It was the next morning that I appeared at Bea’s, as promised.As I arrived I went to work right away, feeling that I had better before the sun found out that I was around. Determined to finish the job I had started the day before, I lifted my machete and started to work even before announcing to old Bea that I had arrived.
Since I had spent the morning musing about what we had talked about the evening before, while I stopped briefly to sharpen my machete the morning dew seemed to help my morale as I oversaw the job that had to be done. Taking time to pause I could see that the mist was helping with the job by softening the overgrowth I was hacking at with my cutlass.
Bea did not appear in the yard, but I knew that she had been observing the progress I was making cutting in her backyard. I was almost finished and saw that I was up to her back porch, when she appeared greeting me. “Morning Juni!” she said cheerfully.I responded like a busy workman, “Morning Miss Bea!” Without stopping to even look her way, I swung the machette expertly dominating the overgrown grass as the newly trimmed carpet of lawn grass smiled.Afterwards I stooped to gather the cuttings that filled my crocus bag.
I had it all planned out about intending to take that bag of cut grass with me when I left for the evening. I would dump the grass cuttings as I did the night before along the road home. My intentions was to be a helper to the old woman and not cause her additional problems by piling up the grassy trash in her backyard, which could invite rats and snakes to come visiting.”Hey Boy, come an’ drink something!” my host interrupted and it was then that I noticed that the sun had been trying to hide my shadow. “It must be close to noon,” I thought as I whipped the perspiration from my brow and slowly walked towards Bea, who had been sitting watching me work.
“How come you dint come in? I had something for you to eat,” she asked. I did not respond until I had sat down at her feet like I did the day before.Then I said to her, “Thank you very much Mam, but as you’ve noticed I wanted to finish this job today.” She looked at me all that time and then said, “You just like my pretty boy. Him too was determine when him get ready.” I sat by her just listening to her as I savoured the glass of lemon aide without answering her comments. “Hey, I have something to ask you, Bea,” I said animated as though I had been thinking of what we had talked about the previous evening. “When you was working with the men them up-the-line, did you all just have Westindian women, or you had Spanish girls with you too?”
I noticed Bea smiling as I was formulating my question, then she laughed out loud. “Hee, hee!” she broke out in laughter.“Eh-eh, wha you think? We had both and some of them Spanish girls them was very pretty little things, pretties woman them you eva seen.”Then after we both had a good laugh, Bea continued her story. “An we did not fool aroun’ all the time eithah, because it was business you know.You see, my boy, we didn’t have much time to get things ready fo’ the men them. It was rush and do this and do that, that kind of thing. But on Saturday evening that was when we entertain the men. But jus’ you imagine how fast we had to have things ready, because we had to know where we was goin’ to get wata all the time to wash up an’ things like that. Yes man, it was not a easy life, but we manage.”
All the time she talked I was thinking about what she was saying, remembering that we in the fields worked all day even today without carrying any water to drink or to wash up after working, or before we ate. Also I remembered those days in which I worked and that the Company provided no water to drink for all us men, who spent all day out in the weather, rain or shine. “Come inside because you can finish the little you have left tomorrow. You come on!” she said emphatically leading the way into the house, as usual. I followed behind her trying to ascertain how long she had been living alone without anyone to help her. So as she sat down in her favorite chair I had brought in from the yard I asked, “Bea when was the last time you been up-the-line?”
Waiting to resume our conversation of the day I got to wondering about this older woman who I had adopted who could be even older than my grandmothers in Panama and Colon, but who appeared younger than any of them. I got comfortable in the seat I had chosen in this house which was my time machine. It took me back even to times when our people were just getting used to the word freedom. Then I noticed that Bea was wiping the small bead of perspiration from her brow, she reached above her head and started to retie her turban, which I thought was unique to older Westindian women.
When she was ready she said, “Well son I use to go up there very often, but it been years now that I don’t go nowhere.” I sensed that she was getting sentimental and then she looked me in the face and said, “You see, for us, the older ones, we seem to just pass on, just go without saying farewell or nothing. Any way, now most of the people up-the-line either live too far fo’ me or the ones in Baseline I really do not know so well. Anyway, them is mostly Spanish and I tell you the truth, chile, I too old now to be traipsing like a young girl up and down.”
She smiled after that last statement kind of expecting me to reassure her that she was not that aged. So I reached out to her and held her right hand refraining from reminding her of how long she had lived on this earth. “Oh you don’t look so old to me!” I joked and she seemed to appreciate the levity of the moment.
“Tell me something, son, you goin bring the baby to let me see him?” she asked suddenly.“Oh sure, Bea, in fact I was waiting to finish the yard before we came ova,” I said quickly.“Been so long since I had a baby in my arms,” I heard her murmur under her breath.“Come to think of it,” I said changing the subject, “when you all women them was cooking in the fields, where you all get fish to cook Rundon?“You tell me!” she said laughing out loud until her eyes began to tear, but still I remained very serious since I had seen the raging Changuinola River.
“See you don’t know nothing Boy, you don’t know nothing, but I will tell you,” she said wiping her face. She reminded me of my questioning my grandmother about her days in Jamaica and of the life she had led in Panama with my grandfather as they tried to establish a family. I had adopted this mother and was already deciding that soon I would go back up-the-line to work, realizing that I had a place to come back to on weekends. That, no matter what occurred to my marriage situation, I could have a mother right here in Bocas Town. These were the moments I had been feeling like a motherless child.
This story continues.