Literary Arts - Goodbye Marjorie (Part 1)

Published: Sunday | August 2, 2009

Wandeka Gayle, Contributor

He could make out the gungo tree in the yard as dusk fell.

He sighed.

Tomorrow he would go to his new school, away from the rigours of rural Jamaica to Canada.

He could make out his grandmother's figure by the standpipe. She was catching water in a barrel, her bulk clad in her brown housedress. Her tied head was bent low as she adjusted the hose.

In the soft light, he could make out the outline of his neighbour's one-floor wooden house that sat upon the cluttered lot a few yards away. A thin breadfruit tree leaned itself against the fence between the two yards.

"Marjorie," he thought.

How could he have let his mind drift away from the girl who had stolen his affection? This was a secret affirmation, however. He could never bring himself to tell her these eight years.

Were it not for that blessed scholarship, he would not be "gettin' di learnin'", as his granny had put it.

"My bwoy going places, yuh see, Angie," his grandmother had cackled when her neighbour came over to "borrow" some cocoa a few months before.

"Yes, wi know, Miss Gene," Angie had said as she handled the hard, brown balls of cocoa and rolled her eyes. "My Marjorie is no dunce either. She going to work in town. She not going to stay in Balaclava forever."

While his grandmother bragged, Michael was watching Marjorie do a seemingly mundane chore, hanging large white sheets on the line. He watched the water from the heavy sheets run down her slender arms as an artist would his muse.

Marjorie had always regarded him with a cool charcoal gaze. He often heard Angie and her babyfather screaming at each other, their voices carrying through the lane.

Everybody knew that Nathan often beat Angie to a bloody pulp. The scars lined her face like battle wounds. As for Marjorie, she would come to school without any visible scars, just painful silence.

His heart warmed when he first saw her. They were both 10 and she had sat across from him in the grade-six classroom. She was a frail thing, with thick Indian waves and inky black eyes that intrigued him.

He remembered his futile attempt to become her friend. He had seen her peeking at him through the cracks in the fence one day after school.

"We going to catch some crayfish in the river," Michael had said, holding his makeshift fishing line out for her to see. "Yuh wan' come?"

"Leave har, yah Michael," Andy, his best friend, said, "Come on, man."

"Marjorie!" Angie's voice rang out from inside the house.

Without saying a word, Marjorie simply ran back into the house.

At school, he often saw her sitting in the school library reading Edgell's Beka Lamb while the other girls sat in cliques talking and listening to walkmans.

She managed to miss many of the physical education sessions without consequence and he often wondered about that. He wondered what she would look like in her short pleated skirt.

He would also yearn to hear her voice but she would not speak unless the teachers called her by name. Her voice was low-pitched and halting, except for when she read excerpts of literature for English class.

He had often noticed that she would come alive in Miss Briggs' English class, reading excerpts of Anthony's Green Days By The River in a smooth, haunting voice.

Some girls would spread nasty rumours that she was the bastard daughter of a politician in Kingston. They also murmured that she had a horrible deformity that would be exposed if she was forced to wear the PE uniform.

Michael finally accepted that she would remain an enigma. She became the titillating fantasy just out of reach for the rest of his adolescence.

Sighing and pulling shreds of his sanity together, he slowly got to his feet and took one last look at the contents of his black suitcase.

He smiled as he fingered his plane ticket, reassuring himself this was all happening.

When the letter had come from the school in Toronto, bedlam broke out. He had won an international essay competition that would guarantee a four-year tuition-free undergraduate degree.

He opted to study pre-law, as he had fallen in love with history and civics in first form. He had managed to maintain a 3.8 grade point average at his local high school, and received a record nine distinctions in the Caribbean Examination Council Ordinary level and two in Advanced level .

His essay was about challenges of nation building and ills of the shrinking global market place. His grandmother kept a framed copy of The Gleaner newspaper article about Michael and his essay, published in its entirety.

On the day his grandmother had received the news and gone on the verandah with him, laughing and crying, he had noticed Marjorie standing by the fence that separated them. She had looked away when she was discovered. This had stirred his curiosity.

That moment when their gaze had fused he had felt something akin to an electric jolt that surprised him.

And when his uncle had come all the way from Yallahs to congratulate him, all he could think about were those five seconds Marjorie's eyes pierced his.

Now, he could hear his grandmother bustling around in the kitchen. He went into the room and watched as his grandmother busied herself with cleaning the already clean kitchen, washing already washed enamel cups and boiling more water in the ancient, blackened kettle for some more fever grass tea.

Miss Gene set a plate of boiled dumplings and steamed fish before Michael now seated at the table.

"You pack up everything, Mickey?" she asked, sitting down beside her grandson at the weathered pine table.

"Yes, mama," he said, with a weak smile. She rubbed her calloused fingers over his head affectionately.

His dark eyes looked into her dim ones. He rubbed her wrinkled hand. "I'll be fine."

Later in his room, he pulled from his pocket the faded photo of his mother. She had warm caramel skin and dark locks.

He looked at the yellowing photo of her wearing a hospital gown and holding a plump baby boy in a white blanket. He smiled at his younger self.

"When yuh leaving?"

He jumped at the sound of her voice. Turning around in the small room, he saw Marjorie sitting on the chair beside his bed. The weak light eliminated her silky waves and long cotton nightgown. Michael slowly sat on the bed facing her, afraid that any sudden movements would startle her away.

"Six o'clock," he said slowly.

"Oh," she said, still looking at him from under her lashes. "You excited?"

Michael felt himself in a strange dream. Was Marjorie really sitting in his room in her nightgown?

"Yeah," he answered simply.

She broke their gaze and pulled out a small package wrapped in brown paper. It was slender, like a book.

"I never have any wrapping paper," she said, extending it to him.

"Thanks," Michael said, immediately beginning to pull at the corners.

"No!" she protested. "Wait until tomorrow."

"Why?" he asked, smiling for the first time since he discovered her there.

"Just please, wait," she said sheepishly. "Wait until you're on the plane."

Michael was awe-struck.

He decided to ask the one question that had been plaguing him for eight years.

"Why yuh never talk to me before now?"

She got up from the chair. He noticed that she shook slightly as she walked over to him. As she passed the open window, the streetlight outlined her slender body underneath the nightgown. His breath caught in his throat.

She sat beside him on the bed. His heartbeat was deafening in his ears as he looked down at her. He noticed the curious tell-tale tear stains on her cheeks.

"I wanted to thank you," she said.

Michael stared at her dumbfounded. Then, he whispered, "For what?"

"For not treating me like the others at school," she said.

Michael nodded mutely.

"I see you sometimes," she said.

"See me?"

"When you think nobody watchin'," she said. "You watch me."

Michael looked away.

He felt her cold fingers turn his cheek to her.

Marjorie said. "You are my one friend ... but now yuh leaving me."

"Not forever," Michael said quickly, warmed to hear her call him friend. "I'll be back."

"How long?"

"A year," he said slowly. "I can't afford to come back until next summer."

He watched her look down at her bare feet.

"Tell me something about yuhself," he said to fill the awkward pause.

When she looked at him, her eyes were filmed with unshed tears. Her hands reached up to cup his face. Michael shuddered as her warm lips touched his.

See the conclusion of this story, next Sunday. You don't want to miss it!