"Help mi, Freddy, help mi!" It was the same high, screechy little voice. Doreen was back, playing him again like a fiddle she had finely tuned.
The big, heavy-set man walked with his head held low, his dirty boots dragging across the asphalt surface. His clothes, like his boots, left much to be desired. Now and again a horn tooted and somebody shouted "Mad Bway!" Finally, he got to the park, sat down on the weather-beaten bench and took up the discarded newspaper.
As Fred closed his eyes, a picture of Doreen sprang to his mind. They had met at a fast-food place shortly after he had moved to town and begun working at the cement factory in Harbour View. Fred could not understand his attraction to this overdressed, skinny girl who laughed too loudly, and who always found it necessary to embellish the truth. At first, he told himself that Doreen had to be a temporary replacement for his sickly little sister who had died of asthma. Finally, he was compelled to accept the fact that he was in love with this woman. They had lived together happily for a while before Georgie had come into their lives.
George Bennett, a deportee, was tall and fair-skinned. He made his living from an assortment of illegal activities, always spending money like the thing was terminal.
It was Doreen's unexplained absences which had made Fred suspicious at first. Pretending to accept her story of going for a night out with her girlfriends, he had followed and seen as she met Georgie in front of the Carib Cinema in Crossroads. Fred wanted to die when he saw them kiss. He was stonedrunk when Doreen came home that night and Fred - who had always vowed never to lay his hand on a woman - gave her a beating. While he was at work the following day she moved out.
Fred spent much of the following week trying, unsuccessfully, to persuade Doreen to come back to him. Finally, after turning up drunk for work, he lost his job.
down on his luck
Hungry, broke, bedraggled with his landlord threatening eviction, Fred wondered if he could also be losing his mind. He looked at the paper again and read:
Good cook wanted
62 Blaine St.
He stood up and looked around him. Where was Blaine Street again? Blaine Street ... Blaine - oh yes! He knew where it was now. He stuck his hand into his pocket but it came out empty. He would have to walk. The afternoon sun was merciless and his feet were baking as the heat from the asphalt blazed through his boots. When he arrived at Number 62 the security guard, an attractive, well-rounded young woman of about his own age, led him to a door at the back of the building.
She stood at the door and called, "Miss Pam!"
"What now, Joy?" came the response. "Mi, a cook, man."
"Somebody out here to you, ma'am."
The door opened to reveal a small stern-looking woman of 60-something.
"Dis is Miss Pam," Joy told Fred. "Talk to her."
As Joy turned to go back to her post, the proprietor eyed Fred with open distaste.
"Yes?" Miss Pam said curtly.
"Is di cookin' job mi come bout ma'am," Fred told her.
"You don't look like any cook to me!" Miss Pam said bluntly.
"I didn't always look like dis," Fred said quietly. "I jus' down on mi luck."
"You have a food handler's permit?"
Fred shook his head gloomily.
"Sorry," Miss Pam said as she began to close the door.
"One minute, Miss," Fred said desperately. "Just 'low mi to tidy up outside here for you. I can weed it up nice an' you don't even have to pay mi. Jus' give me some food when mi finish."
Miss Pam hesitated. Then she handed him a rake and an old cutlass. Much later she gave him a huge bowl of red pea soup.
As Fred ate she asked, "So you last job was cooking?"
"No, ma'am, but I can cook good. Me and mi mom used to cook an sell food a country."
"I well want a good cook but without even a permit ..."
Fred nodded. "What you could do is 'low mi fi come back an' fix up di front o' dis place fi you."
Miss Pam gave him that job on the condition that he tidied himself up.
Fred set to work and the new landscaping quickly attracted even more customers to the restaurant. Soon, Miss Pam took him into the kitchen and was pleased to discover that he was indeed an excellent cook. A few weeks later, he took Joy to a show at Carib and thus began a meaningful relationship.
When the news of Georgie's imprisonment broke, Fred gave little thought to Doreen. He had a new and better life now.
He was seasoning the curry for the following day's cooking one evening, when he heard a commotion out front.
Joy was screaming: "You not goin nowhere but jail, tiefin gal!"
"Let me go! ... an don't call mi 'tief'!"
Fred's heart missed a beat. He knew that voice. Abruptly, he left what he was doing and ran in the direction of the voices. He got to the scene as Joy took hold of Doreen (who had been struggling to get away) flung her to the ground and sat on her. Over the noise of the cheering crowd, he heard Doreen yell:
"Help mi Freddy, help mi!"
In that instant, Fred forgot all the pain and humiliation that Doreen had caused him as well as his relationship with Joy. All he could see was that Doreen, with all odds against her, desperately needed help.
"Joy!" Fred growled, "Let go Doreen."
"What?" Joy asked surprised. "You know her?"
"Dis not necessary at all," Fred said impatiently. "Get up off her, man!"
He reached down and took hold of Doreen's arm but Joy would not release her captive.
"She didn't pay fi di food wha she eat, "Joy objected, "an I ..."
"Take you backside off a mi ooman!" Fred cut in.
"You woman?" Joy said in disbelief.
She stood up, dazed, as Fred pulled Doreen to her feet and hustled her away. Hurt and bewildered, Joy stared after them.
Fred took his new-found old love home that night. When he enquired as to what had brought her to this, she told him in graphic details how much she had suffered at Georgie's hands. She had simply forgotten to pay for the food at the restaurant earlier. Fred listened, concerned, yet wondering just how much of what Doreen said was true. Later when he found her curled invitingly in his bed, Fred ached to get close to her again. But he resisted the urge and slept alone.
Two weeks passed. Fred had repeatedly apologised to Joy who still refused to believe that he was just "helping out Doreen for a while".
Having just arrived home from work that evening, he stood rooted to the spot, hand on the door knob as Doreen's voice assaulted his ears:
"How you get mi numba, Georgie?"
She was talking on her cell phone. Quietly, Fred sneaked in, hid and continued to eavesdrop.
"Yeah, man," Doreen continued. "A Freddy buy mi di phone. Him still love mi, you know."
Fred resisted the urge to curse.
Doreen talked on: "Oh, mi medicine? Yeah, mi still a teck di AZT dem but mi can't meck Fred know. Him might run mi."
A chill went down Fred's spine. AZT? Wasn't that a drug for HIV/AIDS? Doreen had HIV? Christ! But who could have given it to her?
As if answering his question Doreen said, "Mi glad dem a treat you fi you HIV, Georgie. When you come out me an; you can fight it together."
Shaken, Fred stalked out of his hiding place and slammed the front door behind him.
Doreen yelled: "Wha wrong Freddy? Come back inside!"
Ignoring her, he walked quickly out into and down the street. He stopped at a light post and leaned against it, numb with rage, disbelief and something else - joy. Suddenly, happily he burst out laughing. What a bullet he had ducked! Yes, he felt foolish and used but (Hallelujah!) he did not have HIV. For he had not slept with Doreen.
Relived, Fred collected himself. He walked briskly out into the street and headed in the opposite direction.
He just had to talk to Joy.