Miss Jemima McIntyre was extremely upset. Furious, in fact. How dare that dreadlocks Rasta bwoy come call her African? She with her high colour, straight hair and European features! She, whose great-grandfather had been a Scottish laird, and grandfather a planterclass Jamaican who owned vast acreage.
It wasn’t her fault that her white mother had chosen to marry a mulatto man, against the wishes of her family. And when he had run off with another woman, leaving her mother with two young children to raise, with no help from her family who had cut her off, Jemima knew it was the black half of her father that made him act that way.
But even though she got one quarter of black genes from her worthless father, the other three quarters were absolutely pure, unadulterated white. Huh! African indeed! The bwoy was an idiot.
Miss Jem’s mother had instilled in her that, even though they had been reduced to the lowly status of having to ‘keep shop’ in order to survive, she must never forget that she was of aristocratic stock and must conduct herself at all times with that in mind. She had lived by these precepts all her life and at 73 years of age was too old to change her way of thinking.
And now this Rasta bwoy with his knotted up, matted rope of hair on top of his head come telling her that if she only have one teaspoon of black blood in her, she is African! But after all!
Miss Jemima kissed her teeth in outrage, straightened her aristocratic back and glared at the Rasta man from behind her shop counter and her bifocals. “Young man,” she boomed in her English educated voice, “it would serve you well were you to go and trim your hair and beard, bathe your body and change your clothes, instead of coming into my shop and telling me that I am African. I know my own family history better than you do, and I can assure you, I am of the Scottish aristocracy.”
In fact the young man’s clothes did not need changing, as Miss Jem noticed belatedly. He was neatly dressed in clean denim jeans and a spotlessly white tee-shirt with a picture of Haile Selassie emblazoned on the front. His long dreadlocks were neatly tied behind his head and his beard was hardly more than a five o’clock shadow. But Miss Jem did not notice this initially. She only saw a dreadlocked Rasta man who had been insolent enough to suggest that she was not only black, but African to boot.
The young Rastafarian man looked her in the eye and refused to back down. “Are you trying to deny your bloodlines, Miss Jem? My grandmother tells me that your father was a mulatto, half black and half white; that makes you at least one quarter black.” Miss Jem looked at the young man in part anger, part perplexity. She was slightly intimidated; this young man looked like a Rastafarian but spoke like an educated person, and he had a way of looking directly into her eyes which was most disconcerting. She was used to people like him treating her with the respect that befitted her station, and not thinking they were equals with her. But this young man not only seemed to believe he was her equal, he actually gave the impression that he thought he was superior!
Pushing her feelings of intimidation aside, she glared at him and said, “Now look here, I am well aware of my bloodlines as you call it, and as for your grandmother, she was my mother’s servant, and too fast and feisty by far. She has no business discussing my family history with you. Now take your purchase and your change and remove yourself from my shop!”
She slammed a bulla cake on a piece of brown paper, a bottle of cream soda and some coins onto the shop counter and turned her back. The young Rastafarian vacated the shop, calling out as he left, “One Love, Miss African Jem.”
Miss Jem sat down on the stool she kept behind the counter. She was more upset than the situation warranted. Why did that boy’s grandmother have to dip her mouth in people’s business? No one looking at Miss Jem or her sister Bridie could tell that they had a taint of black blood in them. The people in the district looked up to them and treated them with the respect that befitted their station. But now this old servant woman of her mother’s had to go and divulge the dirty secret.