WINSOME GOES TO TEACHER’S COLLEGE / from The Guarded Virgin
by Yvonne Blackwood
I’m standing on the verandah looking across the meadow, off into the coming dawn. The night sounds remain audible—crickets bleating, frogs croaking, a dog barking in the distance. Peeny-wallies flitter around the house, their tiny lights blinking on and off. I used to think that they flash their lights to allow people to see where they are going. When we were children, Clarence and I used to catch peeny-wallies and put them in glass jars. We would put small pieces of grass in the jars for food, which they never ate. They smelled like musty old clothes. The strange thing about them is, they never flashed their lights while they were in the jar during daylight. Looking back now, I see how silly and ignorant we were. Those days seem like a hundred years ago. Now, I’m equipped with more knowledge and ready to face the world beyond Fairhaven District.
A soft light seeps through the side window of the hall, giving just enough illumination for me to see Vera and the chairs on the verandah. It is January, one of the coldest months of the year. I inhale the early morning air; it’s cold and crisp. I shiver, although I’m wearing a sweater. I pull the collar up about my throat. Too anxious and nervous about today’s adventure, I’d awoke before the first cockcrow, but now our rooster is crowing more often, announcing that a new day is almost here. I’d disturbed Vera when I slipped out of bed, but instead of showing anger, she followed my lead and had gotten up and dressed too. She comes and stands beside me. Tugging at one of the sleeves of my worn, washed-out sweater, she laughs.
“You won’t need this ratty old thing where you’re going. St. Elizabeth is a hot parish.”
I pull the collar up even further. “That may be so, but right now it is so cold, my nipples are standing at attention.”
We both laugh at that one.
“My goodness! My little sister is coming out of her shell, and with a sense of humour to boot. You’re all grown up, and I didn’t even notice it.”
“Well, we all have to grow up sometime.”
“Truer words have never been spoken,” Vera says as she glances at the hall window for movements.
She is right, of course. I have grown tremendously, casting off the shell of a teenager while I worked as a student-teacher the past year. I’ve moved from to the stage of a chrysalis to become a butterfly. Although Teacher Chambers, my mentor, may not know it, she has been instrumental in my education in more ways than one. Determined not to allow her to undermine my self-esteem or to change my mind about becoming a teacher, as she was trying to do, I’d stood my ground with her. I confronted her and told her that I was aware of her motive for constantly picking on me. I told her that whatever she did to me, it was not going to work. I told her that if needs be, I would discuss the matter with Headmaster Davis. She must have sensed my determination and realized my words were no idle threat, that I would not allow her to push me around without a fight. She not only became more accommodating and friendly, she learned to respect me. She gave me a glowing report when my training was over. I never involved Headmaster Davis in the matter.
Turning to my sister, I say, “I feel mature, I feel like I ‘m ready to face college, I feel like I’m ready for the world, and all the challenges it will bring.”
Vera pats my shoulder. “It’s a big old world out there. I’m so glad that unlike me, you’re getting the opportunity to explore it.”
I sense bitterness in my sister’s words. She sounds melancholy, and regret lurks behind every syllable, however, looking on her face in the early light of the dawn, you could never guess. A wave of sympathy washes over me. I wish I could do something for her. Although she has never talked to me about the dead-end position she is in, I figured it out some time ago.
While we wait patiently for Mother and Ronald, I continue to look into the distance, seeing only silhouettes. The branches of the trumpet tree at our gate sway from side to side like a ghost performing a slow dance.
“I am going to miss this place―the dogs, the smell of the citrus blossoms, playing Gabriel at church, and even looking across at the meadow and the cows grazing there,” I say as sadness descends on me. “I now believe in Kitty Kallan’s song, ‘Little Things Mean a Lot’; they surely do. Do you realize that this is the first time since I was a baby that I’m not going to sleep in the same bed with you?”
Vera nods. Our eyes meet. “I’m going to miss you too, kiddo. Drop me a line now and again to let me know how you’re doing.”
I move closer to her. We hug each other. “I will,” I say, and mean it. Letter writing is my specialty; at least it used to be. I recall the long detailed ones I used to write to Novelette. I wonder where she is right now. Her baby would be more than a year old. Did she have a little girl? I hope she and the baby are all right.
Mother steps onto the verandah bundled up in a jacket she made. Ronald is right behind her, carrying a flashlight already turned on.
“Ready, child?” Mother asks.
“Yes, Ma’am, I’m ready.”
“Did you say goodbye to your brothers?” She glares at me.
“Yes, Ma’am, we said our goodbyes last night.” Before bedtime last night, I’d gone to each of my brothers and said goodbye. I’d said goodbye to the dogs, rabbits, chickens, goats, and pigs, but I will keep that to myself. I do not want a lecture this early in the morning.
“All right, let’s go before the bus arrives.”
Ronald is the tallest of my brothers and very muscular. He lifts my suitcase as if it’s a cardboard box stuffed with chicken feathers and places it on his shoulder. Vera picks up the old canvas bag that has some of my books and things that Mother packed.
