WINNING WORDS: Tameisha's Lesson (Excerpt)

The ArtsEtc NIFCA Winning Words Anthology 2015/2016


Chapter Two
School Life

“Anna Puckering?”


“Danika Reece?”


“Tameisha Rouse?...  Tameisha Rouse?”

“She isn’t here yet, ma’am.”

“This is only the first day of the week,” Miss Jones said in annoyance. “Nearest to the church, always late for chapel.”

Tameisha was in fact sticking to her plan of hanging out by Mavis’ sweet tray. Monday and Friday mornings were full assembly, and Miss Jones often went straight to her next class without taking the form register because the morning prayers went on into the first lesson. This was not the case this Monday morning, however, but Tameisha had no way of knowing that and she was engaging Mavis in the latest happenings that had occurred over the weekend on her block.

“Girl, Mavis, the Wakes van come back for all of Shawn and Delcina’s furniture on Saturday,” she said with alacrity. “And it isn’t even Christmas yet!” (Wakes was one of the leading furniture stores on the island.)

Mavis was a plump, dark woman in her late sixties who had sold sugar-cakes and sweets at this same spot for as long as Tameisha could remember. Mavis had taken a liking to the skinny, outspoken girl who as an infant had walked to school on her own after the first week, without any adult accompaniment. Now Tameisha was fourteen, and she and Mavis were as thick as glue. Mavis handed her a sugar-cake, which she consumed greedily without saying thanks. Neither party considered it to be bad manners.

“It serves them right,” Mavis said in response to Tameisha’s latest piece of gossip. “They always trying to live above their means. But you saw when it happened?”

“Yes” came the reply. “I was going by my father when the van pulled up and Delcina pretended that something was wrong with the furniture and that they had to return it. But everybody already knew the truth. Apparently, it was a new salesgirl at the store who didn’t know anything about those two, and she sold them the furniture by mistake. I hear they can’t take anything hire purchase from Wakes again.” 

The pair talked on until nine fifteen, whereupon Mavis told Tameisha that she should probably get off to school. Tameisha could not see the point. She only went to school because her mother made her go and, as far as she was concerned, her mother only sent her because she did not want the truancy officer at her door. That had happened once when the twins were younger and Clovis had kept Tameisha at home at regular intervals to look after them. The truancy officer was so stern and unsmiling that Clovis was afraid that he would make good on his promise and haul her before the authorities. After that, she never kept any of her children out of school unless they were ill.

“Hold some gel for me until next week,” Tameisha told Mavis as she finally moved away. “Leandra used up all the one at home, and I got blamed for it…as usual.”

Aside from sweets and sugar-cakes, the old lady also kept a supply of gel which often graced the school bags of many of the girls who added lip gloss, shoe polish and a brush to their school supplies. Occasionally, a textbook or an exercise book was added.

“Alright, sweets,” Mavis said, smiling. “Hurry up. It’s half past now. You don’t want to get lashes.”

“Who? Somebody could hit me?” Tameisha asked. “I’d go to the Ministry for them. We have rights, you know. They can’t hit us anymore.”

Mavis laughed. “You go along,” she said.


As it turned out, when Tameisha got to the school gate, the prefects were taking the names of the latecomers, and she was sent directly to the headmaster’s office. She was not afraid of him, though, and she looked him squarely in the face and her head jerked sideways on her shoulders as she told him in no uncertain terms that she had to take her siblings to school.

The burly headmaster knew his pupils well. “Miss Rouse,” he said sternly. “Don’t you live in the Pine?”


“And don’t your brother and sisters go to Pine Primary School?”


“So do you mind telling me why you have to walk them to a school that is only a few hundred yards from their doorstep? And even if you did take them, would it make you over an hour late?”

Tameisha looked chastened.

