Hortense's hat had slipped forlorn on her head, just a little, but
enough to show this haughty Jamaican woman looking comical. I
straightened it for her. She composed herself, dabbing her eye with
the tip of her white-fingered glove. I got out my handkerchief so she
might wipe her face. However, this item was not as clean as it might
have been. For several days I had been meaning to wash it but . . .
Hortense held it high between her finger and thumb to pass it back to
me. As she took out her own handkerchief from her bag, I saw the
pretty white cloth had Sunday embroidered on it. 'You have the wrong
day there,' I told her. Then, oh, boy, she blew her nose into that
poor cloth with the force of a hurricane, before telling me quietly,
'I walk into a cupboard.'
'Why you do that?' I asked
'I thought it was the door to leave by.'
'Oh dear,' I said.
'But it was a cupboard and the
women all laugh on me.'
My mind conjured the scene
but instead of laughing hearty on the joke of this proud woman's
humiliation, my heart snapped in two. 'And tell me,' I said, 'what was
this cupboard like?'
Her expression flashed 'What is
this fool man saying?' but she answered, 'There was a bucket and
perhaps a mop.'
'Ah. Now, that was a broom cupboard.
I have walked into many broom cupboards.' Reddened and moistened with
tears, her eyes gazed upon me. And I believe this was the first time
they looked on me without scorn. Two breaths I skipped before I could
carry on. 'It true! I walk into broom cupboard, stationery cupboard .
'This one had paper in also.'
'Interesting cupboard,' I told her. 'You say it have broom and paper.'
And then it happen.
I felt sure Hortense
had teeth that sharpened to a point like a row of nails. But they did
not. They were small, dainty-white with a little gap in the front two.
Come, could it be true that I had never before seen her smile? I
thought carefully of what I should say next -- for I feared a rogue
word might chase away that astonishing vision. 'How long you say you
stay in this cupboard?' I asked. And, oh, boy, that smile take on a
voice -- she giggle.
'Enough time for me to know that I am not
dead but I am merely in a cupboard.'
She laughed and I swear the sky, louring above our
heads, opened on a sharp beam of sunlight. 'Enough time for them to
think me a fool.'
'Ah, well, that is not so long,
then.' Man, I had gone too far. No sooner were those rascal words said
than I wanted to scoop them back up and stuff them in me big mouth.
Like an apparition all trace of mirth vanished.
you teasing me, Gilbert Joseph?' she said. I was ready to throw myself
to the ground and have her walk across me. But the cloud passed.
Playful, she hit my arm.
'What you do when you come
from the cupboard?' I carefully carried on. 'I left the room.'
'You say anything to the women who were laughing on you?'
'What was there to say?'
'You must tell them that was
an interesting cupboard.'
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