“My goodness! Winnie, this bag is as heavy as two concrete blocks. What’s in it?”
“Books. You know books are heavy; a few are in there. Headmaster Davis gave me a couple.”
I carry my handbag in one hand and Mother’s old train case, which looks like something that has been in the war, in the other. The four of us trudge down the driveway, then along No Man’s Lane with Ronald pointing the flashlight to guide us. We arrive at the main road and stand at a light post at the corner to wait for the Enterprise bus.
The Enterprise bus is probably the only thing that is always on time in Fairhaven. You can set your clock by it. Every morning at twenty-five past five, the driver gives a loud blast on the horn as it leaves Fairhaven Town, and at twenty-five to six, it pulls up at the light post where we are standing. This morning is no different. As the bus comes to a rolling stop, the sideman jumps off and grabs my suitcase. He places it on the rack on top of the bus with several other bags and boxes. He takes the canvas bag from Vera and places it on a seat near the front of the bus. There are several empty seats at this time, but they will be occupied when the bus picks up passengers along the way as it heads for Kingston.
Mother steps up to the open front door before I can board the bus.
“Good morning, Mister Driver and Miss Conductress,” she says, “Kindly deliver this one safely for me.”
The conductress smiles but does not respond.
The driver looks intently at Ma and cracks a grin. “No problem, Ma’am.”
Mother turns around to face me standing behind her. “Study hard and do your best, child.” She hugs me.
The tears I have held back for days since the realization that I was truly going away sunk in, streams down my face. I cannot control them, no matter how hard I try.
“I will, Mother, I will,” I assure her through my tears.
I ascend three small steps into the bus, and Ronald follows. The conductress collects our fares from Ronald, and we take our seats. The bus pulls away. Sitting at the window, using the dull light from the interior of the bus, I watch Mother and Vera and wave to them, although they cannot see me. I wave until they are out of sight. The bus winds its way up hills and down through valleys, and as the driver approaches blind corners he blows the horn to warn oncoming traffic of our approach. When he negotiates some of the shallow corners, I close my eyes, fearing he will miscalculate and the bus will slip over the edge landing in the deep, dark precipice below for there are no guardrails.
Four miles into the journey, the bus negotiates a hairpin corner. I hold my breath and pray that it does not flip over into the gully below. The bus eventually straightens up, and I exhale. It seems that exhaling clears my head, for it suddenly dawns on me that this is indeed a new day. This cold crisp morning is a watershed moment in my life. Beginning today, my life will change forever. I will never again smell the earthy scent of the wet earth of the coffee-walk after a downpour, nor watch earthworms wiggle out of the soil. I will never again enjoy the beauty of the thousands of tiny white blossoms that transform first into small green fruits, then into clusters of bright red berries on the coffee trees. I will never again inhale the aromatic fragrance of the citrus grove when the Ortanique trees are covered in blossoms or admire the grove of trees laden with bright yellow-orange fruits. I will never again hear the whirr of Mother’s Singer machine in the day-time. After college, I will find a job teaching somewhere other than Fairhaven District. I will become a working woman and probably board with a family. I will be on my own. It overwhelms me, thinking about all this.
But I still cannot control my tears. I cry in silence while Ronald tries to ignore me. I know it’s his way of not letting me feel worse. Life is so paradoxical. I’ve longed for, and yearned for, and prayed for this glorious day. The day when I leave the old run-down house, the place where I have shared a bedroom with my mother and sister all my life, the place where friends could not visit me spontaneously, the place where every move I make is watched—a prison, really. I have wanted to break out for many years. Today, my wish has come true, my prayers answered, I’m escaping! And what do I feel? Fear, trepidation, uncertainty. And what do I do? I am crying my eyes out. How does one account for this? Another thing that baffles me, is that Mother did not even give me a lecture. “Study hard and do your best,” were her only words. I do not know what to make of it.
As the bus descends Cedar’s Valley Hill, one of the steepest hills in the parish, I pull out my little dainty handkerchief, dab my eyes and blow my nose.
I must be strong. I must focus on my education—my ticket to freedom and a new, better life.
Ronald accompanies me all the way. In Mandeville, we disembark the Enterprise bus and catch The Treasure Girl bus bound for St. Elizabeth. By this time, the sun is pouring down on the island. We talk, laugh and eat snacks until we arrive on the campus of Nazareth Teacher’s College. Once Ronald is satisfied that I am safely delivered, he leaves me and returns home to Fairhaven.
About the Author:
Yvonne Blackwood is the author of three adult books and three children’s picture books in The Nosey Charlie Adventure Series. She is an award-winning short story writer, columnist, and retired banker. In addition, Yvonne has contributed to several anthologies including Human Kindness, Canadian Voices, and WordScape. She has published articles in More Our Canada and InTouch magazines and has written numerous articles for several newspapers including the Toronto Star.