Written by Shadassah Gittens
Ashley knitted absently as she recalled how tired her mother was the night before, she had fallen asleep as soon as her head hit the couch, forgetting the groceries on the counter. While Ashley had put them away quietly, she thought about how difficult school had become and her lack of interest in the subjects she did. Arguing drew Ashley’s attention to her siblings. Both were on the bottom bunk arguing loudly. Ashley sighed, knitting temporarily forgotten, her books shifting haphazardly onto the bed.
“What happen?” She asked, picking her way across the floor covered in toys. They continued to scream over, Ashley realized, a fancy pen with a multicoloured stem and feathers at the end.
“Wuz de problem?” Ashley asked again, separating the fighting siblings.
“He tek way my pencil,” the first, Davika, complained.
“I duh just wan try it,” The second, Jonathan, explained coyly. Ashley rubbed her face in exasperation before equally dividing the school supplies. Thinking better of leaving them with the pen, she took it, taking out the snacks their mother had packed from their bags and giving it to them, knowing it would calm them down. Upon her return to her side of the room she heard a voice calling her name. She looked back at her siblings, but they were fully occupied, then looked around in confusion. Her eyes widened when she remembered she was in online class, and unmuted.
“Ashley? I’ve been calling your name for 5 minutes now.” Her teacher snapped.
“I’m here, Ms. Alleyne. I was helping my siblings－” She began, noticing she and the teacher were the only ones in the Google meet.
“Stop making excuses. You’re falling behind in your assignments, missing classes. This is unacceptable. I’ll be calling your parents if you don’t get your act together.” The teacher ended the call.
Ashley plopped onto her bed, staring listlessly at a blurry ceiling. She turned her face into the bedding and cried away her frustration. It was not the first time she tried explaining how overwhelmed she was to her teacher, but she was met with cold indifference. It made Ashley feel helpless and overwhelmed. She felt as though she had to assist her siblings with online school, their homework, getting them ready; all of which excluded her needs and schoolwork. Her stress was piling up and she didn’t feel as though she could convey her worries to her too tired mother. She didn’t want to be a burden, so she kept silent.
Ashley sat up, drying her tears. She glanced at her siblings, silently watching the school issued tablets. Not for the first time, Ashley wondered if she was doing the right thing, should she help her siblings? Was 6th form worth it? Was she doing the right subjects? Did she want to study these subjects at UWI? Was she ready for UWI? Was leaving 6th form a good idea?
She’d been asking herself these questions since the beginning of the pandemic, she still had no answers. Ashley fiddled with her knitting, shrugging to herself.
“I have a business that’s doing well.” She murmured, picking up her phone to finalize the date and time for the pick-up of the knitted dress she made. “Maybe I could study business management or something similar. It could help with the business.”
Her phone vibrated. She glanced at it and saw a notification from her Google classroom.
Week 10, topic outline for exam.
Ashley exhaled harshly. She was behind in everything, assignments, notes. She couldn’t even recall what her teachers discussed this week alone.
“How am I going to do this?” Ashley asked herself. It was exam season which meant an influx of assignments, graded homework, and tests. Ashley picked up her phone, determined to get as much work finished as she could over the weekend.
Firstly, she needed to keep her siblings occupied until their mother came home. Ashley grabbed 2 basins, filled both with water, adding soap liquid to one of them. Then she directed her siblings outside with spray bottles and their toys, that would keep them busy long enough. Secondly, Ashley hid the ensemble she was almost finished knitting as well as her supplies underneath her bed so she wouldn’t be tempted to finish it. Thirdly, she planned out her weekend; she would review the videos of the outlined topics and try to complete the graded assignments she didn’t miss. She’d already missed several deadlines; all she could do was try to make up for it with the remaining assignments.
Ashley vaguely mumbled a good evening to her mother as she was engrossed in her cramming session which lasted till 10 p.m. The next day Ashley woke up around 6 a.m. to finish the last graded assignment. She had till 10 a.m. to start on the class videos before she went with her mother to town for their weekly mother-daughter time. Ashley kept her struggles to herself, but she enjoyed the time away from the assignments.
They returned home at 10 p.m. Ashley showered and went to bed. Sunday came, her family went to church and left her home. Which she enjoyed immensely, however, this time, Sunday was spent listening to most of the in-class videos. When Sunday came to a close, she had watched 10 of 12 videos of the outlined topics for her exam. Sunday had been interrupted with Ashley’s need to wash and press her school clothes.
Monday came swiftly. Ashley had one exam per class; each subject, luckily, was a different day. All of her exams were in-person, to prevent cheating. When her first exam was over, Ashley crammed for the next test. She repeated this until Thursday, the day of her last exam. After she finished the exam, she was pulled aside by Ms. Alleyne, her Communication Studies teacher.
“I just read over your test paper. This is deplorable. I will be calling your mother this evening.” She scolded.
Ashley walked away; her shoulders slumped. She had tried the best she could at the time.
Ashley walked slowly on her way to collect her siblings from school, thinking about how her mother would react to everything.
Later that evening, Ashley sat on her bed, waiting.
There was a knock on her door before her mother entered. She gazed around the room, her eyes settling on Ashley and then the bag in her lap. She motioned for Ashley to follow her.
Ashley grabbed the bag she set aside with the finished knitted ensemble inside, then left.
“We meeting up at de Botanical Gardens. I figured you’d want to talk to me there, two birds one stone.” She said once they got inside the car. Her mother nodded in acknowledgement. The drive was quiet.
While Ashley handled her business, her mother opened the car and sat patiently in the opened trunk. When Ashley returned her mother began, “Your teacher called me. She said you weren’t participating in class, failing assignments and tests.” She paused, her eyes searching her daughter’s. “This isn’t the Ashley I know. Talk to me.”
Ashley shrugged, unable to meet her mother’s eyes, “School hard. Watching Davika and Jonathan ain’t easy. I barely have time to do my schoolwork after I help them and you does be too tired when you come home to do anything, so I said nothing.”
“I’m here to help you, not the other way around.” Her mother began, “Davika and Jonathan are not your responsibility and I’m sorry you felt as though they were.”
“I want to help you in some way. You’re always exhausted when you come home.” Ashley tried.
“Thank you for caring, for being so worried about me but I need to step up and help Davika and Jonathan. You can still help them every once in a while, but put yourself and your schoolwork first. Your father and I can liaise when it comes to Davika and Jonathan.” She said, looking at Ashley. “Do you want to keep doing 6th form?”
Ashley shook her head whilst fiddling with her fingers, “Sixth form doesn’t feel right for me anymore. I was thinking I could do an associate degree in business studies at BCC or anything business related, same thing for SJPI. I figured since I already have a small business, I could do subjects that would help me expand my business.” Her mother nodded, a small smile on her face. Ashley grabbed her mom’s hand quickly and said, “I know money isn’t something you want me to worry about, but it still is, so I also looked into a payment plan with this place called Student Revolving Loan Fund that aids students like me. The loans can be as big as 125,000 BDS.”
Her mother smiled, “Seems you have it all planned out.”