IT is natural for adolescents to be intrigued by their changing bodies. But they are far from ready for physical and emotional relationships. Some young people fall into sexual encounters because no one explained the benefits of abstinence and the pitfalls of so-called “first love” (it hardly ever lasts). In the following story the names of people and places have been changed to protect identity.
Fifteen-year-old Denise and her friend Helen stood in the noisy bus park debating what to do. One girl needed a South bus, the other, a bus to Alberttown, but Helen would not let Denise go.” Follow me, nah? Please. I have to know why he broke up with me. This thing is bugging me, girl.
Denise saw tears welling in her friend’s eyes. She wanted to help but had to get home. “Look girl,” she started, “I tell you I can’t go – loose me hand; my mother’s relying on me to cook the food, I got homework to do, and besides, he’s not worth it, look how long I tell you he’s a good- for-nothing.” But after some further persuasion, Denise relented. Switching off her phone, she ran for the bus with Helen and followed her to Cedars yard, a well-known junky hotspot.
I repeatedly tried my daughter’s cell phone as I sit at work, imagining she is on her way home from school. When she reaches, she will start cooking. I already measured the rice, washed the peas and put them to soak for the stew.
It rings once, cuts off, and now it goes straight to voice mail. That’s strange. However, I can’t waste time. I have work to complete and a report to write for tomorrow’s meeting. I’m sure Denise will be fine. Let me focus. But it’s not like Denise not to answer, she is always charging it, so it can’t be the battery.
I wonder if it’s lost or stolen. Uh-oh, here comes the C.E.O. I better get my head down and focus on this work. The phone thing will have to wait.
The small alley leading to Cedar’s yard was barely visible from the road but opened up to a large enclosure of makeshift homes sheltering several families. In the yard, young men frolicked and played cards while women hung out washing and held babies akimbo. Others sit about drinking beer, laughing and talking, while children ran around playing cricket or “ketcha.” People claimed Cedar’s yard had two things going on 24/7: Loud music and drug selling.
They couldn’t find Helen’s ex on the day the girls visited. His aunt said he moved back to Berbice, and Helen wasn’t the first young lady to come looking for him. As the girls turned to leave in disappointment, a young man ran after them. He was tall, slim, and about 20 years old – dressed casually in a stringed vest and jeans. His handsome face beamed. He had a phone number for the missing two-timer. Did Helen want it?
No, she didn’t, it was over, but this young man seemed nice. Both girls admired his manner and friendliness. He gave them his number. Just ask for Keith, he told them, as the girls giggled and departed in better spirits than they’d arrived.
When the “phone thing” happened a couple more times, I asked Denise why it was so hard to get her. “Oh, my battery died,” she’d say, “I turned it off but forgot to turn it back on.” We have conversations here and there about the importance of me knowing she’s safe. Charge your phone at night, and you wouldn’t have that problem. I say. Denise says, “Okay, mum.” Her words comfort me, and I feel assured. That’s my reliable, considerate daughter.
Denise got use to turning off her phone after school and visiting Cedar’s yard with Helen. She had to see Keith. If she hurried, she could still start the food before her mother got home. Keith made her laugh. She liked his company, his attention and his handsome face and style. It wasn’t long before she wanted his tender touch and the strength of his warm body against hers.
“She’s a straight ‘A’ student,” I said to the girls at work one lunchtime. We were sharing family pictures on our phones. “We function as a team in our house and keep to a system.”
My colleagues listened, admired, agreed and envied. “No, I am not Super Mum,” I said. But at half-past four, when I called Denise’s cell phone again, it went to voice mail.
Keith’s once-alluring charm was quickly wearing off Denise. He was no better than Helen’s ex. “Stay a little longer, nah?” He told her as she rose to put on her skirt.
“I tired of half-hour here and ten minutes when you have time – I gan find a next girl.” She stared at his slim, tiresome body sprawled across the bed. He was always tired yet he didn’t work. Was he on drugs? As she departed, she turned and told him, “Suit yourself.”
“Where is everyone?” I asked Novell as I entered the kitchen at lunchtime. “Oh, dem girls went to the Mall,” she replied. I took a seat and unwrapped my sandwich. Novell looked serious, and a strange tension permeated the room. She began, “There’s no easy way to tell you this; I’ve seen your daughter visiting a man in Cedar’s yard; it’s the same girl in the photo…I thought you should know.” She got up then and left the room.
That day my heart broke in two. I backtracked in my mind. Where did I go wrong? There must be some mistake. Not my sweet Denise? Then I remembered the phone thing. She’s been lying to me, and I’ve been too eager to believe what she says and too busy to check up and follow through. Our relationship was never the same after that incident; I found it difficult to trust her. We are working to repair the damage, but it is a long process. [See part II in Tuesday’s edition]
If you are concerned about the welfare of a child, call the CPA hotline on 227 0979 or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
A MESSAGE FROM THE CHILDCARE AND PROTECTION AGENCY, MINISTRY OF HUMAN SERVICES AND SOCIAL SECURITY