Miriam | Showcase

“Every Saturday is the same story.” A tale of a woman and her four persistent suitors — fiction by Michelene Adams

  • Illustration by Shalini Seereeram

Saturday is Desmond day, and every Saturday is the same story. She could hear him calling by the gate just as she put the soup in a bowl to cool, and she ain’t even have to catch a glimpse of the long, narrow head through the curtain to know is him. And sometimes he reach while she still turning the split peas on the fire.

Those days he sit down in the kitchen and tell her at least three times how good the pot smelling. As if he ain’t know she going to invite him to have a bowl with her, as if he ain’t see the pattern yet after all this time. And when it ready, Desmond sit down in the chair opposite hers, and after nearly every spoonful, he wipe his moustache with two fingers. And he compliment the dumplings, and the salt meat, and the thickness of the soup, and he can’t help but notice how orange the pumpkin is, and sweet, and he had swear he never would have taste a split peas soup like his mother could have make, but this one just as more-ish as hers (Desmond always take two bowls).

Then after lunch, when the table clear, he sit down in the Morris chair in the drawing room till she finish wash the wares, and when she done, he stay and talk to her for about an hour while she sew. Miriam was a seamstress, and though readymade clothes more and more available, people in the neighbourhood still coming by her regular.

Wasn’t till about the third time he visit that Desmond start bringing his clothes that want a needle. First it was only two buttons on one shirt that he ask her to sew on. Say he “hopeless with needle and thread,” and he “know is a lot to ask but . . .” Miriam figure it must be because she sympathise a little too much that he come to take her for granted. She remember clear clear what she tell him the first time when he watch her sheepish. How is not everything a body could do, and what it take out of her to sew on two buttons?, and if he feel he can’t ask her a favour, that’s a bad sign.

Of course, the first few Saturdays she was still wondering how he come to visit her in the first place. The first few Saturdays, Miriam change her dress before he reach, tie her hair with a brighter scarf than the one she’s usually wear in the house, and take the apron from around her waist (though she say a little prayer that nothing would have fall on her clothes). When Desmond come in the kitchen and stand up close, watching over her shoulder while she stir the pot, she find her face getting hot. She tell herself it can’t just be food that bring him.

But now she ain’t so sure. When Desmond leave, he have a thick slice of sweetbread in greaseproof, and his three pairs of workpants darn, wrap in brown paper, and the parcel tie with twine. He wave to her from by the gate, a grin splitting his narrow head in two.

“Saturday!” he shout like a promise as he stride off.

“He come for a pair of able hands,” she say to herself as she watch him go.

 

Sunday after John Rawlins wake up from a weekend of carousing with woman, he walk over by Miriam. He come in wearing dungarees, no string tie, no grease in his hair. Sometimes Friday and Saturday evening, she see him passing with one woman or another in the old Zephyr he buy third-hand from somebody living on the hill, but he don’t even nod at her then. She know he see her, but his eye anywhere else — out the other window, on the road, or he turn to look at the woman who always hook up under the arm he have stretch out across the top of the seat. At least four woman in the village claim their child is John Rawlins own, but he careful to pick the kind of woman who, for one reason or another, wouldn’t try and prove it. So he home free.

Nobody besides his mother know the side of him Miriam is see every Sunday. As he reach, he head for the scrubbing brush. While she in the back picking tomato and green fig, Rawlins nearby cleaning out the chicken coop. “You can’t manage everything by yourself,” he say, as he fill a pail of water to wash down the run. He turn off the tap and look straight in Miriam eye. “You ain’t go believe this,” he say, “but every Sunday I tell myself, ‘This the last weekend of your slackness, John Rawlins. Time to stop your womanising.’ But when Marilyn Harvey walk past me with that roll of she hipline, or Joan Darlington sitting in the window upstairs and give me a smile. If any of them woman pass any kind of invitation (because even when they ain’t realise it, they’s be passing invitation), I there with them.”

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Miriam take the figs and tomato inside, and through the window, she see Rawlins on his hands and knees scrubbing the concrete.

“Is absolution he here for,” she say.

 

Bally is a tailor, a widower. He have a shop that start out as a hole in the wall, but after his wife dead, Bally throw himself into his work so hard that he spitting out clothes fast as a factory. Some people say that’s why Bally children so lawless, that is their father guiding hand they missing. Bally sister come to take care of the children, but is best she didn’t bother, because she used to drink, and by two o’clock in the afternoon, she sleeping on the gallery with a set of Stag bottles on the floor by her foot. Bally send her home after seven months or so.

Bally have a plague of children: Rupert, who driving taxi; Angie — she living with a police constable; and Bobby, the one who win a scholarship to the university, but he selling snow cone from a bicycle cart and wearing his hair in a ponytail, because like he and books vex. And all the younger ones wild, especially the boys, running through the streets like a pack of goats. All name after Indian gods, like Bally and his wife find religion late — Vishnu, Indra, Sita, Shiva, Krishna . . . Miriam ain’t even sure how many.

Sometimes on a evening during the week, Bally come “for a little breeze” by her. They sit in the gallery and he shake his head more than he talk. Sometimes when the night damp and the scent of jasmine reach her from the little piece of garden she have in the front of the house, she look at Bally. She watch the curve of his eyebrow, and his jawline, and his hands — neat fingers clasp in his lap — and she think to herself she might be able to calm down those children — maybe is a woman they need. Maybe all Angie need is a woman in the house again, and she might come back home and settle down.

So she get up and bring some tea with a mint leaf. “To soothe your nerves,” she tell him, and he hold the cup in one hand and rub his temple with the other one. But when he done drinking he get to his feet and tell her he have to wake up early to finish a waistcoat. When she open the gate for him to pass, he stand up watching down the road.

“You see Angie lately?” he finally ask. “She scrawny and her skin like it grey. She used to be a nice-looking girl. I tired talk, though. I wash my hand of all of them.”

As he pass through the gate, Miriam watch how he’s stoop a little when he walk and how his hands making two fists.

“He want somebody to pass his children on to,” she say.

 

But Nathaniel Mendoza have her confuse. First time she see him was the day her neighbour son had help her cut down the zaboca tree that was sick. She come out to wet the heliconia when the sun start to go down, and find this tall brownskin man leaning on the gate watching at the trunk and branches pile on the pavement for the City Council truck to pick up.

“You will miss your zabocas,” he say, as if they accustom talking over the wall just so. “Eh heh,” she say, softly, expecting him to say something more, but he just walk away. She remember she stand up on the gallery wiping her wet hands on her dress watching him go. He was whistling.

But a couple weeks later, he show up at the gate carrying a paper bag with two perfect Pollock pears. She thank him and offer him a glass of lime juice, so he pass through the gate after her and follow her into the gallery. Nathaniel from Paramin, that little village nestled in the Maraval hills. You could see it in the distance on your left on the way to Blanchisseuse. “Not everybody could make it up there,” he say. “Is only four-wheel drive could climb them hills.”

He tell her he have five brothers and sisters, and all of them still in that village. When she say all she know about Paramin is they look Spanish, they’s grow chive, they always bring out a blue devil band at Carnival, and they play parang, he laugh and say his parents is sell seasoning in the market, two brothers involve in blue devil mas since they in their teens, and he is the mandolin man in a parang band. “Maybe is true, and all we good for in Paramin is growing chive, spitting fire, and making music for Christmas.”

His face break open in a smile, and Miriam find he remind her of something from when she was small, but she ain’t sure what. She smile, too, though.

“Parang ain’t parang without the mandolin,” she say.

When Nathaniel talk, he’s use his hands plenty, as if the words not enough to tell the story. Miriam sit and listen and watch at the shapes his hands making. He not handsome, but he have a kind face, and eyes like he always studying something more. He working on the wharf, and he tell Miriam about some of the things he see: Filipino sailors, small like boys; Koreans — big hard-back men — walking along the docks holding hands. He always find that odd, but everybody have their own way, he say. Once he watch a Norweigan officer standing on the deck of a cruise ship, throwing down coins for a local woman below. Her husband was there, but the captain like he didn’t care.

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But a lot of the time he cross one long leg over the next one and listen to her. It look like the stories he’s tell make her want to talk, too. Sometimes she surprise at what she remember. All kind of thing from when she was small — how she used to play in the dry river bed with twin sisters who live in a house where everything paint pink. Or the time they were staying in Las Piedras and she sleepwalk out to the sea and nearly drown. She find she want him to listen. When Nathaniel say he going, she try to think of things she could talk about that might get him to lean back in the chair and cross his legs again. She look in his face and her heart flutter — almost like a bird that frighten — but she don’t have anything to keep him. He wave from by the gate and walk brisk towards the junction.

Around five o’clock most Saturdays after that he come, and he tell his tales leaning back in the chair, his long legs stretch out, but he always leave once the neighbours start to turn on their lights. She invite him to stay for a little roast bake and smoke herring one evening, but he thank her and say, “Is time to head up. I have a good way to go to get home.” Miriam find that after Nathaniel gone on those Saturdays, she sit down in the gallery thinking about her parents, about her brother and sister who in America years now, about school days. Sometimes she ain’t even remember to watch the news on the little TV she have in the drawing room, and instead she just stay on the gallery with the lights of houses twinkling in the hills.

“What this Paramin man come down here for?” she hear herself ask softly, but she can’t see that he really come for anything in particular.

 

The strangest dream she ever have is come back in a different form every so often. In one dream, she on the gallery, and a man pass and tip his hat and tell her she have a beautiful garden, and he especially fond of the lovely red plant, and gone on his way. In another one, she come out of the service with all the congregation and in the courtyard the men turning from their wife and smiling at her, and one of them whisper, “That’s a wonderful red plant growing wild in your garden,” and before she have time to answer, he disappear in the crowd. Is have her uncomfortable when she wake up; she never like the idea of getting praise or compliment when she ain’t deserve it, and in the dream she don’t have chance to say they must be mix hers up with some other garden, because she ain’t have no such plant. But by the time she get out of the bed and gone to the kitchen to make tea, she forget till the next time.

