year she was going to go to Switzerland and waitress there to support
herself while she spent her spare time painting, and also use her easy
access around Europe to take her where she wanted - into churches with
dark interiors and frescoes, to pick little wild strawberries at Andorra
la Vieja, the winding road down Seo d’Urgel and Spain, eating truffles
in Perigueux, taking the bus over the Alps down into Susa and Italy.
She conjured up for us, images of ski slopes and huge, white
mountains, and cups of hot whipped chocolate and pine trees. She would
live the Bohemian life by night, serving drinks to ruddy men in a dress
that cris crosses prettily in the front.
she decided she would buy a plot of land in Couva and paint all day long.
She even took me to see the land where soft breezes would blow all day
long in the open, plain wooden house, and the little garden outside would
yield fresh, hot peppers and oranges slightly sour, cherries, guavas and
green mangoes and pommecythere for chow and all kinds of sweet smelling
fresh herbs for soup. She would paint to the sounds of the birds, and
heavy rustle of trees, cook a bit, clean some, make supper for the
children, and paint some more.
evenings would be swallowed up by an olive and navy landscape and sky and
the staccato chatter of birds and insects or a sudden welcome sound of a
friend’s car coming up the long narrow driveway.
was before she visited England. She called and said she wasn’t coming
back. Not for anything was she missing out on another burnished autumn,
where the sun glowed warm and soft between a thicket of trees, where you
could still pick the last of summer’s raspberries and cover it with a
thick lashing of clotted cream.
wouldn’t have to cook because of Marks and Spencer’s delicious
pre-cooked imitation Cordon Bleu dinners. Not to mention, the lovely
comfort bread pudding and creamy custards for those days we all have when
the hollow feelings inside need to be smothered in comfort food.
would work part time she said, in her father’s stationery store, and
paint the rest. On weekends, there would be the plays in Stratford and
exhibitions in London, and cozy book and teashops in Oxford on cobbled
streets with a view of students wobbling around on the bicycles with
baskets weaving in and out of their baroque colleges.
she wasn’t coming back. She went on to spend a freezing New Year’s in
Sarajevo to meet her friend who was working there, re-settling refugees,
and came back with hilarious stories of UN policemen and hole in the
ground toilets, strong, bitter, tiny, cups of Turkish coffee and driving
around the breathing, taking mountains in freezing temperatures she
didn’t know existed.
come back she had to, for practical reasons, and any number could play.
Now she’s moving to The Hague, stretching our dim memories of tulips and
square, flat houses, and vague notions of a country where drugs are legal,
and the men are tall and blonde.
may stay, of course, but there’s a good chance she will go. We, her
friends, know that the odds are, out of a dozen dreams, at least two will
come true, and that’s enough to give them extraordinary lives.
will, at her funeral, have a thousand nuances to remember her by, and we
will celebrate her life for as long as we live.
is a highly-driven, practical workingwoman married to a well-off man. She
pays her mortgage, and enjoys driving a nice car and going away (Miami,
maybe?) “to shop”. She attends cocktail parties and is reasonably
well-connected to have ambitions of power and wealth. She never dreams of
living anywhere else, hot or cold; besides, being a big fish in a little
pond is like a drug - ask her husband and all the big fish in our little
pond. And besides, big ponds are scary because you might not be noticed
morning wake-up call is often the inchoate, illiterate abuse of an angry
drugged or drunk man screaming obscenities in front of her house. Or a
couple threatening to shoot one another.
her workplace and nine out of the ten people she encounters do barely
enough or less to get by. Her employees and colleagues have so little
self-esteem, they think they are commanding respect when their services,
be it, secretarial to administrative, are delivered in a grudging,
half-hearted manner. They have no incentive to do better they say, because
they are so badly paid, and the only role models they have are people
who’ve made it big on the hustle.
is ashamed when she takes visitors “down town” because it looks more
like a slum than anything. All the historical buildings with delicate
latticework are run down while dilapidated and ugly pretentious new
busiest parts of the “city” are like a dump, a freeway for discarded
fruit and candy wrappings and fly-away, torn newspapers. She visits the
cemetery for some quiet time at the graveside of her mother and encounters
yet another swearing man who tries to intimidate. She sees vagrants
crawling out of the tombs, overgrown grass, water collecting around
gravestones, a breeding ground for disease.
comes home to be told five of the teachers in her son’s secondary school
didn’t come out to work today. She visits a friend, to be told that he
was held up in front of his house in a so-called respectable area in the
West at ten in the night, while seeing some friends off. At the gate,
everyone shrugs. The rich and elite don’t complain too loudly for
protection because they know they perpetuate poverty with their miserly
the poor and aggressive respond to charity by demanding more of it,
sometimes with threats, sometimes with guns. She knows
both sets are hustlers. Merit, discipline, integrity, are passe
old-fashioned words buried with the last century.
she takes comfort in her steadily rising bank account, new house, and
wears red to all the football games, plays “mas”. She, like her
friends, doesn’t ask for or expect accountability from the Government,
or trade unions or business, or any other profession.
speak out against a system that keeps her comfortably off and affords her
fashionable Caribbean voile gowns? That’s the realist in Trinidad, and
what she sees is what she will get. One day, many years hence, many
important people will attend her funeral. Her children will fly home from
their jobs abroad. They will say nice things about her. But it will all be
very ordinary and very forgettable.