“Answer me, child!” Mr Brathwaite thundered. The girl glared at him nastily and swallowed back a tart reply. She hated them all. All these teachers thought that they knew everything and were always on about manners and punctuality and homework. She hated the whole lot of them and vowed that she would never be a teacher. And when she grew up, she would not persecute her own children if they didn’t want to go to school or do homework or get out of bed. She would be a modern parent, and she was going to plait hair for a living. Everybody said how good she was, and she often plaited her friends’ hair in the classroom during lunch time or in-between lessons—sometimes even during lessons—which the teachers seemed to have a problem with!

I sure hope he doesn’t call my mother, Tameisha was thinking now. I’d rather get lashes first. In spite of the sassy reply she had given Mavis when she had told her about getting to school on time to avoid lashes, Tameisha knew full well that the headmaster and senior teachers could administer blows. She would rather those than see her mother’s face and hear

her railing at home if she had to come to the school because of her daughter’s indiscretions.

“Are you doing any work in class?” Mr Brathwaite asked. “Who’s your form teacher?”

“Miss Jones, sir,” came the reply. “And yessir, I do my school work.”

“There don’t seem to be many books in that bag,” Mr Brathwaite said, eyeing her bag. She hoped that he would not look inside. In fact, in her haste that morning, she had forgotten to pack any school books. There was a CD by 50 Cent for her best friend, Janelle, and a comb…and that was all. There was no lunch, either, because when she had been by her father to get lunch money that weekend, he told her that he had not been paid that week, so Clovis could not buy any food. Whereas the twins and Leandra would receive school meals at their primary school, the secondary schools did not issue lunch, and Tameisha would have to rely on her friends, go hungry or go to the office and inform them that she had no lunch. The last was not a joy as she did not like the secretary, who seemed to look at you as though you were a worm and she was an exterminator.

“I’ve been hearing that you don’t do any work at all,” Mr Brathwaite stated. “In fact I hear that your class is rather unruly. You’re in 3P, right?”

Tameisha nodded sullenly.

“Well, let me tell you something. All of you who traipsed in here late are getting lashes this morning,” the headmaster said. “Go and call the others.”

Tameisha felt herself sigh with relief. She ducked her head out the door and summoned the fifteen children who were crowding out the small office space that the secretary and stenographer occupied. A parent waiting with a baby in arms sucked her teeth in annoyance.

“Why you all always getting to school so late?” she asked in disgust. “I want you all to know that I had an appointment for nine o’clock. You children are too disgusting, though!”

A young boy shot her an evil look and brushed past her.

“I hope your tail gets roasted!” the woman said and turned away in a huff. The sound of the strap hitting bottoms was satisfaction enough for her, but she had no way of knowing that the extra shorts many of the boys and girls wore beneath their uniforms eased much of the sting.


The sun was halfway up the sky by the time Tameisha left the office to find her class. They were on the second form block that morning and would be there for a double lesson. When she entered, Mr Reiffer, the Spanish teacher, was barely contending with the unruly behaviour of the hormonally hyped third formers. No one was taking him seriously. In fact, the boys were continuing a long-standing tradition of poking fun at his name. They alluded to the reefers which some of the more wayward boys smoked at the back of the school or on weekends among their friends and asked Mr Reiffer if he had any joints handy. Tameisha could hear Janelle telling a girl next to her about the school being banned from minibus B1999 because of misconduct of the worst kind reported to have taken place on board last Friday.

Poor Mr Reiffer finally threw down his board cleaner in disgust and walked out of the form room, his whiskers bristling. The children called after him in dismay. They would have him know that it was his job to teach them, and they could not learn if he left the classroom.

“You should have thought of that before you started playing the idiot,” he said.

“He called us idiots!” someone declared.

“Who’s a bigger idiot than you?” Tameisha shouted loudly as she rushed to the door to laugh at the Spanish teacher’s retreating figure. It was going to be a good day after all, she thought. Who needed to do Spanish, anyway? And with that she settled down to chat with her friends and give Janelle the CD that she had brought for her.

