St Vincent, West Indies, 1962
Maudie Lewis had never taken her partner’s name. She once went to church with him, no longer, but read her bible and prayed thrice daily with her mother’s beads. Maudie looked at the clock in the single, corrugated, living space – two minutes past one. She would need to wind it later. A mosquito landed on her arm. She crushed it, screwed her eyes together, crossed herself, and clasped her hands. Opening her eyes, she turned and smiled with recognition. She made to speak. No words came. A knife, sunlight bouncing from its blade into her eyes, ripped across her throat. Maudie fell to the floor, still, clutching her beads.
‘When you speak with them people, them, at the Nursing Employment Agency, use the English your mother did teach you. They cannot understand Vincey speak,’ Agatha Evans’s Parish Priest had said, as he passed her the typewritten reference required with her application. Father Cuthbert Brown lived in London from 1956 to 1959 and was the go-to man for all references, personal and spiritual. Father Brown would never talk of his time in England, bar the 1957 West Indies tour, captained by John Goddard. ‘Why was a white man captaining the West Indies?’ he would say, kissing his teeth. ‘I know he was Bajan, but no white man is a Bajan. He might be born in Barbados, but that did not make him Bajan. You know they said black men did not know how to lead a cricket team or even a horse fi drink water. Clyde Walcott knew how to lead. Frank Worrell knew how to lead. The white man leads the black man. The black man works – knows his place. That’s the way it is. That is the way it has always been. That’s not the way it will be. Go to England and lead, Agatha.’ He kissed his teeth and looked heavenwards.
‘Yes, I will. You told me to when we spoke after mass last week.’ Agatha placed the buff envelope into her bag without reading the letter. ‘Why did you come back from England Father Brown?’ she said.
‘…and wear something nice. Make sure it’s pressed nice,’ he said, opening his bible to the book of James. “‘Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful,’” he said from memory.
Agatha looked at him, but his eyes remained on scripture, his mind elsewhere. She walked out from the vestry, crossing herself and genuflecting before the altar. She picked up her Book of Psalms from a pew, continued along the nave aisle, and through the doors into the Kingstown sunshine. The St Vincent and the Grenadines Nursing Employment Agency stood as ever, across the road from her. Shutters down. Closed.