“Faire vite!” Laura coaxed dragging me through the forbidden slums.
Frogs started to leap out of the sludge lined drains and it was getting down to that time when crickets would soon start their great symphony. Mama would be furious as to where we had been. At this point, fabricating a plausible lie would be a challenge with my mud stained shoes, browning frills of my dress along side my dusty blue bows that lined the waist of my dress. The smell of cigarette, rum and coal pot smoke not only infiltrated my nose but also saturated my dress. A tell tail give away of our supposably impermissible trip.
“Yuh mudda gon kill me if we dun reach in time.” Laura groaned heaving the heavy basket of meat and vegetables from the market in one hand and pulling me along with other.
She was a strong woman and a fast walker at that. Curious glances came from labourers returning home or cheering onto the local rum shop stuck to us whilst scrutinous glares coming from ladies of sophistication queried as to why a negro woman was pulling me. Soon enough we reached our own. Laura plopped me in before shouting after our driver to hurry. I already knew Mama would be mad at me and extra mad at Laura than she would have been with my other siblings or another maid. Of course, I knew what to expect from Mama as her unbroken pattern of disapproval to my so-called continuous faults never missed an opportunity to remind me of how I’ll never be like my brothers or sister. I would never understand why she resented Laura more than the other negro servants though. There was nothing she had that could even come close to competing with Mama- at least according to her European standards, and Laura was poor just like all the other labourers.
The sun was nearly down and the sky already started to retain its wealth of stars. Soon enough our carriage made its way up the familiar palm tree lined road towards the Great House- my house. Laura muttered prayers under her breath. I was neither worried nor calm. I have to come to peace with the fact that whether I was fully like Mama or not, whether I looked like my siblings or not, whether I did things right or not I would always be imperfect to her- a mistake.
Slowly, the Great House came into view. The driver slowed the horses as we approached the house and gave us an encouraging smile. Laura and I gave each other a knowing glance looking for some sort of confidence or at least a glimmer of hope that we would not be in trouble. Much to our dismay, Mama stood outside with her arms crossing her chest. Along with her were other house maids which stood dutifully behind her each with bowed heads. To Mama’s side were my two brothers and sister. Laura took a deep breath gathering her skirt and picking up her basket of shopping managed a small smile towards me before exiting the carriage and then proceeded to help me out. Mama disdainfully eyed Laura’s plain cotton dress that most servants wore. Her nose turned up in disgust and her face scornfully looked down upon her. After properly showing her natural disenchantment for Laura, Mama shifted her focus to me. She glanced at the muddy frills at the end of my dress, dust covered blue bows and evidently looked for the expensive hat that she told the servants to use to hide my hair. God knows if she could hide everything that made me less than what she was she would.
“Take the girl to get washed for dinner.” Mama instructed one of the maids behind her.
As I slowly passed Mama I took note of how my six year presence in her life had caused rage to twist her thin face, pride to harden it and humiliation to shrivel up her lips. The blue sapphire orbs she possessed for eyes were now dimmed of the light that came with youth even though Mama was not yet thirty. Her pale skin sang for relief of the resentment she held in her heart for me. Not even the love she held for my siblings could balance the way hatred had taken a toll on her. She reminded me of the witches that Laura and the other negro servants would tell me about in their stories like lagarbless and their tiebolums. For Daddy though, it was different. He looked as youthful as the day I was born. He loved me very much. Rumours that he loved me more than my other siblings proved factual by the way he treated me and all the expensive toys he got me. He payed more attention to me and would write me the most when he was away on business trips. Unfortunately, he was away more than he was around which subjected me to the treatment of my “mother”.
I worried for Laura. She played the mother figure in my life after Mama tossed me off to the care of the maids. Laura always said that I should never be ashamed of mixed heritage though matter what Mama did or said. I always found myself in limbo as I struggled to straddle the white and black worlds. I was constantly at the mercy and pity of Mama’s friends about how my hair wasn’t straight or my puggy nose or dark chocolate eyes. Then the negros in the slums I frequented with Laura would secretly resent me for the minor privileges that my light skin provided me.
I turned back in time to witness a weak slap administered by Mama to Laura’s face. I knew it didn’t hurt her but the diamonds from Mama’s ring cut deeply the sides of her face. For the first time I had publicly witnessed Mama making a scene. She swore worst than a sailor. Her frail arms swung like the banana leaves on the estates doing more damage to herself than Laura. Her eyes were swollen with tears and pregnant with wrath. Mama always told me that proper women never behaved like this. She always told me that if I ever wanted to at least be somewhat accepted into the world of the whites that this behaviour was reserved exclusively for negros who knew no better. She said that I needed to learn proper English and forget the Creole language that she disliked so bad and that I should focus more on my Christian studies than the accursed stories of the maids. Never once did she say this out of interest for me but rather protection of her own status- after all it must be painful to know that your husband would rather prefer the offspring of a low-class person. Anything Mama could do to spare herself of the public humiliation I brought her she would and when she couldn’t she would retire to the library and cry of illness that hurt her heart. The physicians tell her its her pressure; the negros say it’s her indignant nature.
Yet here she was. All her hypocritical mannerisms out the door and all the ugly she held inside on full display.
“Mweh lahss palay bah ou. Stop going with Laura to see her friends. Ou paka tun. Now look what you make de lady do Laura.” the servant scolded me inaudibly.