Exile By A. K. Herman

The day Paula arrived in Brooklyn, a Sunday in late August, the rain came down in gray arrows that covered the windows of the livery cab that she rode in like a cloth. Paula could only make out the shapes of buildings, like dark teeth in a fog. It rained for the entire week, and she didn’t leave her room at the top of the stairs in the brownstone where she stayed with her aunt, Lorna. On Friday, when the rain stopped, Paula looked through the window at the world to which she was exiled until her belly, which still looked like she’d had too much to eat, had disappeared. The world across the street was a white brownstone with brown trim and an empty lot with a long blue car with tufts of grass where the wheels should be. 

She was interrupted by the slide then click of Lorna’s key in the front door, her puttering in the living room, and her feet ascending the stairs.

Lorna knocked.

“Open,” Paula said and turned to face the door. Her aunt walked in—the broad beam of her hips swaying with each stride—and sat on the bed next to her.

“I not going to ask you if you alright today, ’cause I know you not alright,” she began. “You fifteen years old. Pregnant. And Phyllis and Andy send you away to hide you.”

“Is not—” Tears slid across her upper lip and into her mouth. “Is not that—” It was that her aunt had said her mother’s name and Paula remembered when the doctor told her the news. Her mother cried and held her chest like someone had cuffed her in it. Since that day, Paula’s mother stopped speaking to her. She only heard her mother’s voice, high-pitched and clear, when her parents talked in their bedroom at night. 

“Look. I know my sister,” Lorna continued. “School principal. Big in the church. Treasurer of the Lions Club. You the spitting image of her when she was your age. Bright in school. Nice hair. Good looking. In my sister mind, this not happening.” She moved a hair from Paula’s forehead. “She does still talk like the nuns in the Convent? I will not!” She paused. “Tolerate that!” Auntie put her hands on her hips and lifted her chest to feign perfect posture.

“We will not! speak about it again,” Paula said, pursing her lips for effect, then straightened her back and lifted her chest.

Just so, they laughed. Paula’s chuckle that ended in a hiss and her aunt’s loud cackle sounded strange together. Then Lorna slapped her thigh and got silent, her face still and serious. “Now, your mother is a little”—she winked and touched the tips of two fingers together like she was holding something tiny—“much. But she want the best for you. She want you to have a future. My sister can’t handle it. She couldn’t even bring herself to ask me to see about you. Only Andy been calling. And they plan to take care of you, darling. Clothes. Hospital bill. Everything. You understand?”


“You going to have a life when you go back to Trinidad. Your father been calling late at night to tell me all that going on. You do your part. And just know that I will see about everything here. You hear me?”

“Yes.” Paula wondered what her part was.

“Good girl. Now come, let we make dinner, nah? Me and you.” She had a crease above one eye. “You can’t just stay in this room all the time watching out the window.”

“Okay.” Paula took one last look at the car across the street and stood.


Her aunt accompanied her to the first two visits to the prenatal clinic. On the way back from the third visit, Paula was to take the 2 train to Church and Nostrand, then take a taxi from the line of cars along Nostrand to the house. When she got to Nostrand, the drivers were arguing because one of them skipped the line and took a passenger before his turn. She decided to walk. It was a warm day in late September and bright yellows and whites of summer still lingered on people walking along Church Avenue. The Avenue was the sound of horns and bus engines, reggae and soca blasting from cars and a speaker box on the corner at Nostrand near the McDonald’s. It was the smell of jerk pit smoke, incense, trays of apples, cantaloupe, and onions that jutted toward her hip. Store signs so close together that they read like a run-on sentence: Beauty Supply Money Transfer/Bill Pay Barbados $297, RT, Tops 3 for $10. It started raining when she turned onto 39thbig drops that hit her head like pebbles. A smell, like moist earth and gasoline, caused her mouth to fill with saliva. At the top of the unpainted concrete steps, Paula fumbled with the keys. A bubbly feeling shot up from her stomach, and she leaned over the painted metal railing and vomited on the cover of a black garbage bin at the side of the steps. The rain broke up the pinkish vomit like lights going out in a city at night. 

