Enough - Cave Hill Campus

Pearl counted the silver four times. It was exactly enough. Exactly. She rocked back and forth on
her heels savouring the scent of freshly grated nutmeg conspiring with coconut milk to give up
their secrets to the bubbling pot of plantain porridge knowing it was enough and she would have
no choice but to serve her.
It was not Monday or Tuesday, not Wednesday, not any of the last days and weeks when all she
could do was linger at the back door breathing in the sweet smell of the porridge and invoking
the luxury of sitting with her own bowl cradled in her lap as she fanned the flies away while it
cooled and the voice of Gran-Gran snapping sharp orders to get all the children from under her
feet and off to school.
The woman made her wait, as she knew she would. Pearl didn’t care, Massa God looked after the
sufferer and the woman could screw her face as small as a pin; today she had enough.
Pearl had slapped the coins onto the counter as triumphantly as one of the old domino players
that gathered in the parking lot behind First Commercial Bank. Slapped them down and
demanded the porridge like a white woman. Demanding, like a white woman with a houseful of
maids she could not tolerate.
Of course, the woman had taken her time to slide the coins one by one off the counter, examining
each as if there was a real chance they have been freshly minted in some tenement yard.
Gran-Gran had a voice so rough grown men jumped to her bidding and her hands so broad and
worn one slap could knock the heartiest out cold. But into her pot Gran-Gran poured all her love.
It was a love laid open to all and mouths came from every yard, any yard whenever they needed
the warm embrace of her affections. For Pearl it was ritual, it was morning love and she liked to
take her time but there was always some other child at her elbow, some boy leaning over her
shoulder, sneaking a dip into her bowl or a wiry child, with a stuffed up nose and empty eyes
standing staring at each mouthful until she relented. And no amount of pleading would be
rewarded with seconds – Gran-Gran’s pot was the biggest Pearl had ever seen and, as long as she
had the means, every morning it would be full to the brim with porridge that was gone in less
time it took to devour a bowl of the steaming meal.
When the last ten dollars remained on the counter the woman held her hand above it and let the
coins she had counted tumble onto its surface and roll in all directions.
A blast of anger rose up in Pearl but she swallowed hard. It was enough. She had counted it four
times; the woman couldn’t draw her out. Today was not like all the other days. It was enough.
The man in the pretty blue car had begun searching under the dashboard even before he brought
it to a halt at the lights. She had skipped across the road and was at the side window before
Donovan had figured out what was going on. That’s the way they had to do it these days – in the
old days they would share, whatever they got, everyone would get a portion – nobody starved but these days, if you didn’t have eyes as sharp as a Johncrow and the speed of a rat, daag nyam
yu brekfaast, lunch an suppa.
The man had pulled the ashtray clear of the molding and poking it through the side window, had
emptied its contents into her cupped hands. It was all she could do to keep herself from shouting
‘hallelujah’ at the top of her lungs and dancing a little jig but she couldn’t afford to give away
anything, not even a hint.
She had pocketed the coins while the car still stood between her and Donovan, gave the man
heartfelt blessings and then sadly turned back and sauntered to the pavement in the way they all
did when they had drawn a blank. As soon as the lights had changed and Donovan had skipped
across the road to work the traffic heading west, Pearl slipped into the alley between the Digicel
shop and the bookstore and counted the money. It came to two hundred and twenty-six dollars
and fifteen cents. Immediately her whole mouth was filled with the taste of freshly boiled
plantain porridge. Two hundred and twenty-six dollars and fifteen cents – a dollar and fifteen
cents more than the figures she had seen neatly scripted on the white chalk board hanging above
the glass counter.
Quickly, before the lights changed again and Donovan’s attentions returned to the side road, she
slid passed the prone body of Mad Mattie and disappeared around the corner.
Through the large glass window the shop looked clean, made cleaner by the unnatural glow of
the fluorescent light bouncing off the tiles. Against such whiteness, her dress, with its patches of
brown, its hanging threads and ripped sleeves, made her hesitate for a moment.
The woman was there, all crisp and superior, presiding over the freshly baked goodies exuding a
pride of ownership she had not earned.
Pearl inhaled. Green plantain and spices rolling over each other in a thick soup made sweet from
condensed milk. Fortified she had approached the counter and, in her best voice, ordered the
breakfast she had dreamt about for weeks.
The woman stared at the scattered coins for a good time, as though she were a reader
determining some hapless client’s destiny. Then slowly, she raised her head, meeting Pearl eye
to eye.
Pearl met her gaze with defiance. They had had words before. The woman had threatened to call
the police for her and if they had met each other in the anonymity of a back street somewhere
downtown no one would have bet on either of them leaving it alive.
In the middle distance the persistent sound of a fly bombarding one of the lights mingled with
the plodding tick of the square clock perched above the entrance to the kitchen where the tap,
tap, tap of a spoon against a large metal pot completed the strange orchestration. Tap, tap, tick
buzz, tick, tap, buzz, buzz. One side of the woman’s mouth turned up into a little smirk and
finally she spoke.
‘Not enough’
‘Not enough? What you mean not enough? A two hundred and twenty-five dollar mi gi
yu, yu teefin…’
‘Two hundred and forty-five fi peanut porridge,’ the woman snapped back.
All of the decorum she had mustered before entering the shop evaporated and Pearl let rip at the
top of her voice,
‘Since when? Since when? Yu dutty liad! Yu stinking rass yu, since when?’
The woman smiled then lazily lifted her index finger to point in the direction of a sign in large
type, pinned to the wall above the covered display shelves.
Pearl’s angry eyes skimmed over the words. Something about management regrets, something
about rising costs, something about effective from…. something, something, something.
Tick, tick, tick, tick, the smile on the woman’s face, tick, tick, buzz, the gizzada and donuts, tap,
tick, tap, the wheat bread and banana cake, the tea, the coffee, tick, tick, the regrets of
management and the smell of the porridge and the face of Gran-Gran her body lying fully
dressed on the length of board balanced on the backs of the two wooden chairs in the centre of
the room, her face finally at peace.
She hadn’t cried then, hadn’t cried when her Aunt threw her and her belly out to fend for
themselves, hadn’t cried the day she reached into the pocket of her one good bag and found
nothing there but two red coins. But somehow, now, standing in the shop, twenty dollars too
short, it was more than she could bear. All of it was more than she could manage and the water
just rolled out of her eyes.
The woman looked at her astonished then, clearly embarrassed, disappeared into the kitchen on
some fabricated mission.
Pearl stood at the counter and wept. Her body shook as huge sobs escaped from her mouth.
Moments later the woman reappeared and scraping the coins from the counter, thrust them into
Pearl’s hand and, taking her by the shoulders, swung her around to face the door.
Pearl, all the fight gone from her, shuffled towards the exit, each move bringing her closer to the
street, the choking dust, the madness of Mattie and the hard concrete.
‘Here,’ said the woman, stuffing a covered container into Pearl’s free hand.
Quickly the woman darted back into the kitchen as Pearl lifted the container to her cheek and felt
the heat, like love, caressing her face.