One Sunday in 1993, I was invited to dinner by my cousin and his then girlfriend. Having a proper Jamaican Sunday dinner was a rare treat for me back then as I had recently moved into my flat, was pregnant and living alone. Slaving away over the cooker for hours on end making chicken and rice and peas for 1.5 people was not only a time consuming effort, it was also expensive. Sheena loved to cook, she was a good cook and getting out of that half decorated, barely furnished flat and in some fun loving company was a bonus.
Being the popular couple that they were, Paul and Sheena’s house always had people flitting in and out at any given moment. On that Sunday, Gavin Harding was one of the visitors who invited himself to dinner. It had been a long time since I’d seen Gavin, but I instantly remembered him. That beanpole frame, the stark features set amongst his jet black skin and that mouth full of big cranky teeth were unforgettable. He didn’t recognise me, I was a young girl when he had seen me last, now I was a pregnant young adult. When Paul told Gavin who my mother was he rolled off a few tales of my antics as a youth (none that connected my memories) and made idle chit-chat.
According to previous adult conversations that I wasn’t supposed to be listening to, the word was Gavin had serious mental health issues and a violent temper that had led him to be taken away (sectioned) from his family for a number of years. He was recently back on the scene in Cov, catching up with familiar faces, one of them being Paul’s. Although his voice was overbearingly loud and his rants about the youth of his day compared to the youths in the 90s seemed a little patronising, Gavin’s presence didn’t really bother me. I’d been around enough people with mental issues not to be judgemental and if Paul and Sheena had him in their home, around their young son, he had to be alright didn’t he?
I can’t remember too much of how that night panned out but I know the food was good, tunes were pumping from the stereo and jokes were running free, especially when Karen, another face I hadn’t seen in a while turned up. Karen was a bubbly girl and had been my one-time smoking buddy, in the years when we were too young to have been smoking. I’d only been back in Cov little over a year so to reminisce on some good times in the past was enlightening. I even invited Karen to come up to my flat some time before I had the baby so we could catch up more.
Two days later, early in the evening as I watching something on the TV, there was a heavy knocking on my front door which slightly startled me because most of my visitors had to use the outside intercom to gain entrance into the block. The shock of seeing Gavin’s face when I opened the door put me on a paranoia. I never gave him my address, nor did I invite him to come and see me but it soon became clear to me that he must’ve been eavesdropping when I gave Karen my address and directions to get there. Inviting himself into my flat he instantly developed an authoritative pace as he strolled through every room checking out the décor, telling me about the similar flat he had years ago in the same area, blah, blah, blah. I was more than uncomfortable but how could I tell this guy who I hardly knew but was a friend of the family, that I wanted him to leave my flat? What would his reaction be? Thankfully he was “just passing by” before checking out a club in town. It might have been just under or over an hour that he was in my flat but it felt much longer as a cyclone of dark thoughts circled in my head. Before leaving he invited himself to come back again soon and offered his hand in helping me complete the decorating. I politely declined insisting I had someone already helping me, locking the door fast behind him, determined he would never enter my home again and thanking God repeatedly for allowing any situation to escalate.
Later that night, in the early hours of Wednesday morning I was awoken by the intercom buzzer. I knew it was Gavin before he somehow made it into the block, pounding at my door and shouting my name through the letterbox. I remember hearing my heart thump into the mattress and the gulp of saliva struggling to ease down my throat. I can now say the fool was out of his mind thinking I’d let him in my home at that hour, but back then I lay silently stiff in that bed shit scared. Mobiles weren’t in the circuit then and I didn’t have a landline phone. In a phrase that my grandmother often uses, it was only ‘me one, and God’ and in that moment, hearing the anger and frustration in his voice, my fear was stronger than my faith. He finally gave up and fucked off, stomping down the corridor, bashing the communal doors. I just lay frozen, thankful yet again, but unable to sleep.
Paul and Sheena found it all hilarious when I relived the nightmare to them… “Gavin nah go do you nuttin…” “He’s just looking a friend innit, and you’re a single girl with a baby on the way. He wants to look after you”. Their jesting did not raise a laugh from me and I let them know that I didn’t want to be his friend nor have him beating down my door at all hours like he was my man. In fact, I never wanted to see his face or hear his name again. I had a bad feeling about Gavin and sensed things weren’t gonna end well if we bucked up into each other. When you get that gut instinct that someone or something isn’t right, it’s always wise to follow it. A friend answered the door on Gavin’s next and final visit. She told him I wasn’t home as I cowered in the bathroom and he rambled some nonsense message to pass on to me. Paul also had words with him to back off which further nerved me. Now Gavin not only knew I was awake when he was beating down my door, he knew I wasn’t interested and scared of him.
To be fair, despite his boldness and over friendliness, Gavin hadn’t made a pass at me or vocally expressed having feelings for me. Suppose he was just being friendly in his own unique way I wondered, and my harsh rejection had stirred up some ‘issues’ in his mind. I was more scared of seeing Gavin now than ever but my guilt at misreading him soon wore off when I popped into my local Caribbean takeaway. I wasn’t a regular customer but I was on friendly enough terms with the owner for him to tell me that my ‘boyfriend’ had took two curried patties from him one Tuesday night stating that I would pay for them. “My boyfriend!”, I exclaimed to the man in disbelief, knowing it had to be Gavin he was referring to.
Gavin had only stopped off at the takeaway after the club and spun some craziness about his pregnant girlfriend being hungry, giving a spot on description of me and which block of flats I lived in. Recognising the brief, the shop owner explained he had no reason not to credit the food as he regarded me as a “…nice and polite girl”. The shame and anger this fruitloop was causing made me deny knowing who the takeaway guy was talking about and I most certainly didn’t pay for the patties. I can laugh now, but back then, even though I’d been deserted by my unborn’s father, having anyone think I was carrying Crazy Gavin’s kid was horrifyingly embarrassing.
I never did see Gavin again. Just a few months later he got into an altercation with some people in the city centre, flipped when the police turned up to arrest him and ended up being sectioned again. I never make light of people’s struggles, but there’s some people that I should never be around, Gavin is one of them. I often think how I could’ve easily been the one he turned on had I opened the door that Tuesday night or if he had confronted me after the brush-off. Others may believe his encounter with me was entirely innocent. I call it a lucky escape, and I’ve had a fair few of them.