“Sir, Trinidad or Guyana?” the cabin attendant asked as he touched my shoulder. He must have been asking and waiting for my response for at least a minute but I was oblivious to his presence. My mind has been a mass of confusion since I boarded this ship.
My stomach fluttered and I said “Guyana,” and continued to look into the horizon as if land would appear at any second. I was both afraid and anxious for my return.
“Tomorrow we dock at Guyana. Sir, please be sure to gather and take all of your belongings with you,” the cabin attendant instructed me.
One more day now, I thought and my stomach fluttered again at the realization; one more day until I return to the land where I was born, the land where I grew up, that land that I hated. I had built a life for myself in London which I quite enjoyed. I had friends in London. I had family there, though not my parents, butI never felt like an outsider. I became a barrister after I was sent away from Guyana, and a fixture at Old Bailey. I have travelled throughout Europe, but like my father before me, I had to come back to the colony to manage the estate of the family. It was my father’s burden as the second son of his family to run the affairs of the plantation. His burden had passed to me upon his death. I am expected to manage the fields and make the money that fueled the lavish lifestyle of my Uncle and cousins in Manchester. I was the only male cousin so I could not expect any help from my family.
My departure from London was a week from when the letter arrived that my father had died. It had been twelve years since I saw him. Unlike my mother, he never came to visit me. She came twice when I got my own flat. When she died two years ago, in his letter, my father wrote that she has already been buried and all the rites read and I should not bother to come. Did he not want to share his grief with me or did he not have any grief at all. I did not understand, I wrote to him often but he hardly wrote back. Now he was gone too.
My Uncle James had promised to come to Guyana when I was settled and when the legal affairs of the estate had been completed. He never went when my father was alive so I did not expect him to be true to his word. My father’s 50% share of the estate had now transferred to me and I now owned half of plantation Spector of Berbice, Guyana.
I remembered the details of the house vividly, the airiness of the rooms, the white wooden shutters and doors all around that opened to the grassy yard that led to the sugar cane fields to the left and the rice fields to the right. The faces of those that filled the yard came to my mind’s eye; there was the foreman, Mohan, Clifford, and others I only knew by face. I remembered that the workers had the lougies some distance from the main house. Then the faces of those from the house appeared; there was old Farah who cleaned, and Rekha who was the cook and Mohan’s wife.
Then my mind’s eye froze on the image of her face, the image of her the last time I saw her, she who I haven’t thought of for years because I was told to forget about her. The big brown eyes, the mole on the left side of her nose, the long black hair that flowed to her tigh and there was her smile that always comforted me. The same smile that I turned to tears the day I left. Ati’s image would not move from my mind now.
I met Mohan and Rekha’s daughter when I was eight and she was five. Her mother had brought her to the house, intending to keep her in the kitchen while she cooked and to help with small chores. One of these chores led Ati into my bedroom one afternoon when I came home from school. There she found me curled on the floor crying. I did not even notice when she came in. I only became aware of her presence when she stroked my head and said, “Don’t cry baba.” Startled, I looked up to find this chubby cheek, big eyed East Indian girl in a yellow dress looking down at me pitifully. Seeing that I was looking at her now, she asked, “Why are you crying?”
“Who are you and why are you in my room?”
“Mommy said to tell you that she has biscuits and tea for you but you have to come downstairs for it.”
“Who is your Mommy?”
“Mommy, she made biscuits for you.” she seemed to be getting impatient with my questions now but she continued with her questions.
“Why are you crying, Michael?”
How could I tell her? She was too young to understand what happens in school; I could not tell her I had the wind knocked out of me and was spat on by some of the boys from my school, partly because of who my father was and partly because of my timid disposition. Instead, I asked her, “What is your name?”
Ati’s curiousness along with my boredom led us to become quick friends although there was a three year age difference. We played hide and seek, cricket, marbles, cards, we even made up our own games. I thought her how to read when she kept asking me to whenever she saw me with a book. It was not too hard; she was smart for her age and smarter than a lot of the children from my school. My life became easier with Ati around. We were inseparable. Even when my parents decided to import a tutor from England for me because they felt that the local school was not enough for the education I was expected to continue in Britain, Ati was allowed to join in the lessons.
She helped me to lose the shyness I grew with; she helped me to be able to play with the other boys from the plantation though they never accepted me fully. She filled my lonely days on the estate with happiness.
My mind now goes to when I was sixteen, that August evening, when my life was turned over. Ati was now thirteen and I had started experience strange feelings when I was around her, an uncomfortableness that led me to sometimes avoid her. Once I chased her away then immediately regretted it because all I wanted was to be near her. She was the most beautiful girl I had even seen at that time. I sometimes did not know what to say to her and then at others, all I wanted to do was tease her, to make her laugh or fret with me or make her hit me just so I can feel her touch.
The morning after the incident of that August evening, my father made the decision to send me to England, before it reached the time he had planned for me to go. I was sent away because of what I did to Kumar the evening before. I was sent away because of her, because I loved Ati.