TheUberist.com presents: Published by: Kovadis. Raw and unedited Written by: Nalinie Najem. Nal’s story… A journey through life.

Some of the names have been changed due to privacy and personal security of the individuals in this true story.

Chapter 1

BEING AN INTROVERT

I must have been eight years old, tiniest of the tiny, tenth out of eleven children and so much protected by my family. I was an introvert, very shy and always kept to myself. Sitting at the front row of the classroom always made me feel overwhelmed, scared and extremely nervous. I remember feeling very proud of myself knowing the answers to questions being asked but dare not let the teachers know for the fear of being called to answer. If they did call on me, I would panic and forget all the answers instantly. The palm of my hands wet and my body cold as ice. Because of my petite size, it seemed that front row was always chosen for me. All the children in the classroom would be chatting and laughing before classes started; discussing what they did the previous day and I would be sitting quietly, pretending to check through my books.  I often would time myself not to attend school too early. I had no confidence and figured I could never be like the other girls. They seemed so brave, cool and confident.

Hopping onto dad’s bicycle sometimes for a free ride to school was the best, until my feet got stuck in the wheels. Walking to school, which was just four blocks away, became a breeze after that. We had previously lived in the countryside and moved to the city when I was four years of age and my little brother was a baby. Dad had gotten a promotion and had to move to the branch in the city. We rented an upper flat of a house close to dad’s job for a few years until my parents saved to buy our very own house a few streets away. My parents have always been very ambitious and felt it was better having your own home rather than living in a rental for the rest of your life. Our new home had four bedrooms, two toilets and one stand up shower on the upper flat. The kitchen and dining room were downstairs. Our bedrooms had sliding doors made of wood and glass, unusual for bedroom doors and one entire wall had the Kaieteur Falls (the largest single drop waterfall in the world) painted on it.

Guyana, my country of birth, found in South America and neighbors to Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil was a tropical country. Houses were built very simple; wooden or concrete. We had no skyscrapers or Shopping Malls and never experienced going on escalators. We would always be amazed to see them in movies and thought foreigners were very lucky to live in such beautiful countries. We also loved looking at pictures and movies where the ocean, rivers and lakes would have such clear water that reflected the color of the sky. Our three rivers, the Essequibo, Berbice and Demerara rivers and the Atlantic Ocean were all murky. It had a population of just about seven hundred and eighty thousand people and very rich in bauxite, gold, rice and sugar. Even though my Country was simple, the beautiful tropical weather, white sand, seashells and lots of coconut trees were all very beautiful to me.

I always felt proud when my friends saw me getting a ride to school with dad. Having to work every day, he was unable to attend school meetings and that was my chance to show him off to my friends. I remember how much I wished mom would visit me at school, but because it was just a few blocks away, she had no reason to since we all walked home for lunch. My elder sisters would attend meetings since mom was always busy cooking and doing other house chores and my friends always commented on how beautiful they were, I could not have been prouder. They once attended the same primary school and would visit teachers occasionally.  Whenever they did, I would beam with pride. Leanord my younger brother, had just started attending my school and my sister Lisa, two years older than I, was preparing to write her examinations to attend a secondary school. We were taught to be very simple, humble and kind to everyone just by the examples of our parents, as the saying goes, “action speaks louder than words.”

We were seven sisters and four brothers. Two sisters and brothers from dad’s previous marriage and one brother, two sisters from mom’s previous marriage. Mom and dad having four children together, my two sisters, four and two years older than I am and my brother, four years younger. To me, we were just one big happy family. I was born in a home with so much siblings and I loved each one of them equally. If there were any unfairness, I was too young or too naive to see or understand. Mom’s children loved and adored my dad, which made me realize he was a fair and loving father to them. Dad’s four children moved separately when I was very little, I only have vague memories of living in a home together with them. I never saw my parents fighting or shouting at each other. Because mom was always very busy, dad used to lovingly call her “Mother Bee” and we would always tease her when she received her Valentine roses or Birthday and Christmas gifts. Dad was very romantic.

I always looked forward to visiting my two brothers and two sisters whenever dad went. They lived in a beautiful white cottage with green trimmings around the windows, the verandah and on the fence. It had a beautiful Christmas tree at the front with wide branches touching the verandah. I remember my sister SiSi, always fussing over me, giving me beautiful tiny earrings and chains. She loved animals a lot and cried when the mouse got trapped. They had a big fluffy dog named Foxy, white with very long hair. I think I felt comfortable and confident with her because she was so much like me.

Sandy, the oldest of the four, was fair in complexion, very beautiful and slim. She was more serious and felt responsible for her younger siblings. Guess she became like that after the death of their mother, when she was at a tender age of nine. My brother Rob, four years younger than Sandy, was tall and lean with muscles and had long hair touching his shoulders.  Once he made me count silently to ten while I chewed my food properly. Guess he is the reason I am now such a slow eater. Ram my other brother, born after SiSi and the youngest of the four, was shorter and slim with long hair to his shoulders also. In those days, that was the hair style all the boys wanted. He reminded me of dad and SiSi, quiet, calm and very sensitive.

My older brother Rudy and sister Aileen from mom’s previous marriage, were getting married. It was going to be a double wedding, the first wedding of my siblings. Our house was being re-painted and new curtains were bought. I remember all my aunts and cousins were coming in from the countryside and more pillows and sheets had to be purchased. My parents were buying groceries in bulk from months before, trying to manage their expenses.  Mom was very busy trying to get everything done, it was not easy to host two weddings in one day. Rudy was her eldest child born on her 16th birthday, Aileen two years younger. In the olden days, everyone married their daughters early to prevent them from having boyfriends. My grandfather took mom out of school as soon as she learnt to write, afraid that she would write letters to boys. She then had to help my grandmother; tend to her younger siblings, learn to clean the home and later, sent to work in the rice field and cook.

There was so much to be done in Hindu weddings. We were rubbing turmeric on my sister’s and brother’s skin a couple of days before the wedding. That signified purity, fertility and good health and gave the skin a glow to ensure the bride and groom looked fresh for their wedding day. Our home was filled with my cousins and aunts from the countryside and mattresses were placed on the floors of every room. There was so much excitement and laughter. Hindu wedding celebrations usually last for a couple of days. It entailed several rituals and traditions that had deep philosophical and spiritual significance. Traditionally, the bride’s parents host the wedding ceremony, the groom and his family were the guests arriving. Everything had to be prepared for my sister’s wedding ceremony while my brother’s wedding ceremony was being prepared at his bride’s home. We had cousins of different age group, being the youngest set, we had the most fun playing all day with no sense of responsibility.

It was the wedding day, Aileen was dressing in a yellow sari, mom was tying it around her, wraps after wraps and I was sitting on the bed, curious as usual. It was normal for me to be stuck to my parents like glue. My sisters were in and out the room, taking a constant peek at the bride and making sure the guests were comfortable at the same time. There was so much pride in my mom’s expression as she dressed Aileen in her sari and accessories. The bridegroom lived in the house behind us, he was also the cousin of my brother’s bride. Aileen looked very beautiful. Rudy got dressed in the other room and he looked dashingly handsome as he came out the room, preparing to go to his bride’s home. He was also dressed in an Indian outfit. It was customary to be dressed in the Indian outfit for the ceremony, then change into suits and wedding dresses for the reception that was hosted at the bridegroom’s home. Everything seemed very colorful. There were so many details of everything that had to be done.

We all got dressed in our best clothes, sewn by mom.  Our room with the youngest set of siblings was the middle room out of the three rooms on the west side of our home.  It had a bunk bed to one side of the room and a queen size bed to the other corner.  The room was filled with us, everyone wanting the mirror at the same time. Mom also dressed in sari; her and dad’s room was next to ours; their back window facing the breadfruit and coconut tree in the backyard.  She could easily hear our confusion and excitement since the room walls did not go all the way to the top of the ceiling. We were all bubbling with so much happiness, too young to understand the tears we saw in mom’s eyes as she was dressing my sister; the bride.

Dad wore an Indian outfit and so did Leanord; who had to accompany Rudy, the bridegroom. He looked cute in his little Indian clothes, feeling very proud and important. Rudy left in a decorated car along with Leanord and a few of my siblings and relatives as visitors to the bride’s home, honking their horns as they left, the street filled with curious onlookers and all our guests.  Everyone wanting a peek at the handsome bridegroom in his traditional Indian wedding clothes and turban that had strings of flowers hanging down, covering his face.  It was time now to anxiously await Aileen’s bridegroom. The pandit arrived and everything was being prepared for Aileen’s wedding ceremony. The honking of horns announced the arrival of the bridegroom.

We all rushed out to welcome him and his guests. Mom blessed him as he entered. The fire lit on camphor in a brass pan, decorated with a few hibiscus flowers, she circled it around his face a few times then made bigger circles blessing his whole body and saying a prayer silently as she did.  That always touched my heart and made me very emotional whenever she blessed me, at her regular yearly religious functions.  There was always an intense look of deep love in her expression when she blessed you with the heat of the fire intensifying her love. After they were married under the Hindu rites, Aileen went into my parents’ room to change into her wedding dress while her husband went into another room to dress in his suit.

Aileen came out, beautiful as a princess in her wedding dress, accompanied by her husband who had to enter the room to escort his wife out. He was handsomely dressed in his suit and looked very happy and proud. The cameras started clicking, we showed off our fancy outfits, posing for pictures. It was time for cake sticking, speeches and lunch then off to her husband’s home for the reception. The washing up of dishes and cleaning was done quickly then it was time to await Rudy and his bride. At Dolly; his bride’s home, Rudy would have dressed in his suit also after the ceremony finished. The honking of horns announced their arrival and we all ran out to welcome Rudy and his wife Dolly. The street again lined with tons of curious people. Dolly looked very beautiful in her wedding dress and Rudy, very handsome in his suit. It was time now for their reception at our home. Sticking of cake, speeches, food, drinks, music and dancing until the break of dawn.

As the years went by, Aileen got three sons and Rudy got one son. We were all very excited for babies in the family again. I remember always sitting beside mom when she would bath her newborn grandson and oil his little body every morning before the bath, stretching and massaging his limbs. The lower section of our home was divided into three. On one half, Aileen lived with her family and the other half, was divided into two, our kitchen and Rudy and his family lived in the other section. I loved my nephews so very much and was very excited to be around them. Mom could no longer find me at home any longer. Every free moment I had, I was busy helping to shower and dress them up in different outfits, mix their milk to feed them and play games. They always enjoyed me reading stores and running around in the yard playing tag. I was just about ten years older than my oldest nephew and realized, with little children, I did not feel overwhelmed but felt a sense of responsibility and pride.

My parents made life seem easy, we were protected from knowing their struggles to make ends meet for such a big family. Guess life is supposed to be easy for all youths, or so I thought until I got older. We were all sheltered under the golden branch of health and happiness. Mom made sure she cooked vegetables Mondays through Fridays, Saturdays were always fish curry and Sundays were always cook-up-rice (rice cooked with beans, meat, spinach and all desired spices) and baked chicken. We were always excited for Sundays since that was our favorite meal and it was known as “a lazy day.” Eat, nap and relax, then in the afternoons we would all ride our bicycle to the seawalls with our friends, or go for picnics in the park.

The lumber company dad worked for had a wharf where the pontoon would dock to offload lumber. Occasionally, we would go fishing. The total excitement and noise we made always kept the fishes away from our rod and if by chance, we felt a little tug, we would scream with joy so loudly, our hearts would seem to leap right out of our body. After fishing, we would ride on the trolley; that was on tracks to fetch the lumber, up and down with such speed, heedless of danger, until we felt satisfied. Excitedly, we would decide it was time to head up to dad’s office. He had a little fridge stocked with different types of juices and he would happily tell us to take whatever we wanted. I remember how fascinated we always felt pulling open his desk drawers. The top drawer had additional pencils that was perfectly sharpened and placed in a straight line with red, black and blue ink pens, staples and other stationaries that was so interesting to children our age. The second drawer was packed with additional ledgers that made no sense to us.

We all had two outfit of school uniforms, in order to attend school with clean clothes and our school sneakers had to be washed and scrubbed every Saturday. We did not have a washing machine. Mom would sort the clothes, white and colored clothes separate, then soak them in different tubs of bubbly soap water. A small amount of bleach was added to the separate tub for white clothes and a little blue cube had to be added to the water for rinsing the white clothes. That was her belief for the white clothes to remain stark white. She always had an order for hanging the clothes on the line to dry. They all had to be turned inside out as not to fade in the sunlight, then all the pants had to be hanged first, followed by dresses, skirts, shirts then t-shirts. She always took pride in the neatness of hanging her clothes. I was always beside her giving her the clothes pins since my hands were too tiny to wring the clothes. We had wooden clothes pins thankfully, or it may have had to be used in color coded sequence.

It was time for me to write the examination to transfer to a secondary school. I was very nervous since examinations always made me panic, but excited at the same time. I passed, gaining the amount of marks needed to go to the same school as Lisa. I was jumping for joy, excited for the beginning of the school term, to attend my new school and wear my green pleated skirt and white shirt uniform. Throughout nursery and primary, our uniform was blue armless dresses worn over white shirt. I often admired Lisa in her secondary school uniform and couldn’t wait to start wearing mine. The day before school started, I papered all my text and exercise books, made sure my pencils were sharpened properly, had blue and black ink pens and my school uniform was neatly pressed, all the pleats looking perfect. It was going to be the first time using a pen in school and I was super excited. In primary, we were only allowed to write with pencils.

Guess I did not crave much school friends, since my home was filled with all my siblings and nephews. I had one best friend who had a very sad life. Her parents got divorced and she lived with her mom, stepdad and stepsisters. Almost every day she would come to school crying, some days she came without breakfast and I took her home with me for lunch. She loved the taste of mom’s delicious meals. Even though there were so many of us, mom always welcomed my friend and made her feel comfortable. She always made sure whenever she cooked, there was always extra to offer anyone who visited. My friend always told me how lucky I was to have such a big loving family. Guess I took it for granted because I did not have the experience of struggles and hatred in my family. My heart always ached when I heard what she was experiencing and felt helpless not knowing how I could make life meaningful to her.  I contributed to her happiness by sharing my family, was so priceless seeing her face light up and hearing her laughter.

Chapter 2

THE COUNTRYSIDE

I was approaching thirteen years of age and still tiny, shy and sheltered from the outside world. My elder sister SiSi, who was my role model, beautiful, elegant, sensitive and so humble, talked to me about maturity. To be more aware of the changes in my body and how to protect it. I remembered looking up at my sister silently and thinking, “what boy in his right mind would look my way, when the school was filled with beautiful girls, not skinny like me?” She was migrating and she needed to teach me how to be proud of who I am. Holland was in another continent, I felt sad and crushed but I kept my feelings inside, everyone had to follow their dreams. It was time to decide what stream I would choose in school, Business or Science. In our days in Guyana, those were the only two streams offered. I loved children so much and thought of Science, leading to becoming a Pediatrician, but could not stand to see anyone in pain or the sight of blood. I choose Business and it was time to say my goodbyes to the friends that choose Science.

The new term began, it was hard work preparing ourselves for our Grade 11 Final Exams. The Examination that determined the whole future of a child, all that we studied for from the very first day of school. English Language, Principles of Business and Office Practice were my favorite subjects. Shorthand and Typewriting I found relaxing and enjoyed, Mathematics being my worst. I was never good at Mathematics no matter how hard I tried. I took extra classes on Saturdays just to understand, but I always found it to be difficult. I remember looking up at my Mathematics teacher and thinking he was very intelligent. Little did I know that later in life I would give birth to a son that would be a Mathematics genius. I loved Accounts but was only able to do it for one term before the teacher got sick and left the school. Because my dad was an accountant, I often admired the neatness of his balance sheet and all other transactions, the way it was drawn up using different color pens to highlight and underline.

The years were flying by, no more the child who sat with dad for him to read her stories, but a teenager who had a craving and passion to read. I aimed at completing all the series of different adventure novels. Whenever mom thought I was reading too much, I went under the bed to finish my books. My dad loved to read, that was his way of relaxing in the afternoons. He would lay outside in the hammock with a novel; after he came home from work, reading while mom was in the kitchen preparing hot dinner. She would always have everything prepared and lit the stove as soon as we came home so that dinner would be hot and fresh. The hammock was hung under the shed in the back yard just outside the kitchen door. After dinner, mom and dad would always sit on one of the long benches he had built along the three sides of our wooden bridge at the front of our home, where dad also planted different types of flowers to beautify the front of our home. Guess that was their alone time to finally have peace and quiet.

Every summer, dad would take us to the countryside. Myself, my little brother Leanord, who was the baby of our family and my sister Lisa, two years older than I; shy and very beautiful. Those were my best days. We travelled by boat across the Essequibo River, the largest river in our country. The speed boats were narrow, the sides not too high causing the water to keep lapping into the boat whenever the waves were big. The boatmen would constantly bale it out with plastic containers. We were so young and never felt afraid, just pure excitement whenever a big wave approached. In those days they never had life jackets in the boats and yet we never thought of anything other than enjoying the boat ride. I loved the countryside where everyone lived like one big family. Everyone respected my dad and wherever we went we heard, “those are Mr. Jokhu’s children.” Everyone would fuss over us and grab a chicken or duck from their backyard to throw on their fireside to cook as soon as we arrived.

It seemed that every home we visited, we had to eat and drink something as not to offend them. We were always treated like royalties and we couldn’t understand why since our dad was so humble and simple. Our hearts would always swell with pride. Dad would take money to give to the poor homes we visited, along with a bag of fruits, but no matter how poor the family was, they never wanted to accept money from dad, they were very content. I guess that part of my childhood made a big impact on my life. There were people who had homes the size of someone’s kitchen, yet happiness the size of the whole universe; it makes you ponder on the conception of priorities. Their children’s happiness meant the world to them and they were happy to have the fresh vegetables they picked and fishes they caught as their constant meals and save for their children’s education for a better future.

We would always be excited to explore the countryside. We were taught how to feed the chickens and ducks; this made us feel very special, throwing the feed and watching them coming out from all their hidden places, running and flying towards us. We also learnt to take the sheep and goats to graze in the pasture and how to milk the cows. To reap vegetables and fruits and to swim in the canals, to cook on the stones while all the trees around rustle and the birds chirping so loudly. The sky always seemed to be filled with a thousand stars at night when we all sat around in circles listening to stories of old times, sometimes scary ones that made us afraid to climb up unto our beds and would make us pull the covers right up to our necks.

Early mornings were always the best for me. Awakening early in the morning to see the heavy fog over the rice fields, hearing the chirping of the birds, the mooing of the cows and smelling the breakfast that was being prepared on the fireside. The happy chattering of all the neighbors as they greeted each other and the sounds of the waves lapping from the sea that was just over the seawalls across the street. Excited for yet another beautiful day with so much to be done. Everyone lived a simple life, no luxury, yet so contented. Most of our countryside vacations, we spent with dad’s little brother and his family. All his children were much older than us, the ages as my elder sisters and brothers but that made no difference, they “bent over backwards,” as the saying goes, to make us as comfortable and happy as possible. Mom always stayed back at home to take care of the family since she grew up in the countryside and did not feel like she was missing out on anything.

My dad would always say “we will give our children the best days possible with great memories before their marriage and their own responsibilities began, so they will always have the solid background of pure happiness and fulfillment to face life forward.” He was an amazing father, a role model to look up to. Taught us never to hang our hat where we cannot reach; meaning to always live within our means and that luxury came with a price. We were taught that some people lost their self-esteem for money and instead of controlling wealth, it controlled them. The more wealth they got the more they wanted. “You cannot buy happiness, it is better to live in a little hut and be happy than a palace, surrounded by walls of deception, lies, unfaithfulness and tears of unhappiness.” That was an advice he gave to each one of his eleven children.

My mom was a strong woman. Loving but stern when she had to be. She made sure our meals were hot and ready when we got home and our clothes clean. She combed our hair, rubbed our feet and sewed new outfits for us whenever we had somewhere fancy to go. She was never a person to show her emotions openly but in her own way, she showed us all the love possible. I loved accompanying mom to the market even though I could fetch so little and enjoyed hearing her bargain for better prices. All the eggs and vegetables had to be washed and set to dry before going into the fridge. She taught us cleanliness, to always make our beds as soon as we awoke, wash our dishes after eating and to make sure that there were no dishes in the sink at night. The stove had to be cleaned daily and kitchen swept. Every Sunday we took turns at the chores. My elder sisters would sweep, mop and iron clothes. It would always be my chore to sweep the yard clean from the hibiscus leaves that fell daily and wash my sneakers and school uniforms every Saturday.

Once monthly our wooden bridge had to be scrubbed with a handmade aluminum scrapper by me and my sister Lisa until the wood shone brightly. This I enjoyed, seeing the difference as you scrub and throw water on the wood was priceless. I felt so much pride to see it sparkle in the sunlight and the pleased look on my mom’s face. I enjoyed every chore that entailed dealing with water, washing my clothes, sneakers and especially dishes. I was always at the sink, never liked cleaning the pots though. I always felt closer to my sister Lisa. Looking back, I realized she was very reserved, quiet and simple. We attended the same school and I was always so proud of how beautiful and kind she was. All my school friends knew her, I was always talking about her and the countryside trips we took together. She met her husband at an early age and spent a lot of time with his family. They loved her instantly and accepted her as a daughter and sister.

My sister Jane, beautiful with long thick curly hair was two years older than Lisa. She took part in every activity possible during her school days. Indian classical dancing, modelling of saris and acted in a few skits. Once she even picketed on the streets for what she believed in. She had chosen the Science stream which was predominantly boys and had one best friend whom we were all close to.  We would sometimes visit her home and she would visit us. Jane also met her husband at an early age; a house party we hosted. He was invited by mom’s brother who knew him from work. Uncle Harry invited two of his friends, one fell in love with Jane and the other, fell in love with her best friend. Both couples got married each having a son the same age. Sadly, Jane’s marriage did not last and Justin my nephew, grew up with us from an early age. We pampered him with so much love, Jane did not have to worry about babysitters when she went to work. She was always closer to Sharon who was two years older than her.

Sharon was also very beautiful. Just like Jane, she had tiny waist and big hips. Her hair was long also but extremely thick and straight. She was also in the Science stream and most of her friends were boys from her classroom. She was fashionable and we all tried to sneak into her outfits one time or another. Like me, she loved to read and never stopped studying. Whenever I woke up, she was always at the table studying for an exam, very focused and determined in what she wanted from her life. I often admired her for the dedication she showed in whatever she did and wished I could study like her. I was preparing for my Grade 11 examinations and she would awake me to study with her just after mid-night but even though I drank coffee, I always fell asleep before reaching the fourth page. The next day I would promise myself to study after dinner but always ended up sitting on the benches and chatting with mom and dad. I was very attached to my parents and missed them when I was at school. Studying was always a problem for me, guess my school texts were not as exciting as my novels.

It was the beginning of my grade 11 examinations and I was totally nervous. I kept telling myself I should have studied more but it was too late to do anything about that. I woke up extremely early and picked my hibiscus flowers to pray. Taking longer than I usually did, I prayed very hard to be successful. I so badly wanted my parents to be proud of me and I did not want the money they paid for every subject to be wasted if I failed. The week went by and I wrote all six subjects, feeling a great sense of relief after completing the last one. The week seemed long and I felt drained from being a nervous wreck the entire time.

My friends were all excited that examinations were finally over and planned movies and picnics, I only wanted to read my books; that held more fascination and excitement. Guess I was different from them, I missed being home with mom in the kitchen, helping her with the dishes or with dad in the backyard, squeezing into the hammock and smelling his Brute or Old Spice cologne he always used after his shower. I loved to feel the coldness of his arms when I snuggled up to him; thankfully I was still petite, it was not too much weight for the hammock. I had borrowed books from the National Library and was determined to read them all quickly. It was time to sit back, relax and enjoy, until the day I was dreading approached.

At the sound of the telephone ringing, I ran into the kitchen, dropping the broom I had been sweeping the yard with. It was my school friend informing me that our grade 11 examinations results were just released from the Ministry of Education. I quietly replaced the telephone; happy no one else heard it ring. There was no way I was prepared to collect my results; my heart was beating at such a fast rate and the palms of my hands dripping wet. The total satisfaction of keeping it all a secret was cut short when mom turned the radio on as she usually did. It was being announced over and over. Slowly getting dressed, I walked the few blocks; every step seemed like I had a big block of rock tied to my feet. Timidly, I entered the office; most of the students had collected their results, the hair on my arms stood straight, feeling like I would faint at any moment. Slowly opening the stub, I stared in amazement; I had passed all six subjects, with a distinction in English Language.

The years went by, Rob went to the United States to attend Howard University, Sandy got married and moved to the United States, Rudy with his family, moved to Canada, Aileen with her family moved to Venezuela, and Ram moved to Canada to get married to his childhood sweetheart Geets; shy and beautiful with very long thick hair. There were just five of us now with mom and dad. I was approaching my eighteenth birthday and started applying for jobs. The legal age for working in my country Guyana. My parents were planning a trip to Venezuela for me, as a gift for being successful at my exams, along with the pair of gold earrings, chain and ring they presented me. Dad always encouraged our success by giving us gifts or taking us to dinner whenever we excelled at school.

Chapter 3

FACING CAREER CHALLENGES

After writing several applications, I received a call from an Insurance Company to attend an interview; it was a temporary position to fill in for the General Manager’s secretary who was due for vacation. Being very anxious and excited to start working, I gave up my trip to Venezuela and started rummaging through Sharon’s closet for working outfits to borrow. It was the first day of work, dressed in Sharon’s beautiful knee length brown skirt, beige top that was neatly tucked into the waist with a pair of nude color shoes to compliment my outfit, I mounted my bicycle.  It was time to face the outside world. The secretary trained me to perform all her duties one day before she left, then it was my responsibility to prove I could be efficient. I took my minutes at the meetings; writing shorthand at a speed, did perfect typing of documents and filing, until the morning when all the papers on my desk went flying through the window. The cleaner had left the window open. Guess that was my first test of overcoming challenges in a career world.

Before the period for the temporary job was up, I was called for an interview by another Insurance Company. This second interview, I was calm and confident, passing the English and Mathematics test with flying colors. I was hired instantly as temporary staff for the first three months, as was the required rule of the company. It was a bright sunny morning when I rode my bicycle to work that first morning of my second job. Parking it at the back of the Insurance building and chaining it to the metal of the bicycle stand, I headed for the front and went through the doors, greeting the security guard. There were a few staff waiting on the elevator, all elegantly dressed in their working uniforms, welcoming me on my first day of work. Exiting the elevator on the second door and greeting the receptionist, I went towards the Personnel Department, greeting all the other staff that were organizing their desks to begin working; I had to pass the Accounts and Customer Service section to reach the Personnel Department. The secretary of the Personnel Manager then escorted me to the Underwriting Department where my desk was.

After my three months was up, I was hired permanently and given the pattern of my work uniforms to have it sewn by a seamstress. The excitement began, buying shoes and accessories, new stockings and handbag to match my outfits. The colors of the uniform were baby pink, blue and yellow; I bought the most beautiful baby pink shoes I ever saw. Wearing heals, stockings and make-up was still a fascination to me since we were never allowed to, before we started working. I felt confident, strong and independent, earning my own money. Like dad, I rode my bicycle to and from work every day, mastering the art of riding with high heels.

Everyone at home had to contribute from their salary; it was dad’s way of training us responsibilities and how to manage our money. ‘It is amazing, the way everything you learn from childhood, guides you throughout life.’ Dad was a Director of a Lumber Company and had lots of benefits. He was allowed a Company vehicle but preferred to ride his bicycle to and from work daily. Privilege of taking us out to restaurants, yet we had to earn that by performing to the best of our abilities to prove we deserved it. He was even allowed free taxi, but we only used it once per week to go to and from the movies. Telephone allowance but called my siblings overseas once per month. He always taught us never to abuse the privilege. I remember my older brothers always wanted him to get a car so they could drive but he never did. Everything my dad stood for and believed in made me so proud of him.

I was enjoying my job, a clerk in the Underwriting Department; the department where all applications for Life Insurance had to be lodged along with the client’s medical to determine if the application should be approved or rejected.  We were a staff of five, including the Supervisor. It also had the office of the Assistant Manager attached, where we would use as lunchroom and a photo studio; taking pictures at his desk as though we were executives, whenever he was out of the country. We were like a little family in the Company. Everyone brought whatever delicious desserts they made for the weekend and Monday would always be the day with the best lunches and desserts. Fridays we would walk around the town, since my job was downtown and have lunch at one of the buffet restaurants. The Supervisor and two of the other staff would always stay back since we could not all leave the department at the same time. The Assistant Manager and Supervisor were very simple, humble and pleasant. The both believed in treating staff with kindness allowing them to perform at the best of their abilities.

I began writing insurance exams. There were ten parts, every part more difficult than the previous with big thick books to study. I still did not like studying but was determined to make my parents proud of me. I successfully completed parts one, two and three. The company paid the expenses for the examinations and I would only have had to refund them if I was not successful.  In our days there were no computers at the company, everything had to done manually. I dedicated myself to my job and did everything to the best of my ability, always getting the approval of the supervisor. In 1988, the Insurance Company bought computers and training had to begin for all staff. I did a computer course privately and gained all grades A.

My sister Lisa was planning her wedding and we were all very excited. The seamstress was sewing her wedding dress and we were planning a bridal shower. In those days we did not know of any games to be played at bridal shower, all we focused on was drenching her with water; that was pure fun. After finishing her Grade 11 exams and doing extra secretarial classes privately, she had opened her very own secretarial school. Starting with just one student, she diligently got dressed professionally every day to teach her student. After a while, her classroom extended from one to so many students, she had to teach morning, afternoon and evening classes. I was always so very proud of her determination to be successful at whatever she did and to do it to the best of her ability.

Her wedding was kept very simple with just family, her students and close friends; it was kept at the beautiful cottage where dad’s four children lived before migrating. Her wedding dress was sewn by a seamstress; satin white material with pearl beads. She was a very happy beautiful shy bride on her wedding day. My sister was getting married, everyone seemed to be moving away one after another, I felt sad but at the same time, happy for her. She was beginning her new chapter in life with the person she loved.  After the wedding, the bride, her students and I, went on a horse cart ride around the town. Her wedding dress flowing in the wind and we were laughing and singing songs happily. Her students felt like part of our family since her classroom was at the lower level of our home. They all loved mom and complemented her on the daily tantalizing and delicious scent of the meals she cooked. Our kitchen was right next to the classroom which was in the section where Rudy and his family lived before migrating and the walls did not go all the way up to the ceiling.

The house seemed empty without Lisa, after marriage she had moved to the cottage where she got married and opened her classroom at the lower level, which was not enclosed by walls and had four big concrete posts at the corners of the house and two at the middle. The ceiling was not very high and showed the big beams of wood from the upper level floor. Her classroom was more spacious and comfortable to fit all her long wooden benches and blackboard. Her students loved her very much because she was such a patient and kind teacher and gave them all individual attention; they were not bothered, having to travel a farther distance to attend her school. Even though I had the bed all to myself to sleep, I missed her a lot, missed hearing her voice when I came in through the door from work, teaching her students.

As the months went by, I kept myself busy working, helping mom and reading my books. I was enjoying my job and was in the committee for decorating the Insurance Company when it was the Christmas season, choosing venues for the Christmas staff parties and deciding on the patterns and colors of new uniforms yearly. I was learning the duties of the other staff in our department and felt comfortable, confident and efficient. We were like one big family; the entire Insurance Company; everyone knew each other. I felt lucky to be offered a job in the Underwriting Department and was excited every morning to get dressed and ride to work.

Lisa announced her pregnancy and we were all very happy to have more babies in the family again. Justin was just about three years old and had already started Nursery School. He always looked so adorable in his school uniform, clutching his lunch kit as he sat on his mom’s scooter every morning for school. Just as dad had read stories for us when we were younger, it was Justin’s time to enjoy dad’s stories and all the pampering from us. He was a very quiet and well mannerly child and we all loved him very much.

Chapter 4

EXPERIENCING LOVE

Met my husband Ned in 1988, we were both very young. He was twenty and I was twenty-one years old. He was tall, slim and very handsome. I think what attracted me to him was his shy and humble personality. He was not vain like most of the other boys. He was the cousin of Lisa’s husband and just out of a relationship that meant a lot to him. I met him whenever he brought my brother-in-law over and we began talking. We started as just friends chatting, then felt attraction towards each other. After dating for six months, he brought home his mom and asked my parents for my hands in marriage. I remember how surprised my sisters and parents were.

The weeks that followed were very beautiful. We went for daily drives, picnics, outings at the beach with my family and my favorite of all, packing the car with tons of goodies and heading to the drive-in movies. My first gift from Ned was a gold color watch for my birthday. Because we were taught not to collect gifts from male friends, I felt very uncomfortable and had lots of questions to ask before accepting. Three weeks later, I was given the Pink Panter puppet. That meant the world to me, so much more than a gold color watch. I hugged Pink Panter to sleep every night, he was so very cute.

The day came for me to meet Ned’s dad and I was very afraid since he always seemed very serious. Mom sewed a baby pink floral skirt suit for the occasion. His dad could not believe his elder son wanted to get married at the tender age of twenty. His second child, Ned’s brother, was one year younger. After meeting his parents, it was time to choose a date, print invitations and plan a wedding. My parents needed time to budget their expenses in order to host another wedding and buy the wedding ring. I was being teased about the promise I always made to my parents when I was a little girl, of never getting married and to live with them forever, taking very good care of them both.

My dad spoke to Ned about responsibilities and asked the usual questions any parents would, about his job and where we would live. Looking back now I realized that we got married for the wrong reasons. He was in love with who I was, a person that would be the perfect wife and mother for our children and I was overwhelmed that someone would love and want to marry me. Because I was so skinny, I had no self-esteem or ever thought that one day someone would fall in love with me. My mother-in-law was having my wedding dress sewn, on the day of fitting, Ned dropped me off and returned an hour later. After entering his car, we drove for about two blocks when I felt a hard sting on my face, confused and disoriented, I stared across at him. That was the first sign of physical abuse and I was too young and in love to realize it. I quietly accepted his apology and believed I was lucky he loved me so much to be jealous because boys were standing on the seamstress’s bridge.

It was Saturday, January 21st, 1989; the day before my wedding. The pandit (Hindu priest) was expected to perform a ceremony later that day, to bless me before marriage and turmeric had to be rubbed on my skin. I wandered into our kitchen and saw my grandmother and aunt were already there. I wanted a very small wedding; mom did not invite all the relatives from the countryside, only her mom and her brother with his wife; who lived a few corners away came over to assist. Jane was abroad on a business trip in Washington D.C. and Lisa was very busy with her very cute baby; her daughter Allison, five months old. Everyone was already busy in the kitchen, peeling garlic and onions, cutting different types of vegetables and making sweet desserts. I felt very nervous since I knew Ned did not want me to take part in the Hindu ceremony or the rubbing of the turmeric on my skin and I was so afraid to let mom know. After showering and a quick breakfast, I left with Ned.

Mom was so busy in the kitchen and dad in the backyard, they felt it was fine for me visiting my in-laws while they got everything prepared. We arrived and played board games all day with Ned’s brother and his childhood friend. Time went by and I wanted to return but Ned was determined not to have me take part in any function done by the pandit. Looking back now I realized how much I must have hurt my parents even though they hid their emotions when I returned later that evening. The pandit came and blessed our home and said a special prayer for my health and happiness and mom explained that the bridegroom was of another religion. As a parent now, I reflect on these moments and realize that not only were my parents loving, they protected our emotions in whatever way possible; always placing our happiness first.

As my eyelids flicker open, I felt a sense of a whole new beginning. Being so nervous about having rain on my wedding day, I was extremely happy to see the bright blue sky and the sunlight that flickered on the mosquito net, which covered my bed. I must have overslept going into bed wee hours of the morning. It was my wedding day and I was totally excited and happy. My parents did not feel overwhelmed since my wedding was going to be very small with just immediate family and my friends from the Underwriting Department. The wedding ceremony was being kept at Ned’s home, since my family were not Muslims and my guests were invited to the small reception to be kept at our home in the afternoon. It was not an entire week of celebration like Rudy and Aileen’s wedding.

After a single slice of toast with butter and a cup of tea, I showered and got dressed in the simple white silk shalwar (elastic waist long pants with straight knee length top, long sleeves and two slits at the sides)  that my in-laws had their seamstress sewn with matching hijab. Looking at myself in the mirror, I could not believe I was a bride. Dabbing a bit of powder on and a touch of lip gloss, I took a second glance at myself. I had to be the simplest bride ever. I had no one in the room fussing over me or having to do my make-up. I could not wait to change into my wedding dress after the ceremony. It was the first time wearing the hijab and I was not sure if it was tied properly, spraying a touch of perfume, I was ready for my bridegroom’s arrival.

Stepping out of the room I saw my dad humbly dressed in his white pants and white shirt, tucking Justin’s white shirt neatly into his little black pants; he was five years old already and so very cute. Dad, Lisa with her family, Justin and my uncle’s wife were accompanying me to the bridegroom’s home, Sharon and mom were staying back to prepare for the reception and to welcome the guests.  Mom was dressed in a red and black pattern knee length dress, her hair cut short in what we called “boy cut”. I never saw my mom with long hair, it was always kept short, the longest being up to her shoulders with soft natural curls. She was looking beautiful as always, her waist still tiny with big hips.