She opened the door, held her chest, and leaned against the red-flowered wallpaper in the vestibule until the nausea and dizziness passed. On the floor, among the restaurant menus and letters that were slipped through the mail slot, she found a letter from her mother. In it were photocopies of prayers, novenas to the Virgin Mary for the safety of mothers and children. She checked the envelope twice. Nothing more. After her bath, she wrote a response to the letter she wished her mother had sent. She read what she had written, tore it up, and decided to start a journal but couldn’t think of what to write yet. In the back of a new notebook, she put a restaurant menu and a flier about safe drinking water she had picked up at the clinic that morning. After, she started reading a novel from among the books her father packed for her to study with for her exams when she returned, A House for Mr. Biswas.

About an hour later than the usual time, Lorna’s key turned in the door. There was a man with her. Paula put the novel on her chest and waited. She wanted to hide, and her eyes darted around the room to find a place. She stood up and went to the mirror to see if her belly showed through her cotton shirt. Paula let Lorna call twice before she answered. “Yes, Auntie.”

“Come down a minute.” There was a laugh in her voice.

Paula took the steps one at a time. She didn’t want to appear eager.

Lorna and the man were standing together at the base of the steps. He was two heads taller than Lorna and had an arm across her upper back. His fingers played with her shoulder. 

“Paula, this is Rawle. My boyfriend.” Lorna looked at him. 

“Nah true, I’m her man.” Rawle held out his hand to her. He had a broad face and the skin around his mouth was loose like he smiled easily and often. “Nice to meet you, young lady.” He smiled and four lines bracketed his mouth.

Lorna explained that she and Rawle taught at the same school. Rawle taught Math. 

“We don’t just teach together.” Rawle gave her a flier. “Lorna don’t tell you? We sing together.” He winked and lines filled one side of his face. “We sing backup for soca and reggae artistes.”

The flier was black with the faces of Mighty Sparrow, David Rudder, and Black Stalin surrounded by pink and blue fireworks with the words Soca Celebration at the top. 

“You coming to that,” Lorna said and touched Paula’s cheek.

Lorna cooked rice and peas with stewed chicken for dinner, and they ate together on the black leather couches in the living room. Paula went up to her room while Lorna and Rawle talked in the kitchen. There, she put the soca flier in her journal then lay, listening to her aunt and her boyfriend in the kitchen. She couldn’t make out any of the words, just the bass of Rawle’s voice and their laughter. She thought that her parents rarely sounded like the two people in the kitchen. Her mother once told her that Lorna didn’t live a Catholic life. Paula wondered if she was sent to live with Lorna because she belonged there. Keep the sinners together. Downstairs got quiet and Paula strained her ear to listen but couldn’t hear anything. She fell asleep reading the part where Mohun passes the note to the girl in the shop.


6 October 1995

Here, I am more myself. The self I am in school with my friends. The self that Isaac knows. Auntie asks me what I think and discusses things with me. She involves me in her life with Uncle Rawle and the singing and stuff. This is kind of surprising because we don’t even play soca in the house at home. I’m sure none of the family in Trinidad knows that Auntie sings soca and reggae. I went to one of Auntie’s rehearsals. It was filled with older people from different islands, who I would probably never have met if I wasn’t in Brooklyn. They were nice. Most of them were trying not to look at my big belly. I felt funny and just stayed near the wall at the front of the room.

I compare Mummy and Daddy to Uncle Rawle and Auntie. Uncle Rawle is Jamaican. Mummy used to say that people from the other islands, especially Jamaicans, are no good. At home, Mummy talks. Daddy and I listen and do. That’s how I ended up here. I should have said something. Asked questions or made some kind of a fuss when I realized that they were sending me away. I am like Mohun Biswas. Things happened TO him. He didn’t make decisions to guide his own life. He gave a girl a note and was married to her. Then the Tulsis took over his life. I don’t want my life to be like that.


New Idea #1: I will not let people, including my parents, make me do things that I don’t want to do without a discussion and without knowing all the facts. (This does not include things pertaining to my education and things like getting a job and so forth.)


I have been in the States since the 27th August, and no one, not Mummy, not Daddy, not Isaac, has called me to ask me how I’m doing. Auntie gives updates to my parents about me, and she gives me updates about them. Who is giving Isaac updates?


