Shock absorbers for our people


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Category: Women Date: 04 Aug 02

We island people make everything into a story.  Stories are our shock absorbers, and allow us to stay sane even while people all around us are trying to drive us mad.  I decided this week to grab two.


The kidnapped parrot:


The sun was already searing all open surfaces by eleven o’clock, blinding flashes on the galvanize roof of the vegetable stall, reflecting flares of light from puddles in potholes, (the residue of an earlier, sudden sharp, short shower), glinting on rain water in the crevices of broad, thick leaves, causing vapor to rise from the uneven pitch roads.


I was reaching for the most peculiar Siamese twin tomato I had even seen.  Two uneven, orange, fleshy globes glued together, one half of it was indented giving it a third curve, as if  a human mouth had bitten into it.


Enervated by the heat, I was ruminating unimaginatively, but happily, over the obvious analogy between lushness of fruit and human bodies, when the pleasant-faced vegetable vendor asked me if I could write the story of another kidnapping incident.


“I could even give you the headline,” she said pushing her wide palms apart in a theatrical motion, tilting her head back as if she could see it already in bold letters: ‘PARROT KIDNAPPED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT’.


I laughed, rummaging around the shadon beni, inhaling its tangy freshness next to dewy callaloo and bhaji leaves, enjoying their varying depths of green.


I hear a shrill, low whistle, “That’s the parrot” she said.

I spun around to the sight of a parrot perched on top of a cage covered in its shades of pastels and moss green.

“Is this,” I asked “THE kidnap victim?”

“Yes,” she said, emotionally. “I had it for ten years and came home one day to find it gone. I couldn’t stop crying. I went looking for it up the hill on our house.  I was pretending to look for shadon beni, but all the time, I was calling for it.”

“How did you find it?” I asked.

“I heard it whistle from a house where I know very religious people live,” she said.

I tell them, “That is my parrot you have there?”  They tell me “you can have it back but only if you give us a hundred dollars for it.”

“I was so relieved to get back my parrot I ran home for the money and gave it to them.  I couldn’t believe they did me that and they are a religious family to boot.”


I couldn’t tell from looking at the parrot, now holding its neck and head erect to show off a resplendent lilac-blue streak around its neck like a jeweled necklace, if it was traumatized from the event, but it was clear its owner was overcome with emotion.


The woman’s sister took over.  “If I only see those people I will give them a good cuttail.  Imagine taking my sister’s parrot and making us PAY to get it back what belongs to us.  We didn’t even worry to tell the police because they ain’t do nothing about the other two kidnappings either,” she said.

“If I got kidnapped my husband wouldn’t pay a ransom,” said a customer.

“Don’t worry,” said another, “We will hold a barbeque for you to get the ransom money.”


The parrot screeched.

Naipaul would laugh, call us mimic men (parroting a kidnapping is mimicry), but the stories our people tell have the magical properties of deflating advancing menace that can warm up even chilling stories.


A wedding, a funeral:


I was hanging out with my golden girls, three feisty women over 50 who between them have enough talent, wit, brains and heart to run this country and can keep you laughing for hours with their stories.


One them was telling a story about her older sister who is over 70.  And there she was, altering her daughter’s dress, sewing away, just hours before a wedding, grumbling, “My daughter could have given me this to alter last week but no, she had to wait until the day of the funeral to give this to me” and I told her “It’s a wedding not a funeral.”  She ignored me and kept on ranting, “As I said, I still have to do my nails, and my hair, and here I am having to alter a dress, just hours before the funeral.”  “Wedding!” I contradicted.  She went on calling it a funeral, I went on reminding her it was a wedding, until she stopped, looked at me and shouted, “Wedding, funeral same damn thing!  Didn’t you know, when you get married you dead?”


Four of us spluttered into our rum punches, falling about, laughing.


I thought of us, sitting in a boudoir-type space. Women manage to create little charmed intimate halos around themselves every time we are together. We share our pain and laughter in one breath.  If it is felt that women are generally emotionally stronger than men, more able to cope with major stresses, it’s because we are one another’s shock absorbers.


You could dismiss this as small island talk, but they are our everyday fare, put together, these stories are a testimony to our peoples’ resilience, our sense of the absurd, our unending capacity for bouncing back, for refusing to let anyone crush our spirit.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur