Saturday, November 20, 2010

Messages for Lillian

Picture this if you will. My teenage son and daughter are in school at Freeport High School in the Bahamas. I've had breakfast and my morning coffee and I'm doing my nails. A not unpleasant occupation, better at any rate than cleaning the oven. I live in a small house on Flying Fish Street and have only one neighbour, an African American woman whom I will call Lillian*. We have talked a few times, nothing too elaborate. She apologized for her husband Eddie who smokes weed, a particularly stinky one (see note below) close enough to stink up my home. Eddie has no steady job. Lillian doesn't appear too happy and she's obviously pregnant. We're close to mid-December and her baby is due around the third week of February. She and Eddie have a cutie pie of a daughter, a little pixie a year and a half old.

I'm applying nail polish when all of a sudden, I hear in my head a thought voiced that should be my own but somehow feels different that says, "You have to go tell Lillian not to leave, that here is home", in those exact words. I dismiss it immediately as I seriously doubt that she'd be going anywhere, pregnant and a half, with a toddler, no money with a husband that earns only sporadically. Any way, while I can ascribe that inner voice to no one but me, the thought is totally alien, so I just dismiss it outright. But the more I attempt to ignore it, the more insistent it becomes. After more than half an hour of that back and forth, exasperated I finally blurt out loud, "...and who shall I say is telling her this? Because it certainly can't come from me. It makes no sense at all. She's going to think I'm crazy!" Actually, I wasn't far from thinking it myself.

Just as soon as I've popped that question, a name appeared in a kind of olden script in my head Adeline somewhat like this but fancier. That's when I thought, "No way, this is a French name!" I had suddenly decided that my imagination was playing tricks on me, and for no reason that I could fathom. Not funny at all. I'd never had anything like this happen to me. Annoyed, I fully intended to do nothing. However a while later, I felt as if a hand was pushing out of my seat and almost against my will, as if in a trance, I went out and knocked at Lillian's door.

I began by apologizing and told her that I had a "message" for her, careful and somewhat embarrassed to add that it had made no sense to me. She asked me what the message was. I related it verbatim "Don't leave, here is home". She then queried me as to who was telling her this, somewhat stone faced. I had expected no more, no less. I told her and had to repeat it on account of my accent. That's when she gasped and put a hand to her mouth saying, "Oh my God! Grandma Addie!" She moved away from the half opened door and invited me in pointing out to her bedroom door where a large navy blue suitcase and a smaller one stood, obviously filled. It was my turn to gasp.

We sat down and she began relating how she had a twin sister, Diane living in Detroit; that she'd always been grandma Addie's favourite. That her parents lived in Chicago and that she'd decided to fly to live with them until the baby was born. That as soon as she could she'd find a job and a place of her own. Eddie was hopeless in her opinion. They had hardly anything to eat. She didn't want to spend the Holidays cooped up alone with her daughter and nothing at all for Christmas.  She said that although she was married to a Bahamian, she wasn't allowed to work. She was very, very depressed and had no way of making money to feed her child and herself, let alone a newborn. And she was all alone. Her despair was palpable. For a while, we discussed her options. There weren't many. But she'd stay in Freeport, she said. She'd always listened to her grandma. She added that I shouldn't hesitate if ever I got another message for her.

Relieved that I hadn't become totally unhinged, I went home. It had been our first personal conversation and I felt bad that I hadn't been aware of her plight. It was understandable given that we'd never gone beyond brief salutations. Besides, I had my own problems. My husband and I had split up.  The following week, I was doing my Christmas shopping and I prepared a bag of groceries and goodies for her and her little girl. I couldn't stand the thought of her alone and hungry. She thanked me profusely and we didn't see each other until some time after the first of the year. 

Let me cut to the chase right now. I did not understand the reason for the warning to stay in Freeport until January end. By then, Lillian had heard from her sister who had traveled from Detroit to Chicago.  In the first week of January their mother had died. Three weeks later, their father also passed away. Lillian would have been left alone after the trauma of losing both parents. She explained to me that they had lived in public housing and that she would have had to find a place to live in her last weeks of pregnancy, with a toddler, and in the dead of winter in Chicago without any resources. Clearly, the warning had saved her a lot of hardships.

I was moving out of the little house on February 1st into a larger house on Amberjack, my husband and I having reconciled.  Just before I moved, as I was packing and thinking of Lillian and her soon-to-be-born baby, I got another message from grandma Addie. She said that Lillian would find help with the new baby if she went to the Southern Baptist Church of Freeport. She also said that eventually she'd find a good job and have no fear of missing life's essentials. That she and her children were home.

I'd never heard of that church and when I related this to Lillian, she asked me how I had known that she was a Southern Baptist. Clearly I had not. She didn't know there was such a place of worship in Freeport. Neither did I. After some enquiries, we found out where it was and Lillian visited the pastor. She was introduced to a senior retired woman who turned out to be like a second mother to Lillian and took care of both children later on when Lillian had been granted permission to work and got a good job as an office manager. This I found out months later. I'd been wrapped up in my own matrimonial drama and had not visited with Lillian. Unexpectedly I'd seen her through a window at Churchill Square downtown Freeport a bit before summer. She looked radiant. Her life was right on track, a happier one.

Note: When pursued by the DEA, planes filled with kilos of weed wrapped in plastic drop them at sea where they are sometimes retrieved by enterprising Bahamians. The weed gets dried up and is recycled for users. Marijuana that's been in sea water STINKS!

*  Since I've long lost contact with Lillian, I had to change her name and that of her husband to protect their privacy. Her grandmother's name is real as is the approximation of the kind of fancy lettering that was indicated to me.

LiveJournal Tags:


Anonymous said...

I just love to hear of experiences like this. Please continue. Thank you for your time and efforts on this blog.

Stargazer said...

Thank you so much. I was having second thoughts about this blog wondering whether anyone would be interested. For many years I have kept mum about my experiences. Guess I'll keep it up.