Oleta Roberts lived with her grandmother, whom she adored. Oleta also adored her mother, but she didn’t see her very often. Oleta’s early memories were of a beautiful woman in fine clothes who smelled of the most exotic perfumes. She would appear from time to time bringing wonderful gifts and their home would be full of excitement, laughter and music until she disappeared a few days later.
Oleta grumbled to her grandmother, “Why does she have to go away all the time?”
Oleta’s grandmother held her close. “God blessed your mother with a wonderful singing voice.”
Oleta nodded. “But why does she have to go away?” she grizzled.
“She goes to far-away places to share the gift of her wonderful voice.”
“Why can’t she share her gift closer to home?” the child added, blinking away tears. She snuggled close into her grandmother’s shoulder. Grandmother was a tiny little woman with dark, almost black skin, her face wrinkled like a prune. Grandmother said she got her wrinkles from too many years of smiling. Oleta loved the soft lilt of her broad Jamaican accent.
Grandmother sighed. “Your mother sings on the cruise ships. She earns more money that way than singing round the clubs here in London. She’s a good woman, she makes sure we have a roof over our heads and food on the table.”
Oleta couldn’t remember her father at all. Shortly after starting school she asked her grandmother about him.
“He’s gone to heaven, child.”
Then the next time Oleta’s mother came home she heard the two women talking in the kitchen. She heard grandmother say that the child had asked after her father, and that she had said he’d gone to heaven. Oleta’s mother had laughed, a short, harsh cackle, before saying that he’d more likely gone to hell because that’s where she’d told the useless waste of space to go. Oleta didn’t know what to think, but she didn’t dwell on the lack of a father for too long. It wasn’t as though she needed anyone else, for her grandmother and mother filled her world. And plenty of other girls and boys at school didn’t have fathers.
Oleta was a bright student who learned quickly. She was always near the top of the class at exam time. She was a well-behaved girl with just a few close girl friends among the West Indian community. Girls from the church she attended with her grandmother. She loved to sing in the church choir, and her grandmother said that was how her mother started. Oleta hoped that one day she would become a famous singer.
One day when Oleta was fourteen her grandmother received a telephone call from the school. It was the headmistress, informing her that Oleta was among a group of girls who had been caught shoplifting that day in the local supermarket. When Oleta returned home, dragging her guilty feet like lead, she could tell that her grandmother knew, for her face was like thunder.
“Oleta, what in heaven’s name drove you to do such a thing? Don’t your mother and me give you everything you need?”
Oleta nodded, her eyes on the floor. “The others dared me to do it.”
“That’s no excuse. You better get and say your prayers, child, for God will send you to Hell on Judgement Day.”
“But Grandmother, I’m not going to die yet!” wailed Oleta.
“None of us knows when God will come calling, girl. So you got to be on your best behaviour at all times.”
That was it. From then on, Oleta buried her nose in her books and let the other kids get on with it, no matter how much they teased her for being a swot and a goodie-goodie. She left school at eighteen with a string of ‘A’ Levels and got a job in an international bank in the City of London. She started as a lowly clerk, but with hard work soon started to rise through the ranks.
The death of her grandmother hit Oleta hard, but it meant her mother came home for a while, and transferred the flat into joint tenancy between herself and Oleta. Then a few weeks later she was offered backing vocals on a world tour lasting over a year, so off she went again.
Oleta didn’t really mind, she was used to her own company. She loved to read, and was still singing in the church choir. One of the boys in the choir worked at the same bank as Oleta, and they would often travel together on the tube. Simon was a good-looking young man who cut a fine figure in his suit, and Oleta would often feel a little flutter in her heart when she caught sight of him. Was he the one?
Sometimes as they walked back to the estate from the tube station, Simon would talk to Oleta about security systems at the bank. At first she thought he was just full of big talk, but over time it became clear that he and two other lads had formulated a plan to defraud the bank of a large sum of money. Then one night he seemed very much on edge, and as soon as he got her alone he was bursting with the news.
“We’ve done it!” he whispered, looking behind him as they walked through the park. “Sixteen million pounds safely tucked away in the Bahamas. And a third of it is mine, waiting for me in an offshore account. The plan is to carry on as normal for a while, then one by one we disappear.”
Oleta really thought Simon was living in a fantasy world. She went in to work the following day, and everything was as usual. Surely if that much money had gone missing something would have been said. She avoided Simon for the rest of the week, but he turned up at church on Sunday. She was relieved that he didn’t say anything more about money in offshore accounts.
Life carried on as normal for the next three weeks, then Simon raised the subject again.
“Louis has gone. Now it’s my turn. I’m giving my notice at work tomorrow. Say you’ll come with me, Oleta.”
Oleta just stared at him. The man was crazy. But the following day she checked, and sure enough, Louis Walker had left. That night, Simon was full of plans. Fly to the Bahamas to collect some of his money, then start living the high life. Buy his own island in the Caribbean. And he wanted her to share the high life with him.
“Prove it to me, Simon Thomas. Prove to me that you have this money!” she hissed, eyes blazing.
He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, and Oleta almost passed out.
That night she slept little, turning things over in her mind. But by morning she knew what she had to do. She went to see her boss.
Having worked her month’s notice, Oleta left the bank. Her colleagues teased her, saying she was eloping with Simon, who had left the week before. But she brushed aside their taunts.
“No,” she said primly. “I’m going to Jamaica to look after my aunt. Simon’s gone off to travel the world. I probably won’t be seeing much of him in future.”
Lies, all lies. The following evening Oleta took the tube to Heathrow Airport with a small suitcase in her hand and her heart in her mouth. As the train rocked back and forth she could hear her grandmother scolding, God will be waiting for you on Judgement Day, child. And she couldn’t have felt more like a sinner, but she couldn’t help herself. There had to be more to life, and she wanted to take a chance.
On arriving at the airport Oleta released a huge sigh of relief at the sight of Simon waiting there, an easy grin on his face, and tickets in hand. Their flight was called, and as they headed for the departure gate Oleta noticed dark clouds massing in the sky. As they seated themselves on the plane heavy rain started to batter against the window, and thunder rumbled menacingly overhead. She tightened her grip on Simon’s hand. Was her Judgement Day about to wreak its revenge before their adventure had even started?
By Karenne Griffin
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015