Column last week
A vagrant sleeps outside a bank on a cardboard box marked fragile. The irony of this is mostly missed by the passers-by who continue on their individual hustles downtown. Port-of-Spain and Arima too could, at first glance, easily be mistaken for some town in Jamaica, what with all the Bob Marley t-shirts that festoon the walls and stalls that clutter the pavements.
Blurry eyed and lucky to have died young, Bob’s cultural domination is nowhere more complete than in Trinidad, a country that looks everywhere for its heroes except inwardly. In WASA fete two girls provide less delicate entertainment than what is being offered on stage. Crouched and squatting on scaffolding, they dance on each other, their expressions suggesting a pleasure more intense than what is typically gained from dancing to soca at a fete. But then, this is not typical dancing. Men, rough men, scruffy men, men you can’t take home to mother, but, on second thought, maybe these girls can, stand by and voice their appreciation and their intentions.
A guy standing nearby explains that they’re the stars of a local porn movie that’s making the rounds throughout the country. When they’re finished they climb down and walk through the crowd, strutting the way only a Trini woman can when she knows everyone is watching her. “Trini school,” my cousin tells me. “Just type in ‘Trini school’ on YouTube and all them local porn will come up.” I ask her how she knows that and she laughs and blushes and tells me everybody knows that. Everybody has seen at least one, the five-minute clips of schoolchildren urging each other to perform and enjoy sex acts are sent via Bluetooth from phone to phone. And everybody has at least one phone.
On my way up to Las Cuevas on Sunday the sky is a shade of blue that makes the heart swell in happiness and sorrow at the same time. We stop off at the lookout, my friend Jo and I, and I watch the skyline. There is a haze like blue gauze wrapped between the end of the ocean and the beginning of the sky. It is a day that is perfect; a day that makes you think there couldn’t be any greater need than to be able to lift one’s head and see so much beauty, to feel this beauty burning its brand on one’s skin. There are children playing football on the beach and stray dogs jogging thirstily on the sand. Two mothers compare resembling babies of distant relation and talk about the inability to escape blood. A tourist pulls out a knife and eats an apple, confirming her foreignness with this one, simple act.
My goddaughter comes to visit. She doesn’t remember me: the last time I saw her she had been asleep, the time before that, a baby. She doesn’t object to my holding her though and when I give her her birthday gift she refuses to let it go. We go into my bedroom; how comforting, to know that somewhere in the world there is a room that will always be yours; to escape the noise of too many relatives and neighbours and the family djs in training and she falls asleep in my arms, still holding her gift, and I wonder how long it would take her to warm up to me next time, this little girl that everyone says looks just the way I did when I was young. I feel the maternal twinge, stronger this time but I ignore, as always, because, as always, the timing and circumstances aren’t right.
I stand on the main road waiting for a maxi and a woman passes me and says good morning. By the time I realise what she’s said she’s walked too far off to hear my response. With headphones in ear and my “train face” in place I missed out on that rarest of things: kindness from a stranger. In two more days I’ll be returning to London. I’ll be returning to cold with a promise of spring in the air, drinks with co-workers and a feeling of safety that no one seems to have in Trinidad anymore.
I’ll be starting school and telling myself that no matter what, Trinidad is home and eventually I’ll be back. And I hope that is true. I hope that when the time comes to decide I will still believe that Trinidad is the best place to do my part, that our people are the best and that I want my children to be raised here. And even if it isn’t I hope I’m strong enough, and Trini enough, to want to return and help make it so.