a tiny hairdressing salon in St James, a striking woman, Angelica (not
her real name) with girlish dimples and velvety skin (like the inside of
a sapodilla), was blow-drying my hair.
There was the sound of
running water, women’s low voices, the curiously aromatic, mingling
smells of coffee and chemicals. For an hour or two, the women in here
were buffered from the harshness of reality. Some closed their eyes
under the dryer, allowing themselves to succumb to waves of soporific
My phone, then
Angelica’s, rang in quick succession. She paused the dryer. We overheard
one another’s conversation with our offspring, exhorting them to be safe
on the road, encouraging them to study.
As women do, we became
intimate strangers. It was her birthday. Looking at her, I pictured her
in a cheeky dress, delicate heels in a cocktail bar with friends, or
having dinner with her husband. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in
life, it’s that nothing is as it seems. She was cooking pelau, she
said, and salad for 50 people. Ah, “a domestic diva,” I thought, in the
way we like to pinion people with stereotypes.
That was not what she
meant at all. Bit by bit, as she put rollers in my hair, she told me her
Angelica’s story: “I am
the eldest of four children. I never knew my father. My mother was not
a stable person. She would leave at night. I didn’t know what she did.
I would see her getting bigger, lying down and a baby came. She would be
quiet for a bit and go out again until another baby came until there
were four of us.
“We had a stepfather for
a while, but he didn’t want us. Mom left us four at my aunt’s home and
went back to him. My aunt couldn’t handle the responsibility, and so my
mom took us to Point Fortin to live with my grandmother, whom we had
never met. I saw our mother twice in three years. My grandmother saw
something in me. She sent me to school. She wrote on the blackboard to
help me through Common Entrance exam, which I passed. My siblings didn’t
go to school.
“We must have got too
much for her. One day my grandmother took all four of us to the
unfinished house in St James without toilets, informed the Catholic
Church that three children under ten needed care, and left three of us
there. She took me back to Point Fortin, but soon got ill. I met my
mother at her funeral.
“Mom took me home, but I
was 14 now, and my stepfather tried to interfere with me. When I told my
mom, he got mean. He said it was his money feeding me and he didn’t want
me to eat from his earnings. Mom distanced herself from me.
“At 14, I met my
daughter’s father: a taxi driver who got me pregnant and took me back to
a place he shared with his friend. I was 15 with a baby, washing,
cooking and cleaning for both men, wondering if I had made the right
decision to leave home. At 16, I had another child, but I couldn’t bear
my life. I visited the late Archbishop Pantin, who said he would pray
for me, and promised me $250 for each day I couldn’t find work. He had
that much faith in me.
“That same evening I
went to the pharmacy for something, and saw the sign saying ‘Sales clerk
wanted.’ I filled out a form. I had a job the very next day. I began
working. I studied hairdressing and cosmetology. I began taking private
jobs and here I am today, working 12 hours, sometimes six days a week,
but my own boss, in my own home, with my grown-up children, in my own
I brought the
conversation back to Angelica’s cooking for 50 people.
She told me that every
year on her birthday she distributes 50 boxes of food to the homeless.
She does the same for Christmas. It’s what gives her joy. She’s far
from well off, but knows what it feels to be falling off the edge of the
cliff, to be given a leg-up to safety. Now that she has it, she wants to
something in me. Around my tree is quite bare this Christmas. I have
asked my children’s permission, now that they are no longer little, no
longer believe in Santa, and old enough to know they have been blessed
in many ways, to give someone a leg-up on behalf of them.
To my surprise, this
decision took a weight off us all. The irritability I felt at Christmas
plastic, baubles, fake trees has given way to a benediction and a way
out of the madness of shopping, spending and consuming. I have been
able (among millions of non-Christians who celebrate the magic of
December) to make my way back to the centre, to forgiveness, to hope,
and yes, love. Merry Christmas.
Everyone has a charity
close to his or her heart. Here are mine:
Raffa House: 627-3389
84 Belmont Circular
Vitas House Hospice
112 Western Main Road,