Chapter Three
The Turning Point

Life would have gone on pretty much the same for Tameisha if she had not entered the library that afternoon. She did not even know what really possessed her to go. The  library was not really one of her favourite places. The sight of all the books overwhelmed her and made her feel that she was not really accomplishing much in the way of academic stuff. However, that afternoon during the lunch break, there had been a speaker who came to talk about doing hair. She came to the Inter-School Christian Fellowship, and although Tameisha did not consider herself to be a Christian by any stretch of the imagination, she certainly wanted to hear what the woman had to say. Sometimes interesting things happened at that club—like the time they had a film festival and served popcorn. After that, Tameisha went to all but two of the movies because they weren’t bad and the popcorn was free.

“A lot of you think that plaiting hair or doing hair is all there is to it,” Tameisha heard the speaker say. “But there’s the business side as well. You can be the best hairdresser, but if you don’t know how to manage your money, you won’t do well for yourself.”

Manage money? Tameisha thought. She hardly had money, and what little ever came her way was promptly spent on food, gel and clothes. She had never heard her mother talk about “managing money,” either, so this was new to her. Nonetheless, the hairdresser standing up at the front of the room looked pretty well put together, and after surveying her stylish braids, French nails and matching shirt and slacks, Tameisha found that she wanted to know more. Maybe she could be a stylish hairdresser. She thought of Sheldene, who had a hairdressing salon at the corner of her block. It was nothing fancy, as she also worked during the day at a beauty parlour, but when she came home on evenings, Sheldene opened up the side of her house to reveal a wash basin and two hair dryers. It was there that Tameisha got her hair pressed as a little girl, and that was where she first got her hair straightened. Now she wore a very low natural cut because there was no money to pay for much else.

“As black people, we are not proud enough of our heritage,” Barbie was saying. Tameisha did not catch her real name but

decided that she had the fancy look of a Barbie doll, and the name stuck in her mind. 

“How many of you know who Madame C.J. Walker was?” Barbie asked. “Who ever heard of Headie or Irene Wiltshire here at home in our own Barbados? Who knows about Carmen Agard?” The blank faces said everything, but one brave soul put her hand up. 

 “Carmen Agard started Carmen’s School of Cosmetology,” said the bespectacled girl. “She is a very successful hairdresser and businesswoman. I don’t know who the other women are, though. I think I might have heard my grandmother talk about Headie at one time, but I don’t remember what she said.”

Barbie nodded in approval. There was a disruption somewhere at the front of the room by the door when a knot of boys going down the corridor attempted to taunt those in the room and the speaker paused briefly. Tameisha’s mind wandered from there, but later that same afternoon she found herself going to the library to find out about Madame C.J. Walker. The librarian was pleasantly surprised to see her.

“Tameisha, what brings you up here?” she asked in her husky voice. “Don’t you have a class now?”

“We have games now, Mrs Belgrave,” Tameisha replied. “They wouldn’t let the girls who didn’t have games clothes today play in the netball match.” Seeing the librarian’s quizzical look, she added: “I forgot mine at home today.”

“So you just came up here to hang out?” Mrs Belgrave asked goodnaturedly. Tameisha liked the librarian. If she did not hate books and reading so much, she would hang out up here, but the books were a turn off.

“Well, I wanted to check something in the encyclopedia,” Tameisha confessed. She felt a bit embarrassed. She did not know how to use the encyclopedia. She had skipped class when they had the library session in first form by pretending to be ill. Mrs Belgrave was only too willing to help. She even told Tameisha that Headie and Irene Wiltshire were two of Barbados’ top hairdressers in the early Seventies. 

“They were so popular that their salons would be packed on Saturdays, and women would take their little children, who would sit on the floor reading magazines while the mothers waited their turn to have their hair done,” Mrs Belgrave said.

When Tameisha discovered that Madame C.J. Walker was an American who had invented a hair grease and comb to press hair and that this was the precursor to hair straightener, she was very surprised. It was not so much by the fact that this was a black woman as by the thought of there being a time when there was no hair pressing or hair relaxing. These practices, in her fourteen-year-old estimation, were like the beauty salons—always there. Yes, you got your hair pressed as a little girl, but you always knew that when you hit twelve, your mother would straighten your hair. Who knew that there was a time when there was no hair pressing or straightening?