New Idea #2: I don’t have to wait for people to contact me. This is related to New Idea #1 because I will not be waiting for things to happen to me. I WILL BE HAPPENING TO THINGS. I will buy a phone card and call my parents. I will also call Isaac to let him know what’s going on with me.


New Idea #3: Ask Daddy what will happen when I get back to Trinidad.


News: My due date is 14th January 1996.



Leg lifts: 4 sets of 10
Arms: 3 sets of 10 for biceps and shoulders (each) with tin of condensed milk (10 oz)
Step ups: 3 sets of 10


CXC Exams

    • Looked over Literature syllabus
    • Did past paper questions about Biswas.
    • Started Things Fall Apart
    • Did a whole mathematics past paper. Uncle Rawle corrected it. I got a 95, which means I’ll get a 1 in maths. Of course!
    • History: Read Chapters 1 and 2

Paula re-read her writing then placed a red sycamore leaf between the pages of the journal and closed it.


From the kitchen, the phone echoed through the two-story house like the high-pitched bleat of a mechanical sheep. Lorna had just left for work and Paula was in the living room nursing a cup of orange peel tea to suppress her nausea. The answering machine came on. After the greeting, a man’s voice said, “Hello. Paula. Is Daddy. Well, I’m—”

She picked up the phone. “Daddy?”


“Is me. Something happen?” She was planning to call her parents that day.

“No. I just wanted to see how you going.” He took a deep breath.

“I going good. Fine. How You? How Mummy?” She was happy to hear his voice.

“I alright. Cool, not fussy.” He paused. “Your mum. Well. She good. Coping.”

“What she coping with?” Her voice was louder than she meant. Then she realized that she meant her voice to be loud, so she repeated the question.

“With everything. She just trying to cope, Paula.” Her father breathed loudly into the phone. 

“She coping with me, ent?”

“Paula, you think I want to send my only child away? But it is the best solution. The best way for you to have a life when this is all over. Me and your mother want the best for you. You understand?”

On the drive to the airport, her father kept the radio on from Plaisance Park to Piarco, and hardly spoke to her. While she weighed her luggage and checked in, he circled at a distance, like a corbeau waiting for something to die. Just before she went through the departure gate, he ran to the head of the line and hugged her. “Don’t worry.” He smelled like Brut and ironed cotton. “You will come back and everything will work out.” He held her against his chest and patted her head. His wedding ring was against her ear, an island of hardness surrounded by warm flesh.

She didn’t understand. “Daddy. I want to know something. Tell me the truth, alright?”

“Alright.” He sighed and she pictured the air from his nostrils ruffling the hairs of his moustache.

“When you say I will have a life when this is all over, you mean I will live my life as if I didn’t have a child?”

“Once a person has a child, they could never live like they never had one. Most people never recover from having a child at a young age. They never finish school. Don’t get decent work. But we, me and your mother, want you to recover. We don’t want a situation where a person ends up spending the rest of their life paying for something that happen when they were young.”

“But is me, Daddy. Me, Paula, who going to have a baby.”

“I know.”

“But you not saying it. You keep saying is a person.” She felt a prickly sensation along her back.

Another sigh. “I get what you saying.”

She waited to hear if he’d say more, but there was silence as if the phone had gone dead.

“You there?” she asked.

“I right here.”

“Daddy, you and Mummy plan to send the baby to an orphanage when I get home and pretend that I never had one?” The prickly sensation along her back was now on her entire body.

“Truth is, I don’t know what we going to do when you come back. I only know that the nuns will hold a space for you to sit CXCs next year, and we will take it from there.”

He sounded tired, worn. She said okay and changed the subject to the weather and the different Caribbean accents in Brooklyn. She ended their conversation when the fatigue had left his voice and he sounded sure about the future, like he did at the airport weeks ago.

After her father hung up, she called Isaac. He answered. He was a year ahead of her and was at home, taking a break after exams. He planned to start a job in Petrotrin after the New Year. 

“So you really in the States, then?”

It was this way of seeming innocent, believing all that was said, and taking everything at face value that had drawn her to him. She laughed and, for a moment, they were at the Carnegie Free Library in San Fernando, kissing behind the big art book they called the kissing book, Uffizi Collezoni.

