Woman business

Two friends in a bar, and a problem to solve. New fiction by Barbara Jenkins

Illustration by Shalini Seereeram

Early, early December, Fritzie get a call from Sandy asking her to find somewhere for her to stay as she coming for Christmas. Fritzie ask why she not staying by KarlLee as usual, and Sandy say she want to surprise him.

That is what Fritzie relate to Amber soft-soft, because they sitting in the neighbourhood pub De Rightest Place and KarlLee there too, with Sunity, his latest squeeze. The Sangre Chiquito Serenaders blasting out “Anda Parandero” on the radio, but Fritzie and Amber know the deejay could cut in any minute, and people will hear their business if they talk at normal volume.

They look over at KarlLee and Sunity. The two of them stick together like Velcro. KarlLee, who use to sport a thinning John Lennon ponytail, now shave his head clean-clean, like Beckham. Fritzie say is a sure indication of what middle-age men up to when they shaving head but growing beard. Amber laugh and say is a pity he can’t do better than that pitiful lil Fu Manchu that sprouting. Fritzie size up KarlLee again. His problem, not mine. Mine now is what to do about Sandy.

They sit silent for a while, sipping Carib and pondering the situation. Man-woman business always complicated, as both of them know full well.

Fritzie, is how long yuh know Sandy?

Four, five years?

And she with KarlLee whole time?

Well, she come with her husband first time. To study Carnival, they say. Yes, is true. People does come here from foreign university to study Carnival. But last few years she coming back by herself. And not just for Carnival, neither.

Five years is a long time to be in a relationship with somebody at long distance, Amber thinking. Even if yuh coming and going regular. What could be the reason, especially if yuh leaving husband to come and stay by a next man.

So what she does come for?

Fritzie give her a “I-can’t-believe-you-asking-that-question” look.

It have to have a better reason.

Well, she think KarlLee is a genius. That if he was living foreign, he would be recognise and be a millionaire long time.

Fuh painting them slogan and picture on people wall?

Like you doesn’t watch cable? People in foreign does pay real money for other people to cover big-big building in cloth. They say is contemporary art. Then the artist take off the cloth. He gone to cover a bridge in a next place. But first he dropping in the bank with the cheque.

That call for more reflection. Amber make sign to Bostic for two more Carib. The first ice-cold sips wake them back up to the chilling reality of Sandy coming, unannounced. Amber pick up the conversation.

She know bout Sunity?

You think KarlLee tell her he have a next woman? The man know where his bread butter.

Even if he getting jam elsewhere.

The two women look at one another and laugh, like they imagining the jam sessions between KarlLee, fifty-something roué, and prim-prim Miss Sunity, thirty-something schoolteacher. Fritzie point her lips towards the couple.

I find she putting up with him long.

Could be she in love?

Fritzie look at Amber and curl her lips with all the cynical knowledge of her years of man experience

Amber, life is not a TV soap. Love? Nah, she looking for excitements. Slumming in the ghetto with a artist. KarlLee is a old hard-back man. He not going to be able to keep up. When he burn out, he will get fed up with her clinging. Wait and see.

Amber look at the two lovers, factoring in the new insight.

So what yuh going to do?

Dunno. I can’t ask around here about a room to rent for a friend because people going to ask boldface, who. I can’t lie but I can’t say is for Sandy, because her name will leave my mouth one minute and next minute KarlLee will know.

Amber know that only too well. She herself is the mistress of identifying when a piece of information so hot you have to pass it on quick-quick to the next person before it burn your tongue.

You eh think KarlLee should know? He go have to make some adjustments before she reach.

Sandy want to surprise him.

Amber think on that. Sandy saying surprise, but maybe red-handed is what she have in mind.

Maybe she suspeck something going on? They does Skype almost every day. You eh think she see how he change hairstyle, growing beard, dressing like he young?

Fritzie look appraisingly at Amber.

You mean she might be suspect he have a next woman?

Same thing happen in Bold and Beautiful.

And how they sort it out?

She suspeck. She visit unknown to him and ketch he with the woman.

Fritzie considering this option. Let life follow art? But these are real people, not actors who can walk away from screen disaster and go back to a different life.

I can’t let that happen.

Is them business, not your own.

But I am involve.

Just tell she it have nowhere to rent. She could stay at the Hilton.

It will be like watching a car crash in slow motion.

Amber drain the last few drops of her beer. She stand up.

Look girl, I going to work now.

Fritzie continue to stare at her bottle. Amber know she disappointed, but she can’t take on Fritzie’s anxiety.

Let them sort it out. Them is big people. Should handle they own stories.

 

No comfort in what Amber say. Fritzie agree that Sandy have husband in Baltimore or Philadelphia or wherever, and really shouldn’t be claiming exclusive rights to KarlLee, but on the other hand, is Sandy who does big him up, make him feel good about himself, encourage him to get artistic exposure.

KarlLee and Sunity laugh out loud, drowning out the Sangre Chiquito Serenaders, who move on to “Alegria, Alegria”. Everybody having a good time. It nice when that happen. She move back her thoughts to her dilemma. Who know what Sandy and her husband does be doing back home in the States, eh? Is true they is two old people, old like KarlLee, although age don’t seem to slow down that old goat. But you know, Sandy really have no right to expect man here to be celibate when it have so many hot, hungry young women around tempting them.