“There are so many things that were not always here,” Mrs Belgrave told Tameisha. “If you read a bit more, you’d be surprised at what you would find out.” She showed the young girl a neatly bound history book complete with pictures and maps. 

“Why don’t you entertain yourself with this for the afternoon?” she said. “I have some cataloging to do right now.”


The library was unusually empty that afternoon. Usually, upper-school students who had free periods would be there chatting or reading magazines. Then it would be a noisy affair and nothing like what Tameisha heard libraries were supposed to be like. She took the book and pulled up a chair by one of the windows at the back of the room. It was impossible to tell that she was there because the bookshelf hid her.

The afternoon air blew cool through the window, and Tameisha found herself nodding off. She was reading about the plantations of Barbados and remembered thinking that she would have to tell somebody off if they made her work in the hot sun all day like that. She heard a rustling noise and turned her head in surprise to see a small girl in rather ill-fitting clothes staring at her with startled concern.

Tameisha sat up straight and looked around her. She was no longer in her green school uniform. She was not in the library, either. There was a great deal of grass and canes around her, and strange sounds of animals’ cries and people’s voices.

“I thought you wasn’t going to wake up!” the girl said.

“What? Who? Where…?” Tameisha could only manage to splutter uncontrollably.

“You bin lying there half the afternoon,” the girl said, and then she gestured to Tameisha’s head. “You was pon the treadmill that they cut you hair so short?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Tameisha said. “I must be dreaming. I was reading a book in the library at school.”

At the mention of the word “school,” the young girl’s eyes grew large with wonder and then something very much like fear.

“You go to school?” she asked. She squeezed the hem of her rough dress and released it to rub her head. “Massa won’t let my mother send me to school. He say that she would have to pay him, but he don’t really give her any money for working the land. They say that we is free now, but things int really change much. You does go to that school in town?”

“What are you talking about?” Tameisha asked. “It’s illegal to stay out of school. I should know, because my mother tried that once. And yes, my school is near enough to town, if you like. Who are you calling ‘Massa,’ anyway? You think this is slavery or something?”

The young girl gave a dry chuckle, and Tameisha felt as though she was looking at her for the first time. She was a small girl with full lips and large eyes. She wore her hair in four cornrows, and a sadness seemed to pervade her being. Something about her eyes disturbed Tameisha immensely.

“You wasn’t just sleeping, you like you get knock down or something,” she said to Tameisha. “You know it’s only three years since slavery end, too. Which plantation you come from, anyway? I never seen you around here.”

“I’m from the Pine! The Pine!” Tameisha snapped. “I don’t come from any plantation. I am not a slave. Never was, never will be!”

“Let me help you up,” the girl said. She gave Tameisha a funny look and then said: “I don’t know what happened to you, but this is Pine Plantation, and I can’t say that I ever see you bout here before.”

“Hit me! Hit me hard!” Tameisha shouted. This was something they did at home when the other person was acting strange or not feeling like themselves. She scrambled to her feet without assistance and looked about her frantically.

“Come, I going take you to Josephine,” the girl said kindly. “She would know what to do. Maybe you just hungry. If you run way, you don’t have to be frighten. A lot of children walking way these days because there int nobody to look after them. But old Jo does look after all of us children. Come.”

Tameisha looked around her. The school was gone, and instead of the familiar sights and sounds that she knew, her head spun with the sound of animals and the heavy scent of khus-khus grass. They were walking along a dirt path, and many men and women dressed in the same type of ill-fitting clothing as the young girl were walking with hoes on their shoulders. No one smiled, and there was a heaviness in the air that the young Tameisha had never experienced before. Wherever this was, she hoped that she would wake up soon. This dream was feeling all too real; but, try as she might, she could not seem to shake herself from the reverie.

ZOANNE EVANS (Bronze, 2015) has been entering the NIFCA literary arts competition since 2002. In 2015, she launched a colouring/activity book to raise funds for Kids in Action, a children’s charity she started in 1998. Currently, she works as a writing instructor for children.