“I thought it was just talk. ’Cause I call your house a few times, looking for you. But whenever I ask to talk to you, please, your mom say you not there and hang up on me.”

No one had mentioned Isaac calling for her. She was hurt. “When you call for me?”

“Like around . . . the end of June.”

By mid-June, still in Trinidad, she had started vomiting in the mornings, and had been able to hide it for over a week by throwing up in a plastic bag, crouched near the floor in her bedroom. Until one morning, on the drive to school, she retched her breakfast in the backseat and her mother turned around to face her. The vomit was caught in the hammock that her plaid uniform skirt made as it hung between her legs. The car stopped and Paula kept her eyes on the blue-and-green plaid marbled with puke as the stench—rancid food tinged with a sourness—filled the Toyota. “Paula?” was all her mother asked.

When Paula looked up, her mother’s eyes were blinking fast, as if to clear the vision from her sight. It was panic and knowing. The next day, the doctor confirmed that she was ten weeks pregnant. By that evening, she was cut off from the world as her parents made arrangements. No school. No phone calls. No visitors. No leaving the house. 

“That was nearly four months ago, Isaac.” He didn’t call every single day since her mother said she wasn’t there, nor did he try to see her. She brushed the thought away. “What everybody saying I doing here?”

“That you in school. You got a scholarship to go to university because you got a really high score on the SATs. What school you going to?”

“I not in school, Izz. Remember that note I pass to you that day in ad maths lessons?” It was just two days before she vomited in the car. That day, he jumped in his father’s Laurel as soon as lessons was over, so there was no time to talk. 

“That was real?” His thin head looked long and misshapen when his jaw dropped, and she knew that it was thoroughly deformed now.

“I pregnant. That is why I in the States.”

A long silence. Then he spoke: “But I was planning to work in Petrotrin for a year or two, then start my own petroleum consulting business with my father. I didn’t know the note was real. It say that what happen by Nalini house was making you vomit on mornings. Wasn’t sure what . . . I was just . . . just calling your house ’cause we was supposed to go to graduation ball together, nah. And I didn’t hear from you, so I end up going with Sally Sitahal, and now she and I kinda together and Dad looking for something in Petrotrin for she too, and I really . . .”

She let Isaac go on until the voice on the phone card said she had one minute remaining. She asked if he wanted her number. He took the number and asked for her mailing address. But the phone cut off before she could give him the zip code. She waited for him to call back, but he didn’t.


27 October 1995

I really, really, really LOVE Isaac. Like LOVE. I can’t even put it into words. He’s so nerdy and cute and funny. He looks just like Fido Dido, if Fido was real. I am crying. Sad. 

I have hiccups.

Lorraine used to tell me that Sally was always looking at Isaac and that she liked him too. Graduation ball was in July. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere or use the phone. And he went with Sally sooooo quick. It’s as if he never lo

They could even be doing it. I hate Sally. I will look desperate if I called Sally. 


11 November 1995

It’s cold like in the fridge. I’m writing with the space heater on, and I’m under the covers and still. Fall was windy and rainy. Now there’s no rain, and the sun is so bright. If it wasn’t for the branches of leafless trees that look like sea fan coral against the blue sky, you would think it was summer and go outside without a jacket.

I am seven months, and my belly feels heavy. Since the first visit, the nurses in the clinic have been asking if I wanted to know if I was having a boy or a girl. I didn’t want to know, but I have changed my mind. When I go back next time, I will find out.

My breasts are bigger. Lorraine and Sasha used to say that if you let boys feel up your breasts, they will get bigger. Issac feeled felt me up a lot before we did the thing itself and my breasts never grew. Or L & S were right, because feeling up leads to the thing itself that gets you pregnant and THAT makes your breasts larger.

Auntie and I went shopping for bras in Kings Plaza Mall. The mall is like Gulf City Mall, but with more stores.

I called Isaac again today. I was talking and he kept answering with one-word answers, so I got off the phone. He sounds stupid and probably looks dumb.

