As I kept trying to pull my head out of the grill, the tears rolled down my face harder and harder.
“Mi waan come out now (I want to get out now),” I cried to my aunt.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now, not so much.
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One of the best parts of growing up in Jamaica was getting to visit my family all over the island. Every parish on the island has their own special treats and I got to experience it whenever there was a holiday from school. One of my favorite places to go, during a break from school, was to visit my Aunty Hazel in St. Thomas.
Aunty Hazel is one of my mother’s older sisters and she lives in St. Thomas. St. Thomas is in the southeastern corner of Jamaica, about 39 kilometers from Kingston, where I lived. I loved visiting Aunt Hazel as a child because she’s an excellent cook and baker. It was even more magical that where she lived, we had unlimited access to a huge yard that was more like a forest to play outside.
My Aunty Hazel was the live in helper for a family. Mr. Lindsay, the head of the family was an expert fisherman, who always had the best stories and the best catch,which my aunt would turn into delicious feasts.
In St. Thomas, at Mr. Lindsay’s house, there was a large supply of mangoes and coconuts and we went on all kinds of adventures. We would go to the river to catch water and the older children would go crab hunting at night. Unfortunately, since I was pretty young, 5 or 6 at the time, I didn’t get to participate in the crab hunts, but I got to hear all the stories and enjoy the actual crabs, which to me was much better than risking getting pinched by crabs trying to escape.
One day, we all loaded up our supplies to go to the river to collect water. As crazy as it may seem, I loved filling up my small bucket and then carrying it on my head, cushioned by a towel or cloth of some kind, like my aunt and brothers. I never had much water once we got back to the house because I could never master walking slowly enough, so the water would splash all over me, making me a wet, happy mess.
Coming back from the river was always the best part. Not just because I got to get soaking wet without being punished, but also because as we passed by with our buckets, my aunt’s neighbors and friends always yelled out hi, and gave her apples and treats for us kids. Getting soaking wet plus delicious treats, we could hardly wait to get back to the house.
As we got back, my aunt started to rummage in her bosom for the key to the grill on the veranda (enclosed patio). As she looked, she came to an awful realization, the keys were locked inside the house on the table in the dining room.
How did she know where the keys were? Well, because we could see it. Though my aunt had locked the verandah grill, since we hadn’t gone too far, she had left the door open, giving us a clear view of the key. Mr. Lindsay was out on his boat fishing and wouldn’t be returning for hours.
Frantically, we started checking all the doors and windows, but they were all unfortunately grilled or locked. We had just started to get worried when my aunt had a brilliant idea.
“Kim, since you so likkle. Tek time squeeze through the grill and go fi di key (Kim, since you’re so small. Squeeze through the grill and get the key).”
Looking at the grill, what my aunt said made sense. The grill bars were not tightly spaced and there seemed to be just enough room so that I could fit through.
Encouraged by my aunt, I started the task of retrieving the verandah keys.
My legs, stomach and shoulders got through no problem. The problem started when I tried to get my head through the grill, but my aunt and brothers were coaching me through it.
“Turn yuh head to di right (Turn your head to the right).”
“Alrite, tek time ease through now (Ok, take your time and ease your body through, now).”
It seemed like it was working, but all of a sudden no matter which way I turned, I couldn’t get my head to clear the grill.
Realizing it wasn’t going to work, I started trying to go back the way I came, but couldn’t do that either. I felt a rising fear as I realized that my head was good and stuck.
Immediately, my brothers and aunt started trying to pull the grill bars further apart, so that I could get my head through, but it was made out of thick metal and wasn’t budging.
That’s when the whimpering started. As I twisted and turned and they pulled with no result, I broke out into full tears.
“Mi head a hurt mi. Tek mi outta di grill (My head’s hurting. Take me out of the grill ).”
They all kept trying, but it was no use. No matter what they did, my head was firmly stuck.
By then, my head and neck were sore and I was crying harder than ever.
My aunt and brothers had become desperate, so she sent them to call on neighbors and check for someone who had a saw, while she did the same.
“Doan cry baby. We soon get yuh out, even if we haffi cut the grill (Don’t worry, baby. We’ll get you out soon, even if we have to cut the grill).”
For some reason, my aunt’s assurance made me cry even more hysterically.
I guess my fear of the saw motivated me because suddenly I had an idea.
Immediately, before any of them could come back, I started quickly removing my many bubbles and clips from my hair and wiggling to get through the grill. Almost, almost...Safely on the verandah, I ran through the door and grabbed the keys off the table.
When my aunt and brothers made it back with the saw, they found me sitting on the floor of the open verandah collecting my bubbles and clips off the floor and eating one of the apples we had gotten walking back from the river.
“Suh a neva too big yuh head big afta all, een (Suh yuh head neva too big after all),” my brother Greg said stifling a laugh.
Everybody dissolved into giggles. Later as we ate brown stewed fish and cook dung food (a collection of boiled dumplings, potatoes, yam and dasheen or other produce normally eaten in Jamaica), my aunt said,
“Well, yuh hair did need fi wash anyway (Your hair needed to be washed anyway), so might as well,” as she looked at the pile of bubbles and clips sitting on the table on the verandah.
For the rest of that summer when we left the house, the key was our first priority. We also left an ungrilled window cracked, so we could slide it out and gain entry through the window in a worst case scenario. Though we had proven I could get through the grill, nobody wanted a repeat because who knows my head might not be so cooperative on another day.
If you enjoyed "Verandah Key," read the other short stories that have been released in the I am an Island Girl series. Story 3, If Ah Poop Yuh Dead, is a hilarious account of why Fridays were my favorite days of the week. The second story in the series, A We Say Acrobat: Chinese Skip, gives a glimpse into one of my favorite games growing up in Jamaica and the first story in the collection, Duppy Business, is a tale of the evil genius of siblings mixed with a popular Jamaican superstition (belief to some).