11th January 2009
The rainy season returned with a vengeance: by the time the downpours abated, half the day was gone.
I had planned to look for capuchin monkeys up by the lighthouse on Brigand Hill; instead I headed to the beach for some lunch.
It was Sunday, but everything was open. In this remote part of Trinidad Sunday is a major business day with plenty of weekend visitors coming up from the towns. Roadside buildings that had been closed all through the week—their purpose unknown—turned out to be shops, filled with local produce on this one day when people were not working the land.
I ended up liming with the locals at ‘d’Hammerhead Bar’. The flavour was different from Charlotteville—the mood relaxed—although no women joined in.
I had been asked to join the table by RN and two of his friends, who were local fishermen. The fishermen kept largely quiet, but RN was the soul of the conversation. He was easy-going and easy to talk to. For a change, the idea that I was travelling around T&T on my own didn’t faze him.
I told him about Tobago, about the horrified responses I’d got when I told people that I was planning to go to Trinidad; their dire warnings about violence and crime. Rape and murder, to put it bluntly.
“Most of them have never been off the island,” I laughed. “what do they know?”
But RN was no longer listening. His expression tightened. “They lie,” he said. “People in Tobago—they lie!”
I had touched a sore spot. Thankfully we were interrupted by another of his friends who entered the bar, replacing the two who had just left. Everybody was constantly on the move. Even RN kept jumping up to talk to people or walk across the road where he had set up a stand selling giant river conch to weekenders. Liming doesn’t get in the way of business.
“Don’t call me Charlie. My name is Lennox”.
The way he pronounced it, it sounded like ‘Linux’. Charlie, it would transpire, is the name of his oldest son.
“That’s funny,” I said. “My favourite author is called Charlie, and he’s a Linux expert.”
That raised eyebrows. I raised my bottle of Stag in cheers, but RN didn’t respond. He was distracted, muttering again about the liers in Tobago. He didn’t calm down even as we boarded his car—beers and all—and rattled down the potholed track leading to the Coconut Cove hotel, from where I had walked on my first visit to the bay. The track continued past the car park on to the tip of a small peninsula, formed by the mouth of the l’Ebranche River. This was the local fishing base, and their friends were waiting there. The men got busy hauling out one of the pirogues which needed a fresh coat of fibreglass and clearing a space in preparation for tomorrow’s business. In-between they were sipping rum and beer, continuing their Sunday lime.
“People in Tobago—” RN paused and tsk-ed as he introduced me to the newcomers who kept joining us. “Lies! They tell lies!”
He wouldn’t let it ride.
RN was by far the most talkactive, but Charlie (who no longer insisted on being called Lennox) commented on me scratching my calves, which were covered in mosquito bites despite the citronella.
“It’s not just me,” I said, pointing at RN’s upper arm, which was pock-marked. “Look at those!”
“Those are not mosquito bites,” RN said and fell silent.
“Some people are lazy,” he eventually said as we made to leave. “They don’t want to work, catch fish, do the gardening. Greedy.” He shook his head and I wondered what had made him revise his opinion about the prevalence of crime in Trinidad.
I had agreed to go on a drive with him, partly to mollify him and partly because I had seen him with his little son when I had first come in for lunch. The kid was sweet and well-behaved and it was clear that RN doted on him. He repeatedly assured me that I would be safe in his company, and that he would personally drive me back to Dougie’s (it came as no surprise that he knew Mr. Douglas). I believed him.
We talked about inconsequential things as we drove along the coconut plantations. RN was going slowly—it was clear that he wanted to get away from the others for a while—and I looked out of the window, lost for words.
And there to my right—wood on concrete—was the Manatee Field Station.
I nearly yelled at RN to stop, but that would have been rude. Besides, the place was deserted on a Sunday. By my reckoning, we had been driving for about five minutes which translated to just under an hour’s walk.
I would have to come back.
RN turned around soon after that and I vouched to keep a look out for the station, but what he said next took my mind clean off it.
“Feel that,” he said and held out his left arm. The pock-marked one. There was a nodule in the groove on the inside of his elbow.
“Go on, feel.”
Three years ago, RN was shot by bandits. He retains 41 lead shot pellets in his body. He claimed that they could not be removed, and that they might be making their slow but inevitable way towards his vital organs.
I recalled thrillers I had read, films I had seen, about gunshot victims and war veterans with bullets and shrapnel inside their bodies that were slowly killing them. I imagined that RN would be perfectly alright for months or years—even decades—then suddenly drop dead when one of the things reached his heart.
I implored him to see a doctor, but he dismissed it. He had done so at the time, but it had been too expensive to get the bullets removed.
As far as I knew, healthcare in T&T is free. Why should he have had to pay?
On the way back we passed his house to say hello to his wife and two young kids, although we didn’t get out of the car as RN was eager to re-join his friends. It was meant as further reassurance that I need not feel nervous, despite what people in Tobago had said about travelling in Trinidad.
But the people in Tobago had had a point.
I decided to go to Port of Spain, to talk to the student docs who were staying at Pearl’s during their three-months placement—where they were getting hands-on experience in treating gunshot wounds and stabbings.
It was time to touch base anyway.