Auntie gave me coconut oil to rub on my belly, breasts, and hips so I wouldn’t get any stretch marks. I started, but I stopped. The stretch marks will be like if I wrote this whole experience on my body. No one can erase it. It will be a metaphor (comparison without the use of like or as) for a journal.


New Idea #11: Do not do anything that will hide the fact that you had a child. Make sure to keep all the paperwork from the clinic and everything you get for the child.


In between my studies, I’m reading a book Uncle Rawle gave me, So You’re Pregnant. The book says that your emotions are higher when you’re pregnant, and I think I am experiencing that. I am almost finished with Things Fall Apart, by Chinea Chinua Achebe, and everything in the book reminds me of things happening in real life, so I cry, then I’m angry and frightened. In personality, Okonkwo is definitely Mummy. Daddy could be any one of Okonkwo’s wives, except Ekwefi. Ikemefuna is not exactly, exactly like me, but he comes the closest. He was sent away as a peace settlement to pay a debt. He was in exile like me. He got comfortable and started to think that New York was his home and that Auntie Lorna was his mother and Uncle Rawle was his father. Okonkwo played a part in killing the boy because he wanted to not be like his father. He didn’t do the right thing. He did the perfect thing so that people would think he was perfect in every way. Mummy is always perfect. Okonkwo hurt his own feelings by killing the boy. I’m sure Mummy hurts her own feelings all the time. But I will never know.


New Idea #12: Forget what other people think about me. If I focus on what people think or on being perfect all the time, I will hurt my own feelings.


New Idea #13: Try to call Daddy more.


Jokes: (A child sitting next to me in the clinic told me.)

What do you call an ant who does magic tricks?




Leg lifts: 3 sets of 10
Arms: 3 sets of 12 for biceps and shoulders (each) with 8-lb weights that we bought in Burlington Coat Factory.
Step ups: 3 sets of 12 (with 8-lb weights)



  • Need to do some more past paper questions in lit.
  • Did 2 maths past papers. I got only 80. I don’t understand matrices at all. If lots of matrices come, I might not do so good. Uncle Rawle has started tutoring me, but he and Auntie have already started rehearsals for the Christmas soca and calypso events that happen in Caribbean neighborhoods here. Soon, he wouldn’t have much time to do it, so I’m taking lots of notes and going through the textbook on my own.
  • Did 2 history past papers. Auntie will mark them this weekend.
  • On the side, I started Hamlet but I don’t always understand everything without Auntie explaining it. She is good at everything.


After the holiday concert in New Jersey, Paula went backstage. Lorna introduced her to some of the other backup singers, and some of the calypsonians. In Trinidad, she thought little of the men and women who sang calypso and soca. But in the States, these men and women, the lyrics and the music were Trinidad, were home. In the backseat of Rawle’s car, her hand pulsed where David Rudder and the Mighty Shadow held it while they wiped their foreheads in the hot, crowded room backstage. She touched her belly with the hand so her child could feel Trinidad too.

The next morning, Paula walked into the kitchen and saw Rawle and Lorna kissing. She yelled, “Sorry,” covered her mouth, and turned to go back upstairs.

Lorna called her back. “Come, Paula. Rawle just a little romantic this morning.” 

“Is the music,” Rawle said and smiled. “It make me do it.” He put one arm around Lorna.

“Miss Paula,” Rawle began. “I want invite you to spend Christmas by my house. I’m a very good cook, and I hope you will come. To eat and drink and meet my people.”

“Yes, I’ll come. But you don’t have to ask me so formal.” She was angry but wasn’t sure why.

“We just thought is your choice,” Rawle said.

“Is fine. I don’t have anything else to do anyway.” She lifted both shoulders then dropped them.

Lorna raised one bushy eyebrow. “You want some toast? Tea? We have Milo.”

“I feel a lil’ upset. Maybe some orange peel first. To settle my stomach.” Her anger faded and she wanted to apologize. “I sorry, Uncle Rawle. Don’t know why I acting so.”

“You and me always cool,” Rawle said.

“Is okay. Sit down in the drawing room. I go bring the tea.” Lorna took a cup from the dishrack.

