Finding the Centre


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Category: Reflections 22 Dec 13

In a tiny hairdressing salon in St James, a striking woman, Angelica (not her real name) with girlish dimples and velvety skin (like the inside of a sapodilla), was blow-drying my hair.

There was the sound of running water, women’s low voices, the curiously aromatic, mingling smells of coffee and chemicals.  For an hour or two, the women in here were buffered from the harshness of reality. Some closed their eyes under the dryer, allowing themselves to succumb to waves of soporific dreaming.

My phone, then Angelica’s, rang in quick succession. She paused the dryer. We overheard one another’s conversation with our offspring, exhorting them to be safe on the road, encouraging them to study.

As women do, we became intimate strangers.  It was her birthday. Looking at her, I pictured her in a cheeky dress, delicate heels in a cocktail bar with friends, or having dinner with her husband. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that nothing is as it seems.  She was cooking pelau, she said, and salad for 50 people. Ah, “a domestic diva,” I thought, in the way we like to pinion people with stereotypes.

That was not what she meant at all. Bit by bit, as she put rollers in my hair, she told me her story.

Angelica’s story: “I am the eldest of four children.  I never knew my father. My mother was not a stable person.  She would leave at night. I didn’t know what she did. I would see her getting bigger, lying down and a baby came. She would be quiet for a bit and go out again until another baby came until there were four of us.

“We had a stepfather for a while, but he didn’t want us.  Mom left us four at my aunt’s home and went back to him. My aunt couldn’t handle the responsibility, and so my mom took us to Point Fortin to live with my grandmother, whom we had never met. I saw our mother twice in three years. My grandmother saw something in me.  She sent me to school. She wrote on the blackboard to help me through Common Entrance exam, which I passed. My siblings didn’t go to school. 

“We must have got too much for her. One day my grandmother took all four of us to the unfinished house in St James without toilets, informed the Catholic Church that three children under ten needed care, and left three of us there. She took me back to Point Fortin, but soon got ill. I met my mother at her funeral. 

“Mom took me home, but I was 14 now, and my stepfather tried to interfere with me. When I told my mom, he got mean. He said it was his money feeding me and he didn’t want me to eat from his earnings. Mom distanced herself from me. 

“At 14, I met my daughter’s father: a taxi driver who got me pregnant and took me back to a place he shared with his friend. I was 15 with a baby, washing, cooking and cleaning for both men, wondering if I had made the right decision to leave home.  At 16, I had another child, but I couldn’t bear my life. I visited the late Archbishop Pantin, who said he would pray for me, and promised me $250 for each day I couldn’t find work. He had that much faith in me.

“That same evening I went to the pharmacy for something, and saw the sign saying ‘Sales clerk wanted.’ I filled out a form. I had a job the very next day. I began working. I studied hairdressing and cosmetology. I began taking private jobs and here I am today, working 12 hours, sometimes six days a week, but my own boss, in my own home, with my grown-up children, in my own small business.”

I brought the conversation back to Angelica’s cooking for 50 people.

She told me that every year on her birthday she distributes 50 boxes of food to the homeless. She does the same for Christmas.  It’s what gives her joy. She’s far from well off, but knows what it feels to be falling off the edge of the cliff, to be given a leg-up to safety. Now that she has it, she wants to give back.

Angelica changed something in me. Around my tree is quite bare this Christmas. I have asked my children’s permission, now that they are no longer little, no longer believe in Santa, and old enough to know they have been blessed in many ways, to give someone a leg-up on behalf of them.

To my surprise, this decision took a weight off us all.  The irritability I felt at Christmas plastic, baubles, fake trees has given way to a benediction and a way out of the madness of shopping, spending and consuming.  I have been able (among millions of non-Christians who celebrate the magic of December) to make my way back to the centre, to forgiveness, to hope, and yes, love. Merry Christmas.

Everyone has a charity close to his or her heart. Here are mine:


Abandoned and abused kids

Raffa House: 627-3389


Adult literacy


84 Belmont Circular Road,

Belmont, Port-of-Spain

624-ALTA (2582)


Terminally-ill cancer patients

Vitas House Hospice

112 Western Main Road, St James

Office: 628-4673/9824

Mobile: 683-6315

Web site:


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur