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After breakfast, Suzie washed the dishes and neatly placed them on the worn cupboard and covered them with a towel. Suzie looked around their small home and smiled. She had to give Ma credit. She was quite resourceful; she did all her sewing. She had managed to complete and hang up the living and kitchen room curtains she had been working on for the past week. The material was light yellow, with white and navy blue pots or flowers in some sort of pattern. It was lovely. The bright colors certainly brought the room to life, totally transforming the décor.

Their home was always squeaky clean because her mother was a clean freak. Every dish was to be washed and stored away, no matter how late one ate. The floor had to be washed or mopped every day after cooking lunch. Leaving dirty dishes was like committing a sin to Ma. She always told Suzie that one could discern so much of someone’s character based on the way that individual kept his house. Suzie did not mind all the cleaning and washing, but it sometimes made people uncomfortable when they visited them. It was not Ma’s fault, Pa mentioned once; it was the way she was brought up. Who could fault her for that? After all cleanliness was a virtue, or so she had heard.

Their home was small but comfortable because of the many homey touches her Ma had added here and there. She had even started placing flowers in two old vases and centered a piece in the living room and one by the kitchen sink. Ensuring that there was no excess water on the floor and on the table top, Suzie went in search of a palanma broom. There were two; the one used for the yard outside was a bit worn out, and the newer one was used for the inside of the house. Quickly locating the one she needed, she started the chore. The yard was damp this morning. It looked like dew or maybe they had gotten some light rain during the night. This meant that it would take her double the time to sweep the yard because the dirt was not loose. Using an old nylon bag over her hands, she started picking bits of wood left lying around the place from yesterday, along with some dry brown leaves scattered from the nearby trees. Stacking them in a corner, she resumed her sweeping.

‘Suzy!’ Her mother’s voice roused her from her reverie. ‘Come here this minute.’

The broom clattered to the ground, in her haste to get away, nearly tripping Suzie. She braced herself on one of the nearby drums and then rushed towards the voice, shouting, ‘Coming Ma.’ She found her mother in the small room she shared with her brother piling the dirty clothes in a large, blue rubber basin, the only basin they owned now. The other one had recently been destroyed when she accidently placed too much water in it and tried to lift it. With too much weight the rubber at the bottom gave way. Her Ma was not happy about it. She had said that Suzie was irresponsible. Suzie could not understand how she was called such when it was plain as day that the basin was old and weak and it would have been only a matter of time before it broke. But when her mother was on a roll there was no stopping her. Most times it was better they just go along with her.

‘Why are there so many dirty clothes? Didn’t you wash all the undergarments on Monday? It is Wednesday and the pile has grown.’

‘Well I washed some, Ma, but there was not enough soap to do all.’ Suzie explained.

‘Then why didn’t you say something?’

Suzie stood idly by as her mother continued stacking clothes on the heap. ‘Go by Ms. Bringo and buy two blue soaps and a small bottle of bleach. Tell her to place it on my credit list.’

‘Okay,’ Suzie muttered already at the door.

‘’Where are you going without a bag? Do you want the whole neighborhood seeing what you went and buy? Check in one of the buckets there are a few nylon bags; take a black one.’

‘Everyone knows what soap is, Ma. I do not need a bag.’

‘Ti manmay, do as I say!’ Abigale snapped. ‘Ou ni an wépon pou tout bagay. It is not proper for everyone to see your business, Suzie. Some of these people have nothing else to do but sit down whole day and mind people business. I will not broadcast what I am cooking or using at my home, so when I tell you to do something, just do it. Do not let me tell you this a second time. Do you hear me, Suzie?’

‘Yes, Ma.’

Mumbling under her breath, Suzie started to go in search of the bag.

‘What did you say? Did you just choops me?’

‘No I did not. I said ok,’ Suzie replied.

‘Uh-huh, try not to stay too long. These clothes will not wash itself. It is almost ten o’clock we have much to do,’ her Ma retorted.

Her Ma could be so old fashioned.

Suzie was thankful that Ma was doing the washing today. She had learned the hard way how to wash properly. From the age of six, whilst her mother was washing she would also place a small basin with her undergarments and socks for her and show her how to wash. After each item she would inspect. If one was found to still be soiled, she would make her go back and start all over. It was the same with washing dishes. By the time she was ten years old, she was doing well and the majority of the time when they washed, Ma hardly inspected the clothing.

Suzie loved her parents. They were good to her and her brother. Though she did not always get what she wanted, she was satisfied with what she had.

As Suzie skipped up the road to the shop, her thoughts were in disarray. Her parents thought she was blind to what was going on. She knew something was amiss with the two of them for some time now; but she did not know what. She had only observed that Pa stayed out for the whole night a few weeks ago and Ma was blue vex.

It looked like it had happened again, because Ma was not herself this morning. She was acting the same way she did the last time. At twelve years old Suzie knew more than she let on.

She stopped for a while and looked at her surroundings. There were several fruit trees; coconuts, mangoes, guava all just within reach, swaying lazily in the cool breeze. The trees offered shade and a cool place to run around in the green meadow beneath. There were flowers of different colours. Suzie did not know the names of the flowers, but she loved the sweet scent emanating from the petals as she smelled a few. What she really marveled at were the butterflies; they were everywhere. The flapping of their multi-colored wings were drowned- out by the chirping of the nearby birds as they moved from flower to bush, blending with the foliage.

Suzie loved the outdoors. Ma always told her that she took more of her father. She could not decide if this was a good thing. Everyone knew one another in Larouse. There were hardly any secrets, and the residents looked out for one another. Suzie saw it as a big family, but she saw that most people had no ambition. They did the same thing day in and day out, and most of them seemed to be okay with it, but it was not okay for Suzie. She wanted something better for herself, not the life that she saw Ma living day after day.

Lost in her surroundings Suzie did not notice the voice calling out to her.

‘Suzie weh ya goin’, to de shop?’

Turning she saw their closest neighbor, Ms. Eva, waddling towards her. ‘Yes Miss Eva, do you want something there?’ she asked politely.

‘Yes chile. Can ya git me ah packet of butter an’ a poun’ of salt fish?’ she said pushing a five dollar note into Suzie’s hand.

‘Be careful wit’ dat. Duh drop it on de road,’ she admonished. ‘And bring me change for me. Duh lose it, yuh hear.’

‘Yes ma’am,’ said Suzie as she continued up the road. She stole a quick look again at Ms. Eva. She was the fattest lady in the neighborhood. No one knew how many pounds she weighed, but Pa did mention once that it was maybe over three hundred. This sounded like a lot. Pa said she was that size because she refused to lift up her lazy tush and help her husband in the garden.

Furthermore, Ms. Eva was always complaining about an ache. If it was not her back, then her knee, or some other ailment. Suzie smiled to herself. She tended to agree with Pa on this one; Ms. Eva was lazy. With all the aches she was always eating. Big plates of starchy foods. Suzie reckoned sick people don’t eat so much. Despite what Pa said, Suzie liked Ms. Eva a lot. She was one of the friendliest and most caring ladies in the community. Nothing was too much for her to share.

Rushing up the road, Suzie tried to avoid people seeing her because it usually ended with her shopping for them. The exception was Old man Otto. When she came closer to his house she called out a greeting.

‘Good morning, Mr. Otto how are you this morning?’

‘Who dere,?’ he responded, squinting at Suzie. When recognition struck, his wrinkled face lit up like a light-bulb and he graced her with one of his toothless smiles.

‘Bonjou, bèl tifi. Sa ka fèt ? Tout moun bon?’ Suzie smiled at the affectionate alias. Mr. Otto had called her by that name from the time she was a toddler. It was not a name really. It meant beautiful girl.

‘Yes they are well. How are you feeling this morning, Mr. Otto?’ she repeated.

‘Pa twò mal. I alive, so dat is someting, eh? How is ya Ma and de boy?’ He continued in the same breath. ‘Tell dem I say hello.’

‘I will do that, Mr. Otto. You take care now,’ she said.

For as long as Suzie could remember, Mr. Otto had lived in the smallest hut close to the road. His hair and eyebrows were as white as cotton. His hair reminded Suzie of an old bird nest with tiny sticks jutting precariously at odd angles. Mr. Otto was fair with a bald spot and pale brown eyes which seemed to be looking everywhere except at the person he was addressing. He was always stationed at a window facing the road, watching everyone passing. Suzie figured he must be over one hundred years, as old as the hills, someone once said.

Suzie always made it her duty to find out about his well-being because her Ma said Mr. Otto was family and they should always check on him.

He had no children of his own, and his wife was no longer alive. He could hardly walk, so people in the neighborhood took turns feeding him.

He did not speak much English but usually used the dialect. For most of the older folks in the community, patois was the only language they spoke. It was part of their heritage that the elders never missed an opportunity to teach and remind the younger folk about. Suzie did not mind. She loved the French-patois. There was no way one could escape from learning the language. It was the staple language of Larouse and the surrounding villages.

It was different in the city though. Her Pa told them that most people there spoke English and most times they looked down at the few who chose to exercise their freedom and use the patois language openly. Suzie recalled Pa saying these city people would call them names such as ‘country bookie.’ Why? Because they were different, spoke differently, saw things beyond grey and white. Ignorance can destroy a person, Pa said. Well Suzie felt sorry for such people.

Arriving at the shop she quickly recounted what she came for.

‘What’s your rush little one?’ asked the shopkeeper. ‘Take your time and speak slowly.’

Suzie repeated herself and waited patiently while old man Bringo weighed the salt fish.

‘You are growing up into a beautiful young lady,’ he said, leering at her. Suzie cringed and glared at him. She hated coming to the shop and having the old man serve her. She preferred the lady. Ms. Lydia was her name. She was a nice, friendly lady, always smiling whenever she came by, asking questions about school and how Pa and Ma were faring. She was scarcely at the shop on mornings. If she recalled correctly, the few times that Ms. Lydia had served her at the shop were in the afternoons after school. It looked like Mr. Bringo handled the morning shifts.

Suzie continued her perusal of Bringo. Pa mentioned that he was a retired school teacher. He used to teach a few years back in the village and was quite good at it. Suzie did not know why the people of the community called him old man because he was not really old. He had a full head of grey hair, but from what Pa said he was only a few years older than him. People said he inherited it from his father. Suzie thought that it served him right for him to be cursed with it. Most people did not know it but, he was a peeping Tom preying on and chatting up the young girls in the community. This really grossed her out. He must be sick in his mind.

‘Do not let the young boys in the neighborhood spoil you, do you hear me?’ He said lingering over the purchase. Suzie was getting impatient and started tapping her feet. After a few more seconds, she said rudely:

‘I am sorry Mr. Bringo, can you hurry this up? I really have to go. My Ma is waiting on me.’

‘Take your time child. You must learn patience and stop issuing me orders. I am not sure what is happening to your generation, always in a hurry. Mistakes happen when someone is always rushing,’ he continued. ‘Remember that, little one.’

Ignoring him, she reached out her hands for the purchase.

‘Since we are in the process of issuing orders, I want you to give your Pa a message for me. Tell him the jeans is ready. The dye went really well; he will love the color.’

‘What dye?’ Suzie asked.

‘Just that the pair of jeans he gave me to change the color is finally ready. We did a terrific job of it.’

‘Oh, ok.’ Suzie replied. ‘Why didn’t you just say so?’

‘Here, a little less talking and more listening,’ he motioned, touching his left ear, ‘will take you a long way, young lady. Mark my words.’ Placing the items on the counter, he stretched out his hands for her to collect the change, and simultaneously tried to snatch her hand. Suzie grabbed the change and ran out. She would have to tell Ma about his lecherous old ways.

Libre Baskerville
Gentium Book Basic
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