by Austin Mitchell
“So you’re going to marry Grant?” Jasper asked Avrill as they sat on a bamboo bench in the yard one evening, a week later.
“You’ve asked me that question over and over and I’ve told you, no. I’m not marrying Grant. Does that satisfy you?”
“There is a strong rumor that the rings have been bought and the date set,” he told her.
“Maybe you know more than I do, but I can tell you that I haven’t agreed to marry anybody.”
Jasper laughed and drank some more of his malt beverage.
“That’s not what I heard from Grant. He told me that you’re his woman and was begging him to marry you.”
Avrill burst out laughing. Over the last few months that she had gotten to know Jasper she knew that he was a great liar. He was capable of lying his way out of anything. She remembered when she first met him, he had been after her to go to bed with him.
“I don’t believe that Grant told you anything. You’re just trying to find out what you can about him and me, but I have nothing to tell you more than to mind your own business.”
Jasper burst out laughing and Avrill stamped her feet and walked away.
Grant decided to try his luck and persisted in asking Avrill to go to bed with him. She steadfastly refused. He again reminded her that she wasn’t a virgin and she got angry and stormed away.
They didn’t speak for two weeks. During this time Grant was thinking of looking other women. After all, he reasoned, there were lots of women out there willing to go to bed with him so why waste time with Avrill?
Avrill texted him that she wanted a meeting with him. Grant decided to be cruel and called her. He told her that it didn’t make any sense for them to meet as the affair was going nowhere.
Avrill wore a blue dress and she also had on a long sleeve sweater and slippers. Grant as usual wore jeans, a short sleeve shirt and slippers.
“Is it because I don’t want to go to bed with you?” she asked as they met in the park that evening.
“That’s not the main reason. You don’t want to spend any time with me.”
“Look how many times we’ve met and talked about all kinds of things. I have to work, Grant. What will my employers think if I beg them for time off because I want to see you?”
It was Grant’s turn to laugh.
They agreed to see each other at least an hour each evening. If either of them couldn’t make it, they were to call. Most of the times he tried to convince her to marry him. She always told him that she was not ready.
She would only go to places like gospel shows and concerts with him. Grant didn’t mind as he got to see and talk to her more.
Whenever she came to his house, she would stay on the verandah. She told him that she didn’t want anybody to see her coming out of his house and begin spreading rumors on her. She would only kiss him on his cheeks. She would slap his hand away whenever he tried to touch her breasts. Whenever he tried to caress her legs, she would push his hand away.
Sometimes he became angry with her and told her that nowadays men didn’t marry women they didn’t know anything about. She countered that her second boyfriend had turned his back on her after she became intimate with him. That was why she didn’t trust men.
“Why can’t you believe that everything is okay with me. I believe that everything is okay with you.”
”Do you think I’m too old for you?”
“You’re just a few years older than me. But I heard that you prefer older women.”
Grant laughed and told her that he didn’t know who could have told her that.
Avrill countered by saying that she had gotten it from good sources.
Grant told her that he preferred women near his age.
He and her left the park holding hands.
In June there was a two week long crusade put on by an
associate church of Avrill’s church. She had actually found a sister church in Jackson to her church in Morant Bay. Grant and Avrill went there every night. Several persons came up and got baptized. Avrill
encouraged him to get saved but he told her that he was not yet ready.
June turned into July and Avrill told him that she was still
disappointed that he hadn’t gotten saved during the crusade. He countered by asking her if all those persons who got baptized during the crusade were still attending church. She told him that as far as she knew none of them had turned back.
Grant could see that she was acting braver now. Most evenings after she finished her work she would come and spend an hour or so with him. He had by this time gotten his chef’s job back, but some evenings only worked until five o’clock. Sometimes he would bring home food, but other times he would cook for both of them.
Avrill complimented him on his skills in the kitchen. He told her that his real skills were in the bedroom, which made her burst into laughter. Sometimes, she cooked for both of them at the house. They both agreed that they didn’t have anything to worry about as far as food was concerned. Grant told her that he had heard of marriages breaking up because one or both of the parties couldn’t cook. That would never happen in their case and they both burst out laughing.
She was all over the house, although she avoided his bedroom. His house had four bedrooms. His mother had insisted that he not rent out any of the rooms. She said that if she and her husband wanted to spend a vacation in Jamaica that was where they would spend it.
He remembered after Lewis had put out Dahlia she had come knocking. He had told her that his mother was due in the island in a weeks time. He told her that she would kick up one hell of a fuss if she came and saw her there. She had cursed him off that day. He had heard that she was living in May Pen with a taxi operator.
July turned into August and they continued dating. After church was over he would take her sightseeing. They would spend a long time in various parks, talking. Sometimes they would return in time for night service.
