Disclaimer. Ghetto Fabulous is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons is coincidental.
Our tiny two-bedroom, board and wall house could have gone unnoticed in the row of similar houses situated in a small community on the edge of the capital Bridgetown. What set it apart from the others was its vibrant yellow colour and small verandah painted in a shade of blue. That, and the red, gold and green flag fluttering from a pole atop the roof of the wooden room my older brother Colin, the resident Rastafarian, had added on to the house.
My mother and Colin had argued bitterly over the flag. Mummy didn’t want the neighbours to think the entire household subscribed to that “Rasta sh**e”, while Colin declared that he could no longer be a part of a family that did not allow him to express his beliefs. Since Mummy depended on the small financial contribution Colin made to the household, and since Colin, for all his bravado, was not yet willing to rough it in the country with his new “brethren”, a truce was called. The flag was not flown on Sundays.
My parents DaCosta Mayers and Cyralene Carter were both in their mid-forties, and had been together since their school days at the Modern High School. My father had never seen the need to marry, and my mother had given up trying to convince him otherwise. My maternal grandmother Evadne Carter was not my father’s biggest fan, and stated on more than one occasion that if her daughter was “good enough to get children, she was good enough to marry”.
Some men had women as their vice, others alcohol. My father’s vice was gambling. I grew up hearing him relate tales of gambling on cockfights, dog fights and horses. These days, it was the local lotteries and the slot machines in Marhill Street. Even before he was made redundant from one of the top factories in the island, his free time was filled with choosing number combinations, shading in the numbers on the pink and white lottery forms and then strolling to the mini mart at the end of the gap to purchase the tickets. He sometimes got lucky, but those times were few and far between.
Even with a man in the house, my mother was the undisputed head of our household. When I was aged nine or ten, I remember going with her to the factory one Friday afternoon to collect her share of my father’s wages. Embarrassed, I shifted from leg to leg and listened to the other half dozen women who had come on the same mission.
“This is bare foolishness. You think I had right to be out here in the hot sun like I collecting school children?” one fat dark-skinned woman in an acid wash jeans skirt and pink t-shirt fumed as she pulled an umbrella out of her handbag.
“Miss thing, you know if we doan’ come here on payday by the time the drunken b*tches get home all the money gone,” another lady pitched in as the others nodded in agreement.
“Mind wunna language please, my child here,” Mummy frowned at the group.
Before they could launch into more tales of their boyfriends’ and husbands’ shortcomings, a whistle blew signaling the end of the day’s work. The women watched expectantly as the men trooped towards the gate. I spotted Daddy, dark and slim and still wearing overalls and boots, heading in our direction. My mother’s grip on my hand tightened as she steeled herself for the encounter.
“Cyralene Carter, why you bring my child here for?” Daddy’s face was set up like a thundercloud.
“Because I can’ trust you to walk straight, that’s why. Gimme the little money so I can get in Ricks before it close, do.”
Grumbling, he reached into his pocket and peeled off four fifty-dollar bills from the small roll of cash. Before he could hand it to Mummy, she snatched the money and removed another two bills.
“The light bill high this month,” she said as she returned what was left.
“Listen, if Allison wasn’t here I would ‘buse you, woman. You think I’s a li'l boy or wuh? How I suppose to buy a little drink for the fellas wid this pocket change?” He waved a fifty-dollar note as he spoke.
“Win some more, nuh.” She turned and we headed down to the main road to catch the bus to ‘town.
My mother wasn’t a large woman. Barely five feet two inches, brown-skinned and shapely, she looked far younger than her forty-five years. Of the three of us, Suzette resembled her the most; Colin and I were dark-skinned like our father.
Since Daddy lost his job, Mummy sold vegetables on Saturdays in Cheapside market along with her regular job as a janitor at a nearby primary school. With our mother’s two jobs, Suzette’s small income, Colin’s on and off landscaping work and my summer jobs, we were able to keep the creditors at bay and fill the apparently bottomless pit of need experienced by a household of eight.