Once when class was over and I was packing up my books, I decided to ask her a question that had been niggling me for some time. "Miss," I said, "how come you know so much?"
Miss McCartney smiled and I saw her crooked little teeth.
"I suppose I learned a lot at university." And then, "It's a very good place to learn things and meet interesting people. If you pick a subject you like there's a lot of fun to be had. Maybe one day you will go to university."
"Don't you have to be very clever?"
"Quite," she said. "You're a bright girl, Celia. Just because you're pretty doesn't mean you should forget about your studies." She looked straight at me then, and I knew she was telling me something important. "You can be anything you want to be. Don't let anyone tell you any different."
When I got home I told Aunt Tassi. She was sweeping the floor and humming to herself, and Roman was asleep on the chair.
"At least we have some brains in the family. Maybe you'll be a doctor or a lawyer and make plenty money. You can look after your old aunt." Then she went outside and started on the steps. Without opening his eyes, Roman said, "You could never do anything like that. You just like your mother. Dog can't make cat." On the other side of the village was a patch called Stony Hill where a family from Trinidad lived and where old Edmond Diaz lived and also Mrs. Jeremiah. Children were frightened of Mrs. Jeremiah. I had seen her puttering about the village, her white picky hair pulled back from her wrinkled-up face which reminded me of an old fruit. She had little slanted eyes, like a bird. The left was smoky, yellowish, and the right fixed somewhere over your shoulder as if she was watching something or someone away in the distance. She was almost blind, they said. But for all her blindness, Mrs. Jeremiah was able to see things about your life that no one else could see or know. Not your parents or your friends or even the whisperings of your own heart. People came from all over the Caribbean to hear what Mrs. Jeremiah had to say. They came from Barbados and Grenada and St. Lucia and Venezuela and Trinidad. If you didn't like what she told you, for an extra fee she would offer a spell or a potion to change your situation. There were all kinds of stories. Some said she was a kind of doctor. Mrs. Jeremiah gave concoctions of chicken's blood and hot pepper to be drunk at dawn; prayers to be sung into the night, directions for boiling the heart of a goat and wrapping it in banana leaves and putting it under your pillow where it should stay for forty nights. After a visit to Mrs. Jeremiah, lovers were reunited or parted, relatives and enemies died in strange circumstances, a woman who could never have a child was suddenly seen nursing a baby. I would never have had to speak to her if it hadn't been for Roman Bartholomew.
We Hear You!