The letter lay on the worn wooden table. A single sheet of white paper, crisp and smooth except for the folds that allowed it to envelope a wad of US dollar notes. The notes gave off a rich scent that contrasted sharply with the dimly lit and sparsely furnished room.
“I’m going,” I said defiantly. “I’m almost sixteen. I’m a man now.” I looped my thumbs through the belt hooks on the back my khaki school pants, stuck out my chest and stared at my mother.
She was sitting in her favorite chair, an old rocker with cushions patterned with flowers that had faded to look like dried flowers within the yellowing leaves of a book. She rocked the chair slowly, taking it to its full tilt each time. She shook her head.
“I have a bad feeling ‘bout this, Lawson. What yuh sister want wit’ he?” She was speaking to my father. Then she turned to me, “Better you stay here an’ finish school, eh? Plenty people finish school here and do good good fuh demselves.”
My father waved his hand dismissively. “Why yuh holin’ on to de boy so. Let him be a man. St. Kitts too small fuh all ah we. Let him go, he go make we proud.”
He stood beaming at me. All I saw when I looked at him were his trousers, like all his trousers, covered with specs of paint from his job as a handy man. The hand that he placed reassuringly on my mother’s shoulder was calloused with fingernails that would never again look clean. When I looked at him, I saw all the things I didn’t want to be and I was more determined than ever to move to the UK to live with my aunt as offered in the letter on the table.
My mother got out of her chair and limped over to the table. She picked up the letter. The dollar bills scattered onto the floor. I scrambled to pick them up.
“Blood money!” she spat, “she just tryin’ to make up for nearly killing yuh mudder when she steal all yuh money an’ run away to the UK wid that good for nuttin’ man.”
I stayed bent on the floor listening. I had never heard this before.
My mother continued, “Anyway, how you know if she legal yet?”
“She must be legal now, how else she could send fuh he?” he pointed at me.
“So how come she never come back here since she gone? All dose years she gone an’ all of a sudden she want to adopt he? What make she heart get big so now?”
“Yuh know she always ask for he and she send down barrels with things for him.”
“Drug money!” my mother picked up one note that was left on the table and tossed it into the air. “You t’ink I don’ know what happen to she husband? How he come back here wid five gol’ teet’ in he mout’ and mauga like a piece of bamboo? And what he doin’ now? He left here, he was workin’ in a bank. Now he driving somebody else taxi, can’t get no job. Nobody have to tell me is jail he been. An’ ah hear is fuh drugs.” She whispered the last word keeping it from our neighbours, who were probably hearing her every word.
“You don’ know if that’s true,” my father said weakly.
“I know it like ah know meself. We living in dis paradise, Lawson, paradise. We don’t have much, but we could still give he plenty. Is not time for he to go. I could feel it here. “ She tapped her chest. “Is not time, is not time.”
She walked back to her rocking chair and sat leaning all the way back, still muttering those words. “It’s not time, it’s not time.”
My father bent to pick up the fallen notes. Our eyes met under the table. I felt as if I had been caught eavesdropping on their conversation. He looked away embarrassed and shook his head. I threw down the money I had gathered and stormed out of our house, slamming the door so that it shuddered in the wooden frame.