Disclaimer: Face Value is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons is coincidental.
Dear Lord in heaven, why have you forsaken me, your faithful servant? You know I’ve done my best with that boy, and look how he repay me.
I threw myself into the only piece of furniture left upright in the front house and held my head in my hands.
How I goin’ face my sisters and brothers at church? I’s a pillar in that place, people respect me. I ain’ like some of them poor-great pew warmers.
A thought crossed my mind and I bolted from the chair to peer through the curtains. I saw the lights go out at Frank Simmons’ house next door.
Lord, I hope he ain’ hear nothing. Though he should be the last to talk. Wuh he daughter and he doan’ even speak. I feel he trouble she when she lived there, yuh know. Why else them stop speaking so?
I started to tidy the room, repositioning chairs, sweeping up broken vases and ornaments. I picked up the framed photograph of my late husband and checked it carefully for damage.
Sinclair, I wish you was here to help me. We son heading for eternal damnation.
Just then, the telephone rang and I searched under the cushions strewn about the floor to retrieve it. The caller id revealed it was Peter calling from his cellphone.
“Where you is, Peter? You ain’ hurt your poor mother enough, you decide to run off God knows where at this time o’ night?”
“Ma, I just calling to make sure you alright. I can’t talk to you when you in that state.”
“State! State! You is who put me so! You expect to tell me you is a buller and I would feel good? You forget that is an abomination in the sight of the Lord?”
He sighed, or maybe it was static on the line.
“That God you always talking about is a forgiving God, too. You of all people should know that. I sure he wouldn’t want me to live a lie to please you or anybody else.”
“Look, come home leh we talk. I doan’ trust these cellphone things, yuh does get too many cross lines,” I pleaded, worried about the direction the conversation was heading.
“No, not tonight. You cool down and we goin’ talk in the morning I goin’ stop by Pearl tonight.”
I bristled at the mention of my sister’s youngest daughter. “Why there? You ain’ goin’ get no proper night sleep wid all them bastard children she got ‘bout there.”
“Look, I gone. Tomorrow.” I listened to the dial tone for a few seconds before the realisation dawned on me that he had put down the phone.
“Wait Sister Walker, where that handsome son of yours is today?”
I frowned and turned to Sister Doughlin who was helping me place the Holy Sacrament on to silver platters.
“Oh, he had to work today. He’s training a big client at the gym, one of those West Indian cricketers.”
She oohed and aahed as I reeled off some of the names of Peter’s clients at the large, modern gym where he had worked for five years.
That’s probably wuh make him so, all them half naked men sweating and straining, I thought.
“My niece Sandra really likes him, you know. He’s not going out with anybody right now?”
“Not as far as I know. I could arrange a meeting between them, if you want. It’s high time that son of mine settle down anyway,” I laughed, but my mind was working furiously. If I could find him a nice young lady, maybe he would forget this gay business. Sandra ain’ all the pretty pretty, but the love of a good woman and plenty prayer might exorcise them demons.
Later, after an eerily-appropriate sermon on the prodigal son, I assisted the other servers in distributing the Sacrament at the communion rail. I smiled at Mr. Salankey, a prominent businessman who often slipped a hundred dollar bill into the collection plate. He and his wife were resplendent in their church attire, and one could smell the money and success wafting off them along with their expensive colognes.
Now that was the kind of congregation member we encouraged, not these two-dollar cheapskates who populated the church. Half of them only come in here to say they go to a big church anyway. You does only see most of them at Easter and Christmas.
There was a slight buzz in the congregation and I turned to see what all the fuss was about. I sucked my teeth quietly so Reverend Small couldn’t hear when I saw a musty looking vagrant who often came into the service approach the rail. On this particular Sunday, he wore a stained, olive green vest and a beige three quarter pants, the hems of which were completely frayed. On his feet was a pair of fluorescent-green, high-top Converse. He attempted to dignify the outfit with a filthy-looking beige (perhaps once white) polyester jacket. In a strange way, his outfit matched.
That’s what I dislike ‘bout these town churches. All these paros always coming in to disrupt the service. Why he can’ go and jump in the Careenage or something? The vagrant knelt to the right of Mrs. Salankey, who gave him a tense smile and shifted closer to her husband. The man held out a calloused, grimy hand for the small symbol of Jesus’ body, which I reluctantly dropped into his palm.