On the couch, Paula cried with her face in her hands. She missed Isaac and the future they had planned behind the kissing book. She hadn’t called her father as much as she had promised in her journal, and found that she couldn’t picture his face. After a few moments, there was a warm hand at the back of her neck, then her aunt held her. She kept her face in her hands and wished she could stay in that warmth forever.


30 January 1996

Ikemefuna Andrew Rawlins Guevara was born on 12th January 1996 at 11:05 a.m.

Ikemefuna: So the boy Okonkwo raised could have a second chance at life, after the decision of the Oracle. And because my son was born in exile.
Andrew: After Daddy.
Rawlins: After Uncle Rawle because he is so nice to me. If and when I have a girl child, I will name her Lorna.

You can register the birth in Trinidad from here, as the baby has the same citizenship as the mother. I didn’t put any name for father.


I. has not called me.


He looks like me and like I. He has my mouth and complexion, and I.’s eyes with long lashes. I couldn’t write for two weeks because everything was hurting so much. The birth itself was fine. I got an epidural like Auntie suggested, so the birth was something heavy pressing down on my hips, but from the inside. I had nice nurses and the doctor, Dr. Kenneth Brathwaite, was from Trinidad. I got five stitches and Dr. Brathwaite came personally to make sure I knew how to take care of them and that I understood everything. I think he felt sorry for me because he kept saying that I couldn’t even “full up the bed.” That it was too big for me. It was like having Daddy there.


Pain started after I got home and got worse when I nursed Ike. It was like big hands with sharp, pointy fingernails were scraping downward from my chest to my belly. Auntie said it was afterpains. She said that we are country people from Paramin Village. We have land and that my grandparents and aunts and uncles minded pigs and bathed in the river. Apparently, I have many cousins and great aunts and uncles that my mother doesn’t talk to. That we are mixed with Amerindian, Spanish (colonizers, so it’s rape, really), and African.


She took care of me the country people way.


For a week afterward, she boiled leaves, threw the hot water in a bucket, and made me sit over it so the steam would go inside me. I didn’t believe it would make a difference at first, but clots the size of my fists fell out of me. She massaged my belly with oil. She said that she had to “put everything back in place.” Her exact words. Then she wrapped me with a cloth from under my breasts to my hips so I would get my figure back. The pain was so bad with the wrap on, like I was being cut in half. I cried so much and tried to take it off, but she put the knot at my back and I couldn’t undo it.


Now I feel better and my belly stays flat when I take the wrap off to bathe. Only the stretch marks on the lower half of my belly say that I had a child. That and my son. My son. MY SON. Can’t believe it. Can’t believe that Okonkwo killed the boy when he saw him as a son, and the boy saw Okonkwo as his father.


How could my mother be so distant from me? Stop talking to me when she found out? I don’t know her favorite color, song, food. She sent me away but I don’t think I can go back. I will go back to Trinidad, but I can’t go back to being her daughter in the way I was before. I will be like the narrator in “The Poison Tree,” from my poem list.


New Idea #21: I am angry with my mother. When I go back, I will tell her how I feel so at least I could stop feeling this way whenever I think about her. If not, this wrath will grow.


It’s been snowing, off and on, since that day at Uncle Rawle’s house. It’s really beautiful when it’s falling. It slows the world down. After the snow falls, people walking and cars driving mess it up. Then the snow mixes with the dirt and garbage, like someone poured a dirt snow cone everywhere. I put Ike by the window so he could see and know snow even if he doesn’t know he knows it yet.



I have to start doing sit ups after 40 days, when the belly band comes off.



  • Reading poems on the syllabus.


Spring was rain. The drops as big as pennies sometimes, then fine like a sea spray that Paula couldn’t see through the window and had to go outside to feel. Outside, trees were rebuilding their leaves and birds started to appear on the pavement and on the top of the car in the empty lot across the street. Ike slept next to Paula, a pillow on the other side of him, in case he rolled. The nurse in the clinic was concerned that the baby didn’t sleep in his own crib and feared that Paula might roll over and crush him. But even in her deepest sleep, Paula knew exactly where that piece of her was and could never destroy it. “It would be like eating and biting off my own finger by mistake,” she told the nurse. When Paula asked her aunt about it, she said, “They trying to get you to do things the American way. But sleeping in the same bed with a new baby is our way. By the time you go home, he will be big enough to put in a crib.”

