Shirley’s New Roommate by Verdanci Benta

[2004 Young Explorer Wadadli Youth Pen Prize Third Placed Overall and Best Under 12 Writer]

Verdanci accepts her prize package from Wadadli Pen coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse

Shirley was a short, fat, dark-skinned young woman in her early twenties. The thing about Shirley was that she was the village gossip. Shirley knew everybody’s private business such as where so and so was last night and who slept with whom last night. Shirley could also tell who borrowed their best friend’s tights to wear at the party last night.

But what really made Shirley the talk of the village was the fact that she always seemed to move from rented house to rented house. My grandmother used to say, “That girl Shirley for Daphne, God bless her soul, is like a rolling stone.” But Shirley never stopped moving.

I used to think that my grandmother and other villagers painted Shirley black because every time I saw Shirley she was in a jolly mood, always joking with the men and the bus-drivers. She seemed to have a lot of male friends and they all always seemed to have a message for her every time they saw her.

I used to think that since Shirley came to live in our neighbourhood that it had become much livelier. Her frequent arguments with her lovers, her quarrelling with her roommates and her cursing with her landlord, Mr. Harvey, gave me something exciting to look forward to.

Sometimes she would ask my mother to let her little son, Gavin, come to play wit me or sometimes she would ask me to stay on the gallery with Gavin when she went to town. On her return from town, she would give me sweet treats like cookies and toffees.

My mother and the other neighbours always said nasty things about Shirley behind her back. They usually remarked about the way she earned her living. Well, Shirley never went out to look for work as most of the other young women in the village. She seemed content staying home and she seemed to do well. They said that she had the habit of getting money from foolish men.

When things got hard, she would get a young woman, usually a desperate one who was in need of shelter, to live with her in order to share the rent. But when things got well with her, she would do all in her power to get her roommates out so that she could get her privacy.

So, when the Jamaican young woman, Bev, came to live with Shirley, the neighbours knew that it would not be for too long. It was nearing Christmas and Mr. Harvey, the landlord, was threatening to put Shirley out of the house because she owed him three months’ rent.

Bev moved in one Sunday night. Bev was a tall, sexy-looking, fair-skinned woman, also in her early twenties. Her hair was a good length, but I was not sure it was real or natural. Bev immediately made friends with everyone in the neighbourhood and became the focus of attention of the young men. Not long after Bev arrived, she put up a sign that said, “Get your tastee Jamaican Jerk pork and bar-b-q chicken.” From that time the Rosy Alley no longer was a quiet place, especially on Saturday evenings when Bev set up her barbecue grill. Bev sometimes teased Shirley by saying, “The way to a man’s pocket is through his belly!”

The men who used to be friendly with Shirley had now befriended Bev. My mother told my grandmother one evening, “I wonder how long that friendship going to last.”

My grandmother answered, “As long as Shirley can get money to pay her rent!”

But my mother was not too sure about that because she said that Bev was competing with Shirley for boyfriends. Everyone waited eagerly for a grand showdown between Shirley and Bev. But that did not happen soon enough. Instead, one day, Shirley put up a sign on the house that said, “Hair braiding done hair.” Nobody had expected anything like that because Shirley was not known to have done any such work before. Well, according to my grandmother, “Trouble make water go uphill.” And Shirley did not let Bev keep her down. The news of Shirley’s new job spread like wildfire and in no time, men, boys, women and children all came to Shirley to have their hair done.

So, on one house there were two signs advertising two different types of services offered by two different women who lived in that same house. Rosy Alley was a centre of activity both nigh and day as cars lined both sides of the road as clients went in and out of Shirley’s yard.

Meanwhile, Bev started behaving strangely. She stopped greeting Shirley when she woke up in the mornings and she stopped walking on Shirley’s side of the house. She started telling people that Shirley was lazy.

One morning, when Shirley came home from shopping in town, she was met in the yard by Mr. Harvey, who told her that he had come to change the locks on Bev’s bedroom door. Shirley was surprised but she could not do anything about that because it was Mr. Harvey’s house and he had the right to do anything with his house. Later that same day Shirley was again surprised to find a new girl sitting in her living room. When asked who she was and what she was doing there, the girl rudely answered that it was no business of hers. Well, Shirley flew into a rage and called the police.

When the police arrived, they met Bev at the door and made some inquiries. Shirley was advised to get Bev out to avoid any further trouble because it was Bev who had invited the girl into the house. After the police left, an argument broke out between Bev and Shirley and Mr. Harvey was called in to settle the matter. He said that he had nothing to say because he had no power to tell Shirley whom to live with. The neighbours waited for more fireworks because Bev had told Shirley that she was not going to move out.

The following day, Shirley took down her hairbraiding sign and started packing her things into boxes and bags. Bev, in the meantime, was busy seasoning up her chicken and pork for the night’s sale. As Shirley was about to leave the yard, Mr. Harvey’s pickup was coming into Rosy Alley. He did not look at nor say hello to Shirley as he used to do before. When Shirley looked back, she saw Mr. Harvey’s pickup parked at Bev’s gap. On his shoulders was a bag of charcoals and he was heading for the barbecue grill.



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