He had repeated his School Certificate a second time, and obtained five credits as against the only one he had managed at the first attempt. When his mother had gone to fetch the results – father did not always come along, because of his working hours – the class teacher told her that Alex (short for Alexander Clifford as he was registered in his birth certificate, along with the family name) was an intelligent boy, but that his mind was always elsewhere, distracted, and that is why he could not concentrate on his studies. Mother was advised to be firmer with him and make sure he was more focused when it came to doing his homework.
It was far from easy for her to do so for as a mother of five children, despite the fact that the three older ones, all daughters, were already married. She had a more difficult time handling the two remaining boys compared to bringing up her daughters, who had grown up at a time when the disruptive winds of modernity had not quite reached our shores. They had been relatively more obedient, more homely and their adolescent spurts had been relatively mild.
Not so with the two boys, especially Alex. When they were smaller, they happily held her hand and walked with her to attend Sunday morning mass, after which of course they were rewarded with French pastries. As they grew older, they felt shy of being seen holding mother’s hands – and bye-bye to Sunday mass for them! Mother had to deliver the pastries to them at home, and mostly they were still in bed when she would be back.
Alex was already too interested in the opposite sex, besides spending hours at computer games instead of concentrating on his schoolwork. With more shouting than cajoling, however, his mother managed to keep him off bad company and steered him through his first year of Higher School Certificate. Willy-nilly, he reached the end of the year and sat for the examinations. But he kept pestering his mother when he was in the third term, telling her that he was not interested in studies, and that he wanted to be done with college. He was more keen on getting a job.
In fact during the school holidays for the past two years, he had been working at laying tiles with Vishal, whom he had befriended and who was older to him, staying not far away in the neighbourhood. Vishal was a small time contractor, and needed hands such as Alex’s. It must be said that Alex had grown into a strapping young lad, towering above his mother, but also had a very friendly nature. He played football regularly, which sharpened his good appetite, so that by the by he had developed a strong physique. Although she would have preferred that he devoted more time to his books, his mother felt nevertheless reassured that at least he was engaged in a healthy occupation with someone trustworthy. Besides, he was also earning some good pocket money, and could thus cater to some of his growing demands – such as brand shirts or shoes – which the parents could not quite meet from their earnings.
One of his brothers-in-law was in the Police Force, and gradually Alex began to feel that he would also like to join it. And so it was that shortly after his first year HSC exams were over, he responded to the call for police recruits by filling in the forms and submitting them. His mother did not deter him from doing so, taking a philosophical view of the matter. To his great elation, Alex was called for interview, and his brother-in-law gave him some valuable advice about how to behave himself and how to go about answering. In due course he received a letter to go for his medical examination; apparently there was a little issue with his heart, and he had to attend for another examination at the hospital. This got the mother worried that he might not make it. They did not have any ‘connections’.
But good news came a few days after Christmas: two policemen came looking for him, and upon asking for his address from neighbours, they faced some blank stares: a couple of times, some guys had been hauled up in this cité by policemen, and hence the reluctance on the part of those who had been asked. But they finally located his home, and delivered the letter of recruitment to Alex in person.
No need to say that there was great joy in the family, it was a real cadeau banané that had come their way for Alex. As was to be expected, he was ecstatic, And then came the summons to attend at Line Barracks. Mother accompanied him, and she did so too when he was selected for the SMF and had to present himself at the Gymkhana grounds in Vacoas.
* * *
After the briefing session, Alex came home with a list of things that were needed. Besides items of personal clothing and toiletry, he had to get a trunk in which to keep his wares during his training period. His mother called her sister who lives in Ste Croix, and fixed up with her to do the shopping in Port Louis. His youngest brother-in-law’s uncle was a retired police officer, and gladly agreed to lend the trunk that he had himself used and that he had preciously kept since. It was spruced up appropriately, and Alex’s name carefully painted on it.
His maternal grandmother, as well as her cousin-sister who had come over from Canada and another one living in Beau Bassin had come to stay for a few days after the New Year. On the morning that he was to report to the SMF last week, a van belonging to the nephew of the grandma from Canada was hired, in particular because of the trunk that had to be carried. His sister and her policeman husband, the three grandmas, a sister of his mother, his younger brother and another cousin travelled with him to Vacoas. There were tearful partings when the moment came for him to leave, although he was going to be there for only two nights since he would be coming home on Thursday evening as Friday last was a public holiday.
His other two sisters, several aunties and uncles had called up to wish him well that morning. Vishal and his wife dropped by to do so too, accompanied by a big hug because he was ‘losing’ a good help – but was only too happy that Alex was embarking on a definitive career. He thought back to the time when he also had decided he was not interested in formal studies, but here he was now he told his young friend, well settled with family and friends in a congenial enough neighbourhood.
* * *
When Alex came back on Thursday evening, he was greeted like a hero. His favourite meal had been prepared, and everyone wanted to hear about what had happened in the past two days. He answered all their questions without any sign of irritation. Mother found in him a new attitude, something more mature.
There were some more preparations to do for him, and his mother did everything with great care and affection.
As he was leaving early on Saturday morning, he told his mother to go to the college on the Monday and collect his results slip. He had made up his mind, he said to her, that he was going to study privately and take his A-levels in due course. Because the lad learned that if he studied further he would have better chances of promotion in future.
As he left through the front after giving his mother a kiss, she stood looking as he disappeared around the bend, then went in, gently wiping a tear…
* Published in print edition on 24 January 2014