“Sasha-Kaye, is you dat si’down on the steps?”
Sasha-Kaye twisted her body around and looked up. Her grandmother was peeking at her through the frosted louvre window. “Yes, Grandma.”
“Then why yuh sitting on the ground in yuh school uniform?” Grandma unlocked the front door and stepped down onto the verandah, a kitchen towel draped over her shoulder. “How was the Spanish?”
The pleats in Sasha-Kaye’s yellow skirt fell perfectly into place as she rose and put her school bag on her back. Her pristine, white blouse was tightly tucked in, and her relaxed hair was scraped into a one-inch ponytail at the back of her head. “It was hard.” She screwed up her face and buried it in the crook of Grandma’s neck. Grandma smelled like pimento and garlic today.
“Never mind, mi baby . . . I feel yuh pass with flying colours though.”
She hugged Grandma’s roly-poly, five-foot-two body. Her mother, Miss Melody, wasn’t as roly-poly and comforting as Grandma. She was tough and worldly and scarce, unconcerned with anything school related. Sasha-Kaye hadn’t heard from her—not once—during exams.
Grandma pulled away. Her eyes brightened. “Exams done! Yuh can relax after all that late-night studying!”
Although she was relieved, Sasha-Kaye scrunched up her nose.
“Stew beef and pumpkin rice on the stove waiting for yuh.”
“With plenty spinner dumplings?”
“Plenty more dumplings than beef. You know how beef expensive. Plus a rub up a small sweet-potato pone for you.”
Sasha-Kaye half-smiled. In her sixteen years on this earth, Grandma’s idea of a treat hadn’t changed a single bit.
In Grandma’s book, a treat was any hot, cooked meal that Sasha-Kaye loved to eat: stewed beef with pumpkin rice, curried chicken with roasted breadfruit, stewed peas with plain rice, or mackerel rundown with boiled dumplings. And they always had sweet endings: a piece of pone or two-egg cake, and maybe a scoop of rum-and-raisin ice cream if it was a very special occasion, like her birthday.
Grandma was a master in the kitchen—unlike Miss Melody. Miss Melody had only cooked for Sasha-Kaye a handful of times, and it was safe to conclude that her mother shouldn’t be cooking for people, her own offspring included, for fear of poisoning.
Miss Melody cutting up ingredients over a hot pot on the stove was painful to watch. Nine times out of ten, it ended with a slice of bling-covered, talon-like fingernail in the food or an overly generous serving of unrecognizable mush on a plate.
But Miss Melody was an expert at choosing body sprays, bath gels, lotions and buying competitively priced tank tops by the half-dozen.
Sasha-Kaye didn’t mind those things. She actually enjoyed them. She loved looking neat, having smooth skin and smelling sweet. The girls at school called her ‘Sweets’ because she always applied lotion to her hands and legs and spritzed on body spray twice during the day: once after lunch and once after final bell.
“Sasha-Kaye, hurry up and change and come,” Grandma urged.
“Yes, Grandma.” Sasha-Kaye slugged inside, the rubber soles of her brown school shoes super quiet on the shiny floor.
Grandma didn’t follow her. Instead, she lingered at the top of the steps, eyeing a young fellow who had the audacity to pull her gate.
“Is who dis langgulala bwoy pulling mi gate?”
“Miss Rachel big son, Auntie Paulette.”
“Same one, Auntie Paulette.” He paused at the bottom of the steps. His greasy, shortly cropped hair lay flat on his head like a thick, wet, black carpet. Above his lip was a shade of a mustache.
“Den what a way yuh look like man now! Mawga same way, but long like yuh daddy.”
“Yes, Auntie Paulette.”
“How old are you now?”
“Turned sixteen couple months ago.”
“Tek CSEC an’ ting?”
“Yes, Auntie Paulette.”
“So how Miss Rachel?”
“A leave her lying down up the house.”
“Still trouble with the migraine?”
“Yes, Auntie Paulette.”
“A doan see her this long, long, long, long, long, long while. Hotel work hol’ her.”
“Yes, Auntie Paulette.”
“So what you doing here?”
“Come to see Sasha-Kaye.”
Grandma raised her eyebrows and pushed out her mouth at him like a Banga Mary fish.