Ned always had a special way he honked his horn whenever he visited. Smiling happily, I knew that my bridegroom had arrived. He was also dressed in his simple Islamic clothes and looked very happy as he came up the stairs to collect his bride.  Ned was very private and did not want honking of horns to cause a street full of curious onlookers. Arriving at Ned’s home, I was welcome by his mom and their guests; who were surprised to see the bride dressed as though she was in her silk pajamas. Smiling at everyone, I was then escorted to a bedroom while Ned, my dad and the rest of the family with their guests, stayed in the living room, where sheets were spread out on the ground for the Islamic wedding ceremony to begin.

Sitting on the floor, I looked up my mother-in-law, smiling nervously, wishing my mom was there also. Shortly after, a group of Imams entered and I was asked questions at different intervals, after someone was chosen to be my father and a Muslim name given to me. For the first time on my wedding day, I felt sad and fought hard to hold back my tears. I was unaware that my dad could not hand me over in marriage because he was not a Muslim. My parents meant the world to me, my dad; very sensitive and humble. Yet I was allowing a total stranger to be my dad on my special day.

The wedding ceremony came to an end and guests began eating. Ned sneaked into the room to put the ring on my finger. Everything was done very differently, no romantic exchange of rings or vows. After the group of Imams left, my aunt and Lisa came into the room to help me into my simple wedding dress that was made of white satin and lace with a few pearl beads. Ned came upstairs to collect his wife. For the first time, I felt like a bride as we slowly stepped down the stairs. All the guests were standing at the bottom floor, anxious for a glimpse of the bride in her wedding dress and the groom in his black pants and grey shirt. After the sticking of the cake and posing for pictures, Ned changed into a white shirt and we left in the car for my parents’ home. Ned driving with me beside him in the front seat.

Approaching the street before my parents’ home, Ned started honking his horn, feeling proud to have his wife beside him. The two cars that followed with my family, Ned’s brother and friends were also honking. Neighbours rushed out to see the bride and groom. Cameras started clicking and mom came out, tears in her eyes, smiling and welcoming her daughter and her husband. Looking past my mom I saw all my friends had arrived, everyone happy to finally see the bride and groom. After the sticking of the cake, a few speeches and receiving of gifts, soul music were played while everyone ate and chatted happily. It was just as we had wanted, a small and happy wedding.

At the time I could not understand the tears in my parent’s eyes for I was so excited to marry and live happily ever after with the one I loved.  Little did I know that marriages were not fairy tales, but a life built on strong love, trust, understanding, communication and the willingness to reach each other halfway. Life became different. I had to adjust to living with Ned’s parents and brother and adapt to be a wife, daughter-in-law and sister-in-law. After two months of marriage, I had to give up my job at the Insurance Company and dress in cotton shalwar and hijabs sewn by the seamstress. Two suitcases filled with all my pretty long dresses and skirt suits mom had recently sewn, packed for her to share to my cousins that lived in the countryside. I did everything to make my husband happy, even changing my first name legally. We were living with his parents, but I insisted on cooking separately, determined to be independent and responsible as a married couple.

Some days I enjoyed very much. Going to the market and buying vegetables for the week then coming home and trying to cook; both of us not having much experience at cooking. Taking our meals to our room and watching a great movie and going for drives on Sundays. Other days, I sat by myself in my room crying for my parents. Missing the taste of mom’s meal, the happy chattering of my siblings and the independence of working. I felt very alone and sad. Life was not as I had expected. Ned spent most of the days with his friends, who called out to him whenever they passed by. Saturdays were his club nights where he would return wee hours of the morning. Maybe because we were married at such a young age, he never gave up his bachelor life.

Chapter 5

MY FIRST PREGNANCY

It was a bright sunny morning and I felt a craving for peanut butter in tennis rolls. Relaxing on the iron chairs that was at the front of the yard, I indulged in my delicious breakfast, admiring the different colors of hibiscus flowers and roses that lined the entire strip of plant pot and watched the few birds that were chirping away happily on the limb of the big mango tree that was shading a section of the yard. Halfway through my meal, I felt it all coming up at such a speed, causing me to quickly rush towards the drain that was at the side of the yard. Thinking the rolls must have been stale, I hurriedly drank water, but that was also out before I could finish the glass. Being so young and inexperienced and thinking I caught a virus, I went to see the doctor, only to be told that I was pregnant. It was the happiest day of my life.

I remember feeling a sense of importance, responsibility, maturity and nervousness; it all flashed through my mind, one after another. Life seemed instantly different, I had our baby in my womb, no more was it about me, but all about our precious baby. I had constantly tried very hard to please my mother-in-law. I had to deal with pregnancy, crying for my parents, adjusting to a different home and wishing Ned would spend more time with me. It was a rude awakening, but I was pregnant and determined that my child would have a happy life.

I started going to clinics, drinking my vitamins along with lots of coconut water and fruits since that was all that stayed down. As the months passed, I no longer vomited and was again able to enjoy my simple and healthy meals of delicious vegetables and fish. I always loved my vegetables and was never a person that loved having lots of meat. Ned started fussing over me, making sure I ate everything that was nutritious for the baby. Mangoes were in season and I ate them every day, sometimes four or five mangoes each day. I was still a very petite person and my pregnancy was hardly noticeable.

Everyone had a different story to tell and all seemed centered on the most intense feeling of labor pain, the worst pain anyone could ever imagine. One day Ned’s childhood friend and his wife came over to visit, she had just given birth to her third child and I was due in a few days. Because I was very skinny, I was told that it would be impossible for me to have a normal delivery and I would have to be given drips and blood. Being a mom for the first time, that was the last thing I needed to hear. I kept myself strong and positive and whatever difficulties I went through with my marriage, I tried my best to put it behind so that my baby would have a happy life and not come into the world with parents being already divorced.

It was the morning of Saturday, October 14th, 1989. Opened my eyes to a beautiful bright sunny morning. I did not sleep well the night before since the baby moved all night and kept pressing down the bottom of my womb. Had my breakfast and decided to rest a little more when I continued to feel the pressing weight, only now accompanied by pain. Being inexperienced and not knowing what to expect of labor pain, I decided to ask my mother-in-law’s aunt who was visiting. After she confirmed I was beginning to have contractions, I panicked thinking I would give birth right away and sent to call my husband who was exercising with his brother at the side of the yard. As expected, he ran into the room all flustered and confused, it was the first experience for both of us. We went to the hospital immediately.

Thankfully I did not have to take drips and blood and even though the pain was mostly centered on my back, I got confidence from the doctor who constantly came to check on me and at times, sat  beside my bed, reading verses from his bible. There were three other mothers in the room and at the last moment when the pain became unbearable, I jumped off the bed, counting one hundred strides from my bed to the room door and back. Finally, after the nurse checked, it was time to be rolled into the labor room. Just having enough time between contractions to breath properly, I had no time to think about fear of delivery.

I gave birth to my healthy and beautiful baby boy. I remember checking his toes and fingers and being so thankful to God for giving me such a perfect baby. Instantly I forgot the long hours of labor pain. My heart filled with so much love, I must have cried throughout the night. Instantly I felt an inner strength as never before. We were responsible for my son’s future and everything had to be great. It was no longer going to be how I felt, it would be all about my son. After two days in the hospital, it was time to take our son home. We stopped first at the masjid, for the Imam to say a special prayer in his ear; as was customary for every Muslim child to have done. As the car turned onto the bridge, I felt a sense of pride, being a mom and in my arms, I was tenderly holding my beautiful baby boy. Everyone flocked around to get a glimpse of the baby, neighbors and friends of my in-laws came over. They all commented on how much he looked like his dad.

As the days passed, I ate all my vegetables, drank my juices, milk, porridge and lots of water to regain my strength and to be able to nurse my baby properly. My routine of sleeping had to be adjusted, taking naps during the day when my baby slept and staying awake all night when he cried for comfort and his milk. It was the natural instincts of a mother to always place her children first. To lose sleep so they can sleep, to stay hungry so that they can be fed and taken care of on time and to stay awake all night, without a wink of sleep if there was any symptom of high temperature. I learnt to appreciate my mom and love her more after Adam my son was born.

Weeks became months, could not believe Adam was already three months old. I sewed cute little pajamas for him and loved dressing him up in his little outfits. Because Guyana was a tropical country and extremely hot during the days, he only wore his diapers and plastic pants over. Pampers were not sold in our country during that time and everyone had to use cloth diapers, washing dozens a day. His head was shaved according to the Islamic beliefs and he looked like a little wrestler, chubby with his little muscles and bald head. He was so very cute, I cuddled and kissed him all day. When he was a newborn, the nurse had advised to feed him every two hours but when he cried, I also felt like crying and nursed him instantly. That was always a magical moment for me. While nursing him, he would cling to my finger and look up at me. That feeling, only a mother could experience.

Adam was just three months old when I found out I was pregnant again. Having the experience, I knew the symptoms and went to the doctor to confirm my pregnancy. I had become very weak since I vomited every day for the second and third month of pregnancy while still having to take care of Adam but tried my best to never let my in-laws know how hard it was for me, since I was determined to be independent. I remember keeping all my sadness, locked inside for I did not want my family to know what I was experiencing. I had a very sad life; I was dying inside but smiled on the outside for my baby.

Adam was such a cute and pleasant baby. I was very excited to prepare different crushed vegetables, potatoes, eddoes and eggs for him, when he was at the age to begin eating solids. I had a special little pot to cook his meals. I was over the nauseous stage of my second pregnancy and was able to take Adam for walks in his stroller, sing songs for him and teach him the names of animals, such as the cats that were in and out of the kitchen, the dogs that we kept at the back of the yard and the horses that passed daily pulling a cart behind. He was approaching ten months old and started holding on and walking from chair to chair. I loved to hear him try to pronounce the animals’ names. He would always get excited whenever he heard the horses pass by and start jumping up and down in his cradle. He skipped the creeping stage and went straight to walking, very determined to do everything quickly.

Life was hard and Ned had decided to migrate for the benefit of our children’s future, to work and return. I was afraid to tell my parents since Jane lost her marriage when her husband had migrated while she stayed back with her son. Nevertheless, dad found out two weeks later and insisted I follow my husband. “Your marriage could be destroyed but you will never lose your children,” he advised. I was seven months pregnant and had to leave my son back home with my in-laws, he was ten months old and my heart broke into so many pieces. I remember going through the door and looking back at him, he was sitting in his feeding chair eating fries and smiling at me. This was a sacrifice I was willing to make for my children but did not wish on any mother.

Chapter 6

THE SACRIFICE

Crying bucket of tears throughout the journey for my baby I left, I pondered upon life; it’s sacrifices and pain. The responsibility of parenthood; the responsibility of our children’s entire future. I felt my second baby moving in my womb and knew I had to be strong for my two babies, their future was more important than how I felt or the tears that was pouring down so much. I arrived and faced my husband bravely, not allowing him to see a drop of tear in my eyes. I had to be his strength as he would be mine. I had to be happy and healthy for my unborn child. I had to nourish my baby in the best possible way.

The weeks that followed became very difficult. It was not ‘a bed of roses’ as was painted and we were being watched if we ate or drank anything from his uncle’s fridge. The little money we had, we bought our vegetables, fruits, milk and juice. We had to make sure our unborn child was nourished. Every day, we walked miles looking for jobs for Ned. Finally, he got a job in a warehouse, fetching boxes all day. It was hard, adjusting from a life of luxury to working in a factory. He was determined to do whatever it took for his family and I admired him so very much for that. We began to live happier, there were no friends and we did everything together. For the first time I was experiencing having my husband all to myself. I felt such happiness; cooking, shopping, buying groceries and doing laundry together. It was like a whole new life for me. But I was still grieving for my son I left back.

It was Sunday, October 28th1990. Both myself and Ned were busy in the kitchen preparing breakfast as usual, when suddenly, I felt liquid running down my legs. I panicked thinking I was having a miscarriage even though I was nine months pregnant. Every day I had waited to feel the pressing weight at the bottom of my womb, the sign I got from my first pregnancy but now I was so scared and confused. There was no pain, only non-stop liquid, which had the worst scent of rotten eggs, flowing down. After taking a bath and cleaning the floors, we went to the hospital immediately. I was told that my water bag broke and it was time to deliver my second baby.

It was a totally different experience from the first delivery, where the pain was mainly in my back and not as sharp. This pain seemed to rip my entire body apart and it lasted for ten hours. The nurses were frequently checking and informing Ned who was looking very worried and helpless after being told all day that I was not fully dilated. It seemed like forever that I kept begging the nurse to deliver the baby, throwing the monitor off my tummy every time the nurse placed it to monitor the baby’s heartbeat. Finally, the time came for them to wheel me into the labor room and Ned was called in to be with me. Putting on his gown, he was just about to hold my hands when he almost fainted. He went home and prayed throughout the night.

My beautiful, healthy daughter was born just after midnight.  She was like a little princess in the hospital, being the only baby girl in the ward of six babies. All the moms came over to my bed and commented how beautiful she was, saying they would host a reunion twenty years later to see which of their sons she would fall in love with. The ward was very clean and each of us received a hospital gown and disposable slippers. The nursery was decorated with beautiful curtains of cartoon characters and meals with desserts served promptly. I felt sad not having Adam with me to see his sister or all my family, but the friendly moms kept me busy from the moment I opened my eyes that morning. It was getting closer to morning visiting hour and I knew how anxious Ned would be to visit.

As expected, Ned was the first visitor to come through the door with the smiling nurse beside him, telling me how lucky I was since he was the only dad who asked about his wife and not about the gender of the baby as was normal. Looking over to him I saw his face beam with so much happiness; it was the first time he had witnessed labor pain and he was very scared I would die. Placing the baby in his arms, I watched him as he admired his little princess, tracing his fingers along her pretty face and kissing her on her forehead. He was so happy to have his daughter and his wife who survived it all.  A part of me wanted so bad for him to tell me how proud he was of me, but he was never a person to show appreciation or to say, ‘I love you.’ Maybe I was too sensitive or read too many romantic novels. Everyone was different, I kept my thoughts to myself and smiled happily. We had our beautiful son and daughter and there was no space for idle thoughts.

It was time to be discharged from the hospital, Ned bought a beautiful soft white whole suit with red designs on the bib front style, along with matching baby hat to dress the baby and could not resist purchasing a beautiful pair of tiny diamond earrings. He was so excited and fussy over his daughter; it did not cross his mind that we had very little money. Times were hard and we got used baby clothes from a relative along with a bassinet. The nurse brought baby Sarah into the ward, all cleaned and dressed in her cute new clothes; looking like a little doll. Wrapping her warmly in a blanket, it was time to take our bundle of joy home. We had moved from Ned’s aunt and were renting just one room and had to share the kitchen and bathroom with two other women. Our room was very small; with the bed and bassinet, there was just a little space left to pack our clothes.

One week later, a surprise function was kept for baby Sarah by one of the relatives and all the guests brought beautiful gifts for her that we so badly needed. We appreciated that kind gesture so very much; a gesture I would never forget. She was already nine days old and I dressed her in the outfit her dad bought to bring her home from the hospital. Everyone was telling us how cute and beautiful she was. On that day, Ned’s cousin told him about a job that was available. After contacting the company that sold video cameras and other electrical supplies, Ned was hired. It was a good job, everyone liked him and treated him with kindness. Finally, life was a little better, we were able to pay all our bills and still have extra to purchase all the groceries we needed.

It was already the beginning of my first winter experience; felt like I was dropped into an ice box, but I was determined to learn how to commute to and from the clinic with Sarah. The buses and trains seemed very confusing since I was so accustomed to my country which had no trains and just a few school buses; only the wealthy owned a car and there were mostly motor bikes and cycles. I was determined to be independent since Ned had to work six days a week; we had gone shopping the previous week for Sarah’s snowsuit and baby sling. Dressing her warmly in her winter clothes and snowsuit and putting on my winter coat I had received from a relative, I strapped her around my torso and headed off one hour earlier for the clinic; asking questions along the way and making notes of bus numbers and how to return.

Successfully learning the route, I returned safely and was very happy to be in my warm room again. The winter did not seem to affect Sarah since she smiled and cooed throughout the journey and at everyone at the clinic. Even though she was strapped safely to my torso, with my arms wrapped around her; her head kept turning from side to side to see everyone who came on and off the bus, or who passed by on the streets. She totally enjoyed our adventure and I got over the feeling of being overwhelmed to travel in such a big city. Sarah was fed and cuddled until she fell asleep. It was time to start dinner, I always prepared fresh hot dinner every day like my mom did and made sure the room and kitchen was clean, Sarah was dressed in pretty clothes and I was showered before Ned returned from work.

As the months went by, we had enough money to pay bills and shop grocery but not enough to save; it was time for me to think about working again; we decided to send Sarah back home to Guyana to be with her brother, since we could not afford Daycare and babysitter fees and did not trust leaving her with strangers at such a young age. One month later, mom came to take her back home. I was very excited to see my mom after so long; she was now seeing her granddaughter for the first time. I noticed her worried expression when she saw the tiny room that was our home; we barely had space to place a small mattress on the floor, next to the bed. As a mom she felt my pain being without Adam for so long and now having to send Sarah back with her, but she was very supportive and trusted we were doing what had to be done for the future of our children.

I held my baby closely that night and did not sleep a wink. I knew mom came for just a few days and soon I would have to part with baby Sarah. She was such a good baby, always smiling and cooing; not knowing she would be parted from her mom. The next day after Ned left for work, I gave Sarah a bath and dressed her in different pretty dresses, taking pictures of her while I propped her up against a pillow; just in time to click the camera before she fell sideways on the bed laughing; she was only six months old and was just learning to sit. For the next few days, I spent quality time with my mom and Sarah, it was already Spring, but the days were still chilly. We did not have a car to take mom places and she was satisfied to spend time home with me instead of on the buses and trains.

It was Sunday, April 14th, 1991. My eyes were swollen since I cried all night and did not sleep. Looking at the clock, I realized it was already 4:00 a.m. Quietly getting out of bed, I made myself a cup of coffee; I had started Sarah on the bottle for when she was ready to leave and was able  to start having my coffee every morning again. The flight was later that evening and every moment was precious to spend with my baby. I started cutting up all the vegetables to cook meals for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, since I had an interview with a respectable family the next morning for a live-in domestic position. I blocked my thoughts of the interview and the pain of separating with my baby, as I worked tirelessly in the kitchen for three hours. The different meals were already cooked and placed in containers and breakfast just off the stove, when I heard Sarah cooing and laughing as she normally did whenever she awoke and saw her stuffed toys around her.

After mom awoke from her normal after lunch nap, I served her an early dinner, showered and got dressed, while Ned spent quality time with baby Sarah, hugging and cuddling and feeding her a bottle of milk. All her clothes and toys were packed away in the suitcase with pampers, change of clothing and bottles of milk packed in the baby’s bag. My heart was hurting but I was pretending to be brave as I took Sarah into the room to get her dressed. She looked like a beautiful doll in her soft pink and white jumpsuit. Her hair was now beginning to grow back since we had her it shaved off when she was one month old as was customary in Islam. Everyone in Guyana was excited to finally see my beautiful baby but none of my family reached out to comfort me since they were all aware of the way Ned kept me away from them and did not want to intrude or cause problems in my marriage.

The taxi arrived and we were heading to the airport. Sitting at the back seat with Ned, I hugged my baby close to my heart, tracing every detail of her pretty little face as she looked up smiling. Tears were streaming down my cheeks as I sang her our very own song, “hush little baby don’t say a word, mommy’s going to buy you a mockingbird.”  Upon arrival at the airport, Ned paid the driver and hurried to take the suitcases out the trunk, while I came out hugging mom closely; my baby was leaving with her and I needed to feel her strength. Ned came and collected Sarah while I tied the sling around mom’s torso, he was hugging and kissing his baby.  Collecting Sarah from him, I cuddled her to my heart then placed her in the sling, it was time for us to say goodbye to our precious baby. There was so much pain in mom’s eyes as she hugged me saying, “don’t worry Nal, we will take very good care of your children.” We waved until mom cleared through customs and we could not see her any longer, then took a taxi back home. I cried so loudly headless of the taxi driver, Ned cuddling me closely to comfort me while dealing with his own pain. Arriving home, I felt there were no tears left and my eyes were both swollen. It was the hardest sacrifice for any mother to ever make. I had to live years of my life without my son and daughter and depend on pictures to see the different stages in their lives.

Chapter 7

LIVING WITH STRANGERS

The next day, I travelled by train to attend the interview and was hired instantly. The woman who was just about ten years older than I was, commented on how humble, simple and pleasant I was; those being the main factors of what she was looking for in the person who would become a part of her family. Her son Jake; eight years old and daughter Liz; five years old. Her husband worked far away from home five days per week and only returned every Friday night. I was expected to arrive for work early every Monday morning and return home early Sunday mornings. I knew I had no choice and had to work to make ends meet. On the train heading back home, I thought about my two babies, the thought of living with strangers six days a week and having only one day to spend with Ned. Life was throwing me so many challenges and it seemed like I always had to be brave and strong to “put my best foot forward,” as the saying goes.

Sarah and mom had arrived safely in Guyana and everyone was fussing over her; Adam curiously looking on; he was just eighteen months old and was told that the baby was his little sister. I felt happy that my two children were together and would begin to build a strong bond. Being a pleasant baby, Sarah had easily adjusted to everyone and only cried when she experienced her first power outage the next night.  Not knowing what time in the morning, I finally fell asleep, I glanced at the clock on the wall, it was already 5:00 a.m., jumping out of bed, I hurriedly prepared Ned’s breakfast and started travelling to work. I had to take a bus to the train station then board the train for that area. Thankfully the weather was not as cold and easier for me to travel; I had packed my bag from the night before with clothes and all other essentials for the week. I had never lived with strangers before and I was scared but pretended to be brave since I knew Ned would be worried. I was an adult; a wife and a mother and I had to face life with its challenges.

Arriving early to work, I entered the home through the garage since I was given the password code; everyone seemed to be fast asleep. Heading up to the guest room, I unpacked and changed into clothes that were comfortable to work then went towards the kid’s room to awake them for school. They were both cute and well mannerly children. They woke up smiling, pleased to see me; since I was still petite in size, they felt comfortable as though I was their little friend. Heading down to the kitchen, I packed their lunch bag with sandwich I made, one apple and a small box of juice; writing their names on the disposable lunch bag. It was time to dress the little girl for school and serve them their breakfast; they loved cereal, so that was easy. A quick glance at the clock made me realize I was very efficient; ten minutes after we stood on the front porch, the school bus arrived.

Knowing their mom was still asleep, I quietly closed the door and went back into the children’s room to make their beds and pack away their clothes and toys. It was a large house and I had to plan my chores properly in order to finish before the kids return from school, since I had to take them to the park; which was three corners away, then prepare dinner. I was determined to be efficient. After having a cup of coffee and cleaning the kitchen, I heard the room door open, looking up, I smiled as Mary my boss came into the kitchen. “Good morning Nalinie,” she smiled, “everything went well with the kids this morning?” She was very friendly and kind and made me feel comfortable. “Good morning Mary,” I smiled, “the children were proudly ten minutes early this morning,” I laughed. After having her coffee, she left home and I had the entire house to myself to clean one section at a time and prep my vegetables and meat to prepare dinner.

Later that evening, Mary commented on the extreme cleanliness of her home and how delicious dinner was. I had learnt their way of cooking, and had prepared lamp chops, cream spinach and baked potatoes. It was easier than cooking Caribbean food; I had seasoned everything and placed in the oven to bake, within minutes dinner was ready. I was only delayed a little while I tumbled the entire kitchen for salt before realizing they never cooked with salt which was indeed not necessary when everything was well seasoned. It was the first time I tasted lamp chops and that became my absolute favorite. I was no longer nervous and felt comfortable with the family. I had kept myself very busy all day and now that it was time to sleep; all the pain came crashing down. I cried and for the first time I hated life; it felt like I was sentenced to life in prison and there was no escape. Even though the family were wonderful and kind, they were strangers. I had no one and I felt all alone.

The week dragged by and Saturday seemed the longest day; I counted every hour. The children awoke and were bubbling with excitement since their dad had returned late the previous night and they could not wait to see him. After making sure they brushed their teeth properly and washed their face, I dressed Liz, in pretty tights with matching top and socks, while Jake went into his room to get dressed. Preparing their eggs and toast, I filled their little glass with orange juice, then drank a cup of coffee; I had no appetite and often drank coffee for breakfast with cereal and milk for lunch. It was time to tidy the kitchen quickly and take the kids outside to play until their parents awoke. I had planned to start my chores when they all left home. Feeling little hands around my neck, I smiled up at Liz as she hugged me closely telling me how much she was going to miss me when I left to go home. It was just six days, but it felt like six months since I had last gone home. I had spent every moment possible with the children when they returned from school, not because I had to but because it was a pleasure being with them.

After reading Liz her bedtime story, I hugged her until she fell asleep; it was just six days and she cried out for me whenever she awoke during the night and always wanted me to sleep beside her after her story ended. Quietly getting off her bed, I went into my room and lay awake all night, too excited to sleep. Having to awake at least twice every night when Liz called out, my head began to feel heavy, my body needed a proper night’s sleep. After checking the train schedule, I had decided to take the 5:30 a.m. train home; glancing at the clock I saw it was already 4:25 a.m. After a quick change of clothes and washing my face, I hurried down the stairs towards the kitchen; my salary was in an envelope on the counter top. It was two hundred and fifty dollars for the week; to me, it meant so much more.

It was a long walk toward the train station since I could not afford to pay a taxi and no public buses worked in the residential area. Arriving at the train station fifteen minutes early, I sat on the bench and thought of my beautiful babies, Ned and my parents. My parents had sheltered and protected me before marriage, bearing all the burdens of life so that we could have a happy life; that is what I wanted for my babies also and I had to be strong. Because of the extreme pain I felt, I was unaware of the risk I took being alone at the train station so early in the morning. Thankfully it was not a bad area with thugs and robbers. Faintly, the sound of the train could be heard in the far distance, increasing my heartbeat as it got closer and closer.  I was going home; but just for one day and had to travel right back the next morning.

Arriving one hour later than was expected; boarding the wrong bus after exiting the train, I saw Ned at the gate worried and confused. In those days, we did not have cell phones and I had called him at work the previous day, letting him know I would board the 5:30 a.m. train.  The route was new and there were dozens of buses. I felt drained emotionally, very weak and tired, but smiled at him brightly, reassuring him that I was not harmed by anyone on the journey. Hugging him closely, I wanted to hear him say “Let’s go back home to our babies,” but it was a sacrifice and we both had to be strong for each other. I was happy to be back home but knew it was going to be a very tiring day since we had to get everything done in just one day. I had to ignore how weak I felt and find an inner strength to continue moving one step forward.

We did our laundry; pushing our cart filled with clothes to and from the laundromat which was nine blocks away. It was something we had to get accustomed to since we had a car back home in Guyana to go wherever we wanted to. I always loved going to the laundromat and supermarket since in Guyana we never had washers and dryers and our supermarkets had only local products sold in those days. After unpacking the groceries, laundry and cooking lunch, there was just enough time to clean the apartment, cook the five different meals to pack in the fridge for Ned’s lunch and dinner for the week and again for what seemed like the tenth time, clean the kitchen. The hours of the day seemed to fly by faster than normal; I was beginning to panic, there was just enough time to watch a movie before sleeping.

As the weeks went by, I got closer to the kids and felt comfortable at work. I had my chores planned and became extremely efficient. It was summer already and I began to enjoy the park every afternoon with Jake and Liz, sometimes chatting with the Chinese babysitter who usually took two little girls to the park also. Liz became friends with the older sister; who was the same age as her and we were invited a few times to their home by their mom, for a playdate. They lived four corners away in a beautiful ancient looking mansion. I always felt sad watching the children play, often wondering what my babies were doing so far away in another continent. I knew, no matter how hard I worked or kept myself busy during the day, at night, I would bring my knees up to my chin, hugging my legs to my chest and cried until I fell asleep.

One year later, I decided to find myself another job. We had moved into a three bedroom apartment at the upper flat of a house and were very comfortable and even though I had grown to love Jake and Liz, my body was suffering from extreme exhaustion working six days a week, with only one day home to clean and cook. After attending three interviews, I choose the job to work with a divorced doctor who lived with her two sons, ages eight and one. I no longer had to take the train, since it was closer to where I lived. It was a five days per week job and I would have the weekend all to myself. I felt sad leaving the children, especially Liz who cried every day for me and did not want to eat her meals, but I had no choice.   

I received the wonderful news that Sharon was getting married; she was the third child from mom’s previous marriage and two years older than Jane.  She had gotten engaged in Guyana and was flying up to Canada to get married. Everyone was very excited and happy but only mom could have attended the wedding since everyone else was being sponsored and could not visit until they got through permanently. I was also unable to attend since I had to work, but she understood. She was planning a very small wedding with just close family and friends. One month later, her wedding was kept at a catholic church and she wore a beautiful wedding dress, looking like a princess out of a fairytale.

Adam’s third and Sarah’s second birthday were approaching. My life without them was very empty; I had already missed their previous birthdays. Receiving pictures and videos of them felt as though someone gave me life support. I was able to see the different stages of their life; learning to walk and talk. Watching them play together so lovingly, gave me a sense of satisfaction; at least they had each other. I was preparing to go to Disney World with my boss and her two sons, I thought of how my children would have enjoyed going to Disney World. Sadly, I packed my small suitcase for the week and took the two buses to work that morning.

The plane touched down at Orlando International Airport. Holding the baby in my arms, I exited the plane. It was almost the end of summer but the weather was still hot and humid. Hurrying to clear our suitcases, we then took a taxi to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa Hotel. It was the most beautiful hotel since it had an old English style, which I always loved. We were escorted to our room, that had a beautiful view overlooking the lake. I sadly thought of my two beautiful children as I watched Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Cinderella and Snow White, as they performed their shows two hours later; it was just the beginning of five long days at Disney.

I was still too naive and did not think of the circumstances leaving my husband who was just about twenty-three years old, all alone; six days per week for the first year then five days per week for the second year. My world came crashing down. I felt extremely hurt, I was so focused on working hard and saving for our children’s future, it was not fair; guess I took it for granted that Ned would always be faithful to me. I had to go home to my babies, the sacrifice made no sense to me any longer, life with my children was too precious for me to delay. Two days later, I was on a flight back home.

I remembered how much it hurt leaving Jake and Liz after living with them for so long, building a bond and giving them love I had stored up inside for my two children. I thought of how badly Liz had cried; her mom asking if I could return since she refused to eat or sleep. I had then gotten attached to the two boys and had grown to love them, especially the little baby. I knew I would never see those four beautiful, wonderful children again in my life. It was a struggle in my heart, leaving the four kids I learnt to love so much. As the plane lifted, my eyes overflowed with tears.

Chapter 8

RETURNING TO MY BABIES

Several hours later, as I glanced out the window of the plane, I saw the vast forest of Guyana. This was my real home; I was filled with happiness and anticipation and could not wait to hug my two babies. Disembarking, I felt the fresh air and the rays of the sunlight on my face. It was different; not humid as the summers I experienced. It was an extremely small airport and we had to walk from the plane steps to the entrance; thankfully it was not raining. Watching everyone rushing and pushing to get ahead, reminded me that it was home, no one was organized or well mannered. I stayed behind, needing time to reflect on my life; Ned was at work and he had no idea I was flying back home. He would not have allowed me to leave and I could not live another day making such a sacrifice.

As the car turned onto the bridge of Ned’s parent’s home, I felt completely overwhelmed and could not stop the tears from pouring endlessly down my cheeks. Ned’s mom and his brother had collected me from the airport after being told just hours before that I was on my way home. Dad having such high principles in life, did not believe it was right for me to arrive without my in-laws being told. Nothing was more important to me now than my two children and I felt an inner strength, to be brave and strong for whatever life held in store for me.

I had filled my suitcase with toys and clothes for Adam and Sarah; they were both still fast asleep. Quietly getting under the mosquito net, I sat for hours admiring them. Adam was dressed in blue pajamas and white vest, lying on one pillow with his leg thrown over the other, his cute little face, with cheeks so chubby. Sarah was dressed in a pink floral nightdress, the soft curls of her hair resting on her pillow. Like Adam, she was also using two pillows, her little face very cute with cheeks like her brother. My heart was filled with so much love and being so sensitive, I could not stop the tears from streaming down. I thought of the sacrifice I had made for their future and all the stages of their life I missed out. The bond of loving and cuddling them every night was worth so much more. Thinking back, given a second chance to do that all over again, I would never have left my children, I would have worked hard to make them comfortable and happy right in my own country.

It was Sunday morning, the day of my children’s Aqeeqah; the Islamic tradition of sacrificing an animal on the birth of a child. It could be done at any age of the child, if at birth there were circumstances that it could not be kept. Their eye lids slowly fluttered open, one awakening the other while they stretched out their legs and arms. I felt so overwhelmed with love and happiness but also felt very nervous. They knew me from pictures and video calls, but now I was right there in front of them. I had to allow their little minds to understand, learn to love me one step at a time. They both awoke and looked at me, their beautiful little faces filled with curiosity. I would never forget the moment when I hugged them both closely while their eyes were glued to the few toys I had brought onto the bed. At last I was back with my beautiful babies.

Totally ignoring the pang of hunger and the jet lag I felt after my long flight, I played with them for hours while they picked at their breakfast and investigated each toy thoroughly; the toys were doing the trick of making them feel comfortable with me at a very fast rate. They were both very shy and kept glancing and smiling every few minutes. Even though I allowed them their space and did not overact with emotions and tears, inside I felt like scooping them up into my arms and hold them close to my heart for the entire day.

It was time for the function to begin, I dressed Sarah in a pretty white lace dress with tiny blue green ribbons bordering the different layers of ruffles, her hair open with soft curls falling on her shoulders. Adam, I dressed in black pants and white tuxedo, combing his hair neatly in a side part style. He was quiet and shy, a little more than Sarah and stood back, allowing her to meet and greet the guests. Close family and friends were invited, four big pots of mutton curry cooked since two sheep was slaughtered for Adam and one sheep slaughtered for Sarah.

I had been excited all morning for my family to arrive since I had only seen mom when she came to the airport. The sound of Lisa’s voice when she arrived and greeted the family, drifted into the room. She had arrived with her husband Carl, Allison her daughter and Jack her son; she had given birth to Jack, twomonths before I had left Guyana; he was the same age as Sarah. After a quick check to make sure my children were properly dressed, I hurried down the stairs and straight into my sister’s arms, hugging her tightly. Allison was very pretty, beautiful small face with long lashes and lots of curls, Jack with his hair neatly combed to the side like Adam, stood quietly beside her, hugging his toy monkey.

Mom, Dad and Justin arrived shortly after and I was bursting with happiness. As my dad’s arms wrapped around me, I felt all the sadness and pressure of life, washed away. My dad always had a way of comforting me instantly only by his hugs. I felt for a moment as though I was a little child, and at that moment, I realized that in life, the best days were the days spent with your parents as a child, protected and sheltered with love and comfort heedless of the outside world and its responsibilities. Hugging mom, I looked across at Justin. He was a big boy already and still so very cute, always smiling. Jane and Leanord already had prior invitations and were unable to attend. I was so happy and felt comforted, having my children and family around me.

As the days went by, Ned called daily and was already preparing to return. He had insisted everything I heard was false and did not want to stay without his family in another country. All the antique furniture we bought were being shipped and he was buying gifts to bring back for Adam and Sarah. They were both beginning to feel comfortable with me, since I spent quality time, reading to them both, Nursery Rhymes and their other favorite story books. I had gone to the doctor after feeling extremely sick and was told I was suffering from anemia, guess it was a gradual build up from the days I did not want to eat.

Adam and Sarah were still calling my in-laws mommy and daddy and even though I was eternally grateful for all they had done for my kids, the natural maternal jealously always kicked in. It was going to take time but guess that was just a genuine reaction. Weeks became months and the children started calling me mommy. We spent all our weekends doing fun stuff such as going for long drives in the countryside and planning outings at the National Park to play cricket; our picnic blanket spread under the biggest tree we could find, with all our snacks and food spread out on display. Going to the National Park was not Sarah’s favorite outing since she did not like being in the hot sun; her cheeks would become very red as though it would burst at any moment. Adam on the other hand, loved playing cricket and running all day in the sun.  We also planned trips to the Zoo, since they both loved animals and always looked forward to that and the visits to my parents twice monthly.

My parents and siblings had missed me for the three years I was living abroad and wanted to spend quality time, before they migrated to Canada. I remember how excited mom would be, cooking my favorite meals and fussing over Adam and Sarah with such kindness. She was amazed at how shy and quiet they were. Not the type of children to be running around the house making noise or breaking stuff.  Dad’s face would beam with happiness, always a trace of tears in his eyes. Like mom, he loved having his children and grandchildren around. It filled them up with so much pride and joy.

Adam and Sarah loved visiting my family and playing with Justin, who was five years older than Adam. They totally enjoyed the ride to and from my parents on the blue scooter I rode. At the front of the scooter, between the seat and the handle, there was a wide flat surface where they both stood holding on to my arm, their cute faces beaming with excitement and their hair blowing in every direction. In those days there were not a lot of vehicles, mostly bicycles and scooters and it was safer to ride a scooter on the streets.

In the following months that followed, SiSi had returned to Guyana for a vacation with her husband, who was Dutch and did not understand when we spoke in our regular English based creole language.  I was very excited and happy to see her; she was still a very quiet and loving person who always spoke so softly. Sandy had returned earlier with her husband and son who was one month younger than Sarah, to spend a few years with her in-laws in the countryside. SiSi had given birth to her son and daughter, a couple of years earlier and I was sad they didn’t accompany their parents on the trip.