“Thank you,” he mumbled, then accepted the wine and placed the glass on the tray I held out.
I got to remember to scald this, I thought as I placed the glass face down so I could distinguish it from the others. I looked up and met the eyes of the vagrant, who regarded me solemnly. A sense of guilt washed over me, as he stared from the glass to my face.
“God bless you, sister,” he said as he left the rail and went back to his seat.
Ashamed, I headed quickly to the church kitchen to rinse the glasses before going to the vestry to count the collection.
Later that afternoon, I got off a ZR van and walked briskly towards the housing unit rented by my niece Pearl. I shuddered and clutched my handbag a little tighter as I passed a group of young dread-locked men sitting on a makeshift bench under an apple tree and tried not to breathe in too much of the ganja cloud surrounding them.
Blasted druggies, all wunna want locking up! I don’t believe my taxes going to look after people like them.
I was relieved to see Peter’s jeep was still parked outside the rental unit; I was praying that our quarrel had not driven him into the arms of his “boyfriend”.
I kicked a toy truck out of my path and rang the doorbell. The sound had barely faded away before the door was pulled open.
“Who’s you?” a scruffy-looking little girl who looked around four years old asked, her hands akimbo.
“Little girl, that ain’ no way to answer a door! Where your mother?”
“Shaquesha! Who it is?” I heard Pearl shout from somewhere in the unit. Seconds later I heard laughter and footsteps coming down the staircase. Pearl and Peter came into the room, Peter cradling one of his cousin’s children as it fed from a bottle. Two more children trailed them into the room, one of the boys pulling a grungy-looking blanket behind him. Both my son and niece pulled up short as they saw me standing at the front door.
“Carmeta, I never thought I woul’ live long enough to see your shadow darken my door,” Pearl began, “you must really be hurt to come here.”
“Look, I ain’ here to argue with you, I just want to speak to my son, if you don’t mind,” I rolled my eyes and folded my arms.
Peter handed over the baby and motioned for me to sit on the sofa. Pearl grabbed the other children and went into a connecting room, though I knew that given the size of the unit she would not have a problem hearing what we discussed.
I removed my hat and gazed sternly at my son. “I see you enjoying yuhself.”
He shrugged and smiled. “The kids are fun, a bit rough around the edges, but nice. You should get to know them better, Ma. They’re family after all.”
I gazed disdainfully around the shabby living room, taking in the pictures hung haphazardly on the wall, the stained sofa and dusty space saver. “I think I’ll pass. Come home, son. This ain’ no way to live!”
Peter sighed deeply. “Look Ma, I’m a grown man. I made a decision that I’m not going to live a lie anymore and I hope you understand. If not, I don’t see how we can live together anymore.”
I was becoming more irate by the second. Lord God, give me strength.
“The fifth commandment says: Honour thy father and thy mother that thy days may be prolonged. If you won’ do it for me, do it for yuh poor dead father. He must be turning in he grave!”
Peter sprang from the couch in anger. “That isn’t fair! You always bringing up Da and spouting scripture to get your way! And besides, my father was never a man to judge other people. He wouldn’t care that I’m in love with another man, once I’m happy!”
“Lower yuh voice! You want Pearl to hear you?”
“She knows already, she knew for years I was different. You’re the one still in denial.” He sighed and rubbed his hands over his closely-shaved head.
I snorted. “I bet she loving this. My handsome, brown-skinned, Christian son turning out like this. Now she not the only disgrace in the family anymore.”
As suspected, Pearl was within earshot, because she stomped around the corner into the room and stopped in front of my chair.
“Who the hell you calling a disgrace, you hypocritical **tch! Nothin’ ’gainst Peter, but all yuh deceit coming back to haunt yuh! Parading roun’ like Jesus reincarnate when you ain’t nothing but a ole fair picker!”
The breath left my body as if Pearl had punched me in the stomach, and through misted vision I saw Peter staring incredulously from Pearl to myself. Before he could ask what she meant by that statement, I felt my knees weaken and I slumped into blessed darkness.