The following Saturday morning she went to the market and bring back the usual ingredients for the soup. She peel the dasheen and cassava and sweet potato and put it to boil. She cut up the chive and onion and crush the garlic. She burst the split peas in the pressure cooker, and as she take it off the fire, she hear Desmond call out. He early today. She walk out to the gallery, and he beam at her from the gate. He was carrying a shopping bag with some piece of clothes or the other in it. She take a deep breath.

“Desmond,” she hear herself say, “I can’t invite you in today, nuh.”

His eyebrows raise. “Oho,” he say. “You busy?”

“I going South as soon as I finish cook. My cousin been asking me to come down by her in Siparia long time now and I decide I go take the bus and go for the weekend.”

Miriam cousin had really ask her a few times to visit, but is only when she see Desmond long head at the gate that she decide to go. She had always wonder what it would be like to travel in one of them new buses. “Luxury ride.” She had seen those words somewhere — must be in the papers.

Desmond look down at the bag in his hand and open his mouth, but he close it again. “Alright, Miriam,” he say. “We go pick up.”

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She gone back in the kitchen after he walk up towards Main Street, and she rest her hands on the kitchen counter and look at them.

When John Rawlins show up as usual the next Sunday morning, Miriam was reading the Express in the drawing room. She part the curtain and wave at him. He say “Morning” as he close the gate behind him, and almost in the same breath, he ask her if she want him to start with the fowl run or if she need anything special do.

“Why we don’t just sit down for a change and have a cup a coffee,” she say.

Rawlins eye fly open.

“Dew still on the plants, John. Watch.”

“Sit down?” he say, excited. “But I ain’t come to sit down, Miriam. I come to give you a hand. I sure something round here need doing.”

Miriam shake her head. “I not feeling for busyness round me. Maybe you should stop for a while and just . . . well, just breathe. Is Sunday, after all, you know.”

John sigh hard. He look round the yard.

“Best I go by my mother. I’s usually go there after I leave by you. She’s be glad for the pull out,” he say.

The Anglican church bell ring seven o’clock. Rawlins start to tap his thigh.

Miriam watch him and smile slow. “Alright, John,” she say.

He sigh again and get to his feet then he lift the latch on the little wooden gallery gate.

 

She was sitting outside listening to the radio after dinner one night the next week when Bally call out.

“Miriam,” he say with a sad smile, “Good evening.”

“Bally,” Miriam greet him, “I glad you pass. Come and sit down a while. I had wanted to ask you something.”

He push the gate, come up the steps, and get in the old rocking chair.

“I was thinking about Mayaro,” she say.

Bally furrow his brow. “Mayaro?”

“Yes, boy.” She clasp her hands in her lap. “When I was on the bus coming from South the other day, I realise how good it is for a body to see something different sometimes. That road to South ain’t playing it pretty. The rolling hills . . . When last you and your children went somewhere for a little breeze?”

Bally look at her, puzzled. Then he give a dry kind of laugh and lean back in the chair. “I ain’t go nowhere with my children since my wife die.” He frown and look off down the street towards his house.

“That’s a long time,” Miriam say softly.

“Four years,” Bally say. “We used to drive in the van to Rampanalgas when some of them was still small. Sita was a baby, and Krishna wasn’t even born. We used to play cricket on the beach — take bat and ball and thing.”

“That sounding real nice,” Miriam smile.

Bally nod, and Miriam find like his eyes damp.

“Maybe you could take the van and go one Sunday? Maybe you could ask Angie to go to help you with the younger ones?”

“Maybe,” Bally murmur. “Angie love the sea.” He look up at Miriam. “The salt might be good for all of us,” he say.

 

Saturday evening about fiveish and Miriam watering the croton she have in a pot in the gallery.

“I had come last week,” she hear a deep voice say.

It startle her, but she look up to find Nathaniel, wearing a yellow All Stars jersey, standing with his arm on the metal gate.

“But like you had gone out.”

“Yes, yes,” Miriam still watering the croton, “I went South. You not coming in?” she ask. The water spill over the brim of the plate under the pot.

“South? Eh eh! Nice, man. You have family there?” He come up the stairs and lean up in the entryway.

“Yes, yes,” she say, “And long time I promise I would visit. We had a real nice time catching up. In fact,” she chuckle, “I have stories to tell you. My cousin tell me plenty things I never knew about my family.”

“Stories? Nice,” Nathaniel say, then like he remember he carrying something. He take out a container from the bag.

“I bring some smoke herring,” he tell her. “I season it with lime, and I put pimento and chive from my garden. Tomato, too, of course” He pause, then, “I was hoping you might make some roast bake again.”

Miriam catch her breath. “I will roast the bake to go with the herring,” she say, gazing at the watering can. “Come in the kitchen, nuh, and I will tell you one or two of the stories while I prepare.”

She look up now and watch him good, and she find he just there, like all he doing is waiting to listen. She hold out her arm and step aside for Nathaniel to pass through the narrow doorway, but he pause, then bend down, untie his shoes and leave them on the gallery.

When he raise up again he give a slight bow, and gesture to her to lead him into the house.