For the past decade, MsDora has been sharing poetry, creative writing, positive quotes, and reflections online. Her aim is life enrichment.
Cousin Moses was the model of an upright seventy-something year old man. Short in stature, he walked tall, chin up and greeted everyone with an honest-looking smile. His shirt was white, long-sleeved, starched and creaseless whenever he visited us, his country relatives.
No matter the topic on which his conversation with my grandmother began, it never ended without a scriptural debate. She always scored higher in common sense and confidence; he was the more knowledgeable, quoting and citing references in his loud preacher’s voice. Yet, they always parted as friends.
When at age nine, I earned entry into a private school in the city, my grandmother arranged for me to eat lunch with Cousin Moses and his family. Caribbean school children walked home to eat lunch, if their homes were close enough. Those who lived farther away brought their lunches to school, or walked to a nearby shop to purchase food. The lunch break lasted an hour, so Cousin Moses’ home, within a ten-minute walk from the school, was convenient for me. His son, Phil, was the same age that I was, and might even become my walking companion since our schools stood on opposite sides of the same street.
During the week before school started, my grandmother took me to visit my would-be lunchtime family. She was surprised that Cousin Moses was alone, as if he had not expected us. His wife and son had gone on a boat ride that day, and he apologized for their absence. Dressed in his usual long-sleeved white shirt, he gave us a tour of the house.
There was an attractive dining room, whereas we had only a dining area in our living room. I knew that I would like it there. The adjoining grocery shop, well-stocked though small and closed for the day, boosted my respect for Cousin Moses.
School started. That first day, I walked alone to the house and was greeted by Cousin Moses at the front of the shop. He introduced me to his wife, Lorna, a beautiful, light-skinned girl, who looked young enough to be his daughter. My grandmother would have been surprised at that too.
Lorna opened a little door at the left end of the shop counter and asked me to walk through. Cousin Moses, in a scolding tone I did not expect, informed us that my daily entry would be through the front door to the living room, never again through the shop. I passed through to the kitchen and then to the dining room. Lunch was already prepared. Phil came home soon after, and we ate together our grilled cheese sandwich, pineapple juice and red jell-o.
The next day, and every day after that, Cousin Moses greeted me at the front of the shop and walked me to the living room door. He entered first and I followed. He closed the door and positioned himself behind me. He put his hands on my shoulders and while he told me what a pretty little girl I was, how proud he was to have an intelligent cousin like me, and how much he wanted me to succeed in life, his hands glided gently up and down my bosom. I was a skinny nine-year old, so my breasts hadn’t come in yet. The ritual went on for some time, before I imagined that the way he touched me could be wrong.
His wife Lorna stayed in the shop while I was there. Except for my hello greeting and my thanks for lunch, we hardly saw or spoke to each other. Phil and I had our daily ritual too. No matter how closely we walked home for lunch, he never recognized me. We ate lunch together, had minimal conversation, and got up from the table at the same time. We left the house together, but a few steps outside the house, he would join a group of his school friends and act as though he did not know me. We never became friends, but it didn’t bother me.
To this day, I am not sure whether Phil hated me or his mischievous mind simply made me the object of his prank. One afternoon on our way back to school, while still on the short road leading to the main, he and friends were walking behind me when he began a chant. “She’s a thief. She has my mother’s mirror. She’s a thief …” I didn’t respond at first, then he added my name.
“Stop it, Phil. I’m not a thief. I didn’t steal anything.”
Back and forth, he chanted and I defended myself, until I thought I’d put an end to it, by opening my bag. There was his mother’s mirror and I looked like a thief, thanks to the set up by Phil. When I reached home at the end of the school day, I told my grandmother about the incident and informed her that I was never going back to that house. She agreed, and so ended my six weeks of lunches at Cousin Moses’ house. My grandmother was angry with Phil for what he had done, but her love and respect for Phil’s father was still intact.
I took my lunch to school thereafter, and I made friends among the other students who stayed in at lunchtime. The new arrangement had its benefits. We ate quickly, giving us more time to play. We could even run across the street to purchase mangoes, jawbone breakers (hard candy), and other snacks. Trading gossip was one of the more mature habits we engaged in.
One day, when the students who left for lunch returned, they brought back the shocking story which was becoming the talk of the town. Something terrible had happened to a little girl at a location not far from the school. The story tellers heard from the adults that the perpetrator had been a dirty old man who had gotten his young housemaid pregnant, and carried on the affair, eventually marrying her after his first wife died. The man had molested a three-year old girl and had been arrested.
Finally, someone knew and mentioned his name. “Who? Not my Cousin Moses” I thought. “His stature and deportment did not fit a pedophile’s profile.”
It was not the profile, but the man who went to jail. Thanks to his son’s prank, my childhood had escaped the den of the lion who pretended to be a lamb.
© 2020 Dora Weithers