Grandma turned her head to one side and hollered, “Sasha-Kaye, come from behind the door.”
Sasha-Kaye stepped into the doorway from behind the open door.”Hi, Shanie.” She sashayed and wiggled her hips onto the verandah and gave him a cute wave and a shy smile.
“Hi, Sasha-Kaye.” His eyes sparkled as he came part way up the five steps to meet her.
“But what is dis, Fadda God!” Grandma mumbled under her breath, hauled a verandah chair to the edge of the landing, shifted it in their direction and sat back. She dragged the kitchen towel from her shoulder and fanned away non-existent flies.
Sasha-Kaye rested her hand right next to Roshane’s on the concrete balustrade. She discretely stroked his knuckles with her finger.
Grandma sat up quicker than a Rottweiler. “Hi!”
Sasha-Kaye hastily moved her hand. Her gaze fell on the blue and white diamonds in the floor tiles.
“Yuh going to the play, Friday?” Roshane asked.
“I don’t kn—”
“No, shi not going,” Grandma answered, roughly.
“Grandma!” She wriggled. “May I have some privacy, please?”
“Privacy?” Grandma gawked. “Is privacy why your mother end up pregnant at 14 . . . ‘Bout yuh want privacy.”
“Don’t Grandma mi. Is privacy why she have two pickiney for two different bwoy pickney before she 19 and then run lef’ the two of yuh.”
“Yuh si mi? Mi done raise pickney. Not another baby coming inside here . . . Bright! ‘Bout yuh want privacy. The two of yuh hurry up an’ done di conversation.
Sasha-Kaye pushed out her mouth and gave Grandma the evil eye.
“As a matter of fact, conversation done. Come inside and study yuh book.” Grandma asserted her authority.
“But Grandma,” Sasha-Kaye cried out, “CSEC done!”
“Don’t is you seh yuh want to follow yuh sista and go teacher’s college up Moneague?”
“Yuh can’t stand up in front a blackboard wid chalk in one hand and baby in the next. Come inside.”
“Grandma, wi not doing anything,” she whined and stamped her foot.
“Sasha-Kaye, mi ol’, but mi nuh ol’. Mi know you young people—very sneaking.”
“Cho!” She stormed up the steps and into the house.
Grandma fixed her gaze on Roshane and plodded towards him. Roshane looked at the step, the balustrade, the grass, the shrubbery, the sweet-sop tree and everything else in front of him, except Grandma.
“Your exams finish?”she enquired, standing before him.
“Finished yesterday, Auntie Paulette.” He swallowed hard.
“What yuh going to do with yuhself?”
“Community College, Auntie Paulette. Computer Science.”
“Very good . . . I know Miss Rachel raise yuh right. But I don’t want you and my granddaughter in anything. When the two of you finish college and find work, no problem if you want to go sport. But not now.”
“Not even to a play up by school, Auntie Paulette?”
Sasha-Kaye marched up to the window, arms folded and bottom lip curled down. She peeped outside. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Grandma’s mouth was moving faster than a filly at Caymanas Track.
With every other word, Grandma poked Roshane in the same spot on his shoulder, like she was playing a one-key tune on a piano. Then with both hands she shook his shoulders as he nodded in response to whatever she was saying. Then she repeatedly brushed her palms together like she was washing her hands off a situation. Then she folded her arms and nodded purposefully at whatever he was saying.
Grandma unfolded her arms, squeezed one of his shoulders, patted it and wheeled around to return to the verandah. Sasha-Kaye ducked from the window.
“Awright, Shanie. Tell Miss Rachel howdy do.”
“Alright, Auntie Paulette.” He made his way through the gate and latched it. “Soh Friday?”
“Yes, mi dawling.”
Sasha-Kaye waited for Roshane to leave. She skated into the doorway.
“Yuh don’t tek off yuh uniform yet?” Grandma bulldozed her out of the way, strutted through the living room and entered the kitchen.
At the front door, Sasha-Kaye scratched her scalp and stroked the knobbly roots. She hadn’t been to the hairdresser for a touch-up in three months. “Grandma,” she called, “what yuh said to Roshane?”
Grandma didn’t answer.