The notes off a pan rise, pause, scatter uncertainly, then break into an
unmistakably recognisable melody.
Two women are walking on a dark alley. I am in jeans, a handbag clutched
to my side. My blonde friend Ana is “dressed up” for the night, her car keys
in her hand.
I say: “God, your watch” seeing the gold watch glittering in the dark.
“It’s a magnet. Are you trying to get us raped or killed?”
In one gesture Ana rips it off her hand, and slips it into my handbag,
changes her mind, says: “What if they steal your handbag?” takes it out and
walks with it in her fist.
I think “great. It’s either her watch or my handbag.” We are both
thinking of worse bullets and rapists. We hurry towards the lit yard (Phase
2); we find the soul of this capital.
We see standing, around under the neon lights, an older French Creole
woman. She made costumes for years. The first thing she did after recovering
from a long illness was to come here.
We spot the diehard supporters, one in dashiki, one in kurta (I kid you
not), a few tourists, a group of people who have worked together towards
launching a book on calypso.
In England, there is a constitutional debate to determine what is
“British” to re-evaluate “British values,” in a bid to create a sense of
pride in citizenship.
In India, every single advertisement on television and on film, whether
it is for sneakers or multi-million investments, associates tear-jerking
images with film stars emoting “My India.”
We never say “My Trinidad” in our advertisements, or “My Tobago. We say
“me‚” and “I.” Still it’s here. Unendorsed, but here, in the yard, I
I say watched and not listened, because there is so much to see. The
wordless interaction among the players, as they fine-tune the melody, the
sips of Carib in between, the nodding acknowledgement of people you know (in
small islands wherever you go, people know one another), the shared
perpetual expectation we live in for the next big lime: cricket, Carnival,
for Ash Wednesday beaches, Christmas and again Carnival.
The people who will never leave. The people for whom the old Trinidad can
never be wiped out. The neglected Trinidad that is us.
While driving, I spot a schoolgirl in a car holding a decorated white and
silver flag out of her window, flapping wildly in the breeze.
She is calling out to drivers, pointing at the flag, pointing at them.
She is skinning her teeth enjoying the reaction. As I get closer, I see that
it’s a skull.
Where is this violence coming from?
In the crumpled newspaper on the passenger’s seat, I spot the headline of
the man who pumped 23 bullets into a woman.
The day before, a man pumped 12 into another man. It was not enough to
shoot to kill, but someone shot and shot, and shot and shot, and shot and
shot, and shot and shot, and shot and shot, and shot and shot.
I wince writing the word 12 times. I don’t want to write it 23 times.
Someone was angry enough to pull the trigger that many times. God knows
why in this boom town, people are so angry, honking, screeching tyres,
I practise smiling at unsmiling people. It takes me five days to get a
smile out of a girl working at a gym, meeting people’s eyes.
Then, getting bored, I stop. I, too, retreat into anger, honking angrily
at someone who bad-drives me.
Carnival fires its own momentum. It’s an unstoppable organic thing. Stops
for no one. Nobody notices the people who don’t go out.
The music has leaked. The pan filters in. An old face cracks into a wide
happy smile. A tiny girl jumps up and down in her costume. For now, that’s
enough to hold our tattered T&T identity together.