Even though SiSi spent most of her vacation visiting Sandy, I always made sure I visited my parents’ home whenever she was there. I was very attached to all my siblings and even though I was so much older, I longed for the days when we were all together in one country. Ram, Geets and their two beautiful daughters visited next and I was so extremely happy to see their children and get a chance to meet Geets. She was such a warm and loving person, full of love and simplicity.

My parents, Leanord and Lisa with her children were preparing to migrate to Canada. There was so much to be done. Aileen came from Venezuela to collect what she wanted from the home and lots of clothes was given to the poor. I remember mom feeling overwhelmed sorting through all our school texts she kept from each one of us as they were packed in boxes to be given to family members to be used. You never realize all that is accumulated until it is time to move. I went every Sunday to assist, only accepting two beautiful black teapots for sentimental reasons and an album.

The day arrived for them to leave and I awoke earlier than usual, not being able to sleep. After a long shower, I hurriedly prepared snacks to take with us, showered and dress Adam and Sarah and off we rode on our blue scooter. My parents had hired a big bus to take everyone, along with a couple of Lisa’s students to the airport. I felt such sadness. It seemed that life was made up of so many sacrifices. There was once a time when we all lived happily in one home, now we were all going to be scattered in different countries. I had to learn to let go, accept that it was the circle of life, it was normal for everyone to move on.

Arriving at my parents’ home, I rang the bell and was surprised to see almost every one of Lisa’s students had already arrived. The home was bursting with excitement; everyone taking pics and seemed to be talking at the same time. My chest felt heavy, I had just returned to Guyana the year before and the time went by so quickly. I was not ready to let go of my parents. Even though I was married with two children, I was still very attached to my parents and they still treated me like a little child. Mom would often play with my hair when I sat on the floor beside her chair; I loved the feeling of my mom’s hands going through my hair. I still cuddled up to dad on the chair while he would be busy reading his book.

Throughout the years of physical abuse, I always went to my parents’ home for comfort. Often not letting them know the reason of my visit; just having their presence and love made the world of difference. I did not want them to know I was being abused while I was pregnant for Adam, so many times; in a home where no one cared how Ned treated his wife. I had held on to my marriage thinking it was better for my children to have both their parents together. I loved them very much and always thought of their happiness. I was willing to sacrifice my happiness for theirs, always accepting Ned’s apology, thinking one day the abuse would be over.

It was already the month of April and the kids were busy choosing what kites they wanted to buy for Easter. Mom, Dad Leanord and Lisa with her kids were adjusting to their life in Canada; happy that the season of spring had arrived. They had migrated the third week in January when it was freezing and growing up in a tropical country, they were not accustomed to winter. From the airport, Lisa with her children had travelled to her husband parents’ home to live; they had migrated a few years earlier, while mom, dad and Leanord went to live with Rudy, Dolly and their two sons. Dolly had given birth to her second son a few years after she had migrated to Canada.

The plastic kites that had the shape of different types of birds attracted Adam and Sarah’s attention was fixed on the ones that shaped like beautiful barbie dolls. In the shopping area, the pavement was lined with street vendors; all rushing to display their kites. Easter was celebrated in Guyana with the seawalls and all parks, filled with tons of Guyanese flying kites. The sky always seemed filled with thousands of kites; different shapes, different colors. A competition and presentation of gifts was always kept for the biggest, smallest and the most beautiful kite.

Chapter 9

SARAH’S FIRST TRIP TO CANADA

Sarah was five years old when we decided to send her to Canada to visit all the family with my mother-in-law. Seeing that she was an American, she did not need a visa and travelled easily. I remember packing her suitcase with all her pretty clothes, trying to think of everything she would need. It was hard to let go of my daughter a second time but wanted her to go and have fun with the cousins she never met before. Everyone heard she was going up and they all got excited, planning different outings to make her trip memorable. I so badly wanted to send Adam but knew the visa would have been difficult to obtain at his tender age of six.

The sound of my alarm went off, it was already 6:00 a.m., seemed like I had just crept under the mosquito net of my bed a few minutes earlier. It was the morning of Sarah’s flight to Canada. I hurried out of bed and went to shower and get dressed before awaking her. The flight was leaving four hours later but we had to drive for one hour to the airport, then check her and her grandmother into customs three hours earlier than time of departure. Ned had already awoken and was in the kitchen preparing sandwiches to eat while traveling since it was too much rush to sit and eat properly at the dinner table.

Dressing Sarah in the pretty red and black wool dress with matching hat her dad had bought for her when he had travelled back home, I stood back and admired my little princess. The dress was finally fitting her after all these years; even though we were living in a tropical country, he had loved the outfit very much for his daughter and could not resist adding it to his purchases of gifts. It was perfect now to keep her warm in the plane and when she arrived since it was just the beginning of summer and the flight was landing at Pearson International Airport in the evening when it was always a bit chilly.

The five weeks had seemed like five months without Sarah. Finally, the day arrived for her to return and Adam was so excited, he did not want to sleep the previous night; staying up late and making welcome home cards for her. Even though they were one year apart, they were as close as twins and were accustomed to doing everything and going everywhere together. Being such a quiet child, he had wanted to watch his favorite cartoons after school, rather than playing in the yard or going for drives since she had left. My family had often commented how lucky I was to have two children who were so quiet and very well mannerly.

As a welcome home gift, we had purchased a mini version of a doll’s home that opened in half to show the upper and lower floors with all the sections and appropriate furniture. It was the cutest toy I had ever seen and the little kitchen with all its appliances were the best section of the house. Wrapping it up in sheets of gift paper, we left to collect her and her grandma from the airport. Thankfully the weather was sunny, and we drove for an hour, parking in the parking lot and headed up the stairs to the upper level of the airport to watch the plane when it arrived and landed. Seeing her emerge from the plane was important to us and we were all very excited.

Sarah arrived home and was very excited to be back with her family. She had babbled on about her vacation as soon as she entered the car, cuddling up closer to Adam in the back seat. She had so much she wanted to tell him, talking very fast and cutting each sentence in half; too impatient to get it all out. Adam’s face had beamed with joy upon seeing his sister emerge from the plane and he had held on to her arms throughout the drive home. My heart was filled with content and happiness just watching them together; I had opted to sit with them, giving my mother-in-law the comfort of the front seat.

She absolutely loved her big doll set and had so much to tell us of all that she did on her vacation. My father-in-law’s brother felt like a big teddy bear to her, he was very loving and made sure he bought her different types of ice-cream every day. At her tender age of five, those were the memories that stuck to her. She was too young to remember all the sightseeing but totally enjoyed playing with her cousins, especially Sharon’s two daughters who were at that time her youngest cousins and Lisa’s two children who were about the same age as her. She was excited seeing her aunts, uncle and grandparents again and meeting new aunts and uncles

I had already started working at the family business one year after I had returned from living abroad, when Sarah and started nursery school with Adam. Always wanting to keep myself busy, I enrolled in an elementary level sewing class and two weeks driving course; tired of the teachers always complaining of the children’s late arrival to school. They were both attending a private primary school now, which was about twelve blocks away from where we lived. They had both learnt to be very independent, eating by themselves and showering. Sarah being one year younger, I would usually wash her hair and gave her a body scrub every Sunday.

Sundays were always the busiest day for me, since I worked six days per week and living with my in-laws, I made sure I cooked and baked something very special every Sunday. It was also the only day to do laundry where I would soak all the clothes in different tubs like my mom used to do and hand wash; in those days we did not have a washing machine. Having lots of dogs, I would make their home cooked food and store in fridge for two days at a time and every morning would feed them and wash their yard with disinfectant. The decision to attend sewing classes and learn to drive made me feel excited and erased the thought of my life becoming a monotonous rhythm.

It was the morning of the first day of my driving session and I awoke very excited, hurrying to cook and pack the kids lunch kits. After giving them both cereal and milk, I went to awake Ned to drop them to school. I had taken the 7:00 a.m. class since I did not want to become nervous driving in traffic. The bus stopped five blocks away from the school and I walked briskly as not to be late; I had desperately tried to find a driving school with female instructors since Ned was very jealous but there was none. A quick glance at my watched showed that I was three minutes early. That was a good start, I felt confident.

The two weeks passed by with me driving each day with confidence, very proud of myself; I passed with flying colors. It was already the weekend before my sewing classes started and I got busy shopping all the required materials, threads, scissors and everything else that was on the list. I had taken the bus into the town, not trusting my driving skills so quickly to deal with parking in tiny spaces available on the streets. Parking and reversing were the hardest for me while learning to drive.  Monday was just two days away, and I had already planned to drive the children to school.

It was the first day of me driving without an instructor. Ned was still fast asleep and had no idea I was already planning on driving. Rushing to finish with the children’s lunch kits, I showered quickly while they had their breakfast, wanting to leave earlier, so as to be able to drive slowly to the school. Adam and Sarah were very excited their mom was going to drop them to school, both arguing who should sit at the front seat. Opening the back door of the car for them, they hurried in, their faces beaming with excitement. Reversing with care, I drove the entire distance to their school with the hand brakes up…no wonder there were drivers honking!

My sewing class had started and even though it was an elementary stage, at the beginning of the third week, we were already learning to cut patterns of dresses, tops and skirts; looking at my mom sew since I was little had taught me to sew pajamas for the children. Now, it was like a whole world of designs and patterns were circulating in my head. I wanted to be creative and invent styles and experiment on ideas that kept flashing before me. My life was not monotonous any longer, I had lots to do when Ned went out regularly with his friends.

Hopping off the bus at the market, I approached the clothes vendor, choosing two yards of red cotton material and three yards of white material with black dots. Next, I checked for the vendor who sold lots of sparkling stones with the bronze back that hooked to materials. Excited with my purchase, I went home and sewed a beautiful red top, displaying all the colored stones in a perfect design. With the second material purchased, I sewed a skirt with matching top and designed the long piece I had cut, into a frill design at the front of the top. I felt on top of the world, later that evening, I proudly posed for my picture, wearing the red top I was so proud of.

As the years went by, I learnt more about auto spares from working at the family business six days per week and kept myself busy with Adam and Sarah during the afternoons, playing board games or just playing cricket in the yard; both of which they absolutely loved doing. Rob had returned to Guyana for a vacation and stayed with us at my in-laws; it was great spending quality time with him after all the years he had migrated. Due to my live-in domestic jobs abroad, it was not convenient for him to visit me as often as he had wanted to. He was a jovial, kind and loving brother. My in-laws loved him instantly and was so happy to have him stay at their home.

I always aimed at being the best mom and wife and always placed myself last behind my family. They were more important to me than taking notice of my personal life; what I wanted from life, my desires and dreams of what I wanted to become in life.  Rob and Ram had decided to sell us their little white cottage with green trimmings they lived in. It was at an unbelievably low price and dad offered to help us pay for it until we could afford to pay him back a little at a time. We were very excited to finally have our very own home; privately with our children.

We rebuilt the house, adding a front porch for the kids, since there was no yard space at the sides or back for them to play; just a small yard at the front. Added wide big windows for fresh air to circulate, a playroom for the children and dog pens at the back. After one year of fixing and rebuilding, it was time for us to move in and we were super excited. The kids took their time to pack all their toys and books first, having no care in the world about their clothes. It was just about ten blocks away from where we lived at my in-laws, so the kids were familiar with the area and visited the home while it was rebuilding, a few times.

Adam and Sarah loved their new home, they had separate bunk beds in their room and was thrilled decorating it with all their toys. It was an excitement having their own home for the first time. They enjoyed running the curtains through the rod while I climbed up to put it on the hooks and packing the pots and pans in the kitchen cupboards. They felt important deciding which cupboard for which set of pots and packing out their clothes in the wardrobe drawers. Our home was furnished with the antique furniture we brought back from America and it gave the home a cozy and comfortable look.

I remember how excited we were to lay out our first dinner and sit together as a family. We had our privacy and finally, I was able to teach my children the simpler things in life. It was great spending so much quality time with my children; driving them to and from school, taking them for picnics, walks on the weekends and playing board games in the evenings. Ned was hardly ever home since he still spent his days with his friends, mostly playing dominoes all day and Sundays with us. Guess after all the years, I had grown accustomed to not having him around and poured everything into being as close as possible to my children.

Every Saturday night I made fried chicken and fries, the kids’ favorite and watched two movies. The kids were able to stay up late since there was no school the following day. We would borrow videos from the Video Club and have lots of chips and pop. It was their night to sit back, relax and enjoy their movie and dinner. They made sure their homework was completed every Friday night, in order to have the weekend to enjoy. That was also Ned’s night out with his friends and often returned wee hours of Sunday morning.

One day, Sarah came home from school and told me her best friend’s father had drown at a Falls he had taken tourists to and had decided to take a swim. He was the pilot of the small plane that flew the group in to see the various Falls we had in Guyana. I knew the mom well from all the play dates our daughters had and went to the home every night to extend my sympathy and give my support by sitting with the family. On the third day, they found the body and I remembered how I felt, seeing the wife and children crying their hearts out. I came home and was sick all night. After three days of feeling sick, I went to the doctor so sure it was because of all the stress I felt and the heavy emotional turmoil I was going through.

Chapter 10

SURPRISE!

Arriving at the doctor that was within walking distance from my home, she checked my blood pressure and took a urine test. Next day I was told that I was pregnant. I sat staring at her confused, allowing it to sink in. It was the last thing I had expected to hear. Sarah was eight years old now and I had a miscarriage when she was one year old while working hard abroad, not realizing I was pregnant. After the miscarriage, I never got pregnant again and had assumed I would not be able to have any more children. I left the doctor and slowly walked back home; I was going to have another baby!!

As I walked onto the bridge of our home, I felt my heart overwhelmed with so much excitement and happiness. The shock had worn off and reality had kicked in. I felt like dancing or jumping for joy. I couldn’t wait to tell Adam and Sarah, when I brought them home from school and Ned when he came home. I still felt nauseated and decided to drive to the market, purchasing a bunch of coconut and having the vendor fill up the big jug I took with me. Coconut water always settled my stomach.

Picking the kids up from school, I decided to wait until I got home to give them the great news. After showering and having their dinner, they kept watching me, wondering why I looked so excited. I told them to hurry with their homework since I have a surprise; they always loved surprises and completed their homework in a blink of an eye. Sitting beside them on our sofa, I hugged them both and told them they would be having a baby brother or baby sister in a couple of months, by the grace of God. Their little faces beamed with such excitement as they jumped off the sofa, dancing around in circles. I smiled watching them. My two little angels.

Adam insisted it was going to be his little brother, while Sarah insisted it would be her little sister. I remember how hard it was for them not to announce it to the rest of the family right away. Dealing with my third pregnancy was easier. I had my own home and felt relaxed with no stress. I did not experience much morning sickness but had to discontinue cooking curry since I couldn’t bear the scent of it and could not fry chicken or fries for the children any longer. I still managed driving Adam and Sarah to and from school and doing our usual week-end outings.

It was July and we decided to send Adam to Canada for his summer vacation to visit all the family. It was his time now to experience all that Sarah did on her trip. He was extremely excited and was not bothered about travelling all by himself with the Air Hostess taking care of him. We signed the legal document, notifying them on who would be picking him up. Even though I was nervous, I felt safe since he was already nine years old and he did not have to disembark at Trinidad; the only stop in transit. We wanted to be fair to both our children and saved in order to send Adam on his trip.

It was easier packing his suitcase than Sarah’s since he was a very simple child and was not fussy with tons of outfit like his sister. As I sat at the dinner table, writing all that he was allergic to; underlining fish in red ink and making several carbon copies for all the homes he intended to visit, I watched him and his sister chatting away while they had dinner. I was so proud of the bond they shared and was proud of Sarah for not feeling envious or jealous that her brother alone was going on the vacation. It was hard saving and managing expenses.

He left and the home seem dull and quiet. Sarah was not her merry bouncing self any longer. She was accustomed to doing everything with her brother and because they were so close in age, they built a strong bond. I remember trying to cheer her up by taking her out for drives, but she kept talking sadly about missing her brother. Adam on the other hand was having a time of his life with all his cousins he was meeting for the very first time. Everyone had plans for him and he was doing lots of sightseeing and going to Water Parks, Zoo and the Science Center. At his age, he was more able to appreciate and remember all the fun stuff he did.

Seemed like forever, but finally the day arrived for Adam to return and we were all very excited. Sarah’s face was glowing with joy and she was full of excitement when we went to pick him up from the airport. He had so much to tell us. Just looking at his expression, I felt such happiness. I remembered how anxious Sarah was for Adam to open his suitcase so she could receive all the gifts the family sent for her.  My son was back and now my family was complete again. He was happy to be home even though he had a great time, Sarah had him talking through the night, she needed to know all the details. I missed him so much and was very happy to have him back home.

I was experiencing pregnancy again after eight years and it was easier since the first four months had passed. My mother-in-law had hired someone from the countryside as a live-in housekeeper but felt it inconvenient since she did not eat beef which was the favorite meat for them all. After giving the idea some thought, I hired her. She was five years older than I was, very simple and humble. I liked her instantly to be a part of our family since I realized she was very decent and kind. We only cooked beef once per week and it was not a problem for me cooking something different for her. I had always loved cooking and felt the deep satisfaction and happiness when I saw my family enjoying their meals.

The kids fell in love with Sab since she was always spoiling them with constant hugs and kisses and frying extra chicken whenever they felt like it. Sarah always loved to eat her vegetables and fruits while I always had a hard time with Adam eating his. He would have a pitiful expression looking in his plate as though he was being punished. My in-laws had spoilt him, cooking whatever he felt like eating and it was hard for me to make him adjust differently.  They were both very happy to have Aunty Sab in their lives and she became a very good friend to us all.  She was very appreciative of the way I treated her with kindness and love and never once, made her feel like she was a maid.

Adam and Sarah were always excited to feel the movement of the baby. Sometimes felt like a hard kick and other times, like waves upon waves moving across my tummy. They touched my tummy every night and said a prayer for their baby sibling. It was time to start baby shopping, an event that Adam and Sarah was patiently awaiting. I didn’t have much to shop since all the family sent baby clothes and other gifts with Adam, but to the kids, every occasion was an excitement and an outing. They loved planning and doing things with me which made me feel so much loved and appreciated as a mom. I treasured every moment spent with them because in my mind was always the reminder of the early stages in their life that I missed out on and felt that not being there to give them that motherly love was unfair to them both.

For every pregnancy, I had a craving. For Adam it was the craving for cheese curls and Sarah, it was prawns. For this pregnancy I had cravings for Chinese food and fried okra. I had to go at least three times per week to the Chinese restaurant and have my okra the rest of days. For snacks I had to eat something called Sal Sev and had Sab going to the corner shop daily to buy, using it with tons of green mango sauce. There was a saying that the baby would be born with the birth mark of what you craved if it was not satisfied; regardless of it being true or not, Sarah was born with the birth mark the shape of a prawn on her inner wrist when we couldn’t afford to buy prawns to fulfil my cravings while living abroad.

Sab was so happy living with us, she didn’t want to visit her home on weekends and travelled at the end of each month to spend the weekend with her mom, whom she had lived with. In the countryside, she had owned a little grocery shop at the lower level of her mom’s home and would shop groceries at great wholesale prices and take home to her business that her mom was running for her. When she told me, most of the villagers bought on credit, I advised her to open a Savings Account to save a little every month from her salary in case the business went bankrupt.

The children were very attached to Sab and Sarah would normally make beautiful welcome home cards for her when she returned. They would also pick flowers from their grandparents’ home to make a bouquet to put in her room. We were making plans to accompany her when the children’s school closed for their Christmas vacation. They were both very excited since that would have been their first trip to Essequibo, the countryside that was nearly sixty percentage of Guyana. I was very happy and relaxed, Sab was like sister to me; at first, I could not imagine having a stranger live in our home. December was approaching and the children were excited and already started packing their clothes for their trip to Essequibo.

It was the morning of our trip and I hurried out of bed, turning the alarm off. We were travelling with the big boat that was leaving at 5:00 a.m. and had to travel one hour to get to the boat wharf. Even though there were lots of privately-owned speed boats that operated, taking passengers daily to and from Essequibo, I choose the big boat because it was a smooth ride, since I was pregnant. The speed boats normally rode the waves well but at times when it had to go against the waves, it would normally go up high and land down very hard on the river. The big boat took double the time to arrive and mostly passengers using their vehicles to go Essequibo would board it.

Entering the kitchen, I saw that Sab was already preparing sandwiches to take on the trip. She was always trying to do my chores and I always had to remind her that pregnancy was not a sickness and it was healthier for me to always be active. While she made the sandwiches, I hurriedly fried drumsticks to take for our lunch. The boat ride was for almost four hours and I wanted to have breakfast and lunch packed since I didn’t trust buying food from vendors at the wharf and it was too early for any restaurant to be opened for business.

Awakening Ned and the children, I hurriedly packed the sandwiches, fried chicken, a few bottles of water and small boxes of juice in the picnic insulated bag I had. The kids woke up instantly, all excited to head off on their adventure, it was such a great feeling to always see them so happy. After a quick shower, we started packing the car trunk with all our bags and left happily. We were going for two weeks and I was very excited to visit Essequibo after all the years that passed. It held such happy memories of my childhood. My cousins that lived there were happily looking forward to meeting my children and seeing me again.

Chapter 11

ENJOYING ESSEQUIBO

Ned dropped us off at the wharf thirty minutes before departure. After buying the tickets and a bunch of bananas to snack on, we stood on the wharf admiring all the speedboats, while they arrived and departed. The sunrise was like a painted picture, the rays reflecting on the waves as they lap over each other, as though the river was on fire. The big boat was already boarding all vehicles first as the passengers waited in a line. It was called ‘The Malali’, the boat I had always travelled on when I was just a little child. Staring up to the deck, I imagined myself, Lisa and Leanord, standing by the rails looking down to the wharf.

Holding on to Adam and Sarah’s hand, we carefully crossed the wooden plank onto the boat. We all had knapsacks, which made it easier for us, Sab held the lunch bag. Instantly the kids wanted to climb the steep stairs to the top deck, excited to grab great seats before it was all taken. A few minutes later, the boat crew were pulling in the plank onto the boat and it was time for our excited journey to begin. Sab was excited and felt honored we were going to stay at her home and couldn’t wait to introduce us to her mom and neighbors who felt they already knew me from all that she spoke of whenever she visited home.

Our first stop was the island of Leguan, the island where my mom was born. As the boat came closer to the island, we could see all the vegetables, fruits and fish vendors and all the passengers that were waiting to embark. Making sure that the kids were safely seated throughout the journey, I watched their little faces as it beamed in excitement. It brought back such vivid memories of my childhood, when mom couldn’t keep us away from the rails; now being a parent, I knew the fear she must have felt. We always looked towards dad for approval whenever we were determined; he couldn’t resist out pitiful expressions.  After all these years, there were still little boys carrying freshly cooked corn on the cub in their plastic containers, boarding the boat to sell before it was ready to depart. I had always enjoyed their corn but did not trust the sanitation of it now to have my children experience it.

Our next stop was Hog Island, then to Wakenaam, the next island before our last stop; the wharf at Adventure Stelling. The Essequibo river was the largest, found in Guyana and the children had learnt about it in school. I was happy they were experiencing different parts of Guyana for the first time. The stop at Hog Island was brief since there was no disembarking and only a few embarked. It was not such a busy wharf and we were already off, on our way to Wakenaam. As the boat approached the island, we saw all the speedboats lined across the side of the wharf, offloading passengers. There were more vendors than the previous two islands and lots of passengers waiting to embark.

The children had eaten their cheese sandwiches earlier and was now enjoying their chicken drumsticks, chatting away excitedly. They loved whenever the speedboats passed and would wave back happily to all the passengers who would normally be waving; they were not accustomed to seeing people so friendly in the city. They anxiously looked out for speedboats also to admire the huge waves it caused and the long line of waves it left behind. When the boat sailed closer to the shore, they also witnessed beautiful seaweeds that floated and the mangroves that grew thickly along the coastline, preventing erosion from waves and storms with their tangled root systems while trapping sediments originating from land.

Ahead, we saw the wharf of Adventure Stelling looking like a tiny spot in the distance. Making sure everything was packed away. I sat in the middle of Adam and Sarah, hugging them both, admiring the open sea and the beauty of nature. Throughout the journey they were too excited to have me sit between them while they were busy sightseeing. Sab always admired how well mannerly they both were and often told me how lucky I was to have such beautiful children. Even though she knew Ned was hardly ever home, not once did she comment on it and always kept her opinions to herself.

We were approaching Adventure wharf and all the passengers on the upper level were already heading down the steep stairs. The boat was packed with vehicles and passengers and we were content to sit on the deck until all the vehicles and most of the passengers disembarked. Holding Adam and Sarah’s hands, we all walked across the deck when the boat finally anchored. The wharf was the biggest of the three and the busiest. Sailors and tons of taxi drivers, waiting like sharks to grab their passengers first. The vendors were shouting out what fruits they had selling, while the planks were being placed and vehicles started disembarking. Everyone seemed to be talking at the same time and there were lots of excitement and confusion. The kids were mesmerized by it all.

As the last vehicle disembarked, we placed our knapsacks on our back and started to slowly climb down the stairs. Tons of people were already crossing the planks, hurrying to get a taxi or bus in time. Sab had arranged for a villager to collect us with his taxi, so we were in no rush. She had informed him to pick us up thirty minutes after we arrived, knowing there were always confusion; pushing and tugging when the boat landed. Finally crossing the plank with Adam and Sarah safely beside me, we walked toward the villager that was waving to Sab. Packing all our knapsacks in the trunk, we hurriedly sat in the back seat, while Sab sat in front, busy introducing us and chatting away.

Golden Fleece, the village where Sab lived, was just six village away from Adventure and was about twenty minutes by car. The children were already admiring the vast spread of rice fields and the beautiful flowers that were splashed across the entire front yard of most homes. There were small cottages with big land space around every home, unlike the city, where all the houses were closer with just a few feet between fences. As we approached Golden Fleece, the driver turned off the main street into a very narrow road, which had houses lined on both sides that were closer than on the main street. Noticing the hill of rice husk all heaped up, I realized Sab was living next to a rice factory. The brown covering of the rice after it was shelled, which was called the husk, was used as fuel in boilers for processing of the paddy; the rice before it was shelled.

Driving around the last curve of the road, the rice factory came in sight with a Hindu Temple a few buildings away, on the other side. I was so caught up in absorbing the village, I did not realize the taxi had stopped. Sab’s home was opposite the Hindu Temple. After paying the taxi driver, I hurried out of the car behind Adam and Sarah, who were out like lightening. It was a beautiful simple little cottage with windows that lined the entire front of the upper flat. It had a front step that led to a cute little verandah. The lower level was open out with the big concrete posts showing at every corner and middle. Her little grocery shop took up less than half of the space with two hammocks that hung from one post to another. There was also a tiny little kitchen at a small section under a step that was leading up to the back door of the upper level.

Sab’s mom was hurrying towards us from the huge back yard they had with tons of fruit trees. Hugging me close as though she knew me for years, she kept thanking me for being so kind to her daughter. Giving both Adam and Sarah hugs, she was hurrying towards the fireside where she had fresh vegetables cooking. Sab hurriedly took us upstairs to unpack and change into comfortable clothes. The kids were already in heaven since they were first welcome by the parrot, the cat and then the dog. They could not wait to see the chickens and ducks in the backyard and the cows, sheep and goats when they returned from the pasture.

Pulling on a comfortable house dress, I unpacked the rest of my clothes as I proudly watched Adam and Sarah, unpacking neatly and dressing in their shorts and t-shirts. There were two rooms, the mom slept in the front room and the second room had two twin size beds with mosquito nets and new sheets on one of the beds. We were being treated like royalty, just by the kindness they extended. Heading back down the steps, the smell of hot rice, dhal and okra with shrimp filled the air. Smiling at Sab, I realized she must have told her mom about my craving. Her mom was petite just like me with curly hair to her shoulders. She had beautiful brown eyes that showed such kindness. I felt comfortable and at home instantly.

Unlike Sarah, Adam took his dhal and rice with just a drizzle of okra. I suddenly felt as though I was starving. Taking a small bowl size of rice, I filled my deep plate with the hot dhal and tons of okra like Sarah. It must have been the freshly picked okra or it being cooked on fireside, whatever the reason, it was the best tasted fried okra I had ever tasted. I was so excited the pot was filled with it and was happy when Sab placed the rest in the fridge for me to use the next day. I had bought a basket of groceries for her mom and she was busy packing it away in her little kitchen, still complaining that I didn’t need to buy her anything.

The kids hurriedly finished their lunch and went off into the backyard to see all the chickens and ducks. The pens were not very far from the house and the land space was so big, it was impossible to see the back fence. The fruit trees were all extremely big, which made the yard very cool with its large branches. There were about six mango trees all loaded with green and ripe mangoes, dozens of coconut trees with bunches of coconuts, genip trees, sapodilla trees, cashew trees, guava trees and lot of banana and plantain trees. It was the first time I had ever seen so many fruit trees in one backyard. I thought of mom instantly and knew she would have felt in heaven spending vacation in a place like this.

Glancing at the children, I noticed their little faces, beaming with excitement. They both had a little yellow chick in their hands, holding it very tenderly and rubbing its head. I knew instantly it was the beginning of a fantastic vacation for them. Feeling slightly drained from the travelling, I told Sab to always keep an eye on them and went to lay in the hammock to take a nap. I could feel the fresh air of the ocean as it passed through my hair and played on my cheeks. The rustling of all the leaves and the sounds of the chickens and ducks in the far distance, mixed with the slight rocking motion of the hammock, quickly caused me to drift off into a deep sleep.

At the sound of Adam and Sarah’s voices, my eye lids slowly lifted. For a moment, I was in total confusion, trying to figure out where I was; the ceiling seemed as though I could reach out and touch it. Sitting upright, I realized I must have slept longer than I intended. The kids had baskets filled with all types of fruits, their faces flushed with excitement as though they had won an award. They were both hurrying to show me all they had picked and asking permission to go with Sab to collect the sheep and goats from the pasture, then return for the cows.

I had always trusted Sab with my children and knew they would be safe. I watched as they drank their freshly made lemonade and eat their fruit salad Sab had made, knowing they felt the same happiness I felt on every childhood vacation I had in the countryside. This was their time to enjoy it all and I was not going to stand in their way. It was the Christmas season and Sab told them of the masquerade that passed through the village every night, they couldn’t wait to be back in time to shower, have dinner and wait on the masquerade.

After they left, I finished my fruit salad and lemonade, then went into the kitchen to prepare dinner. Sab had warned me to relax and not to lift a finger; she couldn’t stop fussing over me, no matter how hard I tried. Knowing we still had dhal and fried okra in the fridge, I kneaded dough to make roti later when they returned. Putting on a pot of water on the tiny stove in the corner, I placed a couple of tea bags for it to boil properly. I had made sure I purchased extra groceries to last for the time we were there. Sab’s mom had gone over to all the neighbors to announce our arrival and I was expecting them to drop in at one point or another.

The washroom was in the backyard, collecting my towel and clothes, I decided to shower before the children returned since there was only one bathroom and one toilet. There were no lights inside and we had to shower before the place got dark. The walls of the washroom did not go all the way to the ceiling, allowing sunlight to enter. Keeping my flip flops on, I entered and took a long shower. The water was different, seemed like the water from the ocean. I was accustomed to the tiny washroom in the countryside and already knew what to expect, planning not to wash my hair until I returned home and to make sure the kids use the washroom before they went to bed.

A couple of sheep and goats were entering the gate with Sab, Adam and Sarah, trailing behind. They were so beautiful. I had always love farm animals, especially the lamb with its pure white furry coat. Sab did not have any lamb but the children were excited about all the sheep and goats they had heard stories of for so long, especially about the sheep that was called Lamo, the cat that was called Kato and the dog that was called Brownie. Quickly entering the kitchen, I lit the stove to boil the tea and started cooking the roti. The kids had to cool off their body temperature before bathing with the very cold bucket of water and I was hurrying before Sab saw me cooking and raided me out of the kitchen.

We had all eaten dinner after the children had showered and dressed in their pajamas and it was time to decorate the little Christmas tree and hang decorations and fairy lights along all the windows at the front. Sab took out the tree from the box and as she evenly spread out all the branches, the kids excitedly delved into the box with decorations. This was their first experience since we were Muslims. We sat back and allowed the children to take full advantage of decorating the tree. They were so proud of their effort when it was done. As the fairy lights and other decorations were being hung from the ceiling and around the windows, the sound of the masquerade, could be heard in the far distance.

Chapter 12

THE MASQUERADE

We all rushed out to the verandah to see the approaching masquerade. The road was already lined with villagers and everyone was laughing, clapping and throwing coins for the little boys who were dressed in colorful costumes. They danced around in circles until their fingers could pick up each coin. Behind them came ‘Mother Sally’ as tall as nine feet high, her colorful dress flowing in the wind as her stick legs danced down the street. Everyone loved Mother Sally but was afraid of the ‘Bull Cow.’ Even though I was no longer a little girl, my body tensed, waiting and still feeling a bit nervous of when Bull Cow would appear.

The crowd was moving back quickly as Bull Cow came into vision. His body swaying swiftly into every direction; it was a man standing in the middle of a vicious black bull frame. It always made the hair on my hands stand straight and this night was no different. As I felt a small shudder run through my body, I moved closer to the door, still afraid of when the man would turn the bull’s eyes up towards me.  Unlike me, Adam and Sarah were ready to run down the stairs to the gate; no fear, only pure excitement. All the villagers could be heard talking in deep creole language, laughing and clapping their hands, showing their satisfaction of the parade and an encouragement to the dancers for a job well done.

As the sound of the masquerade faded away into the distance, we stood admiring the colorful lights that lined all ten windows we had decorated. The night seemed magical, with thousands of stars peeping out of the sky, the breeze dancing on our cheeks and ruffling our hair, as the sounds of the leaves whispered to each other. Looking across to Adam and Sarah, I smiled in satisfaction; their faces were alighted with so much happiness as they sat on the stairs, chatting away. Sarah always spoke very fast and would normally cut her sentences in half, as though impatient to make a point.  I felt happy that my children were now experiencing how I felt in my childhood.

The following day, I decided to take my first walk around the village. Because the weather was very hot, I opted for an evening walk. The kids were up early as usual, happily performing their daily chores with Sab; feeding chickens and ducks, the dog, cat and parrot and taking the goats, sheep and cows to graze in the pasture. After having their lunch, they had played cards game with Sab while I took a nap in the hammock, before my walk. Somehow, the sun always seemed hotter in the countryside, maybe because it was all white sand everywhere which seemed to disperse more heat.

Our walk took longer than I imagined with every neighbor calling out to us and Sab happily taking us in to introduce us, as her boss with her children, ignoring the constant tug she got, reminding her to say I was her friend visiting.  They were all extremely friendly and genuinely kind. It seemed that everyone in the village knew Sab, from the oldest person to the youngest child. Turning through a trail, we came upon a long canal with tiny cottages, each had a large plank of wood from their home crossing the canal like a bridge. Children were swimming and bathing in the canal while their moms were sitting on the planks, their feet dangling in the canal, chatting with each other.

Looking past the canal, the pasture came into view, a vast array of rich green grass that seemed like it had no end. The sun was beginning to set, its orange rays settling on the pasture with birds chirping and flying around in groups. I thought of the tiny homes and the very poor families having the simplest life possible, depending on the canal to bathe and wash their clothes and their vegetable garden to cook their meals, while their husbands toiled in the rice fields. In my heart, they were the wealthiest, waking up each morning to nature’s beauty and having a life so content and fulfilled, never yearning for luxury of different brands of clothes or cars.

I had always wanted my children to be humble, simple and kind and tried my best, not to expose them to luxury that would cause them to become caught up in things that held no meaning in life. I was always afraid of living in the city and the pier pressure they would be exposed to at the private school they attended. Thinking back, I wondered if that was the reason for our yearly vacation in the countryside from early childhood. To experience life of those less fortunate, yet the happiest possible people who seemed to always have something to offer whenever anyone dropped in. Their homes and families were truly blessed.

It was Christmas Eve, and everyone was taking turns in the locked room to wrap their hidden gifts and place under the Christmas tree. The children were dancing with excitement; they always loved the surprise of gifts and unwrapping it. After Sab and the kids finished their usual daily chores, we ate lunch then took a taxi to Anna Regina Market; known to be the busiest shopping area. Purchasing imported grapes, apples and a big bar  Cadbury chocolate for Sab’s mom’s gift, I kept a close eye on Adam and Sarah, who were visiting every vendor admiring the wide display of battery operated toys, each one lighted and performing to attract the attention of every child present.

The crowd and the heat were too much for me and I was happy when they all decided on ice cream cone then taking a taxi back home. Quickly paying the taxi driver, I hurried towards the hammock. I couldn’t figure out how Adam and Sab were in the hot sun the entire day and did not complain. Sarah didn’t like being in the sun and always choose to help when it was time to bring the animals back from the pasture in the evening. During the morning hours, while Sab and Adam were out, she often played with the cat and the parrot and went to see the chickens and ducks in the backyard.

