their posts and drifted off in the area of the canteen. The lunches were provided at a minimal cost and was actually quite good.
Ms May and Miss Jeffers had been cooks all their lives and together they made a great team, cooking up some of the most delicious some of the staff had ever tasted. Today’s lunch was curried chicken and white rice with green banana to go with it. The chicken was spicy, well seasoned with scallion and thyme and of course scotch bonnet pepper.
Some of the workers ate in the lunch room, others went outside to find a cool spot under one of the trees which lined the grounds.
Our favorite spot was a large tamarind tree at the far corner. Three of us always had lunch together. There was Betsy; a large buxom girl with full eyes and a high pitched laugh. Betsy was only nineteen and already had two children fathered by a guy name Joe; what she saw in him we couldn’t figure out. Joe was five years older than her.
Betsy started seeing Joe when she was only fourteen. Her mother had been totally against the relationship from the word go, but Betsy being the stubborn rebellious teenager she was, continued seeing Joe despite receiving several beatings from her mother.
When she got pregnant at sixteen, her mother put her out. Martha Henry made it clear to her daughter that she didn’t plan on raising any grand children; she had four other children to take care of as it was and there no good father had gone off leaving her to raise them all by herself. He had gone off to America to try to make a better life for them he had said. She hadn’t heard from him in five years.
Betsy at the time, having nowhere else to go moved in with Joe. Joe had no steady job; he did odd jobs here and there now and then. Thankfully he had his own place, a lovely three bedroom house, his grandmother had left it to him in her will. That wasn’t the problem we had with Joe though; we suspected he was knocking Betsy around. She wouldn’t admit it but we had our suspicions.
The next person in our little group was Stephanie; we all called her Steph. She was twenty and had a two year old son. Rodney her baby father was doing time for drugs. Steph swore he was innocent, that the drugs had been planted on him by a jealous cop who felt Rodney was seeing his woman. Steph admitted that Rodney had had a one night stand with the cops girlfriend but she had forgiven him. We all felt her pain.
She was an attractive girl, tall and graceful, with an oval face, small eyes and slightly pouted lips. She was quite shapely with a slim waist and an ample backside that could rival J Lo’s, causing many men to give her more than a second glance whenever she walked by. Steph was not interested in any of them though, she was being loyal to Rodney and vowed to stay celibate until he got out of prison.
Then there was me. My name is Patricia but most people call me Trish. I am eighteen years old and is therefore considered to be the baby of the group. Unlike the others I have no baby; the very thought would make my mother throw a fit. I didn’t have a boyfriend either; I got teased about that sometimes, all good-naturedly of course. It didn’t bother me though, I wasn’t in any rush to have a relationship or a baby for that matter.
We settled down comfortably under the tamarind tree and dipped into the meal hungrily, savoring the taste of the spicy chicken.
Betsy seemed unusually quiet today and I realized that Steph had noticed this too. We ate for a while in silence which was eventually broken by Steph.
’’What’s up with you today Betsy?’’ she asked, the forkful of rice poised in mid-air on the way to her mouth.
“Nothing, why?” Betsy forced a laugh which didn’t quite make it to her eyes. She seemed somewhat preoccupied, as if her mind was somewhere else.
“Oh nothing” Steph said matter-of-factly. “You seem a bit quiet today that’s all.”
Betsy continued eating without saying anything. We knew something was wrong; it was unlike her not to respond with something funny which would send us in spasms of laughter. We knew better than to pry though; she would tell us whatever it was in her own good time.
Josh, one of the drivers sauntered by; he liked Steph but Steph wouldn’t give him the time of day. He blew a kiss in her direction as he passed and Steph, her full attention on the box of food in her hand simply ignored him.
Josh undaunted grinned ’’I’m gonna marry you some day sweetie.”
“Presistent bastard’’ Steph muttered under her breath when Josh was out of earshot.
“Well of course you won’t have to worry about finding a husband” I joked.
Steph jabbed me sharply in the rib. Betsy said nothing but chewed noisily on her food as if she was angry with it.
“Oh I almost forget” Steph said, and from the tone of her voice we could tell she had some juicy gossip. She glanced around to make sure no one was close by, then leaned forward.
My curiosity was aroused so was Betsy’s as we waited in anticipation.
’’Guess who is pregnant?” she asked in hushed tones.
Needless to say neither one of us had a clue, but we didn’t have long to wait to find out.
“You know Octavia?”
“Nurse Wilson’s daughter?” For the first time that afternoon Betsy’s eyes seem to come alive. “You sure?”
“As sure as rain,” Steph said. “And guess who is the father?”
Steph had our full attention now and she was enjoying every moment of it.
Without waiting for our response she continued “You know Jeffery Dawes?”
“Nurse Ramsey son?” I was sure Steph must have gotten wrong information.
Steph nodded her head in the affirmative.