On Avrill’s days off she would go with him to the country. Gena lived in Bog Walk, so he always avoided driving in that direction. He got to meet all the members of Avrill’s immediate family. Her mother commented on how handsome, he looked. She begged him to take good care of her daughter. He assured her that he would.
He could see that she was now in love with him. She told him so. He wasn’t sure about what to do. Normally when girls told him that they were in love with him, he would tell them that he loved them too. They would make love and if the affair didn’t last, well so be it. Even a few Christian girls and he had been lovers.
But this girl was a different kettle of fish. He sought advice from his longtime friend Tony Notice. Unlike Jasper, Tony was a confidential person and wouldn’t go blurting what he had told him all over the village.
“I don’t know what to do about this girl, Tony.”
Tony and he had been classmates. They were probably the only
ones still around. Tony operated a mechanic shop in the village. Like himself, he wasn’t married but was living with a woman with whom he had two children.
“Based on what you’ve told me, this girl wants to get married before she agrees to go to bed with you.”
“That’s exactly it. I have other women, but this girl has gotten to me. I think about her all the time. I don’t know what I would do if she left me.”
“Maybe you’re just infatuated with her.”
“It’s more than that. I just can’t stop thinking about her.”
“Tell you what I would do if I were you. I would seek out somebody in her district and ask about her.”
Grant didn’t know why he hadn’t thought of that before. He thanked Tony and they had another beer before he left.
By the next week Grant had met an old man, Billy Watson. This
was on the outskirts of Morant Bay. He bought him a beer. Billy told him that he knew him as he had seen Thames’ daughter driving in his van.
“She was along with one of my sons. But she left him, he was too wild for her.”
Grant’s interest in the conversation heightened.
“She is a good girl and she comes from a good family.”
Grant bought him another beer before leaving.
He didn’t let Avrill know that he had spoken to the father of one of her former boyfriends.
Towards the end of August he told her that he had a surprise for her. So the last Saturday in the month he took her to a restaurant in Portmore. Avrill was surprised to see a few of Grant’s friends also dining in the restaurant. Towards the end of the meal he took a small box out of his pocket. To Avrill’s astonishment, it was an engagement ring. She was still in shock when he put it on her finger as his friends applauded.
She told him that although they were engaged, they had to put any marriage plans on hold. He told her that he had no problems with her going back to school once they were married. Much to Grant’s annoyance she told him that he was nearing thirty years of age and she was sure that many of his friends were already fathers. He told her that he wasn’t that anxious to have children. He told her that a man had told him about a small side of a house on the outskirts of Jackson. The next day both of them went to see it and Grant decided to rent it after driving a bargain with the owner.
“Grant, what you’re doing is crazy. You’re living in two houses.
Do you think you can afford it?”
“It’s only one rent I’m paying. And if we get married, we’ll want somewhere to live apart from my mother’s house.”
“I haven’t agreed to marry you, Grant.”
“But you will, it’s only a matter of time. Besides, when my mother comes out with that husband of hers, sometimes the place feels crowded.”
They were on the verandah of Grant’s mother’s house.
They sat there talking until Avrill told him that it was time for her to go home.
In December, they went shopping in Kingston one Saturday afternoon. Avrill showed off her engagement ring to her sister, Debs. Grant took them both to a seafood restaurant on the Waterfront.
That night Debs phoned her.
“Avrill, I’m jealous. He’s so handsome and sexy. Hold on to him. Has he asked you to marry him, yet?”
“Of course, many times. But, I’ve turned him down each time.”
“What! I don’t believe you. You don’t believe he can support you? Is that it or are there other issues?
“He works as a chef, plus his mother sends out things for him to sell. But, he has other women.”
“Girls are bound to be chasing him, but don’t give him up, Avrill. I’ll come to look for you and we can talk some more,” Debs said before they both ended the call.
On Christmas Eve they went to the grand market in Linstead. Grant was fearful that they would meet up on Gena down there. She had told him that she was going to spend the holidays with her daughter. She had begged him to take her down there. He had told her that he had to look parts for the van as it needed servicing.
Grant bought a few items for himself and some gift items for Avrill too. On the way home, she again expressed her love for him. She told him that she was staying at Miss Lena’s house for the holidays so that she could be nearer to him.
Grant wondered if that meant that she was keeping an eye on him. But he reasoned that she had a right as she was now his fiancee. Instead of the endless parties he would have attended over the Christmas holidays with Gena and other women he found himself going to church with Avrill. They attended a few gospel shows and a religious play put on by a Kingston church.
On Valentine’s day he ordered a gift basket for her. She also sent him one. They had dinner at a restaurant in Old Harbour.
And so February drifted into March. Grant knew that Avrill was hopelessly in love with him. It was just a matter of time before she agreed to marry him.
In April, much to Grant’s surprise Avrill agreed to marry him. She told him that she had spoken to her pastor. He was against the marriage. He wanted both of them to come in for counseling. She warned him that was the only way the pastor would agree to them getting married.