As usual, the kids were all set and ready to view the masquerade that passed every night. Because it was Christmas Eve, the village seemed busy, the scent of cake, pepperpot and fresh homemade bread, floated in the air. Traditionally, Guyanese would eat pepperpot every Christmas morning. It was an Amerindian dish which was made of cassava casereep, sugar, hot pepper, cinnamon sticks, cloves salt and meat. Everyone loved eating it with fresh homemade bread just out of the oven and would normally be their breakfast for the rest of the week after Christmas.

It was a sight to be remembered. Tons of fireworks, all beautiful and colorful, unlike the ones I hated that sounded like gun shots. Some of the fireworks, the children made with steel wool hooked on a long piece of metal, which after lit, would have the effect of a huge ball of fire when swung in circles, hitting the road as it came down. It was beautiful but dangerous if the sparks landed on anyone’s curtain. After the display of fireworks, came the masquerade then more fireworks. Adam and Sarah were having a time of their life, while my baby was moving around in my womb, caressing my tummy, I looked across at Adam and Sarah, telling them that the baby was missing out big time.

It was Christmas morning and we all sat on the floor, around the little Christmas tree, except Sab’s mom who was sitting on the nearby sofa, looking at us in total amusement. She had not experienced this excitement for years, since most of her children married and moved away. We were all giving each other their gifts with big hugs. Even though I had given Sab’s mom the fruits she had preferred as a gift a few days earlier, I pulled a specially wrapped gift from under the tree for her. She reminded me of my mom whom I missed so much. It was a beautiful house dress with matching bedroom slippers.

After our delicious pepper-pot and homemade bread, we relaxed in the hammocks and on the wooden benches, it was a very quiet and peaceful day. Sab’s mom was in the backyard bringing the biggest duck to cook duck curry on the fireside. We distracted Adam and Sarah by playing games of cards, knowing they would refuse to eat the duck they admired and played with daily. Lying in the hammock and looking up at the low wooden ceiling; which was the floor of the upper flat and at the different colors of hibiscus flowers and yellow buttercups that hung thickly by the gate, I remembered my uncle’s home. I had visited them the previous week and they had all fussed over us, making sure we ate lunch then dinner before leaving which was only possible after promising to spend Boxing Day with them all.

The shed of the fireside was at the right side of the front yard. It was a huge shed with the fireside at one corner and long wooden benches lining the two sides. The roof was thatched with branches of the palm and coconut trees, the sides coming all the way down to almost four feet from the ground, giving it a cool and cozy atmosphere. The two open sides where the fireplace and the entrance were, allowed all the breeze and sunlight to pass through. On the side beams were large nails where the pots and pans specially used for cooking on the fireside were hung and smaller nails for the different sizes of pot spoons used. A wooden shelf at hung and the side, had glass jars with all different seasonings and salt and big handmade rug, made of tiny pieces of different fabrics pulled through the jute material, was spread out on the hard mud floor.

Sab’s mom was busy cooking the duck curry, dhal and rice on the fireside while Adam and Sarah went into the backyard to feed the animals. They always brought mangoes and coconuts when they returned, filling the large jug with coconut water and ice every day. They loved eating the green mangoes with salt, pepper and a touch of vinegar, always ignoring the ripe ones. They had two more days before heading back home and wanted to spend every moment with all the farm animals. After a delicious lunch and long nap in the hammock, I picked up all the clothes from the line I had hung earlier after handwashing them with the clear water that filled the barrel whenever the rain fell. I needed to have everything organized and packed for when we were ready to leave. Leaving out the children pajamas and clothes to travel, I pulled the zipper of their knapsack close.  Suddenly, I had a craving for a slice of fruit cake with a glass of cold milk, the children had gone off with Sab to bring in back the animals from the pasture.

It was Boxing Day, another national holiday in Guyana like Christmas Day. After a quick shower and breakfast, we all took a taxi to Affiance, the village where dad’s youngest brother lived with his children and grandchildren. My uncle was very simple and humble like dad and I had not seen him for so many years. On our previous visit, we had visited his daughter’s home, since he was at work as a security guard for the Affiance School. As the taxi approached his home, I felt a sense of extreme excitement. Stepping out of the taxi, I stood there gazing at the home that held so many memories for me. As though it was just yesterday, everything seemed the same. The wide array of colorful hibiscus sprayed across the entire front yard and the plank was still covering the trench at the front, the only difference being, the lower level was now boxed around, with windows and a front door.

Adam and Sarah were both excited to meet the uncle I had always talked about, they were busy crossing the plank ahead of me, now being experts and crossing without fear. Walking slowly across the plank, I looked down at the trench I was so afraid of in the past, always imagining an alligator would appear to grab my feet. Adam and Sarah had already reached the shed with the fireside that was at the back of the house and Uncle Albert was hugging them, tears in his eyes. As he looked up at me, I felt a heavy pang of emotion; he was the image of dad but looked much older since he had worked hard in the rice fields for years. I hugged him closely, feeling as though I had my arms around my dad.

All my cousins came over with their children and the day was filled with joy and laughter from the tales of our childhood adventures, which the children couldn’t get enough of. I felt happy and blessed surrounded by my loving family, whom were all very simple and humble. There was no envy, jealousy or backbiting, just pure love and extreme kindness. After a heavy lunch of chicken curry with dhal and rice, we all went over to the sea wall that was just across the street. It was low tide and we climbed over the wall and down to the brown sand that was smooth as silk from the previous high tide. Tons of seashells were visible, reminding me of the days when I raced with Leanord and Lisa to get the most amount of best shaped seashells, always leaving the flat ones for last.

After pleasing my cousins by accompanying them back to their homes and accepting a little snack, it was time to take the taxi back to Golden Fleece. The Malali was leaving Adventure wharf 5:00 a.m. the following morning and we had to make sure we were showered and packed, ready for the taxi that was expected thirty minutes earlier. It was a beautiful Christmas vacation and both kids did fun stuff every day. They were ready now to write all about it in their usual short story assignment given to them after every vacation, by their English teacher. Realizing Sab’s mom was already in bed, we quietly dropped our mosquito nets and crawled into bed. Sab was busy in her grocery shop, doing her accounting and making sure her records were updated on the villagers who took goods on credit the day before Christmas. She was so kind and friendly, no one seemed to buy cash, only the little children who came all day to buy sweets and small drinks.

Ned had picked us up from the Parika Stelling where the Malali had docked about four hours after departure. Looking back, I realized we were just living like friends and therefore easy for me to choose spending the Christmas holidays with Sab and her mom instead of home. Parika Market was extremely busy with lots of vendors selling from vegetables, to clothing and household items. Because it was the Christmas season, there were still tons of children toys and other gift packages made out by the vendors. Most of the gifts on display, were tiny teddy bears placed in a beautiful cup with a little bottle of perfume and body spray for women, and for men, cologne and deodorant was added. After purchasing different types of fresh vegetables from the Parika Market, it was then time to drive home.

Even though we had a great time, it felt like heaven when the car turned onto the bridge of our home, as the saying goes ‘there is no place like home.’ Ned was hurrying ahead of us with the heavy bag of fruits we brought from Sab’s back yard, as I slowly climbed the stairs feeling very drained.  Noticing candles lit at the dining table, I stepped closer and to my surprise, kept staring at the feast that was displayed, with different types of delicious food. Ned stood smiling in satisfaction at my reaction. I felt something tugging at my heart, other than the side of him I was so afraid of, he had a heart of gold. He had the home spotlessly clean and all the pots and pans already washed and packed away. This was his way of showing love to welcome his family back home.

Chapter 13

MY EARLY VALENTINE

It was Friday, February 12, 1999, the day of my last clinic appointment before the baby’s birth. Entering the doctor’s office, I smiled as she teased about my Valentine’s baby. After the usual examination of my tummy, she realized that the baby had dropped a little lower and laughingly announced to her secretary that this baby was indeed waiting for Valentine’s Day. Happy about reaching very early and already finishing with the doctor, I drove home to start on lunch before it was time to pick up the children from school. After cooking the fish curry, I was craving for, I washed all the dishes and packed them away quickly before Sab, who was busy handwashing the clothes in the yard, came up to offer her help. Hearing footsteps, I glanced up at Ned, pleased to surprise him with my early return, but totally forgetting I had not cooked food for the dogs.

Trying my best to fight away the tears that was welding up in my eyes, I took longer than usual to get the pot from the cupboard. Looking up, I realized he had already stormed down the stairs, as a cold chill and a sense of helplessness overtook my body.  Throughout my marriage, I longed for admiration and appreciation and I guess that was the force behind me always working very hard and being very independent in doing everything for myself and my children. I no longer felt hungry and went to lay on the sofa, closing my eyes and thinking what else I could possibly do to have my husband proud of me. Suddenly I felt the strong pressure of my womb pushing down, hugging my tummy, I prayed silently “please God, protect me and my baby with a safe delivery, I cannot die with the last image of my husband angry with me.”

In those days, there were no cell phones in Guyana and even though the application had long been submitted to the telephone company for a landline, we were still on the waiting list. I could hear Sab in the kitchen washing the dishes as I closed my eyes and timed the contractions. As I sensed a shadow over my face, I slowly opened my eyes to see Sab. She was as white as a ghost, her fingers shaking as she shook her head from side to side, “please, it is not time, wait on Uncle Ned to return,” she pleaded nervously. Aware that she had witnessed the last contraction, I held her hands and looked into the kindest most loving eyes, reassuring her that the baby was now ready to enter the world and I had stay strong. After reassuring her I could be left alone, she ran across to the nearby shop to borrow the telephone to call my in-laws.

After a quick shower, I pulled on my favorite black and white polka dot sleeveless pregnant dress, that was sleeveless and knee length; thankfully, my hair was cut pixie style which always saved me from combing it. After dabbing a bit of powder on my face, I hurriedly sat on the sofa, as the timing of the contractions got closer and much more intense. I could hear Sab breathing heavily as she ran up the stairs and to the sofa, looking as though she was about to faint. She had become such a close friend and I knew Adam and Sarah would be well taken care of while I was in the hospital. She had already collected the hospital bag I had packed from my room and started packing snacks, water and juice in another. Smiling, I knew she remembered me telling her how hungry I was after delivering Adam and then Sarah.

Sab had left the side door open and I looked up in surprise as Ned’s two cousins, Annie and Des, came running up the stairs. They were both visiting from United States of America and were presently supposed to be visiting Suriname for a few days. Des approached calmly as I hurriedly got up from the sofa, Annie, on the other hand, was ‘a basket of nerves.’ Taking deep breaths and holding my hands as though I was about to break, she escorted me to my father-in-law’s car, holding the door open and making sure I was comfortable. Glancing up, I was about to greet my father-in-law, when I noticed his hair was dripping wet and there was soap on his neck and face. Confirming my belief, he had rushed out of the shower when Sab called.

At that moment, I felt so much loved and pampered. I was so afraid of him when I got married since he was always very serious then grew to love him so much as I loved my own father. I respected his humbleness, simple way of life and kindness to all around him.  Annie was confusing him with her loud, excited voice, directing him every step of the way on how fast to drive. Guess they were all forgetting it was my third pregnancy. The contractions were beginning, as I clutched Annie’s hands, I felt her froze and became suddenly quiet. We were finally approaching the hospital and I was happy since the contractions were much closer and extremely painful. After correcting the nurse that I was the one experiencing labor pain and not Anne, she pulled out my chart and directed me to the pregnancy ward.

Three hours later, my beautiful baby was born. To my surprise it was a boy!  The ultrasound reading that had shown I was expecting a daughter and both Ned and Adam had refused to believe it was not a baby boy that was kicking so hard and moving all day in my womb.  It was my quickest and least painful delivery and the nurse was already returning my baby, to place him beside me as they wheeled me out of the labor room. His little face turned towards me instantly as he clutched my little finger. I prayed silently, thanking God for another beautiful, healthy and perfect baby. Glancing up, I saw Ned’s face light up with happiness as I heard the doctor teasing him that he had indeed gotten his son.

As the nurse wheeled me into the ward, I looked up smiling at the three mothers who were all congratulating me. Slowly shifting my body over to the bed, I made myself comfortable so that my baby could lay nestled against my breast. Glancing at my baby’s tiny finger wrapped around mine, I felt a sense of protectiveness, I was determined not to make any more sacrifices and enjoy his every stage. Tracing my fingers along his soft cheeks, I thought of how excited Adam and Sarah would be with their little brother. I watched as Ned hurried into the room, finally being able to get away from the doctor and her teasing. He was all smiles as he leaned over the bed, looking at his beautiful son and informing me that I had won the battle of name choices.

Visiting hour was approaching and the nurse had collected all the babies to take to the nursery. Sitting up slowing in bed, I sipped a glass of the coconut water Ned had brought, wiping my face with the little rag and running my fingers through my hair. As I suspected, the first ones through the door was Adam and Sarah, their little faces, beaming with happiness as they hurried across to my bed. Hugging them both, I smiled as Adam teased us, that him and his dad had been right all along, while Sarah was consoling herself by saying the next baby would be her sister and she was very happy to have another brother. As Ned entered the ward, they both followed him to the window of the nursery to see their brother for the first time.

Laying back, I thought of ten years earlier when I had delivered Adam in the same hospital and glanced over to the bed closer to the door that was mine then. It was amazing that the curtains were the same and the beds arranged in the same order. A few of the older nurses who were still on staff, constantly checked to see if I needed anything. All the nurses were friendly and so were the other mothers in the ward. I still longed to return home though and glanced out of the window close to my bed. It was already after 6:00 p.m. and the sun was setting, casting golden sparks between the branches of the trees that was in the hospital compound.

It seemed like forever but two days later, I was on my way home with my beautiful baby. As Ned approached our home, I could see Sab, Adam and Sarah on the verandah, screaming with excitement when they noticed our car, hurrying to rush back into the home to open the door for us. As the car turned onto the bridge, I could see them opening the gate and hurrying towards my car door. Sab smiled, collecting baby Riyad from my arms, holding him so tender as though he would break. Adam and Sarah hovering on each side of her, touching their baby brother and peeking at his face. Smiling, I slowly got out from the car, realizing they had totally forgotten their mom.

I was happy to be home. Sab had kept it spotlessly clean and Ned had already prepared lunch. He was busy unpacking the car since the children were too busy with their brother to help. Stepping into my room, tears flickered down my cheeks, as I saw Adam and Sarah lying beside baby Riyad; his little fingers clutching theirs. There was so much love and admiration in their expression as they hovered over him. I was blessed with three beautiful children and so thankful to God. Sab was already serving me a cup of porridge, informing me that I had to build up my body after delivering a baby. She was like my mom, always fussing over me. Giving her a big hug, I thanked her for being such a wonderful person and taking such good care of my home and children.

After a long shower and pulling on a pretty white dress with tiny red roses, we all sat down for our Valentine’s lunch with Riyad in his blue cradle Annie had bought for him. Ned had placed a huge bouquet of red roses in a silver pot at the head of the stairs to surprise me when I reached the top of the stairs. The home instantly had the scent of a baby and the children’s eyes were glue to him as they hurriedly finished their lunch. I had missed them both when I was in the hospital and thought of how blessed I was to have three healthy children; they were my valentine’s gift.

Riyad was already nine days old and my in-laws were hosting a prayer function for him. Adam and Sarah were constantly stuck to him, playing with his fingers and toes and helping to brush his hair after his daily baths. Even though they missed his morning baths when they left for school, they were both satisfied and happy to be in attendance when I was ready to bathe him in the afternoon. Sarah usually decided what he would wear and would take pride in laying out his clothes, powder, lotion, pampers and hairbrush on the bed next to his changing pad, with Adam always by her side.

After dressing Riyad in his cutest outfit, we left for the function. Everyone was excited to see the baby and the children were proud to show him off. Jane, Justin, a few close friends of my mother-in-law and neighbors were invited. The sofas were placed against the side of the walls and white sheets were spread out on the floor for everyone to sit, as was customary. A few imams came and read verses from the Quran, said a prayer for Riyad, then it was time to eat the beef curry, chicken curry, dhal, rice and dhalpuri. The curries were cooked on the fireside at the side of the house and always tasted the best when cooked that way. Not being able to eat curry for nine months, I ate a small portion of everything that was being served. Having to breast feed the baby regularly made my normally small appetite boost. Adam, Sarah and Justin were sitting together, eating their dhal, rice and chicken curry, neither wanting the dhalpuri.

Mittai, vermicelli and cakes were shared as desserts with parcels of them, wrapped in wax paper for everyone to take home when leaving. The imams left and everyone came and surrounded Jane, who was holding Riyad, complementing me on my beautiful baby and taking turns at holding him. Sarah was glued to their elbows ensuring they were holding her brother properly. I was so proud of how responsible, mature and well mannerly both Adam and Sarah were, they did not run around and make noises like children their age would normally do. Suddenly feeling drained and tired, I was ready to return home. Sab had left to visit her nephews and nieces for the day and would have already returned.

After giving Riyad a quick warm bath and breast feeding him, I started prepping for the children’s lunch kit. Adam and Sarah were happily rocking his cradle while he dozed off and Sab, excitedly exploring her bag of goodies. I always made sure I cooked fresh food for the children to take to lunch instead of opting for sandwiches and packet snacks. I either baked pizza, kneading the dough to rise from the night before, fried breaded chicken breasts in nugget sizes, drumsticks with homemade fries or baked homemade macaroni and cheese, always making sure I packed extra for their friends who normally would crave for a taste.

It was Monday morning, after having their cereal and milk and making their beds, they were off to school. Being one year apart in age, Adam was always a class ahead of Sarah. Smiling and waving goodbye, I watched their little faces peeping out the car window until it turned the corner. They were both so loving, kind, humble and well mannerly and I felt such pride. It was time for Riyad’s morning massage and bath before starting on lunch. Sab was already washing the yard as was normally done every morning after the dogs were fed and locked away in their kennels. They were trained to be guard dogs and were fierce with strangers. Sab was extremely afraid of them and always made sure she went outdoors after the children left for school, since we never took chances of them being around the children.

Even though I had posted pics of Riyad for mom and dad, I wished they were able to hold him. They had both visited the previous month, one week after we had returned from our Essequibo trip. Severe winter conditions were expected in Canada for the month of February and they had opted to travel one month earlier. They had loved our home and were comfortable in Sab’s room which we had prepared with new sheets and curtains to match and a fresh bouquet of flowers. They loved Sab instantly and apologized to her for making her move to the children’s room, after thanking her endlessly for being so kind to their daughter and grandchildren. Both Adam and Sarah were super excited to have their grandparents visit, even though they were a bit shy. I had enjoyed spending quality time with them, taking them wherever they needed to visit and cooking whatever they desired.

Quickly preparing Riyad’s bath, I massaged his little body with fresh coconut oil, just as I had seen mom do when I was a little girl. After a quick bath and dressing him in his cloth diaper and a vest, I breast fed him and cuddled him until he fell asleep. Because of the different types of curry and the dhal I had in the fridge from the day before, I opted for just frying ochra and shrimp to be used on the side, since I always wanted the children to have their vegetables and kneaded dough to cook roti later in the evening. Since moving, I felt calm, happy and contented. I had my own space to cook whatever I wanted to and to spend more quality time with my children. Even though we had moved, I always made sure they visited their grandparents and uncle every Sunday and always took whatever we baked or cooked.

Chapter 14

OUR HOME

The months were flying by and Riyad was already six months old. School was closed for the summer vacation and not having much choices in Guyana to entertain children with for their summer vacations, they had to be contented to just going for picnics in the park, visiting the zoo, the sea walls, Jane, Justin and Andy and going for long drives. Jane had remarried a few years earlier and she was living two blocks away from Adam and Sarah’s school which Justin also attended. We were expecting Leanord to arrive in Guyana and was busy preparing Sab’s room again with both Adam and Sarah at our sides, bubbling with excitement. They both loved family and always got excited when someone visited.

Leanord arrived and we all visited Jane since he was staying at her for the first week. Even though he had visited a few times before, it was always a pleasure seeing my little brother again. It was a day filled with laughter as we talked about our happy memories together. Jane had cooked her special cook-up rice with chicken and made garden salad. Jane took over Riyad as soon as I arrived as usual with Leanord hovering over her and taking non-stop pictures. Riyad was now known as the ‘Gerber” baby with his cute face, long eye lashes and beautiful smile. He had soft curls and was a little chubby in weight; Sarah and Adam were both comfortable now with lifting him and did so as soon as he awoke from his daily naps. Glancing at them in the corner of the living room with Justin, playing board games; I noticed their little faces filled with happiness, always very excited to be with their cousin.

Having our own home for the first time, I was able to pamper my little brother and enjoy his first stay with us. The children got a chance to bond with their uncle and he got all the time needed with Riyad, not having Jane around to share. Even though he spent all his evenings and nights with his friends, during the day, we spent quality time having lunch together, talking and laughing. I was constantly being teased about not allowing Riyad to lay in his cradle and play, since I was always holding him, either cuddling or waltzing to oldies; my regular way of putting him to sleep.

The week went by quickly and it was time to prep for the beginning of the new school term the following week. Leanord had left and the home seemed quiet without him always chatting, laughing and playing his Mob Marley music. I had accumulated magazine pages and old calendar pages for Adam and Sarah to paper their books for school, as was the rule of the schools in Guyana. I had already collected their new school clothes from the seamstress and had already ironed and hung them in their closets. As always, Sarah took pride in papering her and Adam’s books since he never liked doing it. She chose all the colorful pages, while he chose all the pages with animals and buildings, not wanting anything pretty on his books.

Opening my eyes to the beautiful sunrise glow that flickered through our open bedroom window on Monday, September 6th,1999, I placed pillows all along the end of the bed, tucking the mosquito net under the mattress and slowly climbed out of bed. It was the first day of school and I wanted to be early for the children to have seats nearer to the front of the classroom instead of the back. Smiling to myself, I thought of my childhood days when I was always placed at the front row even though I so badly wanted to hide at the back, away from the teachers’ constant glances into my books. Adam was just like me, always preferring the back, while Sarah was excited to sit up front.

The dough for the pizza had risen to the top of the bowl, dusting flour on the countertop, I rolled it round and took out everything I had prepped from the night before. Adam never liked anything other than cheese on his pizza, half was dressed in cheese alone while the other half was drizzled with thinly grated carrots and finely chopped sweet peppers of different colors. Pizza was always their favorite and I wanted to give them something special for their first day. As always, I was just as excited as they were. Placing the pizza in the oven, I hurriedly prepared peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their breakfast with freshly squeezed orange juice.

Hurrying out to the verandah, I watched as the children excitedly got into the car, rolling down their window to wave until the car turned the corner. They were neatly dressed in their new school uniform with new sneakers and knapsacks. They already knew their new classrooms since all parents with their children had to attend the orientation day the previous week, where they introduced students to their new class teacher and classroom. It was a private school and classrooms were kept clean with individual chairs and desks and lockers for students. Each classroom had a huge ceiling fan and the washroom was always kept clean. Even though the school fees were a lot of money and we were running a very small part of the family business, Ned had insisted his children would have the best opportunity for education.

The home seemed unusually quiet without the children. They had enjoyed their summer vacation with their baby brother and were not fussy to go on any trips. After preparing Riyad’s bath and laying out his clothes, I hurriedly had breakfast before he awoke. I had breastfed him while Adam and Sarah were having their breakfast and knew that he normally slept for just an hour after that. I could hear Sab in the yard, as the broom made from the coconut tree branches, swept the water from the hose she was spraying. I always enjoyed the sound of water and felt so happy I had Sab. She was such a great help and we never felt once, we had a stranger living with us.

Riyad was fast asleep after his warm bath. He was now able to sit in the tub and splash water all over the floor, grinning each time the water went out of the tub. He had already said dada when he was five months old on Ned’s birthday, while I had to patiently wait for him to say mama. He always enjoyed his bath and never wanted me to take him out of the tub when he was finished. Because of the extreme heat during the day, his afternoon baths always lasted longer than his morning ones and he took full advantage of the time, performing for Adam and Sarah with his splashes.

After his morning bath, Riyad normally slept for three hours, during which time, I showered, prepared lunch and prepped for dinner. He was such a cute and jolly baby, always smiling and wanting to play. For the first time after giving birth, I had finally gained a few pounds which I was happy for and was no longer eighty-five pounds. Pulling on a beige colored strap dress with tiny black flowers and running my fingers through my short pixie style hair, I started cooking, which was always vegetables eaten with rice for lunch and roti for dinner. As was customary, most Guyanese ate lots of rice and roti more than pasta in those days.

It was September 20th, and Riyad had finally said mama for the first time at 9:30p.m. I was so very excited, as he kept repeating it over and over when he saw how eager I was to hear it. Adam, Sarah and Sab were teasing me endlessly. Not having the experience of hearing Adam and Sarah’s first mama or their first steps, I craved every stage with Riyad. The following day, he wore baby shoes for the first time when I placed him in his walker on the verandah. Instead of walking as he usually did, he just stood at one spot, leaning over the walker to admire his feet. Ned was very fussy with Riyad, since he also had missed Adam and Sarah’s stages. He had constantly refused to allow me to place Riyad on the floor for him to learn how to creep and instead, had bought the walker that would slowly teach him to walk.

It was the month of October. We first celebrated Sab’s birthday on the 8th, playing soft oldies music and ordering fried chicken and fries for dinner, since that was her favorite. The children made her beautiful birthday cards and picked flowers from their grand-parents’ garden earlier in the day, giving her a bouquet of flowers along with their gifts. One week later, we celebrated Adam’s birthday, secretly wrapping his gifts and placing them on his bed when he was fast asleep. He had awoken to tons of gifts surrounding him and enjoyed dinner with his family, grandparents and uncle whom we invited, later taking turns to stick his cake with myself and Sarah. Two weeks later it was Sarah’s birthday and again we surrounded her with gifts when she fell asleep and invited Ned’s parents and brother for dinner, after which she blew out her candles, excited to stick her cake with her dad and Adam.

The following month, Sab returned home for the weekend to spend Diwali with her mom while we viewed the grand lighted Diwali motorcade the night before Diwali. Jane lived close to the route of the motorcade and after having an early dinner, we had driven and parked the car at her home, walking across the street with her and Justin to the seawalls where the motorcade passed each year. It was always a breathtaking sight, the entire outer frames of the cars were surrounded with fairy lights, trucks were designed with the lights and children were dressed as the goddess sitting in the lotus flower. Every vehicle in the parade seemed to make you stare in awe of how creative and talented the designers were. On the night of Diwali, we drove around the town as usual, admiring all the Hindu’s homes lighted with tons of diyas and fairy lights. Each home created different patterns with the diyas and all seemed to be competing with each other in having the best designed home of diyas and fairy lights.

The children had been studying, preparing for their end of term test while putting aside time to play with Riyad and going for their afternoon walks. Riyad was now all over the house in his walker and loved turning into the kitchen to check on me, whenever he couldn’t get hold of Adam and Sarah to play with. He was a busy baby and enjoyed venturing out to the verandah to feel the leaves of the plants, into each room and peeking down the stairs from the side of the step rail grills. It was the first day of the children’s test and they had awoken earlier than usual, wanting to be seated and relaxed before the exams started. They were both performing well at school and I never had complaints from their teachers.

It was already the week before Christmas. As usual, the town was extremely busy, everyone wanted to buy new curtains and Christmas decorations for their homes. Most Guyanese also bought new furniture, repainted their homes and bought new carpets. Parking the car in another street, we walked to Regent Street, which had most of the stores. School had closed the previous week and after giving Riyad his bath and feeding him his breakfast, I had danced him to sleep and left him with Sab. Adam and Sarah loved shopping with me and I wanted to spend quality alone time with them, doing the things they loved doing. They bought little gifts for their dad, grandparents, uncle and Sab. Ned’s brother loved them very much and took them Christmas shopping every year to choose whatever they wanted from the stores. He was a kind and loving person and they loved him very much.

The sky was like a beautiful painting, splashes of different colors erupted with each firework that was shot into the darkness of the sky. Each one blending into the other, as it opened into the most beautiful wide circle.  It was the eve of New Years and the children loved watching the fireworks. We had visited their grandparents earlier in the day and had prepared chicken to barbeque with baked potatoes and cook-up rice. In Guyana, it was customary to eat cook-up rice on the eve of New Year. Leaning against Ned and hugging my three children while gazing into the array of colors, I prayed silently for a healthy and happy year of 2000 as the countdown started.

The months went by, Riyad began walking two weeks before his 1st birthday, which we spent at Ned’s parents.  They had prepared different dishes and his brother had ordered a beautiful cake for him. He had torn into all his gifts, throwing the gift papers in different directions after Adam and Sarah had helped him with the initial opening. It was closer to Easter and the streets in town were lined again with tons of beautiful, colorful kites of every shape, style and sizes. The kids had already chosen their kites and couldn’t wait to fly it at the National Park on Easter Day.

It seemed like every month in Guyana had a celebration and Guyanese were a bunch of happy people, always ready to have fun. We had already celebrated the Republic of Guyana, known as Mashramani, in February, where there were spectacular costume competitions, float parades, masquerade bands and dancing in the streets to the accompaniment of steel band, calypso and chutney music. In the month of March, we had celebrated Phagwah, which commemorated the New Year for Hindus. It was an annual Hindu Festival of Colors celebrating the arrival of Spring and the vanishing of hatred feelings, jealousy and enmity and to bring into the community, a feeling of togetherness.

Easter had passed and the children had lots of fun with their kites, even though it did not go up too high and made singing sounds like the other wooden frame kites. School had reopened for the last term and they had studied for their exams, both excelled and was promoted to higher grade levels. We had decided to send Sarah to Canada with Ned’s mother and Justin for her summer vacation, while Ned was planning a seven days trip to Trinidad for our both our birthdays which was only four days apart. Sab was busy general cleaning the home before she left to visit her mom and Adam was very happy to spend the seven days at his grandparents and uncle who constantly spoiled them with goodies, gifts, long afternoon drives and allowing them to stay up late to watch movies.

Smiling at Sab, I shook my head helplessly. She had been asking since she heard of our trip, for Adam to accompany her home to Essequibo for the week. Hearing her ask for the first time, Adam had become excited and joined her in her constant pleading. I loved and trusted her with my children and knew she would take very good care of them, but as a mom, I was still a basket of nerves just thinking about it. Finally, with Ned’s permission, Adam was being allowed to travel to Essequibo with Sab. He was extremely excited to meet all his animal friends again and to attend the Hindu wedding Sab was invited to. Not wasting any time, he started to pack his little carry-on suitcase.

It was a busy week, ensuring that Sarah and Adam, had everything packed in their suitcases that they would need on their trips and packing everything Riyad would need for his seven days trip with us in our suitcase. I felt comfortable with Sab in charge of Adam, since she knew of all his allergies and was a very responsible, pleasant, loving person. Sarah had no allergies and I knew she was old enough to be independent and responsible. Mom and dad were excited to have Justin and Sarah with them for the summer and was already stocking up on chocolates and chips, knowing that was every child’s favorite.

Chapter 15

THE BEAUTY OF MARACAS BAY

As the plane approached Piarco International Airport, I sat staring at the magnitude of the beautiful mountains that rose above the surrounding land, with clouds dropping over them. The clear water of the ocean, reflecting the color of the sky, were filled with tons of yachts sailing and anchored at harbors and boat decks. The beauty of the mountains, beaches and trees were always my favorite. Making sure my seat was back in the upright position and Riyad was strapped to me properly, I prayed silently as the plane began descending. It was just one hour’s flight from Guyana to Trinidad and Riyad had slept after drinking his bottle of milk, awaking just in time to enjoy looking at the clouds.

It was a quick walk through customs since most of the passengers had connecting flights, then it was time to collect our suitcase and take a taxi to our hotel. It was a small and beautiful island, tropical like Guyana with lots of coconut trees and other tropical plants. Riyad was bubbling with excitement, pointing to everything he saw. Adam had already left for Essequibo the day before we flew to Trinidad and we had driven him and Sab to the boat wharf and made sure he entered safely before leaving. Sarah had traveled three days earlier and we had driven her and Justin to the airport with their suitcases, while Ned’s brother had driven his mom. Sarah was excited to be flying with her cousin for the first time and had hurriedly hugged us all before going through customs.

The week went by and we enjoyed every moment. Mornings were spent sightseeing, walking along different small shopping outlets and exploring the huge shopping malls, evenings spent at different little restaurants and above all, totally enjoying Maracas Bay beach, which finally came into view after the hour-long drive over the mountains. It was protected by a line of beautiful palm trees, hugged by misty mountains and had a range of food stalls, selling the most delicious bake and fried shark with several sauces poured onto it, my favorite being the tamarind and chadon beni chutney. The water was crystal clear with sprightly waves seemingly reaching out to invite you in. Riyad enjoyed feeling the water lap through his tiny toes as he tried to hop onto the ending trail of every wave, screaming with excitement as he watched the next approaching wave. Finally feeling satisfied with the water, he played with the sand and watched the children as they built their sandcastles.

As the plane touched down at Timehri International Airport, I felt a sense of excitement. Even though Trinidad was very beautiful with its mountains and clear water beaches, there was ‘no place like home’ and I couldn’t wait to unpack and prepare for Sab and Adam’s return the following week. I missed my children and I had felt further away from them when we were in three different countries. As the taxi drove through the town, I could see stores filled with lots of women and their children. School shopping was always a busy time in the town, as was Christmas and Easter shopping. I felt happy I was finished all my school shopping for the children before they went on their vacations.

The sad expression of my father-in-law, every Saturday when he visited, constantly tugged at my heart. For him, his children and grandchildren were his complete happiness and the moment we moved, he seemed quiet and sad as though he had lost something so precious. After listening to his constant hints about moving back over the past months and ensuring Sab was financially comfortable to return to her home and invest in her business, we finally decided to sell our house and return to live with my in-laws. It was not an easy decision for me, since I loved the privacy and comfort I had enjoyed in my very own home and the way I was able to teach my children how to be independent and help with chores around the house. Over the years, I had grown to love my father-in-law very much, he reminded me of my own dad, where his strength came from the love he gave and received from his family.

As the months went by, Riyad was learning more words since he was already two years old and Adam was in the middle of writing his Grade 6 Examinations. Children were given a lot of extra school lessons and assignments prior to the examination and I often wondered if it was necessary to push a child so much where they had to attend school then extra lessons right after, which ended in the evenings. I was busy as usual, cooking, driving the kids to and from school and taking care of the dogs, especially the two dalmatians pups Ned bought. Adam, Sarah and Riyad were extremely excited when the pups arrived and did not want to leave their sides. It was the first pair of dalmatian pups in Guyana and the kids were excited to see them for real after watching their favorite movie, ‘101 Dalmatians.’

Leanord had proposed to his girlfriend Asha and we received our wedding invitation in the mail. Even though Adam and Sarah had visited Canada, and Ned when he was a teenager, I had never visited Canada and suddenly felt overwhelmed by a strong sense of anticipation, just by looking at the invitation in my hands. After submitting our filled application to the Canadian Embassy office and given a date one month later to uplift our passport, we started looking around the town for a suitable wedding gift. The Canadian Embassy was in Trinidad and our passport with applications had to be posted there to be reviewed by the immigration consulates.

Five weeks passed before we received our visas to travel to Canada. We had already purchased a beautiful knitted hammock as a wedding gift, thinking that would be an unusual gift, warm and cozy to use when it was summer. The wedding was being kept the first week in June and I was planning to travel up a few weeks earlier with Riyad and Adam, since he was home after finish writing the final examination for primary schools. Sarah on the other hand, was still at school and was presently writing her mock examinations and preparing for the end of term examination to be promoted to Grade 6. Even though it would have meant the world to her to be able to travel up early with us, she hid her feelings and kept insisting how excited she was that we were going up earlier to spend a longer time with everyone. She knew how much I loved my parents and kept imagining how excited they would be when I arrived.

It was the week before we left for Canada and it was pure chaos.  Sarah had to try her best to concentrate on her assignments and studies and not get caught up with our excitement. Adam had written his grade 6 examinations and we had to await the results to see what Secondary School he was promoted to, and Sarah was nervous her examinations were the following year and wanted to keep on top of her studies. There were suitcases flung open on the floor of the children’s room, as I ticked off daily from the list what I needed to pack. Everyone in Canada was extremely happy, that I was finally visiting, especially mom and dad, who couldn’t wait for me to enter their home for the first time and take me wherever I wanted to visit.

The week went by and we were on our way to the Timehri International Airport. Sab had called the previous day, crying with excitement that I was going to visit my parents. She had traveled to Georgetown the previous week to purchase lots of cosmetics and clothing to sell in her little shop and promised me she would ease up on giving out credit and try to build her business. It was a cool windy morning and we were dressed warm with hoodies over our clothes since it was the season of spring in Canada. Sarah was trying to make us feel guilty for traveling up earlier but couldn’t hide her excitement for us. She was such a warm and loving child, just like her brother Adam.

As Ned pulled up to the airport, we could see it was going to be a full flight of passengers. Holding on to Riyad’s hands, the baby bag and my little carry-on luggage, I watched as Adam pulled his knapsack onto his back, while Ned lifted the two suitcases out of the trunk, before driving off to park in the parking lot. Sarah was busy playing with Riyad and chatting away with Adam at the same time. She was indeed going to miss her two brothers and wanted to spend every moment with them to ensure they knew it.  Cars kept pulling in, one after the other, offloading passengers with their suitcases as we patiently waited on Ned to return.

