Every time there was an impending threat of a hurricane, Jamaicans would converge on the nearest supermarket, wholesale or corner shop to stock up on food items and provisions in anticipation of the possibility of basic necessities becoming scarce. This was sometimes the case when factories and distribution companies remained closed due to lack of electricity or water or staff shortage after the storm had passed.
It took more than ten minutes before the security guard allowed another batch of persons to enter the supermarket. Mummy held on tight to Junior’s hand and pushed her way to the front making sure that they got in. Junior was surprised to see that the place looked like a circus! The aisles were packed with so many people bustling about that from where he stood by the entrance, it was impossible for him to see the shelves. The lines at the cashiers were as long as anacondas and almost everyone had big trolleys half-full and in many instances, nearly overflowing, with goods that they were waiting to pay for. It reminded him of Hope Road during Carnival or Festival Road March.
“Okay, Junior,” Mummy looked down at him as she eased her way between two women who were engaged in a heated quarrel and grabbed three baskets. “Yuh need to stay close to mi. There’s so many people in this place, yuh could get lost!”
“Yes, Mummy,” Junior answered as he held onto the hem of his mother’s red cotton blouse with one hand and clutched the handle of the blue, plastic basket she had passed to him with the other.
Nearly three hours later they emerged from the supermarket. Junior felt like he had just fought a battle in World War II. Mummy’s hair was a mess, sweat rolled down her face and her blouse clung wetly to her back and chest.
But their mission had been a success. They had gotten all the items Mummy wanted as well as everything on Ma Lou’s list.
Junior carried two large, black scandal bags that contained their neighbour’s groceries. They were very heavy and already the plastic was starting to cut into the joints of his fingers. Inside were three cans of Brunswick sardines, three cans of Grace corned beef, three cans of Grace Chunky Jack mackerel, three cans of tuna, two cans of Betty condensed milk, one jar of Blue Mountain coffee, one loaf of National sliced whole wheat bread (the kind that Junior hated), ten pounds of brown rice, ten pounds of whole wheat flour and fifteen pounds of brown sugar.
There was a pack of Comet matches and three packs of Duracell batteries. Junior knew Ma Lou wanted these to operate her radio when the light was switched off. Mummy had also picked up some for their Sony boom box as well. Then there was a pound of salt fish, a pound of salt mackerel, a pound of salt beef, a pound of salt pork and a pack of sea salt – Junior had raised an eyebrow questioningly when he saw that item. Sea salt? He never knew that people ate salt that came directly from the ocean. When Junior had asked Mummy why Ma Lou was buying so much salty meat, she explained that it was because they were “cured”. That means they did not need refrigeration and would not spoil when the electricity went off.
And, there was also a roll of cellophane plastic – Mummy said that Ma Lou would use that to wrap and secure her important documents. But Mummy did not need to get plastic for that purpose. They had a big metal box, which was always kept locked, in which she kept birth certificates, her passport, marriage certificate, the certificates from school with her credentials, the land title, passbooks for the bank accounts, the contracts for their life insurance policies, health insurance cards, Junior’s school records and Immunization Card and even receipts for all the furniture in the house. And, finally, there was a big bottle of kerosene oil that Junior carried in his next hand.
Mummy had made a lot more purchases than Ma Lou had. Her goods filled three large plastic bags and included similar items. In addition though, Mummy had bought two large bottles of spring water. That was for them to drink when the public water supply was turned off. And, she had also purchased new wicks for the lamps, a new lantern and a medium sized flashlight.
Junior was glad when a taxi man who had been camped out in the parking lot of the plaza, came rushing over to them.
“Taxi, sweet lady?” he asked.
Mummy had barely nodded before the man was taking the large blue-and-white plastic bottles of Pure Catherine’s Peak Spring Water from her grasp and rushing over to a white Nissan Sunny motor car.
Junior placed his bags into the car trunk and exhaled with relief. He was not sure he would have been able to carry all that stuff all the way to the bus stop.
The place remained overcast until Mummy and Junior reached home. No sooner had they stepped into the house than the pregnant nimbus clouds burst and the rain came pouring down in torrents.
Mummy turned on the small TV set, which she kept on the kitchen counter to see if she could see any weather updates as Junior began to unpack the merchandise.
Within twenty minutes, a bulletin came on. The island had been placed under a Hurricane Warning. “Fisheries” – Mummy explained to Junior that this meant fishermen – “and other marine interests” were being cautioned to exercise discretion. That meant they were being asked to think carefully before they acted. So, if a fisherman wanted to go out and catch fish but he saw the rain falling, it was his responsibility to decide if it would be wise for him to do so knowing that he could get swept away.
Persons living in “flood-prone and low-lying areas” were being urged to evacuate – Mummy said that meant “leave their homes to go to a shelter or stay with relatives who lived in communities situated on higher ground”. And a representative from the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management was telling people to stock up on “non-perishable food items” and plenty drinking water.
Junior had already learnt that non-perishable foods were food that would not rot if they were not put into the refrigerator. Back at the supermarket, Mummy had told him that when he asked why she and Ma Lou were buying so many ‘tin things’ that day. The salted meats fell into the same category.
Junior got a chair and stood on it so that he could reach the food cupboard. “Mummy, guess what? Maybe wi could give Papa P some of these things!” he said. “He probably don’t have anything to eat and this is a lot of food for just me and you.”
Mummy smiled at him. Sometimes he really surprised her. “It’s nice to know that you’re being considerate of others, Junior! But, Papa P is old and he has difficulty opening tins – his fingers don’t function well because of his arthritis. So, guess what? I will cook and take dinner for him until this whole thing blow over. In the meantime though, yuh can take this pack of raisin bread, a pack of tough crackers, this butter and three instant coffee for him. All right?”
“All right, Mummy,” Junior grinned as his mother reached out and rubbed his head with pride. “Soon as the rain stop, a will take them around!”
Copyright © September 2011 by Mandisa M. Parnell