She look across at Sunity, who stick up tight-tight under KarlLee armpit. Young, sexy, fun. Giving KarlLee a little April to his September. Can’t begrudge him that. And, furthermore, KarlLee is from here. Local woman should get first preference. Not that she like Miss Sunity, eh, but she can’t identify with foreign women who feel they could just walk in and throw money around and pick up who they want and furthermore expect local women, like herself, to be on their side, helping them, when they want to cause botheration.

Who to choose to be loyal to? Sandy, a woman like herself, who supporting a man in his work but is a rich foreigner, or KarlLee, a man, ketch-arse, and happy to be supported by a woman, but he from here self. But there is another choice. Like Amber say, let them sort out their own thing. If she do that, she will get the blame from both of them. Oh god, like she can’t win no how. How she find herself in this comesse?

Indira, seeing her friend sitting by herself, comes over.

Penny for your thoughts.

Fritzie voice fall to a whisper.

Sandy coming.

When?

Any day now.

Oh, my gods!

And she don’t want KarlLee to know.

They go up to the apartment and Indira hear about Fritzie dilemma.

I wouldn’t want to be in your position. It’s not going to be nice for you when the mark buss. Both sides could blame you.

So what to do?

You could do as Amber says and let them deal with they own problems.

You don’t have no other suggestion?

Indira sees her friend’s forehead is as furrowed as a canefield in June.

Instead of weeping and wailing we could work out some scenarios.

Fritzie steups, a short fed-up steups. What I want is a way of avoiding those scenarios altogether.

As far as I can see, the problem is Sunity. If she wasn’t in the picture, we wouldn’t have this problem.

If there was some way of getting rid of Sunity?

Kinda drastic, you don’t think?

Fritzie bark a harsh laugh. Well, in a less permanent way.

When is school closing for Christmas?

Next Friday.

Sunity has family in Canada, yes?

A sister in Ottawa. The one who always inviting her for Christmas.

This could be the year?

Indira pick the newspaper and flip through to the travel section. Check out this, Fritzie.

Fritzie read out: Caribbean Airlines: Dreaming of a White Christmas? Special fares to Toronto for travel between 15th and 29th December. Offer ends 6th December.Visit our website. What’s the date today?

Fourth . . . Hmm, two more days . . .

Indira gone over to the CD rack, pull out, push back, then pull out a Bing Crosby album, White Christmas. Bring the papers, Fritzie. We’re going downstairs. Play along, OK?

 

Downstairs, Indira kill the volume on the radio, put in the CD and is Bing singing, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know . . . Indira dueting with Bing.

Fritzie say loud-loud, White Christmas. That is something I always want to see. Indira! You ever see a White Christmas?

Indira answer. Solo and I spent a year in Frankfurt. You can’t believe White Christmas unless you actually experience one. Pure magic. It’s like all the angels in heaven came down to cover the world with their wings.

KarlLee say, I spend years in London and I see plenty Rainy Christmas, Sleety Christmas, Foggy Christmas, Cold-no-arse Christmas, but never White Christmas.

Bostic say, All I ever see is Red and Green Christmas.

Sunity say, her voice wistful, My sister always bothering me to come up for Christmas but I always leave thinking about it until school close. By then the airlines booked up and all they have is executive class at top dollar.

Where your sister living? Fritzie ask.

Ottawa, Sunity say.

Indira say, last night TV show snow deep-deep in Eastern Canada already . . .

At this juncture, Bing burst through with Sleigh bells ring . . .  in the lane snow is glistening . . . walking in a winter wonderland.

Indira look up from her newspaper. Would you believe this? Fritzie, look!

She hand the paper to Fritzie who read aloud, slowly, as if she seeing it for the first time: Caribbean Airlines: Dreaming of a White Christmas? Special fares to Toronto . . .

Sunity rush over to Fritzie and read aloud: . . . for travel between 15th and 29th December. Offer ends 6th December . . .

Sunity whip out her phone, go to the website, click and click and she say, oh gosh, only two seats left. What to do? All you, help me out, what to do?

KarlLee say, you sure it will be convenient for your sister?

Indira and Fritzie want to slap him, but exercise self-restraint. Indira say, only one way to find out. Contact her.

Phoning now, say Sunity, as she scrolling, finding the number. A loud squeal. Jassodra, is me. Quick question, is OK for me to come up for Christmas? Sometime between — she looks at the ad — fifteenth and twenty-ninth. Gosh, just imagine, I only now see this ad, is like Fate taking a hand. Yes. We still the same size. Everything. Boots, coat, gloves, hat. I will book now. Gosh, only hope those seats not gone already. Mwah, mwah . . . see you soon . . . bye.

She pull out this card, that card from her wallet, and in just twenty minutes after Bing’s first warble — I’m dreaming — Sunity pay for her ticket to Toronto and onward to Ottawa. It’s done. Fifteenth to twenty-ninth.

You leaving me for a whole two weeks? KarlLee objecting. Over Christmas? What I going to do with myself?

Indira come over and put an arm around his shoulder. What you usually do for Christmas, KarlLee?

I come here for a German-style Christmas Eve dinner, then Trinidad-style Christmas Day breakfast, then later on English-style Christmas dinner complete with crackers and plum pudding. Indira, he says, taking her hand and kissing it, I am remiss. Forgive me. Thank you for all the years of making my Christmas happy.

So, you’re not going to be neglected when I’m gone?

You go and visit your sister. Folks, we better be going now. A lot for us to . . . ahem . . . discuss before Sunity leave.

Fritzie go over to give Indira a high-five. Yippee! Girl, you is class.

Bostic say, what was that about?

Woman business, say Indira.