It was overall a smooth flight with not much turbulence. After enjoying the juice and sandwich served by the air hostess, we had landed in Trinidad for three hours in transit before taking off to Canada. The kids had enjoyed touring the various shopping booths at Piarco International Airport before boarding the plane for Pearson International. After lunch was served, Riyad slept through most of the flight, while Adam kept himself busy with the crossword book he had brought along. As we approached Pearson International, the sight from above was magical. It was an image of a huge mat that had been spread over the entire surface with lights flickering and buildings standing tall, lights on every floor. The highways were filled with vehicles driving in both directions, their headlights seemed like a lighted stream, flowing freely.

Waiting for most of the passengers to disembark, I unbuckled myself and Riyad, stretching to the overhead locker to collect our carryon luggage, while Adam pulled his knapsack onto his back and held the baby’s bag. Exiting the plane, I allowed Adam to pull the carryon while I hooked Riyad onto my hips and hung the baby’s bag on my shoulders. Pearson International was huge and I needed to keep up with the last set of passengers to find my way to customs and then to clear the suitcases. It was not easy travelling with a baby, a young child and so much luggage at the same time. I was back to eighty five pounds after loosing the baby weight I had gained around my hips and legs and Riyad was feeling like one hundred pounds in my arms, as he kept sliding down my hips whenever I hastened my steps to keep up with the passengers.

The walking seemed never ending since the airport was so huge. Finally reaching customs and clearing easily after standing in the line for half an hour, we had to again hasten our steps towards the baggage claim area, thankfully, it was a shorter walk. Giving Adam the coin, I watched as he carefully placed it in the coin slot of the cart to release it from the lock. Thankfully, mom had left me a lot of loonies in the event I ever decided to visit Canada, since that was needed for the carts. Easily finding our flight number and arrival information on the big screen in front of the second to last carousel, we hurried towards it, noticing it was the most crowded baggage carousel area.

Making sure Adam was holding on to Riyad’s hands, I prepared to pull off the suitcases as they came into sight. Grabbing hold of the first one, I felt totally embarrassed as a big part ripped at the front, causing the pack of pampers to be protruding through the hole. Guess that was expected after purchasing the cheapest suitcases possible from the store in Guyana. Since Ned was always there to take the suitcases off the carousel, it was all new to me, but I was determined to master the art. After successfully taking them off the second time around, we loaded the cart with both suitcases, carry-on and baby bag. It was time to step onto Canada’s soil.

Pushing the cart through the doors, with Adam holding on to Riyad’s hands, I instantly spotted Leanord. His face reflected his extreme excitement as he waved to get our attention, hurrying towards us and lifting me off my feet with the biggest hug imaginable, constantly repeating, “I can’t believe you’re finally here.” Hugging Adam and Riyad then collecting the cart from me, he led the way towards the parking area, Riyad again felt like one hundred pounds as I lifted him, making me realize that my arms were extremely tired and muscles sore from all the lifting.

As Leanord turned into Ram’s driveway, I felt a sense of overwhelming anticipation. It was Saturday night and the whole family was over at Ram’s home to plan the details of the wedding celebration for Leanord. It was expected to be a three days Indian traditional wedding that we had no experience of, but excited to have an excuse to find three beautiful outfits for the wedding instead of one.  Adam was the first one out, already familiar with Ram’s home and extremely excited to meet all his cousins again who were either a few years older or younger. As Leanord unbuckled his seat belt and came around to collect Riyad, I reached for the baby’s bag from the back seat of the car and looked up at Geets and Ram’s home, thinking of the chaos that would take place when I entered.

As suspected, there were screams and hugs from every possible direction. It was the first time I was seeing Sharon, Lisa, Rudy and Ram again after so many years. Tears were flowing down my cheeks and my heart was bursting, so filled with love for my family that I had missed so much. Even though Ram and Geets with their two daughters had visited Guyana, it had been before mom and dad had migrated to Canada, the year before their son was born. Everyone seemed to be talking at the same time, forgetting all about the wedding plans and wanting to have the most of me. I felt blessed to be loved so much. Slowly detaching myself, I cuddled up to mom and dad, who were sitting on the sofa in Ram’s kitchen with such happiness and contentment on their faces.

Riyad was totally enjoying all the attention he was getting, even though he constantly kept coming close to feel my arms for comfort. Adam had disappeared among his cousins, apparently forgetting his tiredness from travelling. I was stuck under dad’s arms, my favorite spot since I was a little girl, staring at Sharon and Lisa. I had only been able to see them whenever mom and dad visited and brought photographs of everyone. I was now seeing Sharon’s two daughters, Ram’s son and Rudy’s son for the first time, glancing over to Lisa’s son and daughter, Ram’s two daughters and Rudy’s older son, I realized the length of time apart, they were all teenagers. I felt so blessed to have such beautiful nieces and nephews.

Quickly showering and slipping into my pajamas, I hurried back downstairs where excitement still seem to fill the air. I had already given Riyad a warm bath and tucked him into bed after feeding him a cheese sandwich and his bottle of milk. Adam had already showered and was in his pajamas, too excited to eat anything and busy playing board games with his cousins. I thought of Sarah and wished she was present to experience all the excitement and love. Ignoring the variety of food and dessert laid out on the countertop, I delved into the bowl that had mom’s potato balls and mango sour she made. I never had a sweet tooth since I was a child and couldn’t wait to pop mom’s potato balls filled with mango sour in my mouth.

It was after midnight and no one seemed to be ready to leave. Thankfully, I had packed our pajamas and toothbrush in the carry-on, since both suitcases were still in Leanord’s car trunk. Deciding to stay over the night at Ram, I promised mom to leave after breakfast. She could not wait for me to step into her home and had constantly kept asking Leanord if he was ready to leave. Most of the planning was completed for the time being and they had decided to play soft music and finish all the food and desserts that had remained. Ram was living just ten minutes away from mom and dad and I didn’t want to lift Riyad out of his bed at that time of the night. Mom was busy massaging my shoulders and playing with my hair, as I sat on the floor. Even though Leanord was younger, she always treated me like her baby, maybe because I was so petite and seemed fragile to her.

Watching the last car drive away, I could feel my eye lids heavy with tiredness. It was a long day and suddenly I craved the comfortable bed I had tucked Riyad in and the soft fluffy pillows I had lined around him to prevent him from rolling off the bed in his sleep. Geets was such a wonderful sister-in-law, humble and loving and very supportive of entertaining her husband’s family whenever necessary. Hugging her closely, I looked over to Ram, who was closing the door. They were such a wonderful and perfect couple. Everyone had helped to clean up before they left, the kitchen was sparkling clean and it was time to ‘hit the sack’ as the saying goes.

Chapter 16

MY PARENT’S HOME

As Ram turned into the front driveway of the condo building, tears flicked down my cheeks. I was coming home to my mom and dad. Beautiful array of different colors of flowers lined the huge oval plant section at the front with beautiful trees in the middle. As Ram buzzed up, mom’s voice could be heard over the speakers, filled with excitement. Pulling open the door at the sound of the buzzing, we entered the beautiful clean lobby. There were two beautiful chairs to one side of the lobby, closer to the glass door, with a huge plant standing beside them, on the opposite side was a beautiful wooden corner table with a bouquet of flowers on top, two wooden chairs complementing the table at the sides and a painting on the wall. There were four elevators with the entire opposite wall, designed with mirrors from top to bottom.

Leanord had taken our suitcases the night before and Ram was holding the baby’s bag and carry-on, while I lifted Riyad. The elevator was a smooth and quick ride up to the sixteenth floor. As the elevator doors opened, I felt my excitement mounting at a fast rate. Stepping out of the elevator and waking to the turning point of the corridor, I instantly saw mom at her door, dad peeking from behind. Hurriedly putting Riyad down on the soft carpet that lined the corridor, I ran towards mom and dad, diving myself into their arms. This was heaven for me, the feeling of my parents’ arms around me, felt like a blanket of protection and love that instantly made me feel like I could face the world and all its challenges. Looking down at Adam, I saw his happy expression. Like his sister, he was very close to me and always wanted me to be happy.

Stepping into mom and dad’s home, my skin began to tingle and   the hair on my hands felt like it was standing straight. To the left was the mirror covered sliding doors coat closet, with a beautiful floor vase tucked into the corner facing the door. Placing my shoes in the closet I then began a tour of the cozy little living room, kitchen, prayer corner and the two bedrooms. Mom and dad’s room was a bigger self-contained room with toilet and sink, while Leanord’s was smaller, facing the bathroom, toilet and sink area in the corridor. Promising mom I would view the balcony later, I hugged them both, complementing them on their beautiful, comfortable and welcoming home. Even though my fear of heights was not as strong as when I was younger, I was still not prepared to view the balcony from the sixteenth floor just yet.

Mom already had fish curry simmering on the stove, knowing that was my favorite dish and was laying out baked chicken with mashed potatoes for Adam and Riyad. Her kitchen was small and convenient for her and dad to reach everything conveniently, with their little dining table tucked away in the corner next to the fridge. Adam was already unpacking his suitcase, excited that Sharon and her daughters were visiting later and was preparing to shower and dress before they arrived, since mom was very strict with her rule of having your bath before your meal and not after. Mom was the only one successful in getting Adam to eat his vegetables and finish his meals and I enjoyed teasing him, that she was the perfect person to be around whenever he was eating.

Looking across to dad and Ram as they sat chatting and laughing, I was intrigued at the resemblance of not only looks but personality. We had all enjoyed our lunch and dad was relaxing in his soft comfortable maroon color recliner chair with his feet up and hands crossed behind his head. As usual, there was always a novel with a book marker sticking out, resting on his legs. Ram was sitting on the beige color sofa, the exact color of mom’s recliner. As always, there was a look of contentment in dad’s expression, always the same whenever he crossed his hands behind his head. Mom as usual, after raiding me out, was still finding work to do in the kitchen.

My eyelids slowly flickered open as I felt Riyad’s fingers sliding up and down my arms. I had left mom, dad and Ram chatting while I tucked Riyad into bed and could not believe I had slept for three hours. Smiling at Riyad and ruffling his hair, I traced my fingers down his cute little face as he gazed up at me with his beautiful eyes, lined with long lashes. His favorite time was to be as close to me as possible. Even when he was playing, he would reach out and touch my arms for comfort. Looking across at the closed bedroom door, I realized mom must have peeked in and closed the door to drown out the sound of their voices so that I could sleep comfortably. Even though I was married with three children, she still fussed over me and treated me like a baby.

Venturing into the living room, I realized Ram had left since there was no one in the living room. Looking around, a cold chill ran through my body when I saw Adam on the balcony with mom and dad. Even though the solid concrete rails reached him up to his neck, I was still nervous and distracted Riyad from noticing they were outside. Mixing a bottle of milk for Riyad and making a cup of tea for myself, I settled down into the soft sofa beside Riyad, pretending to be very interested in every detail of his cartoon show. It was an hour before Sharon’s arrival and I wanted Riyad to have his milk and eat his dinner before they came and he got distracted with excitement with her younger daughter, who was just a year older than him.

It was Monday morning and all my siblings were off to their jobs. I had promised mom to spend the first week with her before visiting any of their homes and she was excited to cook all my favorite meals for the week. Leanord had already left for work, parking at the train station a few blocks away and taking the 7:30 a.m. train that went downtown. Quietly collecting my clothes from the room as not to disturb Adam and Riyad from sleeping, I quickly showered and had breakfast, enjoying the smell of the fried eggplant, potatoes and salt fish that mom was busy cooking. Her and dad had finished saying their usual morning prayers at their alter which normally took them an hour and she had started cooking after having her bowl of cereal and milk. Both her and dad had their special days on when to eat what for breakfast.

Adam and Riyad had enjoyed the time spent with their cousins the previous afternoon and had fallen asleep later than usual. Peeping in on them, I noticed Riyad had already awoken and was busy trying to pull the covers off Adam who was burying his head deeper and deeper under the covers. Smiling, I hurriedly took him off the bed, informing Adam we were going to the mall. Mom and dad wanted the children to experience the bus ride to and from the Scarborough Town Center, which was their favorite mall to shop, knowing they would be bored in the condo with no other children their ages to play with. I had already packed Riyad’s baby bag and prepared their breakfast.

Stepping out of the lobby, I could feel the cool breeze brushing across my face, as it tousled through my shoulder length hair. We were all wearing our denim jackets with jeans and shirt, after mom had checked the weather channel. Noticing we had used the back door of the building that led to the pool, lawn tennis court and parking lot of the building, I realized it was a closer walk the bus shed that was past the little shopping area. Stepping onto the pavement and waking south towards the bus shed, I noticed Home Depot ahead with Tim Hortons and McDonald’s on the western side. As mom approached the convenient store to purchase the bus tickets, I noticed there was also a pharmacy, Chinese restaurant and tailor shop within the little shopping area.

As the bus approached, the kids became excited since they had never traveled on a bus before. Thankfully there were lots of empty seats and we were able to sit comfortably so that they could enjoy the view. Because the shopping mall was not too far away, it was an enjoyable short bus ride and seemed like just a few minutes before we were entering the doors of the mall. Knowing mom and dad would not have been able to keep up with me entering every store to look for my three different outfits to wear for the wedding, I had decided to accompany them into their favorite stores, knowing it was impossible to stop  them from buying gifts for us. Mom and dad were both determined whenever they needed to give us something and always felt hurt if we were considerate and did not allow them spend their money on us.

The week went by and we enjoyed going for afternoon walks with mom and dad, accompanying them to shop groceries at No Frills Supermarket and having desserts at McDonalds and Tim Hortons. Whatever time spent indoors, Adam and Riyad had watched cartoon shows and sat out on the balcony at night with mom and dad to admire the scenery with all the lights from every building and passing vehicle looking like magical fireflies. After a few days, I had finally built up enough courage to venture out onto the balcony to sit, refusing to look over the rails and reassuring mom that I was able to view the scenery from the window next to her prayer alter, which was facing the same direction. It was cool at nights and perfect to spend quality time with mom and dad before their regular 9:00p.m. bedtime schedule.

It was already Friday and we had made plans to visit Lisa. Already planning to general clean the condo and do the laundry, I knew I had to start early when mom and dad was praying since they constantly refused to let me do anything. Quietly stepping off the bed, I slit opened the room door and realized they had already started praying. Heading into the bathroom, I mixed in the bucket that was found under the sink, bleach and detergent, pulling on the rubber gloves. Thankfully, mom kept everything under the sink in the cupboard, making it easier for me to start cleaning the washroom. Looking at the variety of bathroom cleaners she had lined off neatly, I smiled to myself, mom was a cleaning specialist like myself. Switching on the fan of the bathroom, I started on my cleaning. I felt honored to be able to clean my parents’ home after all these years and felt satisfied when I saw the water gliding smoothly down the freshly scrubbed bathroom walls and bathtub with the toilet and sink glittering.

Awakening earlier than usual, I hurriedly showered and ate my breakfast, listening to mom and dad, as they performed their morning prayers. Lisa had taken the week off work and was expected to pick us up early to spend the week at her home. I had already packed our carry-on suitcase the previous night, with my clothes and had borrowed mom’s carry-on to pack Adam’s and Riyad’s clothes. Even though Adam had his knapsack, I loved the neatness of the clothes, when it was folded and strapped into a carry-on. After making sure both kids were awake, I quickly prepared their breakfast and gave Riyad his bath before feeding him. A few minutes after mom answered the buzzer, Lisa came flying through the door like hurricane, arms outstretched and screaming with excitement. She had such a jovial and bubbly personality that seemed to light up wherever she went.

Placing her denim jacket and handbag on the chair, she ventured into the kitchen to turn on the kettle, while announcing to mom and dad that they should hurry and pack since she was not leaving without them. Mom had refused earlier when they spoke, insisting she wanted to stay back and general clean the condo. Looking across to dad, who was laughing and telling Lisa, “okay then, we will be coming with you for the week,” I knew mom would eventually have to give in and start packing. Dad was always ready to go anywhere and loved eating different type of dishes that was new to him, unlike mom, who was stuck in her ways of only eating the same type of food she was accustomed to eating in Guyana.

As mom and dad packed their bags for the week, I prepared a few snacks for Riyad to eat in the vehicle and made sure Adam packed everything he needed, especially his toothbrush which he always seemed to forget. Sitting at the little dining table in the kitchen, I nibbled on a few grapes as Lisa drank her herbal tea, chatting away happily as usual. Mom was always complaining, she couldn’t get me to eat fruits and I wanted to please her by eating the grapes she had placed on the table for me to eat after breakfast. It was great seeing Lisa after so long and I sat admiring how tall and beautiful she looked, with her silky hair tracing her square cheekbone, falling softly down her shoulders. The pink mole that was a birth mark at the side of her chin and the deep circles around her eyes made her look unique and even more beautiful. I had always wished I had gotten her height since Ned was very tall.

After making sure a light was left on by her prayer alter, her stove was off and all other lights were off, mom was finally ready to leave her condo. Dad and Adam had already left to go down to the lobby, pulling the carry-on, while I lifted Riyad and held the baby’s bag. Holding both mom and dad’s bag as though they had no weight, Lisa stood waiting patiently as mom took her time, locking the three locks on her door, turning the handle a few times to make sure it was locked indeed. She was always uncomfortable leaving her condo for long periods, even though Leanord still lived with them and felt guilty for not being able to pray at her alter daily. Lisa already had the week planned with activities and she was not going to leave them alone in the condo lonely with nothing excited to do, while we were having fun.

The elevators were not as busy since all the children from the building had already left for school. As usual, mom checked the walls of the elevator to see if any new notice was posted, while we traveled down the fifteen floors. After making just one stop at the fourth floor, we arrived at the lobby where dad was sitting on the chair closer to the glass front door, while Adam stood looking out and admiring all the beautiful flowers at the front of the building. Lisa had parked at the back and was going to drive around to the front to collect us, since we had lots of bags and it was very windy. Dad had fallen in the snow a few years earlier and even though his bones had miraculously healed, beyond the doctor’s expectations, he still used his cane whenever he went outdoors.

Chapter 17

FUN FILLED WEEK WITH LISA

Even though Lisa had mentioned she lived close to mom, it seemed like she was driving forever on the highway to get to her home. I was so accustomed to living in Georgetown, Guyana, where everyone could easily be reached within a few minutes of driving through local streets. Finally, we arrived in the city of Markham. It was different from Scarborough which was busy and crowded. Markham seemed serene with lots of land space and beautiful new houses. Because of my childhood memories of visiting the countryside every summer, I loved trees and landscapes. As she turned into her driveway, I looked up at her beautiful clay brick semi-detached home which had a few steps, lined with white rails that went all the way up and circled her front porch leading to her door. As she pressed her remote in the vehicle, the garage door slid upwards and she drove in beside her husband’s vehicle.

Adam and Riyad had already bolted up the stairs, bubbling with excitement to see Lisa’s two children. Holding open the vehicle door for mom before taking out the luggage from the trunk, I laughed as dad commented on the children’s excitement. He was sitting at the front seat with Lisa and was taking his time exiting the vehicle while she held open the door. I felt blessed the way my children loved their cousins just as we all loved each other. For me that was very precious, since with time, the bond between children and their parents were fading away in society and most people couldn’t wait to place their parents in Retirement Homes and visit them once per week or whenever they found it convenient.

“Welcome to our home,” Lisa announced, as she flung open the door dad had closed behind him. Her eyes were filled with excitement and happiness to finally have me visit her home. Mom and dad had left us behind to empty the trunk, after stating that we were quite young and capable. “Oh Lisa, it is so beautiful.” I stood staring at the simple beauty of the wooden stairway lined with white wooden rails, which was facing the door, the living room which had a cozy look, with the brown walls which had two paintings hung on it, a huge aquarium with big colorful fishes and the beige stripped sofa. The corridor led to the beautiful kitchen that hosted the dining table on the right side. After taking the tour upstairs, which had two little bedrooms for Allison and Jack and the big master bedroom for Lisa and her husband Carl, we ventured downstairs to have an early lunch before heading out again.

Jack had brought down his tiny green soldier collection and was playing with Adam while Allison could not get enough of Riyad. He was totally enjoying the attention, performing on the sofa for her. Dad had already announced he would take his regular nap after lunch and mom as usual, never wanted to miss the excitement of going out with her daughters. First on the list was looking for out wedding outfits with shoes and accessories to complement it. After mom had insisted that she would be able to keep up with all the walking and I had borrowed a stroller from Sharon for Riyad, we were ready to spend all day shopping.

The Markham Shopping Malls seemed overcrowded since it was Saturday and felt like no one was looking where they were walking, since they kept bumping into us. There were mostly teenagers just window shopping or hanging around the mall with their friends. Riyad was enjoying his ride in the stroller and was happy to stay seated in it while we were trying on different type of dresses. “You need to check in the children’s department Nal,” Lisa said, as she stood beside me in the dressing room laughing, “this is the tenth dress you’ve tried on.” It was difficult finding my size since they were all either too long or too big. Remembering mom, who was patiently sitting on the padded seat just outside of the store, feeding Riyad his fruits, I finally gave up and decided to look for my shoes instead.

Shaking her head from side to side, Lisa raised her hands in defeat. “It is absolutely impossible to find even one pair of size 5 shoes in the adult section,” she stated as she strolled over to the children section. Glancing at my watch and realizing six hours had passed since we left home, I decided to give up since we had to shower and dress to go out for dinner. Even tough Lisa had made reservations, we hurriedly returned home knowing dad was very particular with having his meals on time since he was diabetic. As suspected, dad was already showered, dressed and having his fruits while reading his book in the living room, with Adam, Allison and Jack, playing their board game on the carpet. Surprisingly, they were all showered and dressed. Seemed like we were the only late ones and it was time to make it snappy.

The following day, everyone was expected to arrive to continue the planning for the wedding and knowing the family with their excitement and happy confusion, I woke up early to assist cleaning the home while Lisa and Carl marinated the meat and cut whatever vegetables they needed to prepare the meals. There seemed to be no cleaning necessary since the home was already spotlessly clean, but I still refreshed the washroom and swept the floors. Mom and dad were already up since they were accustomed to awakening early and as usual, mom was having her first cup of coffee she often took as soon as she awoke. Carl had already made blueberry and banana pancakes for breakfast and was laying the table with the pancakes, maple syrup, butter and avocado on the side. Since dad was diabetic, he preferred touching his pancakes with a little butter instead of the maple syrup.

First to arrive was Sharon and her family. From the kitchen we could hear her voice as she greeted mom. Bursting into the kitchen with arms outstretched she hugged us both, “my darling sisters, see how punctual I am?” she exclaimed. “My daughters couldn’t wait to get here.” Gena, her older daughter had already joined Adam, Allison and Jack while Patrick, her husband was taking Diane’s shoes off. He was smiling, totally accustomed to his wife’s excited and happy personality. Looking over to Riyad who was sitting beside me, she smiled. “This child doesn’t ever leave his mom’s side” she said, shaking her head from side to side. “Think he’s going to be the one to really look after me when I’m old,” I laughed in return.

Rudy and Dolly was the next to arrive. Dolly as usual, headed towards the kitchen, finding out what we needed help with while Rudy collected Riyad. He loved Riyad from the moment he met him and insisted he was going to buy all three outfits for him to wear to the wedding and take him for his haircut. Next came Ram, Geets and their three children. As Michelle, Alice and Matthew joined their cousins, Ram as usual with his calm and loving personality, hugged everyone, teasing Lisa about the amount of food she prepared as though it was the wedding day. Laughing, Geets placed the tray of fruits they brought, apologizing to Lisa. “Your brother insisted he had to bring something, even though you told him not to.” At the sound of the doorbell, everyone knew Leanord and Asha had arrived.

The home was filled with excitement and everyone seemed to be talking at the same time. Jumping up from the padded carpet I was sitting, at the sound of the doorbell, I hurried across to open the door, screaming in excitement, as I flung my arms around my brother Rob. Even though he had visited Guyana twice, I was so happy to see him again. Following him were three out of his six children. They were very beautiful and shy, happy to join their cousins in the corner of the living room. Happiness and love filled the air as usual, when we were all together. Dad was relaxing in the sofa with his hands behind his head, his glowing rosy cheeks reflecting his total feeling of contentment and happiness, observing his children. Mom as usual, was in the middle of everything, ensuring she did not miss out on even the tiniest detail of the discussion. Sarah, Jane, Andy and Justin were expected to arrive the following week and Sandy with her family was expected to arrive a few days before the wedding.

As usual when the family were all together, they totally forgot about work the next day and never wanted the day to finish. Gradually, one by one finally left, after helping to clean the kitchen and pack away whatever leftovers in the fridge. Even though Lisa had insisted for everyone to take food, they all reminded her that she didn’t have to cook the following day and could enjoy a full day out shopping again. Dad had already retired to bed, taking his glass of water with him and reminding everyone they needed to work the next day. Mom on the other hand, who was enjoying it all, seemed like she could exchange a night of sleeping for more excitement as she stood at the doorway hugging, kissing and waving to everyone as they left.

The week went by with us going out every day and relaxing in the living room chatting at night. School had not closed for the summer vacation and Allison and Jack found it difficult to leave every morning, but totally excited to return home every day to continue playing with Adam and Riyad, counting the days for Sarah’s arrival. At least Lisa was successful in purchasing all three of her outfits and outfits for Jack. I had finally decided to give up my search and wait for Sarah’s arrival to go shopping in Scarborough instead. It was great spending quality time with Lisa and her family She was a wonderful sister, loving, kind and always cheerful. She was still very hardworking and dedicated to her job and everyone at her company absolutely loved her.

 It was already Friday and Lisa, was dropping us back to mom and dad to await Jane and her family and Sarah’s arrival the following day. I had already packed all the bags the previous night and awoken early to clean the washroom, ignoring Lisa’s constant demand for me to leave it alone. She had made sure we enjoyed every day and even though I kept reminding her that quality time at home with her meant the world to me, she did not give up taking us out every day. I had missed Sarah very much and couldn’t wait to see her. Ned was expected to arrive the day before the wedding to spend two weeks, before we all return home together. Since Ned and Carl were cousins, they had a close relationship and we were invited back to Lisa’s home to spend that week with her and her family again.

With eyes glued to the passengers emerging, it seemed like they were the last ones off the plane as my anxiety mounted. Suddenly, there she was, chubby cheeks glowing with excitement, soft curls bouncing on her shoulders as she spotted me across the waiting area, quickening her steps. It felt like I was away from her for months and felt my love flow as I engulfed her into my arms. My children were my strength and happiness and I always felt empty inside when either one was far away from me.  Jane, Justin and Andy were hurrying behind, pushing the two carts with all the suitcases. “Girl you already look like a real Canadian,” Jane teased as she hugged me closely. “I’m here!! No more missing out on all the excitement and planning,” she teased. Sarah was walking beside me, clutching my hands as I played with her curls. It was time to find the vehicle in the parking lot and head home to mom.

As usual, after calling mom to inform her we were just about ten minutes away, both her and dad, made sure they switched channels to view us as we entered the building and elevator. Mom was always excited to see everyone arrive, guess that was because she lived in a condo on the sixteenth floor and not in a house with windows at the front. Dad had found it convenient to buy a condo instead of a house, to save himself from shoveling the snow in winter and raking leaves in autumn since he had migrated when he was about sixty-five years old. As we pulled the suitcases out of the elevator and turned the corner of the corridor, we could see mom standing at her door, all smiles. Her condo was about to be rammed packed and she was extremely happy about that.

It was already two weeks before the wedding and Rudy had taken Riyad and Adam to buy their outfits the previous day, while myself and Sarah had gone shopping with Sharon and Lisa to look for ours. Finally, at the exact moment when I felt like giving up, there it was on a mannequin…a beautiful royal blue Cinderella dress. It was perfect and even though I was already thirty-four years old, I still wanted to wear a Cinderella dress just once in my lifetime. Maybe it was a silly fantasy, but I fell in love with the dress the moment I saw it. Rushing into the store, I was busy undressing the mannequin before I realized I wasn’t supposed to. The staff had laughed at my excitement and after confirming it was the last one, took over the undressing. Stepping out of the dressing room, I felt like I was in heaven…it was a perfect fit and I couldn’t believe how amazing it looked.

I was less stressed after deciding on my three outfits for the wedding, an Indian outfit Asha had lent me for the Indian wedding mehndi day, the Cinderella dress for the actual wedding day and a  black velvet strap dress with a thin leopard print scarf for the next Saturday when our side family were hosting the wedding celebration. The two boys were all set with their three outfits and Sarah with two of hers with only one left to buy for the actual wedding day. After reassurance from Lisa that we will do a thorough hunting the following week for Sarah and Allison’s dress, I was ready to call it a day and return to mom in time for dinner. The following day, we were going to visit Sharon’s home and we were very excited.

The three weeks since we had arrived, had been taken up with spending quality time first with mom and dad at their home then off to Lisa for the week in Markham. It seemed like we needed more hours in our days to shop and visit everyone. Promising myself that I would give Ned’s family a call, as soon as I returned, I then focused on the trip to Sharon and her family. There was total confusion…a happy kind of confusion in my parents’ condo, with everyone taking turns to shower and get dressed. After Sarah and Jane’s arrival, we had spent the third week at mom, since she was always fussy with everyone staying at her first and making her home their main stop, while visiting the rest of family. Jane and her family had already visited Sharon’s home on their previous vacation to Canada and I was excited to be visiting her home for the first time.

Mom and dad were praying at their alter, while myself and Jane got busy in the kitchen preparing breakfast, giving everyone else a chance to get showered and dressed. I had already showered Riyad early in the morning, after Adam and Sarah had finished with their baths. We had decided on hash brown, which was everyone’s favorite and omelet, since that was easier with not much preparations needed. Due to the convenience of frozen hash browns, breakfast was ready and on the table within minutes. Sharon had invited the rest of the family and had planned a family fun day with lots of board games and bar-b-que. As expected, the children were extremely excited to be among their cousins again and couldn’t wait to finish breakfast and be on their way.

Rudy and Dolly had arrived to take mom, dad, Justin and Adam, while the rest of us walked towards Leanord’s car. While Andy settled into the front seat beside Leanord, I slid into the back seat beside Jane and Sarah, hugging Riyad in my arms. Smiling I thought of what a big family we were and how many cars were needed to take us everywhere. It was a beautiful day, much warmer than when we had just arrived and instead of wearing a spring jacket, I had pulled on a denim jacket over the plaid shirt I had worn with my blue jeans and sneakers.

Chapter 18

SHARON’S FAMILY FUN DAY

As the car approached the narrow street lined with trees and small cottages, I felt the warmth and privacy of the neighborhood. As Leanord turned into the driveway, the beautiful cottage could be seen with wide huge bay windows at the front and colorful flowers lining the neatly mowed lawns. Sharon and her family were already at the front anxiously waiting to welcome us since Rudy had already arrived with everyone in his vehicle. As the car came to a halt, Sarah and Riyad was the first to hop out, excited and anxious to see their cousins again.  “Seems like we’re the first set to arrive,” I laughed, hugging Sharon, “you have a beautiful home honey, and I am so happy to be here.” She had traces of tears in her eyes as she looked deep into mine, “welcome to our home my little sister,” she replied.

Entering the home, I came upon the open concept of the cute little living and dining room first which had a corridor on the left side, leading to the two bedrooms and washroom. The little kitchen was at the back with an inside step leading to the basement. It was warm and cozy and felt like it was filled with love. Looking around I could see books and toys tucked in the corner, highlighting the warmth of having children in a home. The children’s room had their cute single beds, covered with their Disney character sheet and comforter set, dolls and stuffed toys neatly stacked away in a corner and a bookshelf filled with children’s books, especially Dr Seuss. It was like a child’s paradise.

As the buzzer kept ringing, one family after another arrived. Soon, the once quiet home was filled with excitement. All the cousins who were playing different board games together, joined us all on the floor, in the game of, ‘Taboo.’ It was such a fun game and within minutes we were all screaming with excitement as everyone kept trying to get their teammates to say the ‘guess’ word on the card without using any of the Taboo words in the clues. At first Riyad seemed scared of the sudden screams but got accustomed to it after a while. Mom and dad as usual, were sitting on the sofa laughing and constantly reminding us that we could be heard by the entire neighborhood. It was the first experience for Adam and Sarah to be between the whole family all at once and they were enjoying every moment of their vacation.

After the game of Taboo, we all went out into the backyard, which was safely fenced around with plants and flowers bracing the fence, since the weather was beautiful. It was bar-b-que time and we all sat around in chairs chatting and laughing while Patrick did the bar-b-que. Looking at all my nieces and nephews playing with Adam, Sarah and Riyad, I thought of how blessed we were to have such beautiful and healthy children. Diane, Sharon’s younger daughter was playing with Riyad, she was just a year older than him and they were the youngest of all the cousins. Her curly hair which was bunched up in a ponytail was swinging from side to side as she held Riyad’s hands, showing him every plant and flower. Admiring them, I thought of how adorable they looked, both with cute chubby cheeks that seemed to tempt you into kissing and hugging them all day.

The backyard was now alive with pure excitement and happiness. Everyone was eating and laughing, as we reminisced the different tales of all the fun times we had living together, one big family with our parents. The children loved hearing our tales and it brought such happiness to mom and dad, knowing their children had a happy childhood to look back at. I thought of how lucky we were to have spouses who never came between us or never misunderstood our closeness as a family. It was the bond of family love that I wanted to carry on to my children and it meant the world to me, having my children share in such happiness and pure simple love, with no one judging or comparing.

It was already after 10:00 p.m. when we decided to leave. Quickly assisting Sharon with cleaning up the kitchen, we all departed, one family after another, hugging and making plans for the following Saturday at Lisa’s home again for the continuation of the planning for the wedding. It was always amazing how unpredictable the weather was, and I had experienced, not to take it for granted when it was warm and was always prepared with cardigans and jacket for when it suddenly got so very cold. The weather never seemed to bother the children since they would spend hours playing outdoors.

Mom and Dad had already left with Rudy, taking Adam and Sarah with them. After peeping in on Sharon’s two daughters who were already fast asleep, tucked in under their warm Disney comforters, I hugged Sharon and Patrick, thanking them for the most amazing day, filled with so much laughter and love. Riyad had taken his nap earlier in the day and was not as sleepy, pulling on his little jacket and sneakers, he waved them goodbye as we walked towards Leanord’s car, leaving Jane and Andy to bid their goodbyes. Laughing, Leanord confirmed ‘there is never a dull moment with this family.’ As Jane slid beside me in the back seat with Andy following, Leanord reversed as we all waved our goodbyes.

As Leanord opened the door, we all entered the condo quietly as not to disturb mom and dad. They had already fallen asleep, except Adam and Sarah, who were busy talking about the day with their cousins. After dressing Riyad in his pajamas and giving him a bottle of his milk, I crawled under the comforter, cuddling and hoping my eyelids would not close before he finished drinking.  It was a day filled with happiness and laughter and the children enjoyed every moment. It was precious watching them among their cousins and for a moment I felt sad we were all scattered in different countries and amazed at the way they bonded instantly as soon as they were together. As I felt my eyelids closing, I whispered to Adam and Sarah to stop talking and fell into a deep sleep.

As usual, the sound of mom taking her shower at 6:00 a.m., awoke me. She was always the first one to bathe, making sure she had time for her cup of coffee then an hour to pray before anyone else awoke. Nothing affected her scheduled time of prayers, not even the nights we stayed out late. Dad either finished in time to join her in prayers or did his prayers after she was finished. Slowly pulling the comforter off my legs, I sat up looking down at Riyad, cuddled up beside me with Adam and Sarah next to him. They all loved us sleeping together, since it meant they could finally ‘be glued’ to their mom in bed and not have to go to their own room or bed.

I had called Ned’s aunt a few days earlier, confirming our visit to their home for the next five days. I had met her on her previous visits to Guyana and was touched by her humble, calm and loving personality. Even though I had not gotten a chance to call since I had arrived, she understood and was extremely excited for us to visit. Knowing I had time to pack, before her son arrived after work to pick us up, I reassured myself, there was no need to panic as I usually did. Stepping quietly out of the bed and laying the pillow beside Riyad to prevent him from rolling, I went to shower before the bathroom became busy with everyone. I had to be fair to Ned’s family also and spend quality time with them, even though we were so busy with the wedding shopping and planning.

After a long, warm, refreshing bath, I quickly pulled on my soft house pants with t-shirt and ventured into the kitchen to prepare a bottle of milk for Riyad and breakfast for everyone. Jane and Andy were still asleep on the mattress in the living room and mom and dad had almost finished praying. Deciding on toast and omelet for everyone, I started on cutting up my onions, garlic and different color sweet peppers, while listening to the sound of mom and dad’s voices as they said their last prayers. The sound of their voices together, always filled me with warmth and comfort. Taking the chives and cilantro out of the fridge, I thought of mushrooms, wishing mom liked it since the children and I were crazy over mushrooms.

“Nal, you got no rest,” so deep in thoughts about my delicious mushrooms, I did not notice mom enter the kitchen. Laughing, I hugged her, wishing her a good morning and reassuring her it was no hard task to prepare omelets. It never seized to amaze me, the way my parents fussed over me and treated me as a little child even though I had three children. I always knew how lucky we were to have such loving parents and I never took them for granted. Slipping enough slices of bread in the toaster for myself, mom and dad, I sliced the omelet like pizza and took out three slices to place in the three plates. Mom was preparing her second cup of coffee since she knew the exact amount of sugar she needed and felt only she was capable enough to make her coffee perfect.