Grant agreed to go with her for counseling. At his first meeting with the parson the man told him that he had only agreed to the marriage because of Avrill’s assurance that Grant would soon come into the faith. Grant assured him that he loved Avrill and he wanted to be a Christian. They went to several more counseling sessions. The wedding was set for three month’s time in June. Miss Dina, Grant’s mother and his sister, Ariella, would be coming.
He and Avrill met several times to plan their wedding. They both agreed on a small wedding to cut down costs. They agreed to invite only their close friends and relatives. They agreed for the wedding to be held at Avrill’s church and the reception to take place at his mother’s house. They both agreed to meet several more time to further work out details concerning the wedding. Avrill told him that her married sister was proving very helpful.
Jasper confronted Grant some days later.
He was laughing and said.
“So you’re going to marry Avrill? I bet if she knows certain things about you she would call off that wedding.”
“Go to hell, Jasper. What are you trying to do, blackmail me? I can assure you that it’s not going to work.”
Jasper laughed again as Grant brushed past him and went his way.
The argument with Jasper set Grant thinking. Was the man watching him? He still went with one or two girls in the village. He had sworn them into secrecy by giving them money. Unknown to a lot of people he and Gena were still seeing each other. They had made up after the incident at the Sinclair’s house. He would drive his van to her district to see her. He could get away with it because the business he was in required him to go to other towns to sell. He hadn’t told Gena about him and Avrill and wondered if she wouldn’t hear it from Jasper.
Six weeks before the wedding Miss Lena’s husband, Blake, fell off a horse he was riding and died from the blows he received to his head. Avrill and the whole household were devastated at the news. Nevertheless, Blake was buried a month later. To Grant’s consternation Gena came to the funeral. He tried his best to avoid her the whole time she was there. Later that night she called to find out why he had been avoiding her.
“I heard about you and that girl, Avrill. You are getting married to her.”
“Who told you about me and her, Jasper?”
“Does it have to be him? The whole village knows about it.”
Grant digested what she was saying.
“I’m sure it was him who told you everything. Why did you have to talk to him?”
“He’s my friend and former co-worker. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t know about you and this Christian girl. So she isn’t sleeping with you, that’s why you are along with me. Well, it’s finished now,” she said and ended the call.
He was taken aback that she had ended the call so suddenly and with a promise not to go to bed with him again. He hoped that nobody went to Avrill with stories about him and other women.
Monday afternoon, of the week before the wedding, he got an urgent text from Avrill.
‘Grant, we have to talk.’
They met in the park about six o’clock that evening.
“Grant, I’ve heard so many rumors about you and other women. I want to ask you about them.”
“Who told you about me and other women, Jasper?”
“People around the place. Why does it have to be Jasper all the time? Other people have eyes and ears too. I won’t marry you if I can’t trust you.”
“I have given up all the women I used to have. You can trust me, Avrill.”
“What about Gena?”
“What about her?”
“Are you still sleeping with her?”
He looked at her. She took the engagement ring off her finger and put it on the bench between them.
“What’s the meaning of this?”
“Simple, I’m calling off the wedding.”
“Are you crazy? My mother and sister will be here next week. Most of the stuff that we need has already been bought.”
“They can be sold. You won’t lose any money, Grant.”
He took up the ring.
“Grant, I want you to promise me to give up those women. Didn’t the counseling mean anything to you?”
“Of course it did.”
“So how come you haven’t changed one bit?”
He looked at her.
“I promise to behave myself. Please take back the ring.”
She took it and put it on her finger. She stood up and they embraced each other. They went out of the park holding hands.
That night Avrill was in bed when her cell phone rang. She pressed the call button.
“Hi, are you Avrill? I’m Gena. We met at Miss Lena’s husband’s funeral.”
Avrill remembered the girl now. She wondered why she was calling her and how she had gotten her number?
“What’s the meaning of this call?”
The girl didn’t reply at once. For a moment Avrill thought that she had ended the call.
“Listen, I have to talk to you and it’s about Grant.”
She wasn’t sure she wanted to talk to this girl about her fiance.
“I’m not sure I want to talk to you. What’s it about, anyway?”
“Listen, girl, if you don’t want to talk to me it’s okay. Okay, so go ahead and marry him. You’ll have his ring, but I’ll still be sleeping with him.”
“What! I know you’re sleeping with him. I don’t understand, are you still going to be sleeping with him knowing that he’s married.”
“You should ask Grant that question.”
Avrill felt like ending the call.
“Okay, I’ll meet you. Where shall it be?”
“I’ll be in Linstead tomorrow. We can meet in Lobban’s lounge.”
“I know where it is. What time should I come?”
“About one o’clock.’’
“Okay, I’ll see you then.”
And they both ended the call.