Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Mango Doesn't Fall too Far from the Tree

It wasn't an expensive ring. Not at all. Just right for a ten-year old girl, a small silver band with the carved figure of a turtle at its center. I don't even know if it was real silver.

But that's not the point. The point is it was a gift to my daughter from a classmate. A classmate who was leaving New York City for good, much to her dismay, and gave her two closest friends matching rings for all of them to wear. That's the kind of thing girls do.

My daughter treasured this ring. And she took great care to place it on the bedside table each day when she got ready to take a swim. She wasn't taking any chances of it slipping off her fingers and drifting away in the caribbean sea.

So it was more than disconcerting when she noticed the ring on Natalie's finger.

We'd known Natalie and her little brother Simon for years. Their father, Donald, worked in Negril, and she and Simon were frequent playmates of our girls during our long summer stays. Like many Jamaican families, I'm sure life was a struggle, but their father worked hard and provided for his children.

Still, they were happy to join us for a meal at a beach-side restaurant, Simon was excited to receive a real soccer jersey from the girls' soccer league in NYC, and they both graciously accepted our offers to "take charge of" our beach toys at the end of our summer. We knew the toys might be gone by next year, but that wasn't the point. Why haul them back home to sit in a closet in New York City for nearly a year when these two kids could continue to use them everyday? It was just the right thing to do.

So, you get the picture. We didn't shower these kids with gifts, but we liked them and shared what we could, just like you would with any of your children's playmates.

And when the rain fell, as it often did during midday in the summer,all the kids ran to our cottage to escape and find something else to do to pass the time.We always brought down rainy-day activities just for that purpose - art supplies, dolls, the occasional craft project, that sort of thing. Ours was a good place to hang out when the rain put a halt to swimming.

But when my daughter saw Natalie wearing her ring, it gave her pause. She first made certain that it was indeed her own ring (it was) and she asked Natalie to please remove it and put it back on the table. Natalie obliged, just saying that she thought it was pretty and wanted to see how it looked on her own finger.

Sure, ok. And they continued to play in the cottage until the rain passed. When the sun finally returned, they ran for the beach and jumped back into the sea for a swim. My daughter noticed that Natalie again had possession of her ring. This time it was threaded through the shoulder strap of her bathing suit, bobbing in the water as she swam. Alarmed, my daughter asked Natalie to please give her the ring back. Surprised, as if she'd forgotten she'd even picked up the ring, nevermind taken such pains to thread it through her suit strap, Natalie again obliged, returning the ring. My daughter brought it back up to our cottage for safe keeping and shared with me her concern about Natalie's obvious attraction for it.

It wasn't until the end of the day, when it was time for Natalie and Simon to go home, that the ring finally made it's last appearance. Or, better said, disappearance. Natalie had gone to our cottage to change out of her swimsuit. Alone. My husband let her in, she retreated to the girls' bedroom to change, and quickly ran out, making hasty "good-byes". It wasn't until she and Simon had gone home with their father that we learned the ring had apparently gone with her.

Crestfallen, my daughter recounted to her dad the events of the day, and her certainty that Natalie had finally successfully absconded with her precious momento.

"Hmm, a one likkle teef, eeenh?" mused my husband."Mi talk to her fadda tomorrow." The question was, just what would he say to Donald in the morning? We agreed that the best thing to do was not to accuse Natalie of outright theft. The following morning, my husband spoke with Donald and said only that Natalie had "forgotten" to return a ring that she'd been "permitted" to try on that day and could he please get it back from her?

"Donald a gwan a BEAT 'im, if 'im teenk she one teef," chuckled my husband. Many Jamaican children are raised with an iron fist, physical punishment can be swift and brutal. My husband thought Donald would certainly beat the daylights out of Natalie if he thought she'd stolen something. Best to imply that it was simply an oversight and let Natalie explain herself to her father.

Later that evening, Donald sought out my husband and spoke quietly to him. Yes, he said, Natalie did have the ring. So far so good.

Then Donald smiled and whispered, "So, mi bredda, give me five U.S. dollahs an' you can haff back da ring."

My husband just looked at him. He paused and shook his head.

"Fuh get it, mon," he told Donald. "Keep it." He turned and walked away.

The girls don't play with Natalie and Simon any more..................

4"x6" ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.


Lola said...

Vik-toddya...this story catches me more than any other so far. All I can think is how sad... how sad on so many levels. Thank you for the pictures you are painting with words as well as watercolor and ink. Much to learn from.

sindy said...

This has got to be one of my favorite of your stories and paintings. I do wonder if your daughter ever got her ever so valuble (sp?) back.