Dad’s favorite seat was always at the corner, next to the fridge. Before his meals, he would lay out all the different tablets he needed. I couldn’t understand how he could drink so many tablets, I always hated drinking tablets since I was a little child and thankfully, I hardly ever needed to. Mom on the other hand, seldomly had to take tablets for headaches. Laughing, I reminded mom of how strict she was with us, when we were all little, making sure there was no talking at the table while eating. I grew up seeing my parents have breakfast, lunch and dinner together and I always felt that was so special for a marriage. Mom would always have dad’s meal hot and ready for him at the table when he was ready to eat and being a mom, it was hard to understand how she managed a home with so many children and made sure our meals were always hot and our clothes clean.

Everyone was up and while they were all having breakfast, I made our bed and started packing for the five days at Ned’s family. They were very excited to have us visit and his aunt called to remind me that her son would be picking us up in the afternoon after work. Choosing individual bags for everyone, I quickly packed sleeping clothes, comfortable house clothes and a few outfits for going out, not forgetting our toothbrushes. Laying everyone’s bundle of clothes on the bed, I packed mine and Riyad’s in the little carry-on and left Adam and Sarah’s for them to pack in their knapsacks. I knew her son took a few days off work to take us to different shows and events for children and knew they would be very busy the next five days.

It was already after 4:00 p.m. and the children were getting dressed while I fed Riyad his fruits. Mom and dad had already awoken from their nap and Jane and Andy had gone to visit Andy’s family. Making sure Riyad was warmly dressed, I hurriedly showered and dressed, making sure that all the bags were ready at the door to leave as soon as we answered the buzzer. There was always so much to remember when leaving, unlike Guyana, a tropical country where you never needed jackets, gloves or warm socks. It often became colder in the evening and I always made sure we all wore our warm jackets. Adam was asthmatic and whenever he caught a cold, it always triggered his asthma.

After rushing into the bedroom and washroom to ensure it was left perfectly clean and tiny, I brought our sneakers out of the closet. My parents had instilled the importance of punctuality in all of us, especially dad and it was very important to me, not to have anyone waiting. After answering the buzzer and ensuring Ned’s cousin we would be right down, we all hugged mom and dad and headed for the elevator, everyone carrying their own bags except Riyad, who was holding my hands and the little box of apple juice mom had given him. Surprisingly, the elevator was not busy and within minutes we were in the lobby. Glancing out of the glass door at the front of the building, we could see Ned’s cousin, smiling and waving.

As we exited the doors, the children ran into his outstretched arms, hugging and greeting him excitedly. He absolutely loved all his cousins’ children and loved being around children in the whole. He was single and as far as I could remember, his mom always hinted at him finding himself a wife, which he forever brushed off. As we drove towards his home, Adam and Sarah chatted non-stop on all areas of what they did since arriving. They had met him a few times in Guyana and on their previous trips to Canada and knew how much he spoilt them. Looking across at me, he smiled.  Even though it seemed I had nothing to say since the children were filling him in on every moment of every day, he allowed them to pause before finally getting a chance to talk, “mom could not believe it when she heard your message on the answering machine,” he laughed, “she thought you were calling from Guyana and teasing her.”

Smiling, I thought of his mom. She was such a loving person and I always had a soft spot in my heart for her. From the very first moment I had met her, she had shown me so much love, that all the feelings of never being good enough for Ned or good enough to be anyone’s daughter-in-law, had vanished instantly. Without knowing, she had built an inner strength within me before she left Guyana that made me realize that there was nothing wrong with me but instead realized that to a mother that had to share her son that she had clung to for so many years, maybe was not easy. Her home was not very far from where my parents lived and within thirty minutes, we were already turning into their driveway.

Chapter 19

AN AMAZING AUNT

Stepping out of the car, I stood staring at the bunches of beautiful big roses that was among the other colorful flowers, lining the front of the beautiful cottage, which had a tree with branches that shaded over the lush green lawn. Like Sharon’s home, it had huge Bay windows at the front with curtains pulled to the side and a cute little front patio with a few steps leading to it. The children were already at the door at the side of the house with their bags, already familiar with visiting their other grandma and patiently waiting on their uncle Kay to open the door. It seemed to be a quiet neighborhood with little cottages lining both sides of the street. It was conveniently located just of one of the main highways.

Collecting the baby bag from the back seat and holding Riyad’s arms, I realized Kay had already collected the little carry-on and was opening the door for the children, pressing the alarm button on the car keys remote as I closed the door. Apologizing for delaying them, and blaming the roses that had captivated my attention, I hurried towards the door Sarah was holding open for me. From the side entrance, I came upon a platform with steps leading to the basement and steps leading to the main floor of the cottage. Taking off my shoes and lifting Riyad up, I climbed the few steps, smiling at Ned’s aunt, as she hugged Adam and Sarah then turning towards me with so much love and happiness in her expression. She was absolutely the best.

Her warm and cozy home had the kitchen on my immediate left, while the open concept of living and dining room together; which was facing me, had soft lush brown carpet on the floor. The living room was decorated with a beautiful floral stand lamp at the corner, complemented with floral sofa set and a wooden center table. At the farther corner was the wooden dining table with matching wooden china cabinet bracing the wall. It was a home that emanated comfort and simplicity. Adam and Sarah were already on the sofa chatting away with Kay as though they had urgent world news to update him on, while Riyad started exploring the home.

Aunt Baby, as she was lovingly called by the family and what I grew accustom to calling her, was already in the kitchen, warming everything up for dinner. She was my father-in-law’s sister and even though she was the oldest out of eight children, she looked like the baby of the family. Glancing up at the sound of approaching footsteps from the basement, I smiled in delight. It was aunt Baby’s youngest brother whom Sarah had referred to as ‘a big loving teddy bear with the best hugs in the world,’ when she had visited Canada earlier. He had the most loving eyes and smile and was known by the family for his heart of gold. He was a bachelor and his siblings, nieces, nephews and their children were the jewels of his heart.

After a heavy dinner, trying to please aunt Baby in taking a little of everything that was prepared, I helped to wash up the dishes while she emptied the remainder of food in smaller containers and packed them away in the fridge. The following day, we did not have to cook and could enjoy the entire day, with whatever Kay had planned for the children. Changing Riyad into his pajamas, in the event of him falling asleep, I then made sure Adam and Sarah changed into theirs and brushed their teeth, knowing that the family would stay up late. Unlike my parents’ bedtime curfew being 9:00 p.m., aunt Baby and Kay, normally slept until after midnight. Kay’s two brothers were married and living separately, while his younger sister was at the time visiting her cousin.

The five days went by with the children enjoying every moment of their days. Kay was at their disposal to do whatever they felt like doing and they were overwhelmed with all the love they got from everyone. During the days, they enjoyed going out for breakfasts, dinners, movies, to the parks and the shopping malls that were close by. At nights, they enjoyed board games and movies with nuts, chips and popcorn. It was already Friday and after the children finished showering and dressing, I started to pack all the bags, ensuring I did not forget anything. Aunt Baby had insisted we have dinner before leaving and the children were already sitting at the dining table chatting away as usual. It was so precious to see them so happy.

Aunt Baby was packing her famous delicious cassava pone, sponge cake and fruit cake she had baked, for me to take for mom and dad. Hugging her closely and thanking her for all her love, I then hugged Uncle Nasir, her brother before pulling on my sneakers. The children were all over uncle Nasir, bidding their goodbyes and promising they would return after the wedding. As usual, he was sitting in a chair made specially for him since he was big in size and I teased him yet again at the coincidence of it being so near the table where all the snacks and goodies were usually placed. He was a warm and loving person and could easily discuss any and every topic. Reminding them that Ned was arriving the following night, I assured them that our next visit would be over the weekend where it would be convenient for all Kay’s siblings and cousins to visit us.

As the car reversed from the driveway, we waved at aunt Baby who was at the front door, smiling so lovingly. She had really enjoyed the time with the children, especially Riyad who she felt was so adorable the way he was chatting with her. The drive back to my parents’ condo was as noisy as when we were going with the children talking all at once and Kay, seeming as though he was in heaven. Parking at the front of the building and taking our bags out of the trunk, Kay hugged us all, confirming that he would be seeing us as soon as the wedding was over. As we pulled open the glass doors of the lobby to press the buzzer, the kids waved their uncle off once again as he drove off, after ensuring we were safely in the building.

There were already a crowd of people waiting on the elevators and as we entered, Adam hurriedly pressed the number sixteen button, while I lifted Riyad and held on to the baby bag and small carry-on. The elevators were busy with everyone returning from their jobs and it seemed to stop at every floor, causing us to have more space at it approached our floor. As the doors slid open, it was easy to exit since there was only one woman left going on to the seventeenth floor. As usual, mom already had her door open peeking out and smiling brightly. Riyad was running towards her with Adam and Sarah hurrying behind. There was so much happiness on mom’s face, anyone would think that we had gone for one year instead of five days.

“I thought you were coming earlier,” mom exclaimed, as she hugged me closely. “You have to pack again for Lisa to pick you up tomorrow morning,” she reminded me. It seemed like I had no rest between visiting everyone, she was picking us up to spend the weekend at her home while her husband collected Ned from the airport in the evening. We had to purchase Sarah and Allison’s dresses for the wedding, since all the boys already had their outfit ready. “I will do laundry tonight and pack our clothes early in the morning,” I assured mom. Dad was laughing and teasing us “oh you are all so busy like movie stars, living out of a suitcase.” Mom and dad had accompanied me to all my siblings’ home, and I had not felt guilty being away from them. This was the first time we went alone since it was Ned’s family home.

After making sure that we had dinner already and we were quite full, mom packed away the food in the fridge while I had the children change into their pajamas. It was convenient to do laundry at mom since the washer and dryer was placed in a little laundry room right next to the living room. Thankfully we never had to pack towels since everyone’s home had closets filled with towels for guests. Emptying all the bags, I realized, it was just one load and I didn’t have to stay up all night doing laundry. Since mom and dad was watching a movie on television and the clothes were already in the washer, I decided to start packing for the week at Lisa. I had to remember everything to pack since the wedding was the following weekend and we were leaving from Lisa’s home.

It didn’t matter whose home I visited, whenever I returned to my parents’ it always felt like I returned home. I loved watching my parents do everything together. They always prayed, ate, sat on the balcony and watched television together. When the weather was good, they would go for walks or just sit on the bench that was under the big tree next to the pool at the back of the building. They were always an example to the way I wanted to live life and prayed that one day when all my children were adults, married and have a life of their own, Ned would want to be by my side to enjoy the simpler things in life…admire the new flowers that sprung, the scent of the garden after the rain fell, the sunrise and sunset…it was there within me…a dream of ‘one day.’

Jane and Andy had gone out with Sharon and Patrick and the condo was quiet. The sound of the clothes tumbling in the dryer could be heard mixed with the low volume of the television. I had already given Riyad his bottle of milk and he was fast asleep, cuddling up to the soft pillow I placed beside him. Adam and Sarah were already in bed, almost asleep since they had stayed up very late the last few nights. Even though they went to bed wee hours of the morning, they had refused to sleep in, always excited to be up to start the new day. I allowed them to totally enjoy their vacation since I knew when we returned to Guyana, it would be back to school with tons of homework and assignments.

Even though my parents were strict about going to bed at 9:00 p.m., they stayed up one hour later to chat with me while I waited for the clothes to finish drying to fold them and pack away. Dad had already mixed my Sanatogen Powder with milk for me to use, determined that I was too thin and frail. I had hated the taste when he first made it and he did whatever he needed to do, to make sure I enjoyed it. Laughing at his determination, I had watched him grate a piece of nutmeg and add a drop of vanilla essence into it with a little honey. He had insisted for me to weigh myself when I had first arrived and was determined to have me put on a few pounds before returning to Guyana.

Suddenly feeling drained as though the day had more than twenty-four hours, I hurriedly drank my Sanatogen Powder milk and crawled into bed beside Riyad, Adam and Sarah. The room was just the right temperature and I loved the touch of cold pillows under my cheeks. Smiling in satisfaction, that I had finished packing for myself and the three children, I felt my eyelids become heavy as I cuddled into Riyad and felt his fingers trailing down my arms. It felt like heaven being cuddled between my three children, all my tiredness disappeared as I drifted off, faintly hearing the sound of the door opening and the whispering of Jane and Andy’s voices, as they tip toed into the room to collect their sleeping clothes.

As usual, my eyes opened at the sound of mom having her shower. Slowly coming off the bed, trying not to awake the children, I washed my face and brushed my teeth in the washroom that was in my parents’ room we were using. Pulling on the pretty red teddy bear bedroom slippers mom had bought me, I ventured into the kitchen to make a bottle of milk for Riyad and a cup of coffee that I had a craving for. It was too early to start on breakfast and I didn’t want to disturb Jane and Andy who were fast asleep on the mattress in the living room. Lisa had given an approximate time of arriving for 10:00 a.m. and I still had four hours before she arrived. Sometimes the quiet alone time with my cup of coffee, helped me through the busy day. It was the day for Ned’s arrival and surprisingly I was not feeling any excitement. Not knowing if that was normal or if it meant we had drifted apart without realizing it, I sat sipping my coffee in the kitchen, deep in thoughts.

Realizing dad had also finished showering, I hurriedly collected my clothes since I normally took longer in the shower when I had to wash my hair and shave my legs. Taking the white bucket from under the sink and adding all the cleaning detergents to it with water, I scrubbed the washroom as I always did before going off again to visit someone. The sound of the washroom fan and the running water drowned out the sound of my parents praying, thinking to myself how amazing it was, the way Jane and Andy slept through the sound of their prayers or maybe they didn’t and was closing their eyes, wishing for once they could actually sleep in late.

It amazed me the way the time seemed to fly by when you needed more hours. Feeding Riyad his milk while he was still not fully awake, I touched Adam and Sarah to awake them. Time was of essence to me and just like dad, I loved to be punctual when someone was expected to pick us up. Adam and Sarah had showered late the night before and they were up, pulling on their jeans and shirts without hesitation, taking turns to brush their teeth and wash their faces. Unlike Guyana where it was so humid and hot and your clothes always seemed to be drenching wet, causing you to have to shower twice per day and three times on weekends, in Canada it was always cool and I had allowed the children to always shower last thing before going to bed and just wash their faces in the mornings.

Hash brown was in the oven and omelet on the stove. Mom knew how much we all loved hash brown and that was a treat for us before heading off again for the week. Jane and Andy were already up and packing away their mattress in Leanord’s room where mom and dad were sleeping. As usual, a few minutes after the buzzer was answered, Lisa came flying through the door like hurricane “come on everyone, time to get up,” she laughed out. Looking around surprised to see us all dressed and ready with our bags next to the door. “Wow!! Did you people sleep?’ she asked. Taking her shoes off and placing her cardigan on the back of the sofa, she hugged everyone before heading to the kitchen, “coffee time,” she laughed, raising her Starbucks coffee cup in the air. Since mom only had instant coffee and Lisa always bought her coffee before coming.

As Jane pulled out the tray of golden hash brown from the oven and sliced the omelet, I placed the plates and forks on the cupboard top and made myself a cup of instant coffee. Ensuring mom, dad and the children ate first, we sat in the living room chatting since the dining table only fitted four. The children were hurrying to eat their breakfast, impatiently excited to be with their cousins again. Looking across at Lisa and admiring her long silky hair that framed her square jawed feature, so much like dad, I smiled, noticing the way her fingers never left her head. It was always sliding through the strands as she spoke and more so whenever she wanted to make a point. I always admired her perfect height, beautiful features and silky hair.

After having the most delicious breakfast and hugging everyone, we left for the elevator, each pulling a small carry-on with the outfits for the wedding and clothes for the week. Exiting the back door of the condo building, we headed towards Lisa’s Mitsubishi SUV which fitted all the luggage comfortably. As she drove out of the parking lot towards the highway, beautiful flowers could be seen everywhere with different types of trees lining both sides of the street. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day and children with their families could be seen walking along the pavements, either heading towards the bus stops or just going for morning walks.

Chapter 20

NED’S ARRIVAL

As normal, always forgetting to switch on the fan of the bathroom before bathing, I slowly stepped out of the bathtub, swiping my fingers across the bathroom mirror, clearing the steam that clouded it. A glance at my face, revealed the happiness I had felt for the past few weeks, mixed with an expression of a wounded child. I had kept everything inside, not confiding about the lonely life I had, where I filled every available space with the presence of my children. It was so different now, I was being hurdled with so much love and fuss from my siblings and parents, everyone checking to see if more time was spent in one siblings’ home more than the other. It was a good feeling to be loved so much and I had missed that. My family was a bundle of happy, humble, carefree, loving people. Carl was already on his way home from the airport with Ned and the children had all taken their baths and was in their pajamas.

The front door opened as I was coming down the stairs, while Carl hurried in with the carry-on, Ned stood at the doorway, holding on to his suitcase, smiling at me, his smile and eyes tugging at my heart.  It was always the look in his eyes and the way he smiled that constantly caused my weakness in forgiving him over and over. Running down the last few steps, I hugged him closely “salaam, how was your flight,” I asked. Trying to push aside the thoughts of wondering if he missed me just a little bit. Excitedly, I hurried towards the kitchen to lay out his dinner while he hugged Lisa and all the children. Lisa was chatting away as usual with her jovial, excited personality, “come on up let me show you the room so you could rest down your suitcase and change into comfortable clothes,” she insisted.

The children had all gone off to bed, as we sat in the living room having our cup of hot herbal tea. It felt like such a long day since we had gone shopping for Allison and Sarah’s dresses as soon as we had arrived at Lisa. Thankfully, we had purchased everything we needed and could now sit back and enjoy the few days before the grand wedding that was being planned. Carl and Ned were making plans to visit the ‘Big and Tall’ stores to check for Ned’s suit the following day while we prepared for the entire family that was expected to arrive in the afternoon. Lisa never seemed to be tired, smiling and teasing her that excitement was her vitamin, I filled Ned in on all we did for the day and what was planned for the following day.

After a well laid out breakfast of scones, omelet and pancake, Ned and Carl went off shopping for the day while the children decided to go to the park nearby, giving us time to prepare. While I started off cleaning from the upper level, Lisa got busy in the kitchen, packing the dishwasher before placing the chicken she had seasoned the night before in the oven and starting the big pot of cook-up rice. It was rice cooked with one or more type of beans, spinach and lots of different types of seasonings and coconut milk. It was the easiest thing possible to cook when a big crowd was expected. Riyad was quite happy to stay back with me and sat on the couch admiring the big colorful fishes that swam in the aquarium, hardly watching the cartoon movie I had put on for him.

“Girl you are a magician,” I teased, as I came down and saw everything was almost done cooking. Experiencing the speed at which she moved in the kitchen, made me realize it was safer to help with other chores, allowing her the space and time to focus while cooking. Giving Riyad his bottle of milk, I laid him comfortable on the couch, noticing his eyes becoming heavy with sleep. Even though he was just over two years old, he stayed up late with the children as though he was the same age as they were and even though he fell asleep way before them, it was still later than his normal bedtime when he was in Guyana. I had already started training him to sleep at 8:00 p.m. since he was starting school in September when he returned home.

As the doorbell chimed, one after another set of family arrived, each bringing either dessert, salad or snacks, assisting Patrick when they arrived with the few pans of wedding cake his mom had baked. Those were the ones we were supposed to work on cutting and placing in cake boxes for each guest. The day passed with total excitement as the house was filled with laughter and everyone talking at the same time. Children were wrapping Indian sweets in little gold laced parcels feeling very proud of themselves, while the adults were in the kitchen debating the size and the perfect way to cut the cake to fit into the box. Ned had brought his video camera and was busy videoing all the excitement and taking tons of pictures.

The week passed by quickly, Carl had taken a few days off work and we spent time during the day sightseeing and shopping and at night, while they went to hang out together, we watched movies and drank our herbal tea. It was the day before the wedding, and we had taken out all the Indian outfit we had to wear for that day. Sandy and her family had already arrived and was staying at Ram and Geets. We had borrowed Indian outfits for myself, Sarah and Allison from Asha since there was no way I was going to wear Indian clothes after that day and I didn’t want to waste money in buying when Asha had a variety of Indian clothes we could choose from.

We had all arranged to meet at Rudy’s home then leave from there for the banquet hall. Thankfully there were two bathrooms at Lisa and therefore no confusion to finish in time. Making sure the children showered early and stayed indoors, it was easier to just have them get dressed when we were ready to leave. Ram’s daughter had told the girls she would do their hair and after pulling on their Indian outfits and the boys pulling on their little dress pants with shirts, they were the first ones to finish, waiting patiently on us and excited to have their hair done by Michelle. All the clothes we borrowed from Asha were bottle green with gold and Sharon had bought bottle green Indian clothes for her two daughters also.

Lisa had kept her outfit as a surprise, looking up the stairs as she gracefully stepped down, I admired my beautiful sister in her lime green shalwar with her long silky hair hanging around her shoulders. It was the most beautiful shalwar I had ever seen, simple, yet elegant, emphasizing the beauty of her height. Carl was driving with Ned and the boys while I went with Lisa, Riyad and the girls. We were all excited to experience the first Indian traditional wedding from India. Leaving earlier so that the girls could have their hair done, we drove off towards Scarborough.

As Allison and Sarah ran up to Dolly’s room with Michelle and Alice following, to have their hair and slight make-up done, Adam, Riyad and Jack, went towards George and Sabrina, Sandy’s children. I had not seen Sandy since Riyad was a baby and I was so happy to hug her closely. She was dressed in a beautiful simple Islamic gown with her hijab, her daughter, looking very petite and shy, was  standing beside her smiling and wearing a little gown with her hijab also. Looking up as Rob parked, I smiled as all his beautiful daughters and cute son emerged from the vehicle. Sarah his wife was very beautiful, and I was seeing her again after so many years since she never came to all the event planning. Hugging her closely and promising her to visit her home now that Ned had arrived, I congratulated her in upbringing such beautiful, well mannerly children, who always accompanied their dad whenever he came.

Sharon and her family arrived next, she was dressed in a beautiful lilac and silver shalwar, her two daughters looking cute with their curls touching their shoulders and matching bangles of bottle green on their hands. Leanord arrived next wearing an Indian bridegroom outfit while dad was dressed in a white pants and white kurta top. Mom emerged from the back seat, wearing a beautiful burgundy saree, her soft natural curls complementing her thick short hair style, with Jane beside her, wearing a simple dark blue dress with white spots. Ram and Geets were coming outside of the house dressed in Indian outfits, followed by Dolly, wearing one of her fancy dresses she was known for always wearing.

Looking around at the once quiet and serene neighborhood, I smiled to myself thinking “it must be the first time for the neighbors to see this many people who all seemed to be talking at the same time, full of excitement.” Looking up at the sound of Sarah’s voice, I stood staring as she ran towards me. Michelle had done her hair, which was a little over her shoulders, in tiny front braids about two inches in length, with tiny colorful butterflies resting on each braid. The rest of the hair fell in swirls of curls while a touch of lip gloss was added to her lips and the tiniest gold star sitting at the edge of her eyebrows. Allison’s hair was also done the same style and they looked so cute with their matching outfits and almost same height.

As the seven cars filled with everyone drove towards the banquet hall, we all sensed a feeling of excitement for the beginning of this first ever experience. Upon arrival, the five sisters and mom, all held trays of gifts for the bride with our spouses beside us as we entered the entrance, one behind the other. Asha’s family were lined on both sides of the entrance, showering us with petals of flowers as we entered, the children first, followed by the bridegroom, my parents, then the siblings. It felt like we were in a movie and the children couldn’t have been more excited. After the wedding, Riyad held Diane’s hands and took to the floor, followed by Ram, Geets and Jane, dancing to the live singing of Indian singers. There were tons of Indian dishes and desserts laid out on the long table at the two corners of the hall, as guests lined to have their dinner, everyone dressed in exotic Indian outfits.

It was day two of the wedding and everyone was meeting up at Lisa since this banquet hall was closer to her. After Sarah and Allison had dressed in their beautiful Cinderella dresses, deciding to brush their hair and allowing it to drop on their shoulders naturally, they ran down the steps looking very pretty. The boys hurriedly dressed in their little suits after, looking cute as ever. While Ned and Carl went to get dressed, myself and Lisa took out our beautiful outfits, feeling excited as ever. As I slowly pulled the royal blue Cinderella dress up to my shoulders, I gazed at the beauty of the dress, dropping the matching scarf over my shoulders, I hurried down the steps at the sound of the doorbell. As the limousine pulled up, I glanced around at my parents and eight siblings with their spouses and children. It was as though we took up the whole block with cars and confusion. Sisi and Aileen were unable to make it and wishing they were there to complete the picture, we all posed in front of the limousine.

It was a wonderful day and the bride and groom looked amazing in their traditional Indian wedding clothes. It was my first vacation to Canada, and I was having a busy, excited vacation, packed with activities each day. The following Sunday, the bride finally wore her beautiful wedding dress and the groom dressed in his fancy suit as they held hands and arrived at the third banquet hall. Dressed in my black velvet strap dress with the cougar scarf, I posed for pictures among my siblings who were all dressed in elegant evening gowns and suits. After speeches and dinner, the music began playing and we all took to the dance floor. Mom and dad, after dancing until their feet felt tired, finally decided to sit, smiling and admiring the happiness on their children’s faces. Smiling as I approached their table, I dropped into the empty seat beside them, “now this is done the Guyanese way,” I laughed happily. It was not part of the traditional Indian wedding Asha’s family had planned. 

It was time to focus on Ned’s family for the rest of our vacation. The final day of the wedding celebration had been kept at a much smaller banquet hall with just immediate family members of both the bride and bridegroom. It was quiet and simple with just our family waltzing to the soft music being played. After dinner, a few dancing and socializing, it was time to head home and pack. Ned’s family had already planned a trip to Niagara Falls and Wonderland. All the cousins were meeting us at his aunt’s home to leave from there. The children could not complain of one dull moment when they returned home. They had brought their school textbooks to study and it was left in their suitcase with them promising each day to start studying for the new term when school re-opened. Smiling, I looked across at my three children, their little faces filled with excitement. It was the greatest gift for any mom to see this expression on their children’s faces.

Leanord and Asha had gone off for their honeymoon and Jane and Andy were on their way to spend a few days at Sharon. We had returned to my parents’ home and after awaking early to clean the washroom and do laundry before start packing, I again waited for my parents to start their prayers before beginning. I was happy for mom and dad to have alone time to relax with no confusion or noise. Even though they seemed to enjoy every bit of it, I knew it must have not been easy for them. After putting the load of laundry into the washer, I started on the bathroom while Ned began breakfast for everyone. The children were sound asleep after returning home just before midnight. Even though we had tried to leave early, the music never stopped playing and no one felt it was time to leave. We all grew up listening to music every weekend and hosting our own house parties every New Year’s Eve. Even though we were not professional dancers, we all loved to dance and listen to music. It was always a part of me and not being able to experience it again after marriage, I missed it.

Chapter 21

A TRIP TO WONDERLAND AND NIAGARA FALLS

The first few days at Aunt Baby went by quickly with us spending quality time with her. Returning from our daily outings, Ned would cook all their favorite Guyanese dishes, while the children played in the backyard. Seeing Ned busy in the kitchen reminded Aunty Baby of her brother; Ned’s dad, who also loved to cook. It was so special to give happiness to someone only by your presence and it meant the world to me to let her feel our love.  She was the most humble and loving person who wanted to be on her feet all day preparing different dishes in the kitchen for you no matter how long it took, and would ignore the pain she felt in her knees or back from standing too long. Family was very important to her and she did everything within her will for them.

It was already Friday and all the cousins were coming over the following day. Unlike the time spent at mom, where I would let the children go into bed at 9:00p.m. at Aunt Baby, no one seemed to sleep at nights. After their dinner, it was time for the regular board games played with their uncle Kay, then to choose what movie they felt like watching while eating tons of chips and nuts, before it was finally time to sleep in the wee hours of the morning. Kay was like a little child among them and never seemed to be tired of doing whatever they wanted to. It never ceased to amaze me the way the children could stay up so late, even though Riyad was the first one to fall asleep, he always tried desperately to stay awake with his siblings as late as possible.

The touch of Riyad’s fingers running up and down my arm, awoke me next morning. Lifting the curtain to peek outside, I realized I had slept later than normal. Climbing out of bed quietly, I entered the washroom, washing my face and brushing my teeth, before making Riyad his bottle of milk. Aunt Baby had already awoken earlier to pray as she did daily and was resting in bed. She would usually awake about four hours after going to bed and pray right through the night. I could never do that since sleeping properly at night was important to me, if not, I would feel miserable, my eyes would hurt, and my head would feel heavy all day. Realizing everyone was still asleep, I quietly made myself and cup of coffee and returned to the room with Riyad’s bottle of milk.

It was a beautiful sunny day and summer had begun. Aunt Baby had pulled the front curtain open, as she usually did as soon as she awoke, and the sunlight streamed into the living and dining room. The little tree at the front, the lush green grass and the big roses that braced along the window ledge next to the variety of different colour flowers, lit the front of the house with the ambiance of sheer beauty. Everyone was awake and as the aroma of coffee filled the air, we ate the most delicious breakfast of bakes and saltfish. The cousins were expected to arrive at 4:00p.m. and Ned started on seasoning the big bowl of chicken aunt Baby had brought up from the freezer in the basement before we had breakfast. He was planning on making bar-b-que chicken with fried rice.

The children had all showered and dressed, anxiously awaiting everyone. As the cousins arrived, the cottage was filled with excitement, since as usual with most gatherings, everyone seemed to be talking at the same time.  Even though I had met Aunt Baby’s four children, it was the first time meeting all the others. Ned had finished preparing the fried rice and salad and had his last batch of chicken on the bar-b-que grill that was in the back yard. Everyone arrived with dessert and after having the most delicious dinner and dessert, the tales of “old times” started. Adam and Sarah enjoyed since they were hearing tales of their dad and how very mischievous, he was as a child. Looking around, I thought of how similar they were to my family, no one was stuck up or felt they were better than the other, it was just a home filled with everyone who loved each other.

Even though we had slept for just an hour, it was time to hurry out of bed and start preparing for the trip to Wonderland. Adam and Sarah were extremely excited while Riyad was too little to understand. Allowing them to sleep in, I assisted Ned with preparing breakfast of toast, omelette and salami, we then started on the cheese sandwiches to take with us. Aunt Baby had already awoken early as usual to pray and was in the shower since she was known for taking long while showering. Packing the sandwiches in the big plastic container with paper napkins, bottles of water and boxes of juice in bags to be placed in the car trunk, I hurriedly prepared Riyad’s milk and went to awake the children.

Surprised to see Uncle Nasir, already sitting on his special chair when I brought Riyad out of the room, I teased him about the aroma of the breakfast drifting all the way to the basement. Even though he usually came up closer to lunch time, he was excited to see us off. Aunt Baby was fussing over him, laying out different type of dishes next to him to have, whenever he felt hungry. She loved to fuss over everyone and since he was overweight and had pain in his legs, she did everything to make it easier for him. Looking at all the steam vegetables, salad and fruits that was placed beside him, I glanced at him laughing “now don’t you dare go into the kitchen to find cake or chips”, I teased. Riyad was already sitting on his legs chatting away with him, as I pulled on his socks and little jacket.

Even though Adam and Sarah had visited Canada on previous occasions, it was now their first trip to Wonderland. Ensuring, I packed a few sandwiches, juice and water in the baby’s bag, along with his pampers and wipes in the separate compartment, I was finally comfortable that I was well prepared for the entire day at Wonderland. As the children all hugged uncle Nasir, reassuring him that they would be back soon, I stepped out onto the front porch, feeling the sun beams on my face and smelling the scents of the beautiful flowers. It was a warm, bright, sunny summer’s day and the children was going to really enjoy their day of fun and excitement.

The parking lot of Wonderland was filled with vehicles, and even though Kay and his other two brothers tried to park as close as possible to the entrance, it was still a far walk. Thankfully I always took the light umbrella type stroller with me, whenever I knew there would be lots of walking involved. I had borrowed it from Sharon, and it was a real ‘life saver’ on all our previous outings. After making sure Riyad was securely strapped with his juice and water beside him, I hung the baby bag onto the handle and was ready for a day’s walking between the various rides. I had already warned Adam and Sarah not to wander off anywhere by themselves and to make sure they informed us when they were ready to join their uncle and cousins in different rides from us. Since I was extremely scared of rides, I was very comfortable and prepared to do the baby rides only with Riyad.

Convinced that children seemed to have tons of energy more than adults when they were excited, I dropped onto the wooden bench while everyone took turns at the washroom nearby. Adam and Sarah were both afraid to go on the very daring rides and had chosen simpler ones ignoring the teasing from their cousins who went on every ride possible. Riyad had enjoyed the rides in the Teacup and Saucer, Dumbo and the cute little boats that moved slowly in circular motion in a shallow pond of water. Glancing at him, I realized he had drifted off while drinking his juice. Removing the little box of juice from his fingers and wiping his mouth from the cheese sandwich he had eaten, I smiled and wondered if he would ever remember this day that was packed with excitement.

The drive back was very quiet since all the children were fast asleep and only the sound of the passing vehicles could be heard as Kay drove with Aunt Baby beside him. Slipping the sneakers off my feet, I rubbed my toes, which felt like heavy lead, against each other. Aunt Baby had taken a seat in a central spot under the shade of a big beautiful tree at Wonderland and had kept all the snacks, juices and water with her. Realizing that it would not have made a difference if we didn’t prepare anything, since the children were way too excited to eat. Even though I had insisted for them to take a break and have their lunch, they ate with such a speed, only thinking what ride to go on next. The extreme heat and humidity did not seem to affect them.

The following days, we had spent a few days at Kay’s brother’s home, which was about an hour drive away. I had met his wife who was very shy and beautiful when they had just married and visited Guyana. Their cute daughter was about two years older than Riyad and their son, one year younger. The few days with them was so much fun. We had taken Aunt Baby with us and Kay had taken a few days off. Just like Aunt Baby’s home, they did not go to bed early and we stayed up late laughing and talking old tales as we experienced all the Trinidadians’ dishes and met her side of the family. She was from a huge loving family and I admired the closeness they had among them just like ours, Aunt Baby’s and Ned’s.

After spending a few days at Ned’s other uncle and his wife, who had two daughters and one son, it was time to head back to Aunt Baby’s home for the trip to Niagara Falls. Ned’s uncle was extremely quiet and shy and not as chatty as Uncle Nasir. His wife cooked the most amazing delicious dishes and the countertop never seemed to fit the dishes as she laid them out. It was so touching to see the entire family, showering us with so much love. They had understood I spent the first five weeks with my family and did not feel bad about waiting for us to visit them after. It was such an ease, when you did not have to think you were hurting anyone. It was so different from the way I had to keep proving myself to my mother-in-law or the way I always prayed deep in my heart that one day she would learn to love me as the daughter she did not have.

It was the morning we were going to Niagara Falls and Aunt Baby had baked sponge cake, cassava pone and rich creamy macaroni and cheese to take with us. Everyone was taking dishes with picnic chairs and mats and we were going for an entire day to picnic and tour. Adam and Sarah were excited about the Haunted House they had heard so much about from their cousins and that was on top of their list, not paying any attention to what was being prepared to take with us to eat. After ensuring the children had showered before going into bed, it was easier to just awake them to have them brush their teeth, wash their faces, dress and have their breakfast before leaving. Aunt Baby always had the air condition extremely high, which made the children feel fresh when they awoke, unlike Guyana, which was so hot and humid, they had to shower at nights and in the mornings before going to school.

Ram, Geets and Rob had decided to join us, and I had told them to reach an hour earlier to have enough time for introduction and coffee. Glancing at my watch while I followed Riyad out on the front porch, I realized we had about ten minutes before they arrived. Everything was already packed and ready to go, the sink was clean of dishes and beds were made. Through the bay windows, I could still see Ned, Kay, Adam and Sarah, having their breakfast and chatting away happily. Deep in thoughts, I did not notice Ram’s vehicle arrive until I heard their excited morning greetings. Looking up and laughing, as Riyad was hurrying down the three little steps, I jumped out of the chair, hugging Rob as he gave Riyad over to Ram, “oh you guys are right on time,” I laughed, hugging Ram and Geets and opening the door for them to enter.

As we drove north towards Niagara Falls, Rob was chatting away as usual. Just like Ram, he was very humble and very friendly, the only difference being, while Ram was a bit reserved, Rob would talk non-stop to someone he just met as though he knew them his whole life. Ned’s aunt and cousins loved them instantly and couldn’t stop telling me about my amazing family, especially Rob who had them laughing from the moment he arrived for the entire hour. I had decided to drive in their vehicle with Riyad, while Ned went with Kay and Adam and Sarah obviously choose Kay’s brother since his wife had nieces and nephews who were their age.

As the five vehicles arrived at Niagara Falls, they searched for parking that was close to Clifton Hill, where all the attractions, restaurants and entertainment was located, and close enough to a park where we could find the big trees to lay our picnic mats and the variety of dishes on wooden tables. Within minutes, we were happily heading towards the perfect spot, the children holding on to the two bats and the bag of balls for the very anticipated game of cricket. The day was filled with tons of fun and food and after everything was finally packed away in the various vehicles, it was time to tour the Niagara Falls and the lane where all the attractions could be found.

Adam and Sarah finally got to enjoy the Haunted House with their cousins and came out looking as though they screamed all the way. After taking pictures next to the tallest man and all the dinosaurs, they did a few indoor rides through tunnels, then it was time to see the falls at night. The weather became cold and because I had learnt to always be prepared, we all pulled on our jackets and walked towards the Falls, which had lots of people lined off at the rails. As we walked closer, the beauty of the rainbow color lights reflecting on the sprays of the extremely beautiful Falls, left me staring in awe of such beauty. It was the first experience for us seeing any kind of Falls and the sound of the raging water as it rippled over rocks and fell over with such magnitude had us all staring. I could not believe there were tour boats filled with people dressed in yellow raincoats, who were brave enough to go on them.

