I knew about my parents from the things I was told. I had never seen a photograph of either of them because there weren't any. But Aunt Tassi said that of course my mother was pretty and when I asked her how pretty she pointed at a pink hibiscus flower sticking out of a bush and said, "Pretty like that." How did she wear her hair? She tied her hair in a knot and wrapped a cloth around her head, she told me one cool afternoon while we were walking into Black Rock village to look for cassava. And how tall was she? And what color exactly were her eyes? You say black but were they woody black or black like those African bees that once flew out of the rotten silk cotton tree or black like pitch that comes from the lake in Trinidad? Were they round or slanted, big or small? What did people think of her when they saw her? Would they turn their heads or pass her by? Mostly when I asked these sorts of questions, my aunt carried on doing whatever she was doing as if I had not said anything at all. But it did not stop me from asking about my mother or thinking about my mother and wondering what she was like. I knew that she had worked in a barbershop called Mona's in Bacolet and she met my father in this same salon. My father was passing through the islands on his way home to England from panning gold in British Guiana. And I knew that she probably didn't cut hair like his too often. How could she, I told Aunt Tassi, if he was a white man. Whenever I said this was a romantic way to meet, my aunt said I shouldn't get caught in romance; she usually said this when Roman Bartholomew, her husband, was in earshot.
She said my mother died after a long and difficult labor. Did she see me, I asked when I was five years old. I could not bear the idea of my mother never having seen me. Yes, Aunt Tassi said. Before she died she saw your tiny face and it made her laugh and cry at the same time because for the first time in her life she was happy. Then my aunt shook her head as if thinking about my mother made her sad, and I felt bad for asking. I was lying on my mother's stomach covered in her slimy juices when she took her last breath. And we were in a room without windows and it was very hot, so they moved her to another room with a window and they opened it wide so her soul could fly out into the sky. It was night and someone lit a flambeau in the yard to help her find her way.
Aunt Tassi sent a letter to my father in Southampton, England, but my father did not reply and they buried my mother in St. George's graveyard and they put a little cross of wood because they did not have money for a stone. When I asked my aunt if I had killed my mother she said of course not and how could I think so. When one soul flies in, another flies out. I was unlucky.
It just so happened that Aunt Tassi had a postcard from Southampton, sent to her by Father Carmichael. It was a photograph of a port and a lot of people waving at passengers I couldn't quite make out. I could see the bow of a large boat but not the passengers. southampton was written in white capital letters along the bottom. Sometimes I took this postcard from behind Aunt Tassi's dresser where it was held in place with a hair clip and I stared at the waving English people and I wondered if my father could be one of them or at least look like one of them.
We Hear You!