I'm spending Sunday night in my bedroom on the Internet, checking out blogs etc. A strong, psalms-ish voice rings out in the passage: "Close the doors." I bolt to my room door and close it, posthaste. My father in the study is even quicker and slams his door before I do the same. Then what I call the drive-by occurs: Real slow, four wheels crawl towards the bathroom. Attached to the wheels are some iron bars. Atop these bars is a leatherette seat. Hanging down the front of the seat are two stumps which are attached to wrinkled thighs. The owner of these thighs is also the person conducting the drive by. She goes by the name Thelma.
Thelma is a benevolent gangster. As she goes by at snail's pace, she knows that her weapon is deadly. She carries with her a urinal and a chamber pot. The weapon lies within these containers, so dangerous that Thelma covers it with old newspaper. Alas! It is not enough. The deadly methane gases begin to rise. They sneak out from underneath the periodicals and waft their way under my bedroom door, the study, into the living room, out on the patio and into the kitchen. In the bathroom, I picture Thelma having a quiet dialogue with God. Thelma probably says "God only you know how hard I try." I figure God replies "Don't worry Thelma; in you I am well pleased."
I hear that when I was a baby, I clung to Thelma and refused my mother's affection because I thought that Thelma was my mother since she took care of me while her daughter, my mother, went to work. I don't remember that. The earliest memory I have of Thelma is when she'd bathe me and I'd say "Grandma wash ma pokey good yuh nuh" and she'd say "Not pokey, baby. Say vaggie, vaggie is short for vagina."
Somehow, Thelma became my favourite joke to tell at school. She always seemed to say the funniest things.
When I entered Upper Sixth Form (I suppose that's senior year for everyone else) we had to put on Christmas and End of Term plays...it was part of the responsibilities that came with being Sixth Formers. For the Christmas play, we brought Thelma to the stage. I played Thelma since I knew her personally. The biggest joke which was a constant throughout the play went like this:
Daughter: Evening, Mama
Thelma: (whistling and knitting stops) Evening Marsha
Daughter: How you keeping?
Thelma: Tenk Gawd, tenk Gawd (Thank God)
Daughter: Mama, I'm just reminding you that next week Tuesday, I'm carrying you to see the doctor.
Thelma: Tuesday...Tuesday...Tuesday! It was a Tuesday evening I get a letter from him saying that him want divorce. Tuesday evening , him leave me with five pickney (children) to raise on my own. That wretch.
Daughter: Mama, why does everything have to do with Papa?
(Son-In -Law comes in)
Son-In-Law: Evening Miss Thelma.
Thelma: Evening my son.
Daughter: Pedro, what time are we supposed to leave for the function, again? I don't remember.
Thelma: (shouting) Is 9:30 in the morning the postman bring the letter. 9:30 I see how man a dog (men are dogs). Him leave me with the five pickney dem and gone abroad to tough face, cow. Vinston Peart, you is a wretch.
Daughter: (sighs) Lawd Gad (Lord God).
What exactly do we do but laugh at others and ourselves? Or just laugh at others and wallow in self-pity? I suppose to cope we should look at life as the funniest joke: The sweetness tickles us pink and the sourish (something I copped from Thelma) will have you so frustrated that all you can do is erupt into laughter...because it's the safest action.
Thelma, I write about more than my own mother. My mother still has a lot of life left to live. But Thelma, she has lived her life and now sits down waiting. Sometimes, she asks me to give her books to read and she reads them and we discuss them. But a lot of the times, I know she's just sitting and waiting. I became aware of this one night, maybe three years ago. I was on the phone, caught up in budding romance chatter. I heard this moaning all of a sudden. It was around 12 30 in the night. I heard: "Wooooooooooooeeeeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiii. Woooooooooooooooooeeeeeeeeeeeeeiii. Yes Lord. Yes Lord. When you ready Jesas. "
Alarmed I cried out: "Grandma, you alright?"
Then the same psalms-ish voice I spoke of earlier, answered, sounding tired: "Is alright, Danielle. Is alright."
And did you know, that the next day, I went to work and told my co-worker, convulsed in laughter?
A year ago, Thelma made me and my friend erupt in stitches. My mother went away for three weeks so we decided to let Thelma stay with her church sister in the country while her primary care giver, my mother was away, getting a break. Dad and I were alone in the house. Couple days passed and the weekend came. We decided to pay Thelma a visit and carry down some bed linen for her. I'd been keeping in touch and calling her. She kept saying she was alright. But she did say that once, her church sister had got up at 3 in the morning and made dinner...that struck me as strange.
As we neared, Thelma called to find out our progress. She called another time to say that Sister Leonie wanted us to meet her at her shop, and that we shouldn't go directly to the house because Sister Leonie was not there. Then she called back in tears, frantic, saying that Sister Leonie said that she was going to leave the shop before we got there so that we would not be able to see her or Thelma. In between, she said tearily: "Danielle, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
At that time, I wasn't laughing. I was furious. We got to the shop and Sister Leonie was there. Apparently, Clyde had a flat tyre (she being Bonnie). Her shop looked quackish and when she spoke it was obvious that the shop belonged to her...she sounded like a mounteback. I wasted no time in telling her a piece of my mind. My father, the one with the raging temper, was surprisingly and thankfully, very calm. Sister Leonie explained that she wouldn't be leaving her shop until 9 30 pm (at the time, it was 4:00 pm) and that we couldn't go to her house without her. That we should come back in the morning. (We traveled from a different parish, for an hour and a half). My father agreed.
We got in the car and drove out. I said that I didn't trust that mad woman and who knew what would happen to my grandmother by morning. Then Dad went all Samuel L Jackson in Snakes On A Plane and said "We're going for your grandmother now."
When we reached Sister Leonie's house, her neighbour, who had become Thelma's friend went into the house and packed her things. Things including four buckets of clothes soaking in soapy water that apparently were supposed to have been washed. When I finally saw my Grandmother, the neighbour pushed her through the door and out to the waiting car. Thelma weeping, cried out: "Deliverannnnnnnnnnnnccceee. Deliverannnnnncccccccceeee. Old time people have a saying, See me and come live with me is two different ting. Jesaaaaaaaaaassssssssss."
As I saw her I hugged her tight, crying with her. But days later, when I repeated the ordeal to my friend, we were beside ourselves in laughter.