The drive back was quiet as was expected with all the children sleeping, until the heavy rain began, followed by the scary sight of the bright long streaks of lightening and seconds after, the deafening sounds of thunder. The wind was howling as it became impossible to see out of the vehicle. The children were now wide awake as we turned into a gas station, waiting on everyone to join us until the heavy rainfall eased. In Guyana we had often heard thunder and see a few flashes of lightening when it rained heavily, but never had we experienced this extremely long strip of bright lightening seeming as though it was landing on the surface of the highway. For the first time, I felt scared and thought of my mother-in-law who had extreme fear of the light sounds of thunder in Guyana, it was impossible to imagine what she would have done if she was on the trip with us.

After hugging aunt Baby, Uncle Nasir and promising to visit more often, we thanked them for welcoming us, treating us so special and making us experience such a wonderful two weeks of excitement. It was now a drive towards mom with only Rob’s home on the calendar to visit next, then it was time to fly home. The children were having such a wonderful holiday which I knew they would always remember as I did with the beautiful memories of my childhood. As Kay pulled up in front of the Condo, we hugged him as Ned collected our bags from the trunk, swiping the card on the door from the bunch of keys mom had given me. Waving Kay, as he teased me about having my own keys already, I thanked him again and held open the doors as everyone entered, heading for the elevator.

“Oh mom,” I laughed as I came out of the room with the laundry basket filled, “your home always seem to be the laundromat before it is time to head out again,” I teased, trying my best to have the most apologetic expression on my face. We were taking two days rest before visiting Rob and his family for the day, then departure from Canada was set for Saturday night, arriving Guyana Sunday morning. Mom and dad had finished praying and seemed to enjoy the busyness of our vacation. “You seem to be living out of a suitcase now Nal,” dad teased, as he went to change off his prayer clothes. Mom as usual, was already in my laundry basket, sorting the clothes. Looking at mom, I thought how lucky we all were to have such loving parents who continued to fuss over us, even though we were married with children. Smiling, I felt at peace knowing I didn’t have to leave them and do anymore visits, since we were all going to Rob’s home.

The two days were spent quietly, with us visiting Tim Hortons, McDonalds and Dairy Queen that was all nearby, and strolling around Home Depot that was across the street. Ned had a passion for tools and couldn’t resist buying a few. We had already purchased gifts for everyone back home, including a few of Adam and Sarah’s school friends who were looking forward to receiving a gift when school reopened. Sitting on the balcony, while chatting and enjoying the view after dinner, I thought of how strange it felt to still have sunlight when at such time in Guyana, it would have been bedtime for the children. I knew how much I would miss my parents when I returned home, after spending so much time with them, but life was made up of different challenges, while some were physical and others emotional, at the end, the strength within had to prevail in order to move forward.

The following day, Rob had arrived to collect us with the van he drove, which had about nine seats. So deep in thoughts about our flight home, I did not realize we had arrived until I looked at the pretty little cottage so much like Sharon’s home. As usual, Rob was happily chatting away throughout the drive and as he slid open the side doors for us to exit after helping dad out of the front seat first, he welcomed us to his humble home. As we stepped in behind him, the scent of delicious food and spiced tea filled the air. His wife came hurrying out of the kitchen to hug and greet us all while the children appeared out of the three bedrooms, all dressed up and excited. Looking around, I was in awe at the beauty of each child and how well mannerly they were. Swinging separately in a baby swing hung on the arch between the kitchen and living room, was the cute baby of the family, cooing and enjoying the excitement.

Chapter 22

RIYAD’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

As the plane flew over the vast forestry of Guyana, I instantly felt at home. It was so true…at least for me, no matter where I went, there was no place like home. The entire family had arrived at my parents’ home for the farewell lunch and dinner the previous day and had stayed until we were ready to leave for the airport. Thankfully I had been doing laundry and packing suitcases one at a time earlier in the week, and there was no confusion in leaving. Jane, Andy and Justin were also flying back with us and it was convenient to leave with Ram and Rob since they both drove vans. The flight had left 11:30 p.m. the previous night and after one hour in-transit in Trinidad, we were about to land at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning. The loud sound of clapping broke into my thoughts as the Guyanese applauded the pilot for such a smooth landing. Smiling, I wondered if it was only us, who did that. It was great for the pilot to be appreciated and not taken for granted that he was just doing his job.

Hugging Jane, Andy and Justin, we waved them off as the taxi driver packed our suitcases in his van. We had instantly stripped our denim jackets because of the extreme heat and humidity, but as I closed my eyes and breathe in the air, it felt different from the air abroad. I smelled the fresh scent of the green lush grass and all the different flowers that surrounded the airport, in the huge plant section made for decoration. As the taxi driver  updated Ned, on everything that happened for the past two weeks, the children all cuddled up beside me at the back, eyes slowly closing as we drove down the narrow small street which had tons of holes and garbage thrown at the sides. It was always amazing to me, the way I noticed the filth instantly whenever I returned from abroad, guess it was the vast difference of the way foreigners took care of their environment.

Looking up, I realized the taxi had already turned onto Ned’s parents’ bridge. Even though eight months had passed since we sold our home and returned to live with Ned’s parents, I often forgot and felt we were returning to our own home. Ned’s dad had missed his grandchildren very much and had begged us to move back since he felt their home was quiet and empty without us. He was such a loving father-in-law, even though we had moved, he had insisted and would always arrive every weekend with bags of groceries. “What am I living for, if I cannot give my children everything my heart desires?”, would be his constant question, whenever I tried to let him understand that we needed to feel the pressure of being independent and as my dad would often say, “learn how to manage your money.”

The children were already out of the car, their knapsacks on their backs, excited to tell the family all about their trip. Sarah was lifting Riyad so that he could ring the bell, but before his tiny little finger could press the button, the door was flung open and there stood their grandmother, “I heard the gate opening,” she laughed at their surprised faces, “I miss you all,” she said as she hugged them. While Ned was paying the taxi driver, I collected the two carry-on and followed behind the children. Smiling, I realized what was for breakfast, from the scent coming out of the kitchen. It had to be dhal, spinach, fried fish and roti. I had missed the fresh fried fish we were accustomed to having in Guyana and suddenly I felt very hungry.

After the most delicious breakfast of exactly what I smelled upon entering the kitchen, it was time to open the suitcases and let the children; who were impatiently excited, give everyone their gifts. The had not allowed me to take my time and enjoy my much craved, fried fish, since they kept checking if I was finished eating every two seconds. “Be patient children,” I laughed, as I unlocked the little padlock with the tiny key from the bunch. “Don’t worry, this is the suitcase with all the gifts,” I reassured them, as I laughed at their anxious expressions. They were so much like me, when I was their age. I had always enjoyed secretly buying my parents and siblings gifts for their birthdays and Christmas, wrap them up nicely and then enjoy their excited expression of being in suspense, as they opened it.

The days that followed, I kept myself busy with buying the few school items I had not been lucky to find before I left for my vacation, including a couple of textbooks for Adam. Thankfully Sarah received all of Adam’s texts; being a year younger, she was always in one grade below him. I was accustomed to hearing her argue with him every summer vacation about the way he would write his name all over the texts, to identify that it belonged to him. She would try her best to paper the cover of the book with long laps that folded in, sometimes being lucky to cover his name, but then he got the idea of turning the book on the side, and writing his name on all the side edge of all the pages together. They had gotten their new school sneakers in Canada, along with knapsacks, which was a relief to be taken off the list.

Even though I was not good at Mathematics, I always had a passion for Accounting and since I was disappointed I didn’t have an Accounts teacher and was unable to write the examination when I was a teenager, I decided to sign up for classes at a private Business School. Deciding on evening classes, which was convenient to attend after I finished working and ensured the children were all home from school and finished their assignments, I excitedly purchased my Accounts textbook and my very own stationary. The classes were held three times a week and I choose Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Maybe I inherited the love for Accounting from dad and knowing Ned would never allow me to work anywhere other than the family business and how hard my dad worked his entire life to educate each one of us, I wanted to get a distinction in Accounting just for him.

It was the first day of the new school term and the children were excited to enter their new classrooms. The results of the Grade 6 Examination were released from the Ministry of Education, two weeks after we returned from Canada and Adam had gained marks to attend one of the top secondary schools. It was a government school and after ensuring they had teachers for every subject, clean washrooms and classrooms with proper windows for air, we decided to send him there. It was the first time for  Adam and Sarah to be in separate schools and Sarah teased her brother all the way to school, “now you don’t have me anymore to trick with your pitiful expression when you spend out your money and come to see if I still have,” she laughed. Glancing at them, I smiled. They were too young to know how precious their relationship was, no matter what they disagreed on, in the end they were always laughing and playing together.

“Mommy, Riyad looks so cute,” Sarah said as she hugged her baby brother, it was his first day of school and he had awoken very excited to get dressed in his school clothes like his brother and sister. He had happily accompanied Ned and Adam to the barber to have his haircut after being told, two more days for him to start school. Because of his age, he was accepted in the Play School level and felt proud of himself as he stood beside his brother and sister, holding on to his lunch kit, to have his photograph taken in the front yard before entering the car. As usual, Adam had already distracted Sarah while he had quickly slid into the front seat, leaving Sarah and Riyad at the back. After first dropping Sarah off, then Adam, I chatted with Riyad all the way to his school, telling him how proud I was of him and what a big boy he had become, to go to school like his brother and sister.

Feeling like a basket of nerves, I parked and held Riyad’s hands, as I entered the school compound. Maybe because I had not experienced Adam and Sarah’s first day of school, but at that moment, I felt the same emotion as I felt, leaving Adam back in Guyana as a baby and when I hugged and kissed Sarah before she first traveled to Guyana. My heart felt as though someone was ripping it out. Silently reminding myself Riyad was in school for just four hours, I hugged and kissed him for what seemed to be a million times before I hesitantly stepped out of the classroom. The walls around were about five feet tall and as I tiptoed out, I sadly watched him sitting so very quietly, looking around at all the children who were screaming at the top of their voices. For a moment I thought, ‘maybe I could apply for a job here as a teacher.’

Finding it hard to concentrate what the customer wanted to buy as I kept glancing at the clock on the wall beside the office, I kept imagining Riyad’s confused expression as he looked around at all the children crying. Breathing a sign of relief as the clock finally showed 11:45 a.m., I hurried out to the car and within fifteen minutes, was already parked in front of the school entering the compound. Lots of parents were already standing outside, anxious to collect their children, knowing the very first day of school for most children were not easy. At the loud sound of the school bell chiming, we all entered the school, standing behind each other to collect our children in an orderly manner, not wanting to cause any confusion to teachers who obviously had a very challenging day.

Adam liked his new school and even though he missed his friends from his previous school, whom he met with the weekend before to share the gifts he bought them, he was comfortable with the new ones from his classroom. Sarah was not surprised they were packed with assignments on the first day of school, but was extremely excited to see her friends again, and they all loved the cute little presents she brought back for them. Riyad, whom I was worried sick about all day, was beaming with happiness when I picked him up and had so much to tell me, even though the teacher said she was unable to get one word out of him as he sat quietly all day, fixing his building blocks and coloring the circles she drew for him.

The second day of school went more smoothly with me less nervous when I saw Riyad hurrying out of bed to have his breakfast, excited to go to school. I was more focused at work and did not have to leave work anymore, since I was doing the drop offs and Ned was picking the children up from school. It was the first day of my Accounting classes and after making sure all the children were already showered and dressed in their pajamas, I fed Riyad his dinner and made sure Adam and Sarah had theirs. Ensuring, they were checking to see what homework needed to be done, I felt comfortable to jump into a bus and head to classes.

Living in Georgetown was convenient since everywhere I needed to go was always about fifteen minutes away by car, The Business School being no different. Unfortunately, having to take public transportation, took me double that time to reach and thankfully, I had left earlier. Arriving at the school ten minutes early, I proceeded to climb the stairs, breathing heavily as I finally reached the third floor. This was just my luck, the classes had to be held on the third floor. Because of my heart murmur, even though it was not on the side that caused it to be life threatening, it always caused me shortness of breath if I walked fast, ran or climbed too many stairs. Smiling and greeting everyone a good evening, I was thankful that the teacher had not arrived. Smiling to myself as I again chose the back seat, afraid to be at the front, I made myself busy as I laid out my books and stationery on my desk.

The teacher arrived and halfway through the class, as usual, I was transferred to the front row. It was amazing how much I remembered even though I had finished school twenty years ago and never did accounting again. The first day, we covered mostly definitions and started basic transactions. Just like my dad, I had my pencil, black and red ink pen with ruler and eraser all laid out neatly on my desk, taking pride in drawing up my very first transaction. Pleased that we had covered a lot for the two hours, I was excited to make a note on what transactions I needed to complete for homework to submit on Thursday. I knew Adam and Sarah would be excited to see their mom doing her homework.

As the weeks went by, I had become the top student of the class and the teacher would often use my book to show the other students how the transaction was expected to be done. I often wished I could slip at the back of the classroom again since I felt very uncomfortable and nervous whenever he patrolled around the class, always slowing down at my desk to stare at what I was doing. I was not experienced enough to know how other students felt, but it always dampened my spirit to excel and I wished I could let him know, if he wanted the best out of me, he needed to allow me to do my work without hovering over it.

Two months had passed since school had re-opened and Sarah was beginning to feel nervous since the examination was just six months away. Adam’s school was not as good as we expected, there were always days when teachers were absent from classes, Riyad was enjoying his school and I was over the top proud of myself for deciding to start classes and do something for myself. Even though this day was no different than the rest and I had just been complimented that I was for sure a distinction student, I felt extremely weak and sick as though everything I ate for the day wanted to come out. Thanking the teacher and assuring him that I would try my best not to disappoint him, I concentrated on finishing the transaction and was the first one out of the classroom.

We were already three weeks into the month of Ramadhan, and smiling at Shairool; my father-in-law’s cousin who had lived with them since Ned was very young, knowing she was about to ask me for the tenth time when I was going to start general cleaning our room, I reminded her that I was waiting for my menstruation.  I always felt it easier to do my cleaning when I didn’t have to observe fasting. After complementing her and the maid on the fantastic job they had done throughout the house, I stood admiring the new curtains they had just hung, as it complemented the freshly cleaned lacquer finish walls. Purchasing curtains was always my mother-in-law’s favorite thing to do, which caused most of the family to always receive curtains from her.

It was already the first week in December and the children were writing their end of term examination, excited that Christmas was just around the corner. Even though I had five more months before my Accounting Examination, it felt like it was five more weeks, by the way the teacher was pushing us. So deep in thoughts about the three classes I had missed due to not feeling like I had the energy after work and taking care of the children, I looked up surprised at the sound of the nurse’s voice. “The doctor would be seeing you next,” she smiled. Ned had insisted on taking me to see a doctor, for whatever virus I had. Because of the filth around the town, whenever rain fell, there were all kinds of viruses spreading and the children always being the first to bring it home from school. I honestly could not understand why parents always sent their children to school when they were sick.

I sat staring from the doctor to Ned, trying to speak but not knowing where my voice was. “I am pregnant?” I finally whispered, how is that even possible? Well congratulations, you’re only thirty-four years old, so it is possible,” the doctor laughed. Ned still seemed to be in shock since all he knew was that he wanted me to feel better from whatever virus I had caught and was not expected to be told another child was on the way. Thanking the doctor and stepping out of the office, Ned held my hands, “what are you going to do?” he asked, thinking of how busy my days were with working, children, dogs and classes. “Well I am pregnant and there is nothing we can do,” I replied instantly, the shock of the sudden news fading away. Suddenly, everything was falling into place and making sense to me, the way I felt so weak climbing all those stairs for classes, why I observed thirty days of fasting and had rush through my general cleaning at the very last moment and the reason I couldn’t stand the scent of the curry Shairool cooked, almost every day.

I was already two months pregnant and it was the season of Christmas. As usual, the stores were filled with beautiful toys, curtains, flowers and all types of Christmas decorations. Guyanese as usual, were shopping every day, especially the fifteen days before Christmas when all the stores were open until 10:00 p.m. Since normally every store was closed at 5:00 p.m. the latest, Guyanese were extremely excited to be able to shop until late into the night. For some of the teenagers, single men and women, it was an occasion to hang out around the town, even if they had no shopping planned. “Mommy! look what we bought,” Sarah squealed, running towards me, clutching a couple of big bags in her hands while Adam followed, struggling to hold on to his. “Your uncle really spoils you guys,” I laughed, as Riyad jumped off the chair in a rush to see what his brother and sister had in the bags.

Classes had just finished and after receiving a call from a family friend that she was migrating early the next morning, I decided to walk the three blocks to take a bus to her home. The street was dark as usual with hardly any streetlights. Clutching my books in one hand while hurrying along the sidewalk, I suddenly felt someone hold my hands and turned to smile at Ned for surprising me, only it wasn’t Ned. Feeling protective and scared for my baby, I quietly allowed him to slide the thick and very expensive gold bangle from my wrist. As I stood shaking in shock, watching him as he rushed across the street and disappeared into the dark valley, while a few taxi drivers who had witnessed it all, rushed across to my assistance.

Sadly, I had to give up my classes, not only because of the danger in returning home so late, but it was next to impossible climbing the stairs pregnant. I knew my dream of obtaining a distinction in Accounting was over, but the safety of my baby was more important. Promising the teacher that I would still write the examination on whatever I learnt in the few days I attended; I wished the two women who normally sat beside me in classes, all the best for their examination. Unfortunately, I was unable to see my friend before she migrated and never got a chance to tell her why I didn’t show up. She was going through a lot and I just felt that at least visiting her before she left would have added a little to the inner strength, she needed to face the challenges ahead of her.

Riyad’s third birthday was approaching and we were busy planning his Aqeeqah. Ned had already spoken to the butcher, informing him of the size and amount of sheep we needed.  Even though we were inviting close family and friends, there was still a lot of shopping to do. As usual, my father-in-law insisted to pay for everything, saying it was his desire, the same as he did for Adam and Sarah. Thankfully someone had volunteered to cook the two sheep for us, which was a great help, since he was doing the slaughtering and cutting up of the meat. Shairool, who was like an angel, and the kindest woman to me since I got married, was handling all the rest of cooking with the help of the maid at the sink.

Riyad had enjoyed his Aqeeqah, feeling special to wear his fancy clothes and have everyone hugging him. Sarah had completed her Grade 6 Examination and was ready to watch television and play board games as much as possible and I had written my Accounting examination. Unfortunately, even though I passed, I obviously did not get a distinction. I was already seven months pregnant and the baby was constantly moving around in my tummy like waves, causing the children to always rush over to feel the movements. I had begun telling Riyad about his baby sister/brother that he would soon have, preparing him a little at a time with the knowledge that he would soon have to share his mom.

Opening my eyes to the bright sunlight, I realized I had overslept after feeding Riyad his bottle milk wee hours of the morning when he woke up crying. I needed to pamper myself for once, sleep in and maybe read a book and relax. It was my 35th birthday and as usual, we were going to our favorite restaurant for dinner.  Ned had just celebrated his 34th birthday, four days prior to mine, and his friends had kept a big party at their regular hang out spot for him. Even though they always informed him they were hosting the party, he was always the one to buy everything. The kids had made him beautiful birthday cards and we ate breakfast together. Even though once I was very excited about my birthdays, I realized that often I hoped no one would remember, which was impossible since everyone knew it was four days after Ned’s.

Watching as the bedroom door was being pushed opened slowly, I smiled as Adam and Sarah’s little faces peeked in. Thankfully, my birthday always fell during the summer vacation and I was saved from the daily chores of cooking for their lunch kits and dropping them off to school. I had taken the day off from work and Riyad was still cuddled up beside me, his fingers resting on my arms. Adam and Sarah were already under the mosquito net, hugging and kissing me before I could get a chance to sit up properly, too excited to give me the gifts they had so neatly wrapped and the beautiful cards they made. As I hugged them both, with tears rolling down my cheeks, I read my beautiful cards. Riyad had awoken and was instantly alert and sitting up in bed, ready to rip off the gift paper of both gifts. This was heaven, surrounded by my beautiful children who loved me so very much.

Shairool had gone to visit her family for the weekend, it was the maid’s day off and Ned had gone to another region which was about two hours away driving. Thinking it was easier for me to make cook-up rice, bake chicken and garden salad, I hurriedly showered Riyad and gave him his breakfast, rushing upstairs to make the three beds and pack the room neatly. Collecting the laundry basket from the bathroom, after Adam and Sarah had finished showering, I hurried downstairs to start my chores. Jane, Andy and Justin had left for Canada to spend their summer vacation and so did my mother-in-law, a few weeks earlier. I had already received the children’s new school uniform from the seamstress, after making sure my materials were the first set she received after school closed. Resting the school clothes on the ironing board, I started to load the washing machine when I suddenly felt a very sharp pain. Suspecting it was the beginning of labor pain, I quickly cooked lunch while the clothes were washing.

Chapter 23

LAST BORN

Four hours had already passed, since I had informed Ned that my contractions had started, insuring him that I was fine, after being told to leave for the hospital immediately. Pulling the plug out of the electrical socket, I braced the ironing board safely against the wall, resting the cord on top, safely out of Riyad’s reach. Even though I still had about six weeks before school re-opened, I always wanted to be organized. Smiling, I admired Riyad’s school outfit, as I hung their clothes in the closet. After making sure the children had their lunch and the kitchen was clean, I was then ready to leave for the hospital. Ned had called several times and could not believe I was still cleaning instead of being at the hospital. Smiling to myself in the back seat of my father-in-law’s car between contractions, I knew it wouldn’t be long before he arrived back to be with the children. Thankfully, I had left them occupied in their uncle’s room and I did not have to be worried about them being alone.

Well if I thought the contractions were unbearable an hour after arrival at the hospital, it was nothing compared to what I was presently feeling. Thankfully, I was wheeled into a little room by myself, since everything that was within reach, went flying in every direction. Ned had arrived at the hospital earlier, with coconut water which the imam had prayed over, and even though he was not allowed to enter the room, had insisted for the nurse to give it to me instantly. Entering the room for the fifth time to fix back in its place, the nurse looked across to me, “well madam, it seems the coconut water your husband brought made no difference, but when you decide to get pregnant, you have to be prepared for delivering the baby,” she informed me sternly.

It reminded me of delivering Sarah, when I had experienced the most excruciating pain. After promising the nurse as she entered the room that she would never see me again after this delivery, I apologized yet again, as she approached me, “thank God you are ready for delivery, before this entire hospital comes down,” she laughed. “Passing her fingers over my hair, she looked down at me while wheeling me into the labor room, “your doctor has just arrived, don’t you worry, you and your baby are safe,” she reassured me. Little did she know that her simple words meant the whole world to me, like a drowning man holding on to the last straw. Her hands in my hair reminded me of the way mom always loved to play with my hair and as the doors swung open, I felt positive and strong.

“Seems like the baby is ready,” the doctor smiled, as she entered the labor room, pulling on her latex gloves. I had chosen the doctor that had delivered Riyad, since I had experienced being extremely embarrassed when a male doctor had delivered first Adam, then Sarah. Before I could response, I felt my body, being engulfed with the most powerful and strong contraction. Digging my short nails into the nurses’ hand, I began pushing, while at the same time, watching the doctor, as she slowly started to fall, as the nurse rushed to her assistance. Telling me to keep on breathing and be prepared for the next contraction, she rushed the doctor out of the room. Thankfully, the doctor had already returned before the next contraction, but unfortunately, had to be rushed out, as she fainted, yet again. Wondering if my baby’s head was already out and beginning to panic, I watched in disbelief as the doctor returned after a few minutes. “I must be dreaming, I thought to myself,” since they returned as though nothing unusual had happened.

As the nurse slid her fingers over the top of my head, teasing that she regretted not wrapping her hands with a thick towel, I  took a deep breath, as I timed the contraction and made the final strong push that brought my daughter into the world. For the first time after delivery, I felt extremely drained, as I watched the nurse leaving with my baby. Closing my eyes, I thanked God for being beside me throughout it all and for my healthy baby. Not knowing what the doctor was thinking about her fainting episodes, I kept my eyes closed as she continued giving me the tiny stitches I needed. My daughter was born five days after my birthday, the horoscope of Cancer, just like her mom and dad.

I had been too tired to notice the room I was wheeled into and must have fallen into a deep sleep instantly. Opening my eyes at the sound of the nurse’s voice as she placed my beautiful baby beside me, I reassured her it was my fourth child and I already knew how to place the baby properly to be nursed. It was the first time I was seeing her properly, and I hugged her closely as she hungrily began nursing. Thinking to myself, as I traced her tiny long fingers and long toes, that she would most likely become our tallest child. She was a little Snow White, just like her sister, her thick hair framing her cute little petite face. Looking across the room, I noticed there was only one other mother, the two other beds being vacant. “Congratulations,” I heard a voice said, from the far corner. So absorbed in my beautiful baby, I had not noticed the other mom was also awake, nursing her baby. “Thank you, and congratulations to you also,” I replied, my voice heavy and tired with exhaustion.

Slowly stepping off the bed, to shower before the nurse brought back the baby from the nursery and before visiting hours, I entered the tiny bathroom, ensuring I had my flip flops on. It was always difficult for me to use hospital washrooms, except when I had delivered Sarah abroad, where the washroom was spotlessly clean. Surprised to see the same nurse that was with me, throughout the entire ordeal the previous night, making the beds when I returned, I slowly approached her, apologizing with the sweetest smile possible. “I was very worried about you last night,” she replied. Knowing she also meant the way the doctor had fainted and was sure she may not be able to disclose anything about the incident, I smiled. “Well for sure, you will not be seeing me in here again,” I assured her, “I am now very balanced with two sons and two daughters.”

As was expected, Ned, Adam and Sarah were the first to arrive as soon as visiting hours began. With extreme happiness and excitement in their expressions, they hurried towards my bed, anxious to see the baby. I had just finished nursing her and she laid stretched off beside me, little smiles appearing on her cute little pink lips. “She is so beautiful,” Ned said, as he unfolded the soft blanket that wrapped her, “and very tall,” he continued, admiring her fingers and toes. Adam and Sarah leaned over to touch her arms, as they gazed in awe, “What are you going to name her mommy?” Sarah asked. “Well that is you and Adam’s responsibility,” I smiled, as I noticed the excited expressions, they both shared in their instant glances towards each other.

Riyad was below the age allowed to visit the wards and had to remain home, after being told he had gotten another sister. Since he was three years, five months old, his only priority was finding out when his mommy would return home. Thankfully, being the same as my previous deliveries, it was normal, with no complications and I had only to stay two days maximum in the hospital. Ned had chosen Adam and Sarah’s name, I had chosen Riyad’s name and I wanted Adam and Sarah to choose their sister’s name. I watched, as they stepped out of the ward, feeling very important and responsible, being given the task, after reassuring me they would have the baby’s name ready before I was discharged the next day. Laughing, Ned gave me another hug reassuring me that he would return next visiting hour.

Not surprising to the other mother in the ward, I was the first one out of bed and in the shower the next morning. “Anxious to go home eh?” she teased as I entered the room; she was also being discharged. “So are you,” I laughed, pointing to the various bags already packed and ready to leave. Even though we were being discharged after the doctor visited the ward later in the morning, we were too excited not to pack as soon as we awoke. The nurse had allowed me to keep my baby on the bed throughout the night and I had not slept a wink, as I trailed my fingers along her little cheeks, feeling the tug in my heart whenever she clasped my little finger. All babies were having their bath and it was time for their mommy’s breakfast.

Ned had visited during the lunch and dinner visiting hours, the previous day, bringing fresh coconut water and porridge with fruits. After being impressed with the meals served by the hospital, I had insisted for him not to bring any. Unfortunately, the children could not agree on the same name, even though they thought of many and my baby was still awaiting her name. “It is so special, the way you want your children to name their sister,” the mom smiled, as she collected her son, who already had his bath and was well dressed in his fancy clothes, from the nurse. “I want them to always feel special they were responsible for naming their sister,” I replied quietly, trying not to sound nervous and praying they would choose a beautiful name for their beautiful sister.

“Shakira!” the children blurted out as they hurried across the room, “where is Shakira?” they asked. “Guess you have decided on a name at last, thank God,” I teased. Not paying any attention to what I was saying and busy touching the baby, they both whispered, “Shakira, are you ready to go home?” The nurse had dressed Shakira in the cute baby pink and white outfit Ned had bought with matching socks and hat and they were thrilled she was not asleep. “Look mommy, she’s smiling,” they exclaimed excitedly. The doctor had just visited the ward before visiting hour began and had confirmed us to be discharged. Ned was on the first floor paying the bills and collecting the birth certificate forms, knowing the children had visited me before and knew where to find me.

We were on our way home, stopping at the Masjid as usual, for the Imam to say a prayer in Shakira’s ears. I had missed Riyad very much for the two days and couldn’t wait to see his expression when his sister arrived. Adam and Sarah had already hopped out as soon as their dad parked, smiling proudly, as they held open the gate. Slowly exiting the car with Shakira protectively wrapped in her blanket, I walked beside Ned, as he held the umbrella over us. Even though the doctor had advised sunlight was very healthy for the baby, she made sure I understood it was the morning sunlight and not the extreme heat of the afternoon sunlight. It felt so good to be home, the days at the hospital always seemed to drag by and the two days had seemed like two weeks.

Entering the living room, I greeted my father-in-law, laying his granddaughter beside him on the couch, “your fourth grandchild has arrived,” I smiled, looking around and reminiscing how crowded the home had once been when the first grandchild had arrived, with neighbors and friends, anxious to see the newborn. Pushing the thoughts aside, I gazed upon Adam and Sarah, who were sitting on the floor beside the couch, waiting for the baby to open her eyes. “Mommy! Riyad squealed, as he rushed towards me, arms wrapping tightly around my legs. “My baby, mommy missed you so much,” I smiled, feeling as though my heart was leaping out of my body, as I leaned over hugging his little body. “This is your baby sister,” I told him gently, watching his expression change from excitement to curiosity as he peeked around my legs at his baby sister.  

Shairool was giving him his bath, and did not tell him we had arrived, until she was finish dressing him. I felt a sense of pride, as I watched my four children together, Riyad was slowly stepping towards his sister, touching her arms and feeling her cheeks. “Be careful with her eyes Riyad,” I cautioned him, as he continued to explore her face. Glancing at their grandfather, I saw his face, glowing with extreme happiness. “Congratulations and welcome back home,” Ned’s brother said, as he entered the living room, anxious to see his niece. Feeling confident that Shakira had a lot of babysitters around her, I quietly slipped away. I had forgotten to vacuum our bedroom and I wanted to make the bed with clean sheets for the baby.

The children were super excited Shakira was born during their summer vacation and was not willing to leave her side for one moment. After the first two weeks, I began feeling guilty, since Sarah would rush up and down the stairs all day to bring more pampers etc. “How did you decide on the name Shakira?” I asked, curious to find out if it was from the Colombian singer or the Guyanese, who came in third in the 1967 Miss World contest held in London. Even though the contest was held the same year I was born, the children constantly heard about Shakira Baksh. “Oh mommy,” Sarah laughed, “it was the Shakira song that we love.” Even though the song was released before their sister was born, it was being played on all radio stations and at every house party and club in Guyana. Sarah knew only the chorus by heart but loved the melody of the song.

Lisa and her daughter Allison were expected to arrive, their first visit back home since they migrated. Shakira was already one month old and I was still trying my best to balance my time between Riyad and the baby, hoping that Sarah and Adam would understand how much I loved them, even though our quality time watching movies or playing board games were over for the time being. The children were happy Lisa and her daughter were going to stay with us for the two weeks and was busy preparing the extra room and packing all their favorite board games in the corner. Laughing, I reminded them that they would be outdoors more than indoors for their vacation since I knew Lisa had plans for a trip to Essequibo along with sightseeing, visiting families and friends.

After having a busy fun packed two weeks, Lisa and Allison had left to travel back home. The children had made sure they had time to play their board games, spend an entire day at their aunts’ home, having fun in the huge blown up pool, going to dinners at restaurants and visiting their great grandmother with their cousin and aunt. After my parents had migrated, I became extremely close to my mother’s mom and made sure I visited her at least once per month, always making a small hamper of groceries or fruits to take with me. Ned had constantly teased I was the image of my mom and her mother and had insisted, he already knew how I would look, the different stages of my life. My grandfather had died before I became a teenager and my grandmother was an extremely strong and independent woman who had worked hard her entire life. Dad’s mom had died when he was a little child and his dad had died before I was born.

The struggle to balance my time between Riyad who had learnt to throw tantrums for my attention, and the baby, became a constant battle, felt as though I had to keep pushing myself forward every moment. Always aiming at being a wife and mother that Ned could be proud of, I didn’t know how to reach out and let him know, I urgently needed his help. As the days progressed, it felt harder to cope and then it all began. Not knowing exactly when or understanding what was happening to me, I visited several doctors, checking my heart and pressure, and even though I knew something was wrong, results always remained the same…everything was perfect.  

My heart kept racing, palms dripping wet and I couldn’t look at my children, even though I would continue to do everything for them. Occasionally, while going for drives with Ned, I would often think of how easy it would be to just open the car door and allow myself to fall. I had no one to talk to, no one to understand what was happening to me. Eventually, it became worst and I panicked every time Ned left the home, once clinging to his legs, begging him not to leave for the gym. At that moment, he understood something was wrong, that was not me. I had never stood in his way of going to the gym or with his friends, I had kept believing that he would one day choose on his own what was important.

No more was I the independent woman I had become, even the thought of sitting in the drivers’ seat became a nightmare. Trying my best to ‘pick myself up and snap out of it’ as Guyanese would say, I accepted an invitation to take Riyad and Shakira to a child’s birthday party. As the children played merrily, sticking cake and singing birthday songs, my entire body became cold as ice and my heartbeat kept increasing with every passing moment. Smiling bravely and giving an excuse of being extremely tired, I called Ned. No one seemed to understand what was happening and that caused more anxiety, since I felt alone and helpless.

Chapter 24

POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION

Adam, Sarah and Riyad had left for school with Ned and I had just finished giving Shakira a bath, cuddling her closely as she nursed, her eyelids slowly closing as she held on to my little finger. Switching the television on and lowering the volume, I began watching the Oprah Winfrey show. Staring in disbelief, I suddenly felt like Oprah was looking me straight in the eyes, understanding my every emotion, the emotions that was so difficult for the doctors to understand, for me to explain, it was all being discussed. For the first time, I felt I was not losing my mind, I was not imagining, I was not being an unfair mom who couldn’t express complete happiness being around my children.

Postpartum Depression, I had a name to link to my sense of helplessness, anxiety, hopelessness, sorrow and most of all, the reason I did not feel the close relationship I once had with my children. There were a few women on the panel, discussing their experiences after giving birth to their children, a professional doctor, explaining that the hormonal changes of the woman’s body after childbirth, could probably be the cause. For the first time, it all made sense, I had to conquer the depression, having the knowledge of what was happening to me, was a beginning to try my best, to find that inner strength I knew was there. There was no other option, I had to do this on my own. It was plainly…mind over matter.

It was not as easy as I thought and every day I felt I was sinking lower and lower, never wanting Ned to leave my side for a moment and when he did, I would lay beside Sarah, hugging her desperately, feeling as though she was the life line thrown out to me. The responsibilities of having to take care of the children, especially Riyad and Shakira, overwhelmed me beyond compression. Crying myself to sleep that night, I woke up wee hours of the morning, tears flowing endlessly down my cheeks, I begged God for an answer, a solution, anything, something, as exhaustion overtook my emotions, causing me to drift into a deep slumber. It was a dream, men in white clothes approaching, sisters sitting around in circles, a light was shinning brightly, I felt positive, I felt strong, I was back to being myself…only, it was just a dream, as I opened my eyes slowly back to reality.

It was Saturday morning, Riyad and the baby were fast asleep beside me, glancing at the second bed in the room, I realized Adam and Sarah were already up. Thankfully Shairool always made sure breakfast, lunch and dinner were prepared on time, I thought, as I lay feeling completely drained. While reflecting on my dreams and if it meant anything, I looked up as Ned came into the room. “I need to visit someone religious,” I blurted out. “An imam or a priest, I just need to visit someone religious. At first Ned had assumed I was just pretending for him to remain home from gym in the evening, then he realized it was something different, something he could not understand, thinking it had to be my heart or my body being overworked, he had taken me to the various doctors I had seen. “Sure, let me call my cousin and see if she knows an imam we could visit right away,” he replied instantly.

As the car drove across the Demerara Harbour Bridge, I gazed out at the Demerara River, its murky colored waves splashing upon each other. “Am I that important in life?” I thought to myself, “how easy it would be to slip the door open.” Instantly, my body became cold, my hands dripping wet and heart racing, as though it was about to stop. Suddenly I felt the warmth of Ned’s hands over mine, “relax, everything is fine, we will be there soon,” he reassured me. We were already parking in front of the imam’s home, within ten minutes of exiting the bridge. Entering the office alone, I poured my heart out, describing every emotion, as he listened intently, writing a prayer in Arabic on thirty-one pieces of paper. “Stir one piece once per day in your tea, juice or water,” he advised, “take the paper out and drink.”

