My first unit back has been about writing creative non-fiction. It’s been a really interesting unit and one in which I’ve enjoyed the assigned readings and writing. It’s also the first unit where I’ve started sharing my work with friends. Workshopping is often an assessed part of my writing studies but seeking feedback from my friends – rather than other students who only exist as words on a screen – is something that’s new to me and has been somewhat nerve wracking but also easier than I thought it would be (if that makes any sense, I’m a woman of contradictions, if nothing else).
The below is for an assignment we had to do to evoke a place or setting. I got a High Distinction for it. My tutor thought it was good but that my last paragraph switches tense – which is does – and she thought it might actually work better in present tense, rather than in past. One of my earlier drafts had it in present tense but then I changed it, can’t remember why. Ah well, I’m happy with an HD.
When I was fifteen, my mother moved to a new house. At the time, we lived in the hills of rural Jamaica. The new house was on a large block of land with a huge garden plus my stepfather’s marijuana plantation was just a short walk away. She’d have all the things a green-thumbed stoner could want from their rustic hideaway. Everything, that is, except one of her daughters; I refused to go.
“It’s too far from the main road.”
“It’ll be too hard for me to get to school.”
“I won’t have my own room.”
Those were the excuses I made and no one argued. There was truth to them but not the whole truth. What I couldn’t say was I didn’t want to be around my mother’s growing unhappiness, her increasing marijuana consumption. I didn’t want to watch her disappear before my eyes as she smoked instead of eating. I thought living alone would be a better option and, at times, it was.
At first, I didn’t miss my family. I luxuriated in the space and privacy my new living conditions afforded me. But eventually the house expanded around me, all that space – the space once taken up by my sister, my mother, my stepfather – seemed endless. And then the stillness crept in. It filled the rooms my family left behind and it wasn’t a pleasant housemate. It crowded me, pressed in on me while I slept. It found the fear and loneliness in my heart and tugged it into my throat. Some nights I crawled into my closet so the walls felt closer and I felt less alone.
My mother’s oasis was only ten minutes away but it may as well have been ten hours. The road was a deeply rutted track made of marl, white and clay-like. It stretched out between us like an umbilical cord, frayed and strained. The wet season rains made it a river of milk. When dry, my feet would stir the road up into dust, which then coated my face and hair like sifted flour. When breathed in, it became chalk in my mouth. It crumbled beneath my feet, an annoyance in the daytime and treacherous at night, a sometime solid.
In the beginning, I would only go to my mother’s house in the daytime. I’d leave in sunlight and rush home before dark. For two years, I walked that road. Sometimes because I was lonely and craved voices that weren’t my own. Other times, I was just hungry and wanted a proper meal, something other than the crinkly packets of junk food or bright orange cheese I purchased from the store. Walking that road of an afternoon, I would smell wood fires and cooking, all the smells and sounds of families getting ready to eat. I would walk faster, eager to be with my own family. A teenager’s practicality in action, showing up on my mother’s doorstep just in time for dinner but always keeping an eye on the outside light. Like a reverse vampire, my goal was to get home before dark.
Walking that road at night was the stuff of nightmares. There were no streetlights. The pitch black night was punctured only by the faint flicker of neighbouring houses. In the dark, the air was too close and the sounds too big. My mouth tasted of fear, bitter as Jamaican Cerasee tea (a herbal drink thought to cure pretty much anything). I walked as fast as I could on the barely-there road. To walk any faster was to risk a sprained ankle. Running was out of the question as it would just antagonise the feral neighbourhood dogs, snarling and snapping at my heels. I could hear them coming a mile away, their claws scrabbling on the rocks and their harsh breaths echoing in the silence. Their presence in the dark made me feel hunted.
The road between my mother and me is a two-way birth canal. At one end is my home, silent and still, an unfriendly womb. At the other, there’s light and voices but I don’t know who will deliver me. Will it be the mother I can talk to about my teenage problems or a woman in the grips of marijuana psychosis, obsessed with religion and Bible verse? This woman of fire and brimstone scares me and makes me ashamed although, unlike my sister, I can escape when it gets too much. I can feel safe in both of our houses but the road that lies between is a thing to be reckoned with. Yet, in all those years, I never once think to get a torch.