We looked at each other somewhat dumbfounded and then our laughter split the air. We all knew Nurse Wilson and Nurse Dawes hated each other. There was a rivalry going on between the two women each of whom was trying to win the heart of the new pastor who had taken over the church the previous year.
Pastor Jimmy Robinson was a widower in his early forties. His wife was said to have died from cancer. He had two children both of whom were attending college overseas. From the moment Pastor Robinson arrived at The New Hope Apostolic Church Nurse Wilson and Nurse Ramsey began competing for his attention. They went about it discretely of course, but it was public knowledge that there was no love lost between them.
“Wonders never cease”, Betsy said. “You know how much time I go clinic and hear Nurse Wilson telling girls how them no have ambition, how them a run down man when them should be trying to do something better with them life. “Oh that’s why I’m so proud of my Octavia’’ I used to hear her say. ’’Nothing but her books, she is always studying.”
“Now a guess she realize that her Octavia is just like the rest of us.”
We all nodded in agreement.
The ground was beginning to clear up as everyone began drifting back towards the factory. Lunch time was almost over, work would resume shortly.
We got up somewhat reluctantly, it would have been nice to remain a bit longer in the shade of the tamarind tree which branches and leaves swaying ever so gentle in the breeze.
We were about to start back when Betsy suddenly blurted out, ’’Joe didn’t come home last night!”
Steph and I looked at each other not quite knowing what to say.
’’Dragged his sorry ass back home around five o’clock this morning telling me something about him being out with the boys and losing track of time.’’
“So how do you know he is lying? I asked
“Because I know he spent the night at some gal place and I know who she is.’’
“You know?” Steph looked somewhat worried.
This wasn’t good news. We knew Betsy had a temper and we were afraid that she might go and do something like confronting this girl, whoever she was.
“Yes Betsy,” responded in answer to Steph’s question. “I know who she is, its Margie, heard she was bragging about it this morning.”
“You mean Margie from the cutting room?” I was a bit taken aback. Margie and Betsy used to be friends.
“That said one!” Betsy spat the words. Her body was tense and you could see the anger burning in her eyes.
“As soon as this shift is over I’m going to teach her a lesson.’’
Before I could stop myself I blurted out “But it isn’t all her fault, Joe have to take some of the blame too.”
Betsy swirled around and I took a step backward thinking she was about to attack me.
’’You don’t think I know?” she asked. “That’s why I packed his bags and throw him out.”
“You threw him out?” Steph and I asked the question at the same time.
“You damn right I did, you should have seen his face!”
Of course Joe must have been shocked getting thrown out of his own house. That was somewhat hilarious. Betsy must have been in on foul mood for him to go without a fight.
“So where did he go?” I couldn’t help asking.
“To his mother’s place I suppose,” Betsy said. “I didn’t see him when I took the children over to Melody this morning but I’m pretty sure he is there.”
Melody was Joe’s sister, she lived next door to their mother and would sometimes look after the children when she and Joe was working.
“I’m going to teach that gal a lesson,’’ Betsy said, bringing the subject back around to Margie once more.
We knew better than to try arguing with Betsy, the most we could do was to try to get off work early so we could prevent her from doing anything stupid to get herself in trouble.
Back at my work station I went quickly about my job. Our company was a bag manufacturing company. We made school bags, working bags, dress bags, bags of every description, we made it.
I worked in the packaging department. Our job was to inspect the bags for manufacturing flaws and seal them. Every once in a while I would glance at he clock on the wall. The workday ended at four-thirty, I wanted to be outside when Betsy came out.
I was outside the building by four-thirty-five and instead of looking around for Betsy of Steph I headed straight for the gate. In another few minutes the grounds would be full as with workers heading home.
This stretch of road was usually busy at this time of the day as buses and taxis jostled with each other for passengers. The air at this time would be filled with the noise of blaring horns and shouts conductors trying to encourage passengers to board their vehicles. Now and again a conductor would have heated words with another but nothing ever got out of control.
The workers usually said their goodbyes and try to get on the first available taxi or bus.
Steph, Betsy and I lived quite close to the centre of the town of Port Antonio. Steph and I lived on King Street while Betsy lived a little further away on Red Hassel Road. We pretty much walked home most evening except for when it rained.
I walked some distance away from the factory and stood by the side of the road searching the crowd for Betsy. I breathe a sigh of relief when I saw her with Steph beside her.
As they joined me I searched Betsy’s face, trying to read her innermost thoughts, hoping she was not going to carry out her threat to discipline Margie. There was no sign of Margie and I considered that to be a good sign.
Betsy seemed more relaxed than she had done at lunch. I began to relax as we got further and further away from the factory and Margie. I knew Betsy was upset and hurt but I did not want to witness any confrontation between her and Margie. There was still no sign of Margie and I considered that to be a good sign.
It seemed however that fate had other plans for as we drew close to the Port Antonio High School we saw her. She was standing close to the bus shed with two other girls I presumed to be her friends. (contd.)
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