Thanking Ned’s cousin as she entered the car, I held onto the prayers in the white envelope, feeling at ease suddenly, as though I was not alone anymore. Even though Jane had expressed her concern about me drinking ink; as was the case, when the prayers were washed away with the liquid I was drinking, I was willing to try everything possible to cross the path and the challenge that was thrown at me. Not knowing if it was my determination to believe in the prayers that I faithfully stirred every morning, making it ‘mind over matter’ or if the prayers did work, but before the end of the month, my depression was over and never once did I ever feel, not even a tiny bit of it. From that moment, I looked at every pregnant woman differently, respecting them in every way, the way they were prepared to face every challenge for their baby. It was an experience I prayed very hard, that my two daughters may never face or any woman and silently thanked Oprah Winfrey for the knowledge she shared in her shows.

Even though the depression was over, my body felt drained and I still could not get myself to begin driving again. Knowing everything was going to take time, I began to enjoy my children again. Sarah had passed her Grade 6 Examination, but instead of sending her to the government school, we had opted to sending both her and Adam to the private school Riyad was attending. Thankfully, because I had always aimed at being organized, they were ready with their new uniforms and texts books the first day of school and the beginning of my depression early September, had not interfered in any way. For the first time, I was able to admire them in their new pattern school clothes, including Riyad, who had been promoted to Nursery from Play School.

I began planning my quality time with Riyad before his bedtime, when he awoke and in the afternoons after his nap. Thankfully, I always nursed Shakira back to sleep just before he awoke, and she was often asleep before he returned home from school at about 12:10 p.m. Gradually, he began to feel secure that I loved him as much as the baby and he had no problems sharing his mom in the afternoons. Because I had missed the early stages of Adam and Sarah’s life and had missed them with so much pain deep in my heart, I had clung to Riyad and showered him with one hundred percent of my attention. Even though Adam and Sarah were old enough not to be jealous and pitched in with the love and fussing, Riyad had developed an extremely close connection, which made it difficult for him to understand sharing his mom.  

Shakira was almost six months old, already trying to sit on her own and began having her solid meals with juice or water. She was a beautiful and pleasant baby, who wanted to play all day with her siblings. Mom had visited for three weeks and enjoyed her vacation with her grandchildren, eating all her favorite organic fruits; especially the ripe mangoes and vegetables she was accustomed to in Guyana, and visiting her mom. I was beginning to feel the rebuilt of my inner strength and had decided to keep my experience of depression from mom, since I did not feel it was right for her to return home with that knowledge knowing she was living in another country and couldn’t be there for me. Ned had taken mom to the wharf to choose her favorite fishes and shrimps and to the market for her favorite vegetables. He had become very close to my family, especially my parents, over the years, always stating that they never disrespected him no matter what we went through in our marriage.

Knowing I had to get over the fear of driving, I entered the car and placed my hands on the steering wheel. I needed to practice, without the children in the car for safety precautions and made sure it was Sunday morning, when the streets were quieter with less traffic and pedestrians. Reversing slowly, I felt the beginning of cold sweat, determinedly pushing it aside, I sat upright and told myself there was nothing I could not do. Driving from our street, I felt more comfortable as I turned left into Sheriff Street then left into Carifesta Avenue, since the streets were much wider than ours. I began to feel confident as the cool breeze of the Atlantic Ocean, ruffled through my short hair, playing on my cheeks and teasing my eyelids. I had missed driving and being independent and for the moment, I felt strong and happy that instead of the air condition, I had opted for leaving the windows open to enjoy the natural fresh early morning breeze.

Halfway back home, I began to panic. Parking for twenty minutes, I took deep breaths while wiping the palms of my hands, thinking as much happy thoughts as possible. “I have to do this,” I kept telling myself, “I need to be strong.” Even though Adam and Sarah were extremely independent, Riyad expected me to be his regular strong loving mommy and Shakira was an infant, totally dependent on me. The knowledge of their dependence kept overwhelming my emotions, challenging my inner strength, to give in and crumble. I had no choice…I could not allow myself to crumble and fall. The minutes ticked by, when finally, I pulled the lever into ‘D’, with my indications lights on, I slowly steered back onto the street. I had switched on the radio and as the souls of the 80’s began playing, I felt the tension slowly releasing. Even though it was not the experience of the extreme postpartum depression, the side effects remained, wiping out my confidence and making me afraid to step forward.

Adam was enjoying his swimming classes and was quick to learn everything he was taught by the instructor. Sarah, still too shy to swim publicly, had promised to begin the following year. While Sarah preferred staying back home to finish her homework daily, Riyad and Shakira often came for the drive. Even though the baby enjoyed sitting comfortably in her stroller, drinking her juice or nibbling at her crackers, Riyad never seemed to sit still, always excited to see his brother’s every move, causing me to miss them all. I had no complaints though, I was enjoying my children again and felt proud of being able to drive, even though I had yet to conquer the night driving.

After a few failed attempts of trying to drive at night failed, I realized that even though I had improved tremendously, I had to be patient, remain positive and keep moving forward. Maybe I took longer to heal since I was accustomed to locking everything inside, never wanting to look like a failure, always needing to prove myself, imagining one day I would eventually hear the words I longed to… “I am so proud of you.” I thought about life as a child, I had taken it for granted watching my parents pray every morning, have their breakfast, lunch and dinner together daily and spending their evenings sitting on the bridge, smiling and chatting with the neighbors that passed. As an adult, I thought of all those precious moments and realized that in our very humble home, there were lots of love and happiness.

Shakira was a beautiful healthy baby, willing to eat whatever was given to her. As soon as she awoke from her morning nap in the cradle downstairs in the living room, she would stand on her toes for as long as she could, holding the rails until she felt tired, then up on her toes again. When she finally caught the attention of anyone, she would be excited to be taken out, to creep the entire floor and hold on to the couches bracing the walls, walking from one to the other. Because I had to share my time equally between her and Riyad, I did not cling to her all day and dance her to sleep. She learnt to be independent and happy, playing with her siblings, rocking in the hammock with Shairool and spending time with her grandparents if I was busy with Riyad.

The two weeks were spent quite busy with mom after she had arrived and I had clung to her side like a little child, needing every inch of love to rebuild my inner strength. I had often admired the respect and love Ned showed towards my parents and the way he often did everything possible to make their trip memorable. We had spent quality time visiting my grandmother, aunts and going to the movies, dinners and evening drives. Mom’s favorite of all, other than visiting my grandmother, was going to the wharf early Sunday morning to buy all the fresh type of fishes she couldn’t get in Canada, cook the big pot of fish curry with green mangoes, okra and coconut milk, adding fresh chives and tomatoes on top to garnish when done. She knew that other than hers and mine, it was also Ned’s favorite dish.

Must have been the daily calves exercise Shakira was doing, proudly at ten months old, she began walking. It was so cute to see her little body, wobbling all over the place as she proudly performed for everyone. No longer was she prepared to stay in her cradle to play during the day, but anxious to get out and discover for the first time, all that was in the cupboards, drawers and everywhere possible within reach. She was pretty with beautiful soft curls and long lashes lining her Asian shaped eyes. We had decided to spend her first birthday in Canada and all the family were excited to see her. Leanord’s wife had just given birth to their first child and we were also extremely excited to see her.

The children had enjoyed their three weeks in Canada, since everyone as usual, had booked their days and the different events they had planned. Lisa had kept Shakira’s birthday at her home, and she had enjoyed sticking her cake with her siblings, posing for pictures with everyone and opening all her gifts. Since it was the middle of summer, we had enjoyed different activities from our last trip. An entire day was spent at The Water Park, which was an entirely new experience for the children, the beach, visiting The Apple Farm, where they enjoyed the little train ride around the farm and swinging on the rope that hung from the tree after their Aunt Lisa’s demonstrations, and strawberry picking. Thankfully, I had become much stronger and no one suspected or knew of the depression I had suffered months earlier.

Chapter 25

A NEW VENTURE

The children had kept themselves busy papering their books and packing their knapsacks with everything they needed for school. Riyad had been promoted to Upper Level Nursery, Adam promoted to Grade 9 and Sarah, Grade 8. Thankfully Riyad was completely over the stage of throwing tantrums and was enjoying his baby sister, sharing and caring. Approaching Ned, I discussed the idea that was lingering on my mind for several days… opening my very own little Snackette. At first, as I expected, he was totally against the idea of me selling food in front of the Store and thought of what people would say or think. Even though we did not spend much family time together, his family was important to him and he made sure we had everything we needed. After reassuring him that it was not about the money, but something I needed to do for myself, since I loved cooking and felt that by doing something that I loved and earning from it at the same time, was a great idea that could be done during the time Shakira took her nap, he finally agreed.

After obtaining my Food Handling Certificate, I next decided on the perfect spot for the beautiful glass food case Ned had bought. Deciding on the spot beside the doors of our Business, I thought of how ideal it would be for all customers entering and exiting. The space was about ten feet away from the fence and was conveniently covered by the wide concrete overlapping ledge of the upper floor design. Excited to begin with the preparations, we bought green paint for the concrete floor of the yard and white for the back splash and the fence that was facing that section. After spending the entire Sunday washing down the area and painting, we stepped back, extremely satisfied that it now looked presentable and clean. Sarah being very creative at a young age, was excited to design a theme for the backdrop, becoming all excited about my new venture. Laughing, I reassured her that it was just a temporary business until I was ready to work at the family business again.

Sitting quietly at the dining table after the children went to bed, I opened the new notebook Sarah had given me, trying desperately to slow down the ideas that kept popping up. There were so many things I wanted to cook but needed to plan and choose what I needed to prepare daily, along with the lunch special. I knew it was going to be challenging but was determined to succeed. Feeling satisfied with what I had decided on, and already imagining it displayed in the glass case, I switched the kitchen light off and slowly climbed the stairs. Knowing it would just be a few hours before Shakira woke up for her milk, I pulled the covers up to my neck, as I hugged my pillow.

After the children left for school, it was time to visit the wholesale grocery store. Thankfully, I was able to purchase everything on my list, including the food boxes, disposable spoons, forks, knives and different sizes of plastic bags. Next stop was the butcher, then to the Variety Store for the big food containers. Even though I had decided on cooking various dishes, I knew that the most important thing was the prepping from the night before. Arriving home, I packed out all the groceries in a separate section of the cupboard, filling the chickpeas and split peas in glass bottles, lining all the seasoning on one shelf, making it easy to access. Smiling in satisfaction at all the labelled bottles, I then proceeded to dividing the meat, seasoning the set I needed for the following day and soaking the amount of chickpeas I needed in a bowl of water. Knowing I only had the split peas left to boil and grind for the dhal puri, I fed Riyad, who had just returned home from school and Shakira, laying with them both until they fell asleep. They both normally napped for an hour and that was enough time for me to finish the split peas.

At the sound of the alarm, I fed Shakira her milk, quietly exiting the room after she went back to sleep. Hurrying down the stairs, I began kneading the dough and boiling the potatoes. I had my notes on what I needed to prepare in what order, at that hour in the morning, I had the entire kitchen to myself. Ensuring that the dishes were being washed as I cooked, I felt no confusion or sense of being overwhelmed. Five hours later, I stood back and proudly admired everything that was laid out on the cupboard top. The big tray of hamburgers, egg balls, potato balls, polouri, pressured chickpeas, dhal puri rolled with fish cakes, the tray of dhal puri to be served with the chicken curry and last of all, the lunch special for the day, which was fried rice with baked chicken and garden salad.

After Ned left with the children, I gave Shakira her bath, feeding her and leaving her to play, while I hurried into the shower. Running down the stairs, I laughed as Ned’s brother was informing Shairool, she did not have to cook lunch for him anymore. It seemed like business was beginning instantly, as he chose the two dhal puri wrapped with fish cakes for his breakfast, Jane was on the phone, placing the orders everyone had given her from work. It was a great feeling, a feeling of accomplishment. Rushing to pack Jane’s order before the office assistant arrived, I thanked Shairool, who had insisted she would ensure Shakira took her nap.

From the very first day, the Snackette was a great success, Ned’s brother being my most frequent customer, along with the deliveries Ned made to his friends and the support from our daily customers shopping at our business. Even though sales had tripled, and I had to make double amount of everything, I accepted and enjoyed the challenge. After nine months of success, the constant awakening during the night to feed Shakira her milk and the longs hours on my feet to prepare everything and wash tons of dishes after, eventually took a toll on my lower back and I had to say goodbye to my new venture, feeling proud of the little fridge I bought and the amount I was able to save, since Ned was determined, it was all mine.

I had stopped wearing the hijab after returning home from living abroad, thinking that because Ned was young, even though he had wanted me to dress like that when we got married, he was attracted to women dressing pretty. Ten years had passed since I had stopped wearing the hijab, and even though I always dressed decent, Ned’s weakness was his extreme jealousy. For all the years, he made sure his outings with his friends were different from his outings with his family. The constant questions why one of his friend was my daily customer who would buy food for his entire staff, began to feel as a heavy burden, as he pondered and pondered, until the wee hours of the morning when it happened.

It was 2:00 a.m. Shakira was crying for her milk, awakening Riyad who wanted water. After making sure he went down the stairs to his grandfather, I fed Shakira, hugging her until she fell asleep. Suddenly, the net was pulled off from the bed, a punch to my jaws then to my ribs, the room began to swirl, I felt weak and confused… “you kept the children up because I was out,” I heard. Tears were pouring down my cheeks, it was happening all over again, the promises were empty, “why was I not strong enough to leave,” I kept asking myself over and over. I could not move, “please take me to the doctor,” I begged.

The car was speeding, “please don’t leave me,” I heard, “I will never hit you again, I promise.” I felt scared, the car was speeding, “we will both die tonight,” he kept saying. Thinking of my children, I dried my tears, “I love you very much, you know I will never leave,” I promised. “I will tell the doctor I fell,” I kept saying over and over. Feeling reassured, the car approached the hospital, within minutes, I was sitting at the doctor’s desk. “I fell down the stairs, I told the doctor, I need an X-Ray done.” After sending Ned to pay for the X-Ray, the doctor closed the door and instantly remarked, “you did not fall down the stairs.” Looking up, I began to cry, begging him to admit me into the hospital, “I am scared to return home,” I pleaded.  After the X-Ray was done and the doctor saw the ribs were fractured, my face swollen like a blown balloon, he insisted that I had to be admitted for the night.

My baby was ready for school, it was unbelievable how fast the time seemed to fly past. She woke up smiling, very excited to inform the entire household that she was going to school. After her quick bath and breakfast, she pulled on her green and white plait pants with matching top school uniform, standing quietly as I combed her hair in a high ponytail, tying a white ribbon to match the white borders of the sleeves and the collar of the shirt. Shakira was very independent and strong willed, even as a child, and now that it was her first day of school, it was no different. Smiling as I leaned over the top of the walls, I watched amazed how calm and relaxed she sat, totally absorbed in building the best design possible with her blocks. Unlike Riyad who had hugged me closely with a silent plea not to leave, she was all too happy to be left to enjoy a classroom filled with children. She was very proud to finally attend school with her siblings, especially Riyad, whom she was very attached to.

“Guess you have to find a position for her another few years,” I laughed, feeling very proud as the teacher related how much Shakira had helped with calming the rest of the children. Riyad had been promoted to the Primary Level and even though I had thought it a great idea to sit with him in the lunch area daily after picking Shakira up, he had desisted, not wanting his friends to think he needed his mom. It was his first step to being independent and I smiled, feeling very proud of him. Adam was busy with all his assignments, preparations for the submission of his School Base Assessments and the hour free extra classes the school was giving for the preparation of the Grade 11 Examinations the following year. He had chosen the Science Stream and whenever he needed me to test him with his Chemistry and Physics notes, I totally sailed, couldn’t even pronounce most of the words and had no idea if the answers were right to the questions I was asking, unless it was the exact wording. I was a totally hopeless case, but I felt over the word proud of him.

I was back to work and had a great deal more knowledge of auto parts. From the first moment, I had found it different and interesting, learning the different parts for different engines, which kept on advancing with the constant importation of new types of vehicles into the country. Because of the terrible condition of the streets, it seemed that auto parts business was always a success. The months went by and even though I was not the one writing the Grade 11 Examinations, I became nervous. Adam could not sit and study for hours and within twenty minutes, would pack his books away and relax, enjoying his Play Station games and favorite movies. Even though it reminded me of the way I turned to my novels instead of studying for my examinations, as a mom, I did not want to understand and became nervous with every passing day.

Looking at my little mathematician, among his friends, as he worked previous examination papers, I felt extremely proud. It never seized to amaze me the way he could solve any solution placed before him. I couldn’t believe he was already a teenager ready for examinations. He was still a very simple, quiet and humble child, willing to assist his friends with their Mathematics. Sarah had chosen the Business Stream and was already being given tons of assignments in preparation for her Examinations the following year. I was still ensuring I awoke early every morning to make their homemade pizza, macaroni and cheese and fresh chicken nuggets and drumstick with fries to take to school. Even though business had improved, sending four children to private school was expensive and I knew giving them money everyday to buy lunch along with snacks, would be a lot more expensive.

I had just stepped out of the office after having my lunch, when the phone began ringing as it constantly did throughout the day. Listening to a customer while grabbing the phone, I stood still, the voice of the customer fading away, as I heard the headmaster’s voice on the phone. “The results were just released from the Ministry of Education,” he was saying, “I just had to give you a quick call on Adam’s results.” My fingers holding the phone was already dripping wet, the suspense was too much. On the way home, I kept hearing the headmaster’s voice, as he related the results. Adam had excelled in his examinations, with a distinction in Mathematics. I kept thinking of how he never studied, of how much at ease he was. Even though I was a basket of nerves, thinking it was impossible with him not studying, he had excelled. I was extremely proud of my first born, my amazing and intelligent son.

“Told you not to worry mommy,” Adam said, laughing as he hugged me closely, “you always worry too much.” Even though I knew he was intelligent, because he never sat down to seriously study, and was enjoying his games and movies, I never stopped panicking. Suddenly I felt I could breathe again. The next step was University and there was only one University of Guyana, unlike North America, where students had to apply to various universities and await admission. He had not decided what he wanted to become, and as he pondered on a career in Information Technology, his dad advised him, on becoming a Pharmacist. He always believed in pushing his children to be the best they could be, and he knew how incredible Adam was in Mathematics.

We had all arrived one hour early, to be able to sit closer to the front. The stage was designed with beautiful gold and green balloons, the huge backdrop, that was hand painted with the year of the graduation and the word congratulations was done beautifully and professionally by the Art students of the Grade 10 and the graduating students were already on the second floor, pulling over their graduation gowns. It was a moment, where all parents felt immensely proud of their child, no matter how many subjects they passed or at what grades, every child was the apple of their parents’ eyes, which was clearly seen as the graduating students of the Art, Business and Science stream, slowly and orderly came down the stairs, breathtakingly gorgeous in their green and gold graduating gowns and hats.

School had closed for the summer vacation and Sarah was busy with extra summer classes for her Grade 11 upcoming examinations the following year. As usual, Sarah, Riyad and Shakira’s new school clothes were already collected from the seamstress, ironed and hung in their closets, the biggest relief being, I had two sets less to iron. Adam and Sarah must have heard it a zillion times, the excitement I portrayed, at not having to iron school clothes for Adam any longer. Guess ironing clothes was the only house chore I did not enjoy. Because Adam was one year younger for the admission to the University, it was challenging to get him enrolled, finally his distinction in Mathematics prevailed and thankfully, he was beginning his first day at the University the following week.

Slipping the curtains aside just a little bit, I watched Adam across the street, his knapsack on his back, feeling independent and proud. It was his first day of taking public transportation and I did not want him to see how nervous I was. He was already sixteen years old and I had to allow him to be independent and stop fussing over him. Guess because of his allergies, I had always given him more attention than Sarah, who like Shakira, was more independent. Ned had always insisted that I was babying my two sons too much, and his two daughters were more independent like him. Knowing it was the first step I had to take, I watched as the bus pulled up and he entered. Praying silently, I slowly dropped the curtains before Ned came up the stairs. It was time now, to head out with the children; who were all excitedly pulling on their new school clothes, to drop them off to school. “Ten more months,” I thought to myself smiling, “then I wouldn’t have to iron Sarah’s school clothes.”

Chapter 26

OUR HOME IN DIAMOND

Even though I smiled on the outside, there was always a constant emotional battle inside, trying to ignore the physical abuse, the lonely nights laying and watching the clock as the hours went by and pretending that everything was perfect, when I went down the stairs every morning. Even though I had tried for years to buy a land from the government, I was never successful, no matter how many hours I stood in long lines. Eventually, I felt it was too much for me, everything seemed to feel as though it was closing in. As was expected, Ned did not ever imagine I would want to leave him, he promised to stop going out with friends, to spend more time with us and most importantly and surprisingly, his first visit to the Ministry of Housing, was successful and he was able to buy our land in Great Diamond. The months went by and Ned’s friends did not see him, and when they did on occasions, teased him on being controlled by his wife. Regardless of what he was told, he did everything to make me happy.

Since Ned already had a Canadian design plan he had fell in love with, he already knew what he wanted built. It was four years of constant trips from Georgetown to Diamond for him, as he worked along with the carpenters, step by step, directing and correcting to the exact image he had in his mind. Finally, it was time for us to move in our beautiful home. The children were excited, since they were all going to have their very own room to design and decorate. It was the day before Father’s Day and Ned’s mom’s birthday and we had already invited them all over for dinner, determined to move and have everything ready to host the following day. Obviously, it was not as easy as we thought, and as Ned made several trips with the truck, transporting all the new furniture he bought, myself and Sarah spent hours packing closets and cupboards. The tiny stuff always seemed to take forever and without sleeping a wink, we were finally finished the next morning.

It was the most beautiful home, with a patio that wrapped around the front and another to the side of the building. Adam’s bedroom and the guests’ bedroom were on the lower level, along with the beautiful kitchen, dining, living room and gym. Climbing the beautiful wooden steps to the upper level, was our huge self-contained master bedroom with its own private balcony on the left. Turning right from the steps, Riyad and Shakira’s bedroom which was also self-contained, could be found along the corridor to the left and Sarah’s room to the right. Next to Sarah’s room was a large bathroom, with the stand-up shower, toilet, sink and jacuzzi tub. The yard was very spacious at the front and back for the children to play and have fun and Ned had already planted the couple of Christmas trees we had bought years earlier, lining the front and sides of the house for privacy. Even though it was huge, it was warm, cozy and welcoming.

Ned had prepared a feast and since he had developed a passion for cooking and it had become his hubby, he had designed the kitchen to be the favorite section of our home. Even though we had often visited the site within the four years our home was being built, it was still unbelievable, the beauty of every section in detail. As we welcomed everyone, Ned laid out the variety of dishes prepared on the countertop with pride. We forgot all about our tiredness as we laughed and chatted during dinner and after, when we all went into the huge living room, that held warmth and beauty. Even though we had our previous home when Riyad was born, this home meant more to me, for I knew how hard Ned worked towards it, planning, saving and working along with the carpenters for four years, to make our dream a reality.

After a few months, the quietness of Diamond in comparison to my in-laws, along with the half an hour distance driving to Georgetown was not convenient for Adam, who had to travel daily to the University and also felt the quietness deafening, had decided to remain with his grandparents and return home every week-end. Even though I missed him during the week, we grew closer as a family, since we began travelling to and from Diamond daily with Ned. He gave up going out with his friends during the week and took pride preparing delicious meals for us each day when we returned home, while I kept myself busy, picking up the clothes from the lines outside, folding and packing away and doing the dishes alongside him in the kitchen. It was like a dream come through, to have him home with us. Guess I never expressed how much that meant to me or knew how to show the love that began healing and building. I was accustomed to locking everything inside, but finally, I was beginning to fall in love all over again with my husband.

Sarah had written her Grade 11 Examinations and was successful in all her subjects, except Mathematics, like me, it was difficult for her to grasp the concept. After working a year at the family business with her uncle, she then began working at the school she had attended, as an Art teacher. Because she was so creative and talented, a few of her students topped the country in an Art competition and I was very proud of her. She then began attending the University to study Business Management and had to give up her job as a teacher since the hours clashed, to the disappointment of Riyad and Shakira, who were proud their sister was a teacher in their school. She was thirteen when she decided on her own to wear the hijab and I had begun wearing it again with her. This time, it being my choice, to be an example and support for my child.

The years went by, and even though Saturday night remained Ned’s night out with his friends, it did not make me sad, since the children were excited, that was their night to have their mom all to themselves. It was movie night with tons of snacks after their favorite dinner. They would all cuddle up with their individual blankets, after putting the air conditioner on to the maximum and enjoy every moment. Sundays remained our family day, with plans of visiting family, picnics or going to the movies. Riyad was preparing for his Grade 6 Examination and Shakira was already in Grade 2. My children were not babies, any longer and I was so very proud of them all.

“Nal,” mom breathed heavily on the phone, “the pain is too much,” she cried. I always knew my mom to be a very strong woman and knowing she had just done her knee surgery, I had not expected the severe pain I heard in her voice, “I’m coming mom,” I promised, feeling helpless and not knowing what else to say. “Do you want to go take care of your mother? Ned asked, knowing how attached I was to my parents and seeing the pain in my eyes, “yes,” I answered instantly. Getting the first available flight for the following two days, I had to push myself, taking work home to finish, and working until wee hours of the morning. “What is happening?” I thought to myself, as my body became lifeless, falling onto the nearby chair. I could not move my limbs any longer, and my heart was beating so fast, as though it would stop at any moment. Ned and Adam had rushed home, it was a strong attack of anxiety and it was past the level of taking the medication Adam was thinking of giving me. “What caused this?” Jane asked, as she rushed in through the front door. “Oh! your sister never rests, she has to have everything done perfectly before she leaves,” Ned replied.

“Please see if you could get a refund for the flight,” I whispered, silently promising myself to never over work my body ever again. It was too late to have a refund since they needed to be notified twenty-four hours before. It was about 7:00 p.m. and I was supposed to be leaving for the airport in another eight hours. Even though Jane had insisted for me to go to the hospital, I knew it was just extreme exhaustion and all I needed was to rest. It was the first experience of not being able to move my hands or feet and I was overcome with fear and guilt of not being there for mom. As Ned lifted me up the stairs towards our bedroom, I whispered goodnight to Jane, while Ned promised to call her first thing in the morning to update her on my condition. “Don’t worry Nal,” Jane promised, I will let the family know you wouldn’t be able to travel.

As my eyelids fluttered open, I glanced at the clock, it was 2:00 a.m. I thought of mom, her cries rang in my ears so loudly, “I need to be strong for mom,” I told myself.  Realizing I could move my hands and feet, I climbed off the bed quietly as not to disturb Ned. Taking a quick shower, I slowly got dressed and awoke Ned, “I’m ready to go to the airport,” I whispered. Ned jumped out of his sleep, looking quite confused, “what do you mean you’re ready?” he asked, trying to clear his head. “I am feeling much better and I’m ready,” I replied in a clear and strong voice. Even though Ned had refused at first, thinking I was out of my mind for even trying to travel in this state, I had persisted, “I promise I will be fine,” I had repeated over, and over again.

Ned had dropped me off at the airport and made sure he came in to clear the suitcase and assist with the filling up of the forms. As I watched him leave, I felt a sudden sense of panic, wanting him to turn back and take me home. “Going to Canada?” I heard, as a soft and kind voice broke into my thoughts, looking across at the chair, I noticed a woman, just like mom. She must have witnessed my desperate expression, “I’m going to visit my mom,” I whispered. Her voice felt as though someone had thrown me a life saver and I was ready to cling on to it. Settling down in the seat beside her, I allowed her to talk as much as she wanted to, distracting me from the anxiety that had begun and making me pretend that I was travelling with my mom.

Thankfully it was not a full flight and the air hostess allowed me to sit beside the woman, who told me about her entire family during the sixty minutes flight from Guyana to Trinidad. Sadly, she was disembarking at Trinidad and I kept thinking positive thoughts for the one hour in transit, silently praying that another mom figure would take her place. Even though it was not what I prayed for, the student who had gone to Trinidad for her summer vacation, was extremely friendly, telling me all about her studies and what she wanted to become. She reminded me of Sarah and for the six hours flight from Trinidad to Canada, I felt that Sarah was beside me. It was ‘mind over matter’ as I kept telling myself, knowing that my mother was very important to me and whatever I was experiencing had to take second place to being there for my mom.

Mom had been discharged from the hospital and both her and dad were surprised and worried that I had still insisted on travelling, even though I was so sick. As the plane landed smoothly, I remain seated until most of the people had disembarked, not wanting to feel overwhelmed by the crowd. Easily collecting my suitcase, I walked through the door, smiling at Lisa, as she hurried towards me, her beautiful yellow spring coat, excited expression and hurried strides, building my inner strength immediately, “I had arrived safely,” I thought to myself. Even though the student had no idea how much she helped me throughout the flight, I was forever grateful, as I smiled and showed her my beautiful sister, waving her goodbye and knowing I would never see her again and she would never know the positive impact she contributed to my life.

“You have everyone getting a heart attack woman,” Lisa whispered, as she hugged me closely, “Jane called to see how you were feeling this morning and was told you were on your way to Canada.”  “I couldn’t disappoint mom,” I replied, feeling mentally drained from pretending everyone was my family on the flight, “dad needs my help,” I reassured her. I had booked a flight for six weeks, praying mom would be much better by the time I left. Dad had pressed to open for us after hearing the buzzer and I ran into his arms as he opened the door. Somehow, he looked older than the year before when I visited, and I realized it must not have been easy on him, taking care of mom and hearing her cry out in pain. “Thank you for coming Nal,” dad whispered, as he hugged me, tears in his eyes. “Just take care of your mom, I will cook and clean,” he insisted. I knew at his age, it was hard on him to awake during the nights to give her pain medication when she cried out in pain and knew how helpless he felt, not knowing what to do to ease her pain.

Entering the room, I felt my anxiety raising, as I observed the painful expression in my mom’s eyes. I had to be strong and I could not allow myself to become a liability but add to the strength and determination I also noticed in her eyes. Her eyes were suddenly filled with happiness, as she tried to hide her pain, smiling as I hurried towards her, “Oh Nal, you’re here,” she smiled. “I am here mom and you don’t have to worry about anything,” I replied, hugging her closely. As the days went by, the therapist from the government came daily for two weeks to give mom therapy, commenting on how determined mom was to do every exercise she taught her, no matter the pain she felt. At the end of the two weeks, dad pasted a few old telephone directories together, to make her very own step up. Watching mom daily, as she constantly did step by step, all the exercises she was taught, I was reminded of how strong she was, not sensitive and weak as I had become. At the end of the six weeks, even though there were nights when mom still cried out in pain, it was less frequent and I had made sure dad rested well, while I took full charge of the cooking, cleaning and taking care of mom. It was my pleasure to be able to do something for my parents, when their entire life, they were both there for me.

The children had missed me for the six weeks I had been away and as usual, felt I had to double up the quality time spent watching movies or playing board games with them. School had closed for the summer vacation and we had done tons of picnics, movies and trips to the creek. As usual, Riyad and Shakira had kept themselves busy, papering their books and getting all their stationary ready for the beginning of the new school term. Both Shakira and Riyad who had been enrolled into karate classes two years previously, had to finally say goodbye to karate, as Riyad became busy with his extra lessons after school in preparation for his Grade 6 Examination. It was the season of Christmas and the children were out as usual, shopping gifts with their uncle every night. “What do you mean mom didn’t want me to know?” I asked Jane, confused as to why it was kept a secret from me, dad had spent a few days in the hospital. “Mom is just afraid you will become sick hearing about dad,” she replied. Suddenly I felt a chill, even though I was being reassured dad was perfectly fine, I felt scared that it was more than mom wanted me to know. I thought of how frail he had suddenly looked just a few months earlier and spoke to Ned about my fear.

One week later, I was on a flight to Canada, to spend the Christmas holidays and New Year’s Day with my parents. I needed for once to be beside my parents when the New Year began, to treasure the moment. As usual, my parents felt instant happiness, as they hugged me closely. Indeed, dad seemed to be weaker than I had ever seen him and facing him bravely, I pushed every scared feeling aside. This was going to be the most precious three weeks I would spend with my parents. As usual, we all visited my siblings together, Christmas Day was spent at Sharon’s beautiful new home she had moved into a few years earlier and it was an extremely happy occasion, with everyone exchanging gifts. As usual, I visited Aunt Baby, who was always very excited to see me. Bursting in excitement, she told me all about the usual costume ‘get together,’ on New Year’s Eve, her son and wife normally hosts, wishing I could accompany them. Telling her how much I wanted to have the arrival of the New Year beside my parents, I returned home, only to be sent right back, after dad insisted both him and mom would be fast asleep at 9:00 p.m. Taking a quick shower and pulling on a fresh set of clothes, I grabbed my overnight bag and returned to Aunt Baby. It was time to take part in the joyful costume family ‘get together.’

As the New Year count down began, I suddenly felt sad and alone, it was the first time away from my family. Closing my eyes, I said a quiet prayer for the health and happiness of my family whom I missed so much and my parents. One hour later, as the count down began in Guyana, Ned called, and we all began the countdown together. Even though I was away in another country, at that moment, I felt I was right there with them. Hugging Aunt Baby and Kay before they left my parents, after dropping me off the following day, I thanked them both for their continued kindness. It was time to pack quickly to leave for the airport that evening. Sitting at the table with mom and dad for lunch, I thought of the past three weeks and all the lunches and dinners we had together, all the movies we watched and all the times we just sat on the couch and talked. I had spent quality time with them both, but still regretted not spending New Year’s Eve hugging and kissing them, as we welcomed the New Year of 2011.

Adam had graduated from the University of Guyana with his Associate Degree in Pharmacy and Sarah was busy with her studies in Business Management. They both discovered love and wanted to get married. I could not believe I was going to become a mother-in-law, a different phase in life, and I wanted to be the best mother-in-law there was. It was difficult to understand how some mothers who love their children so very much could not love the spouses that they love. I felt proud that someone could love my child with their every being, and I wanted that to be known. Before marriage, I spoke to the girl Adam was in love with, reassuring her that she would never have to share Adam’s love, for the love he felt for us was different from the love he felt for her. It was very important for me to let her understand that, for I believed, that was the foundation of having a great relationship with your children’s spouses. I was going to have two additional children and I couldn’t have been happier.

Chapter 27

LETTING GO

My suitcase was not even properly unpacked when I received the call from mom. With hands shaking, I replaced the phone. “Please God, protect my father,” I prayed silently, tears running down my cheeks. Closing my eyes, I thought of him, just a few days earlier, as I hugged him closely before leaving their home. He had always insisted on accompanying me in the elevator to the lobby, except for this last trip, when he felt too weak. He had smiled bravely, reassuring me that he will be just fine, as he hugged me once more, standing at the door, until mom and I turned the corridor towards the elevator, waving his hands. Everything seemed to be happening so fast, I felt it was just a passing nightmare which would all be over.

Glancing through the window of the plane, I realized, the beauty of the lights which always took my breath away, did not seem to matter, somewhere down there, dad was lying in the hospital and I could not prevent the cold shiver that kept running through my body. Even though I had just returned from Canada, Ned did not hesitate in sending me again when he heard about dad. Over the years, he had grown to love my parents very much, and always admired how humble and caring they were to their children and their spouses. Clasping Jane’s hands, we both prepared for landing.

As usual, mom was already standing at her door, anxiously waiting to see us, as we turned the corridor from the elevator. Hurrying towards her, we both dropped our suitcases, hugging her closely. “We’re here mom, dad will be out soon,” we tried to reassure her. As she sat in her beige recliner, relating everything that had happened all over again, I reflected on the circle of life. Mom was once surrounded by all her children and now everyone had their very own home and families, we were now surrounded by our children and she was all alone with dad. It was the first time I had arrived at their home and dad was not there, I couldn’t wait to visit him the next day.  

As we floundered through the snow from the parking lot to the hospital, my level of my anxiety began to decrease. Even though mom was dropped off at the entrance of the hospital, I had opted to accompany Lisa to the parking lot, I needed time to prepare myself, to allow the extreme cold of the wind chill and the high level of snow, to erase the fright I felt inside. No one realized that the experience of postpartum depression, had left a part of my inner self, exposed and vulnerable, easy to crumble. “Not sure we could all be in here together at the same time,” mom whispered quietly, as we entered the room. “Your children are here,” she smiled, rubbing her hands over dad’s hair.  

“You came back?” dad whispered, his face beaming with happiness, as he looked up at his four daughters, “now your mother can’t complain of being alone,” he teased. My heart was filled with pride, even though he was sick, he remained very humble and loving. We were all massaging his arms, legs and forehead, as he began telling stories of long ago, not once complaining of his illness or the stroke that affected his left arm and leg. “I have never received so many ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ from any patient before,” the nurse announced as she entered the room, “your father is very polite and appreciative,” she smiled, as she checked his temperature and blood pressure.  

With every visit, I felt stronger and stronger, with dad being so very positive. He was extremely proud of the way his bedside was over packed at every visiting hour and found it funny when the nurse eventually announced she may have to send security. After that, we made sure we hid in the washroom before she entered the room, knowing that we were being very quiet and not disturbing the other patients. After the third warning, we made sure we took turns visiting at different visiting hours. Sandy had arrived and since she was staying at Ram, they all choose a separate time from us. Sadly, Rob was in Saudi Arabia, on contract, teaching at the University, SiSi could not get time off from work and Aileen could not get a visa to visit.