By May, the rain had stopped and the trees had completed their fence of leaves. After the baby was born, Paula noticed that Lorna didn’t come into her room as often as she used to. When she asked about it, her aunt said that a new mother needed privacy. So Paula was surprised when she came back from a walk with Ike and found Lorna sitting on her bed. 

“Something happen?” Paula asked.

Lorna held up an envelope between two fingers. “I buy your ticket.” Her voice sounded raspy. “You leaving May 22nd.” Lorna read from the ticket. “At am. . . .” She squinted her eyes and moved the ticket farther away from her face. “Four twenty in the evening. You should—”

“But that is next week.”

“I know, but—”

“I talked to Daddy yesterday and, and—you didn’t even ask me when I want to go back.” 

“I know.” Lorna closed her eyes. “I know. But this is the best—”

“Best for who? Everybody always know what best for me. I leaving here just how I come here. They thought it was best and just send me. Now you sending—” 

“I will miss you, Paula. This is the best way for me too. I so scared for this room to be empty.”

Paula sat next to her and hugged her. Then they talked while she filled a basin with water and wiped off the baby with a wet cloth, dressed him, nursed him, and put him to sleep between the two pillows on the bed. Paula followed her aunt to the kitchen, where they made dinner together and talked some more. Her parents had picked the date and Lorna was glad because she could never have chosen the date that Paula will leave her. Lorna invited her and the baby to visit whenever they wanted. Paula talked about raising the baby without Isaac, about the conversations she wanted to have with her mother, and about applying to UWI after she passed her exams. They speculated about how hot the summer might be and the concerts and outdoor events in Brooklyn where her uncle and aunt might perform. 

Later that night, when Paula went to the basement to get the extra suitcases, she thought of how she might never see or do any of the things her aunt talked about and was sad. The plans they made, but may not do, were memories that were already fading. As she packed her books and papers, and her and Ike’s things, she was happy that she was leaving the next week. The sooner she left, the less she had to lose.


4 June 1996

I didn’t see it at the time, but I arrived in the dark so that no one would see me. My mother stayed in the car while Daddy helped with the luggage. When I got to the car, Mummy asked how my flight was, as if I had gone on a holiday. No mention of the baby strapped to my chest. No one asked to hold him. By the time we got to the house, it was after midnight. Perfect.


My room looks exactly the same. I thought they would have put a crib or a cupboard for Ike’s things. Whenever I ask for money to go to Marabella or San Fernando to buy things for Ike or myself, Daddy tells me to make a list, and he gets the items. He wouldn’t even let me drive with him.


When my parents are at work, I watch TV in the drawing room and play with the baby. When they are home, I stay in my room. Kind of afraid. Not knowing how to start a conversation after so much distance. I had planned to have all these talks and say all this stuff. I was brave from afar but far from brave.


In Trinidad, June, the start of the wet season, brought humid nights and days. Her parents’ concrete house, with its slivers of clay ventilation blocks above each window, was hot and uncomfortable. Paula wanted to go outside, but Ike was asleep on the bed next to her. She pulled the button on the fan so it stopped oscillating and sent air directly onto her and the baby. From the bedroom, the fridge’s motor tripped in and out, and the bottles on top of the fridge vibrated with the motor’s hum. She sucked her teeth, glanced at her son, and went to the kitchen to separate the two or more bottles that made the tinny rattle. As she made her way back,  she heard a metallic click at the front of the house, then the rumble of the wrought iron gate sliding toward the wall to let her father’s car in the yard. She returned to the kitchen and opened the fridge so her parents might find her there, to create a situation where they might talk. Car doors closed under the house, and she remembered Ike dammed only by soft pillows and went back to the room. 

Her parents talked as they entered the house, then, like most evenings, the sounds disappeared into the bedroom down the hall. Footfalls approached her door. A knock.

“Yes.” Paula sat up.

Her mother opened the door and leaned against the wall with both hands behind her back. “Is time for you to return to your life.” She had cut her hair, which made her head look smaller and emphasized the weight she’d lost. “You don’t have to mind this child, you know. You could have a life—”

“Who will mind it, if not me?”

