too radical for them, teaching my students about Marcus Mosiah Garvey and Nanny of the Maroons in the Language Arts class. The US curriculum in Jamaica angered me so much. Why couldn’t I teach about Jamaican heroes in Jamaica? The parents complained. They did not want their children knowing about ‘dem deh people’. Their privileged lives left no space for this perspective. For if Garvey spoke of ‘African for the Africans, at home and abroad’ and they didn’t see themselves as African, my influence could only be negative. I had worn my Nigerian dress to school with my hair in an Afro and the head teacher remarked that I looked like an ‘African Princess’ to which I had responded ‘I am’. Working in a Christian school as a non-Christian was a compromise I had made to get the bills paid. This school needed me to compromise in a way I hadn’t even considered.
When I had sat eating roasted sweet potato or breadfruit at lunchtime, the children had asked me what is that maam? Their privileged lives took them to eat KFC and Haggen Dazs ice cream after school. It was at a cost that many Jamaicans were paid for the whole month, what these students had access to for their afterschool snacks. Their relationship with the place where they were born, was not connected to the things which long haired tourist loved to experience in authentic Jamaica. There seemed to be so much disconnection or maybe it was I who was disconnected.
Debbie called me from downstairs, ‘Me can come up?’ It was mid-day so she must be home for lunch. She ate turn cornmeal with sardines most lunchtime. We had experienced a few lunchtimes catch ups since I found myself between jobs
W’happen’, she greeted me. She always looked like she pitied me. Like I just didn’t get it.
“How tings?’ she asked leaning over to look at my computer screen.
‘Tings noh so nice since me loss me job. Me ah look fe wok’. I explained. She looked at me
‘Wok? You pretty you know,” she said as if I didn’t know.
‘Yeah’, I responded in a way as if to ask and how will that help me
‘Why you don’t just go fin a man, one a dem rich one up ah red hills. Plenty returnees deh bout’. She looked satisfied as if she had just given me a gift. The answer to all of my problems for the foreseeable future.
She was right. In her world, pretty light brown women did not sit around musing over small things like paying bills, school fees and buying food. In my world, the social security and unemployment benefit offices served the same purpose. As my surrogate husband, they would give me a small allowance so long as I complied with their rules, behaved myself and didn’t try to earn a penny more.
He had been watching me for a while. He was tall, dark and very handsome. Always beautifully dressed. There to pursue his graduate program in Global Development studies. I was an 18-year-old duffle coat wearing child from London who was wondering what the heck she was doing at University. Coming for a poor background, it really was not a part of the plan. When mummy died, it seemed that anything and nothing were possible.
We met at the African society where people with black skin all came together. As I sat in his room listening to his musings about the car he was shipping from Germany and his house in Benin state which his relatives lived in, I suspected that sex would have been my passport to some of these things too. His thick accent was interesting and although there were some words I didn’t quite catch, I knew Bumi and her family well back on our estate. The intonation was familiar. My mother was not happy with this, always warning me Don’t eat from dem, but they were orders which I ignored. I looked at him and understood the trade-off. It would be my body for the ‘things’ which he had access to. After all, that was the world I lived in.
‘I have to go’, I said standing to change the reality in front of me.
‘But…I thought you would stay’. His gentle voice and beautiful face, sounded and looked so disappointed. It was hard to tell if it was affection or wounded ego. I didn’t look back, buttoning my duffle coat and walking through the campus through the cold November air, I exhaled once I was in my room. At 18, I knew that big cars and houses weren’t the most important things for me.
I had been watching Debbie since she moved in with her sister. Let me reframe that. Since her sister had sublet one of her two rooms. I was so glad that the children and I had the top two rooms. With the different hours they all kept, I wouldn’t have been able to withstand the door banging and smell of food wafting past our doors at all hours. It’s funny how I had learned to compromise on what at another time in my life, would be totally not up for discussion.
Why you don’t just go fin a man…look how you pretty She exclaimed. I smiled and made no judgement. She worked in an expensive shoe shop which paid enough for her to pay her sister for the one room which she occupied with her son. There were at least three men who picked her up on respective nights and there was one from whom she returned home with many bags of shopping. I suspected that the others paid for her son’s school fees and towards her rent. Even nice shoe shops in Constant Springs didn’t pay local floor staff high salaries.
It was her reality and a reminder of why I had swotted over those books late at night for my Teachers certificate and Master’s degree. The next day I woke early, went to the internet café to print of copies of my CV and targeted the UN offices in New Kingston where I was offered work as a Consultant.