Thursday, July 26, 2007
Two Days in July - Pt. 2
Mavis picked her way gingerly across the pasture in Grassfield and slipped through the wooden gate leading into the Belleville community. She waved at some of the other domestics who were making their way to work at the homes in the exclusive neighbourhood.
She turned into 6th Avenue and walked up the driveway of the Victorian-styled home on the right side of the street. Taking a deep breath and making the sign of the cross, she entered the back door of the Deanes’ house. Lord, help muh tuh hold muh tongue so I doan’ lose dis work today, she thought.
“Mornin’, Celeste, Darnley!” Mavis greeted the cook and gardener who were seated at the kitchen table.
“Mornin’, Mavis. Look like we in fuh some trouble ‘round hey,” Celeste frowned as she looked up from the Advocate.
“Wuh happen now? First de railway like it closin’ down again, den de cost of livin’ went up an’ de country ain’ gettin’ nuh money from de canes atall. It must be Lent or someting!”
“Not Lent, just life in Buhbados right now,” Darnley grumbled. “Dis Payne fella walkin’ ‘bout stirrin’ up a bariffle o’ trouble. Uh mean, I know black people meetin’ things hard, hard, but I feel dem rich people gine get vex one day an’ do way wid he. You ain’ remember how dey do Clenell Wickham? And den, quick so, a disturbance or someting gine brek out. It doan’ tek much fuh dat tuh happen. People blue vex a’ready.”
Mavis took the paper and scanned the article pointed out by Celeste. Her reading skills were rudimentary, but she still managed to decipher Clement Payne’s call for workers to unionise and fight for better wages. She frowned at the photograph of the handsome young man that accompanied the article.
“I uses tuh sew fuh he mother, yuh know. He arrive from Bank Hall,” Mavis mused as she returned the paper and grabbed her apron from behind the kitchen door.
“Fuh trut’? I was wonderin’…,” Celeste broke off as Sue Alleyne, Mrs. Deane’s personal maid, entered the room. She glowered at the trio.
“Excuse me, you all don’t get paid to sit around reading the paper. Ms. Brathwaite, Mistress would like her breakfast prepared now, please. One boiled egg, three strips of bacon and two slices of toast. No butter. ”
Celeste sucked her teeth loudly, pushed her chair away from the table and headed for the stove, muttering about “breadfruit swappers”. Darnley grabbed his hat and beat a hasty retreat towards the garden. Mavis calmly tied her apron and stared at the young woman.
“Is there a problem, Mrs. Carrington?” Sue pursed her lips and placed one hand on her hip.
“Not atall Ms. Alleyne. I happy in Jesus name.” Mavis smiled sweetly, eyeing Sue from head to toe. Force-ripe lil upstart. I ole enough tuh be yuh mother, she thought.
Today the maid had her pressed hair piled on top of her head in a bun. Her white, long-sleeved cotton blouse with a ruffled collar was tucked into a full-length black skirt. Her attire was completed with black stockings and black low-heeled shoes. Sue would have been attractive, if not for the permanent frown plastered across her midnight-black face.
“Well, you can start on the mistress’ bedroom first while she’s coming down to the breakfast room. Don’t dawdle here all day.” She scowled at Mavis and Celeste before leaving the kitchen.
Celeste burst into laughter as soon as Sue was out of earshot.
“Wuhloss! Dat’s de blackest white woman I ever see. Who she tink she is, Ms. Bowring?” The cook held her stomach and laughed.
Mavis couldn’t help laughing as well. “You gine get chase way one of dese days, yuh know!”
Celeste snorted. “Who, de Deanes chase me way? Doan’ doubt God! Nuhbody else but me ain’ gine cook fuh dese poor great poppits. Besides,” a wicked gleam appeared in her eyes, “yuh want me tuh tell everybody wuh Sue an’ Mr. Deane does be doin’ in de garden shed pon a night?”
“Looka muh crosses! Celeste, yuh too jipsy! I gine and do de people wuk before yuh get me lock up, bosie!” Mavis cackled and left the kitchen.
After collecting her cleaning instruments, Mavis climbed the wide mahogany staircase to the first floor of the house. She knocked gently on the second door at the top of the stairs. Hearing no response, she entered. She was startled to see Mrs. Deane standing on the small balcony overlooking the garden. The lady of the house turned and frowned at Mavis.
“Beg pardon, ma’am. I thought you was already in de breakfast room. I gine come back.”
Margaret Deane waved the maid into the room. “Come in, Mavis. I was just getting a little morning air before going downstairs. How are you today?”
Mavis was taken aback. In the six years she worked with the family, she couldn’t recall her employer expressing the remotest interest in her welfare. Rumoured to be the great-granddaughter of one of the first free slaves from Rock Hall in St. Thomas, Margaret Deane was a tall, willowy, brown-skinned woman who affected the airs and graces of a gentrified Englishwoman.
A former secretary to a prominent Bridgetown barrister, she caught the eye of Howard Deane, a manager of a warehouse on the Pier Head. Although Howard’s complexion was a little darker than she would have liked, his pockets were a lot deeper than she could have hoped for. Within three months, the couple was married and firmly ensconced in Belleville.
“I fine, ma’am. H-how you?” Mavis replied, nervously touching the starched cap covering her slightly graying hair.
Rather than respond, Mrs. Deane turned back to the view over the balcony. After a few seconds she replied, “What do you see over there, Mavis?”
Mavis approached the doorway and peered hesitantly around her employer. All she could see was Darnley toiling in the morning sun, trimming the hedge running along the back of the property. From that height, she could see into the rear of a large, stately property backing on to the Deane’s lot.
“Ma’am, I not too sure wuh yuh mean. Uh, de garden an’ de house in de nex’ gap?”
Mrs. Deane slapped the rail of the balcony. “Exactly. Fifth Avenue, Mavis. It’s just right there, but could as well be a mile away.”
Realisation dawned on Mavis and she stiffened. Dis in’grunt s**te, she thought, she doan’ know how good she got it, an’ still pinin’ tuh be one o’ de big maguffies in de top avenues!
“They think they’re better than us, you know. Just because they’re the employers and we’re the working class. I’ll have them know my children go to Codrington Grammar School just like theirs!”
Mavis snorted inwardly. Work? Dis woman ain’ work a day since she marry Mr. Deane.
“That’s why I agree with what Clement Payne and Grantley Adams are saying. It’s time the workers in this country get the respect they deserve! No more working for a pittance and under poor conditions! I was telling Howard just this morning….”
Mavis tuned her employer out, nodding and smiling at intervals to appear interested. Who she tink she foolin’? She want de rich people get pull down so she could climb pon top dem, da’is all! the older woman thought.
“So ma’am, I could get a few more shillings when de week come, den?” Mavis asked when she detected a lull in the woman’s monologue.
Mrs. Deane frowned and her hand flew to the high collar of her silk dressing gown. “I would have to ask Mr. Deane about that. Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know. Anyway, it’s time I got down to breakfast. Don’t forget to clean the lampshades this time. They’ll be no shortcuts as long as I’m the lady of this house!”
With that she whirled and sashayed out of the room, leaving Mavis to suck her teeth and shake her head.
Uh wonder if Sue wou’d mek a betta lady o’ de house? she contemplated for a second, before moving to strip the sheets off the four-poster bed.
Part 3 tomorrow!