“I. Me. It will be my child, and you can go on with your life.”

“Your child? I knew this all along, you know. You want me to pretend that my son is my brother and we all pretend like nothing happen? Like some rich people trying to hide incest or something?”

“You don’t have to be so vulgar. And you don’t have to raise your voice. This is what is going to happen.”


“No? What you mean no? You don’t have a choice. This is my house and you are my daughter and you will live like I say to live.” 

“No. I don’t want that. I want to go back to school, go to UWI, and get a job and take care of Ikemefuna, for myself.”

“Stop it with that foolish name.” She covered her ears. “He will be Anthony Benedict, after the saints for the 12th of January. And you can’t do those things with a child in tow. You need help and the only way I going to help you is by taking the child.” She sat next to her daughter. “I’m saving your reputation, child. Nobody would want you if they knew about this. Nobody would hire—”

“Yes, they will. I am not ashamed. This is about your reputation. I don’t care what people think about me.”

“I got the nuns to agree to let you come back. And I will get you into UWI. A job. You can’t do these things on your own.”

“I can’t do things in the way you want. But I can do other things, my way.” Paula stood and folded her arms.

“What you mean by that?”

Ike twisted against the pillow. For a moment, both mother and daughter looked at him.

“I will lock you in this house if I have to. I will lock you in this room until you get some sense.”

Her mother waited a few seconds then walked out. Moments later, the wall of the bedroom that ran along the corridor shivered as her mother slammed her parents’ bedroom door. Paula could just make out the contours of a high-pitched voice as her mother complained to her father, Okonkwo’s silent wife, but couldn’t catch all the words.


5 June 1996

This morning when I got up, I expected the room door to be locked from the outside, but it wasn’t. Her and Daddy went to work as normal. I called I.’s mother and told her about the whole situation. She wanted to see her grandson.


 I. didn’t even tell her. What does that mean? I need to think more about this.


I called my friends from school and told them. Lorraine then Nalini and Sasha. Sasha talks a lot and will tell everybody, even if she promised me to not tell people.


I called the secretary of the Lions Club and told her.


I called Daddy at work and asked if he would help me pay for a babysitter and give me money to get things done. He sighed and breathed like he does when he’s thinking then asked me if it was what I wanted. I said yes and he said he would do it. Then he said: What about your mother?


And I said: What about my father?


Then Okonkwo’s wife said okay.


I called a few of the senior secondary schools and made an appointment with two principals to talk about a place to sit exams next January. They were not prestige Catholic schools. I went to one and look how I turned out. (Laugh). I am proof that prestige and donations and dinner with the bishop don’t matter.


I wonder if Auntie knew about Mummy taking the baby all along. I tried to remember that conversation we had after my first week. Was there a  pause or a look? I reread the journal and couldn’t find anything.


New Idea #33: When she calls the next time, ask Auntie if she knew about the plan all along. If she didn’t know, ask her for advice. Ask her to send money by Western Union. Walk to the lotto place at the junction to collect it.


After my phone calls today, I got dressed and went out. It was midday and the sun was real hot, beating down on me and poor Ike. I went back to the house and waited till after 2:00 p.m., when it was cooler, and went out again. Mrs. Montoute was watering her plants in her front yard. I went right up to the gate and said hello. I let her hold Ike and told her he was mine. I could see other questions forming in her eyes, but she didn’t ask them. She kept saying how nice the baby was and cooed at him.


After Mrs. Montoute, I walked out onto the main road and said hello to everyone I met and introduced my son to anyone that my parents talked to. By the end of the day, I was no longer a secret. If Mummy did lock me in the house, people might ask for me.



60 sit ups
60 leg lifts (30 per leg)
Walk around the neighborhood.



  • Ask Daddy if he could sign me up for lessons. I need more practice to make sure I pass my exams on the first try.
  • I need more practice being with other people besides my parents.
  • Everything depends on it.

    A. K. Herman was born in Tobago. A. K. writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. A. K. has published in Caribbean Writer, Doek! Literary Journal, Small Axe Journal, Aster(ix) Journal, Lolwe, Isele Magazine, and Rigorous. A. K. lives in New York and is writing a novel. Twitter handle: @akherman_author