I’ve always wanted to be like Monica. Well, not always, but for most of my young life, I wanted to be just like her. What makes Monica such a model? I’ll tell you.
I must have been eight, couldn’t have been more than nine, for Mama didn’t have the dead baby yet, and she had her, the dead baby when I was nine. So I must have been eight and a half or so when Monica came to visit. Let me explain about the people who used to come to visit us. They were mostly people from the country. And believe me, they looked country, talked country and ate country. That is to say they ate a whole lot. But, Miz. Monica now, she did not look country did not talk country, and most of all did not eat country.
Her uncle is my stepfather. Which explains how come I didn’t even know of her before she came that day to visit. He used to only let us know about his relatives when they actually came for a visit. And Monica, now that I’m thinking about it, must have been one of the first ones to visit us. I guess as some sort of advance party to check out my mother.
The day she came, I will never forget. Not the day so much, but the event. I don’t really remember if she stayed the night or not, all I remember is, we had dinner and after my brother had washed up the plates, he and I were sitting in the corner on the little bed and Mama and Brotherman, that’s what we called my stepfather, were sitting at the table talking to Monica.
Must have been tamarind season, as Miz. Monica was sucking on a tamarind seed, or maybe it was just that smacking sound she always made as punctuation. I’m not sure. But she was sucking on something. She was not that much older than us, or at least didn’t look that much older, but there she was sitting at the table with my mother, the tallest grown woman in the world, and my stepfather, who only grunts at anyone taller than himself. At least he grunted at my brother once, and never spoke to me at all ’till I was taller than him. And Miz Monica was taking, holding forth on politics. Imagine my fascination. This woman/girl was holding forth, and all the two of the most formidable people I knew could do, was utter an occasional ‘a true’ and in moments of great eloquence would say ‘but nuh true’.
But that’s not all. As if that was not enough to make me want to be just like her, she Miz Monica was drinking rum. Yes, I know it sounds incredible now, but it’s true. That stuff in the pint bottle sitting in the middle of the table was actually rum. I don’t mean the brown stuff anyone can drink and stay alive, the stuff they feed to tourist. No, I mean real rum. I mean the clear liquid in the pint bottle, that only came out when you have a fever, or when some big strong male relative came from the country. She was sipping from a small clear glass with smooth marks on the sides and a thick rim. That meant it was rum. Sipping, as if the smacks were the comas and the sips were periods and exclamation points in her pontifications.
Her clothes were what really and truly convinced me that I had to be just like her. She had on black patent leather spiked heeled shoes. The daintiest, most beautiful pair of shoes I had ever seen in all my life. And she didn’t take them off the whole time she sipped, smacked and talked. Any shoes that pretty had to hurt. At least all of my pretty shoes hurt my feet at first. But she just sat there with the lamp light showing sparks off the tip of her shoe toe and from time to time would cross her legs at the knees and shake the cross over foot ever so gently and go on about her business.
Then there was her dress. I don’t quite know how to begin to describe that dress. Let me see now. It was red, tucked in tight into the smallest waist I had ever seen. The skirt flared out and was cut on the bias. There were tiny white flowers embroidered all around the hem. When she would cross or uncross her legs, I would see the lace on her slip, as I was peeping under the table the better to see her shoes. While all this was going on Miz. Monica talked, sipped and smacked, crossing every ‘T’ and dotting every ‘I’, completely ignoring me and my brother on the little bed in the corner.
So the other day, when Miz Monica’s niece, Georgia, declared with absolute certainty that I was just like her Auntie Monica, you can imagine how pleased I was. You can understand why, I ignored her totally, as I sipped my rum, crossed my legs and smacked my tamarind seed. Ignored her altogether, I did, ’cause as far as I’m concerned, she’s only a pickeny.