***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2014 by Eric Jerome Dickey
Rituals Coffee House at City Gate, South Quay, Port of Spain, directly behind Independence Square
Fast food joints were all over. This was the main transportation hub on the island for buses and maxi taxis. It was seven o’clock the next morning in the land of steel pan, calypso, soca, chutney, and limbo, on a mountainous island renamed by Christopher Columbus. I’d come to town before sunrise to check out the area near the former Trinidad Government Railway headquarters.
By the time the sun had pulled itself from the sea, I had plotted three exits in case shit went wrong and I was forced to flee through an area that had thousands of visitors each day—that plus the thousands of locals. I walked each route three times, each time at a normal pace.
Then I left the keys in the van’s ignition, driver’s-side door unlocked, a Minnie Mouse sunshade in the front window. A loaded gun was under the front seat, easy to reach if I came back running.
I dressed like a University of the West Indies student, wore a T-shirt from the St. Augustine campus, jean shorts, sexy sandals, my hair short and light brown. I went for young, but mature and intellectual. Anxious, I sat listening to the rapidly changing conversations of a group of women on the way to Port of Spain General Hospital. One wore a tee that read kamla have no jack to change she tyre. I listened to conversations, captured the rhythm of the tongue, picked up variations of the accent, pretty much mastered the singsong aspect, created a passable Trini accent, Chaguanas or Port of Spain, minus the proper idioms. Many had an interesting blend, a unique exoticness not seen in North America.
Despite the beauty of the people and the long lines for lattes, unrest was all around me. The newspaper spoke in volumes. Another social explosion was about to happen. Economy in decline. Frustration. Poverty. Political fallouts. IMF and World Bank called everything but the devil. Not enough to pay for housing. Not enough money to live. Barbados stealing their flying fish. School book prices high and salaries low. Teachers protesting. Nurses protesting. Police had their crimes. Army had their crimes. People losing their pensions.
And the band played on.
King Killer showed up by eight. I left my table, stood next to him as I ordered a second latte. Sat a table away from him. Sat facing him. Leg bouncing. Cleavage popping. Local paper open, pretending to read about killings, crimes, and drugs coming in from South America. The gunta didn’t notice me. He wore tie clips, pocket squares, French cuffs. Charcoal-gray suit perfectly tailored, his shoes in brown hues. I watched the handsome 18-karat-gold wedding ring–wearing thug and saw that he eyed professional women. Inside of thirty minutes, he befriended five women as they came to get coffee or iced drinks—befriended them, took their cards, and exchanged fuck-you-later smiles with each as they left to rush to work. All had been well-dressed women. None had looked over twenty-five. I nodded. I understood. He was about status. He was attracted to women with smooth skin and young eggs.
The next morning I dressed like an executive: fitted, sleeveless dress, low heels, silver watch, bracelets, earrings, sat properly, was there when he arrived, a copy of the local paper on my bistro table as I sipped iced green tea and read, pretending to be interested in an article where the president of the St. Lucia Craft and Dry Goods Vendors Association was calling for heavy security ahead of the cruise season, in a bid to prevent tourist muggings in the city. Next page said that a major think tank based in Washington, DC, said that Caribbean360 had reported that gangs were stronger than the government here in Trinidad and Tobago. Now maybe the LKs were on the road to attempting a coup like the one that had happened in Trinidad and Tobago in 1990 by a small maverick Islamic group called Jamaat al Muslimeen, led by Yasin Abu Bakr. The moment had arrived. I inhaled, put the paper down, felt his hardcore energy. King Killer noticed me. We made eye contact. He grinned and nodded. I nodded in return, no grin. Hard to get.
After he ordered, he stood over me, got my attention again, and said, “Good morning.”
I looked up, saw him, said, “G’day.”
“How is your morning so far?”
“My morning feels out of sorts, to be honest. I’m over here feeling like it’s midnight and past my bedtime, maybe because back home it is midnight, and don’t you look alert and as happy as Larry.”
“You have an interesting accent.”
“So do you. Wee cracker of a day, isn’t it?”
“Thought you might have been an English rose at best, Red legs at worst.”
“Red legs” was a derogatory name for the poor whites in the islands.
I said, “New Zealand.”
“A Kiwi. I’m intrigued. Here on business or have you moved to my island?”
“Here on business.”
“For how long?”
“Will only be here a couple of days. Pardon the yawn. I need more coffee.”
“The sixteen-hour time difference is killing me. It’s morning here, but it’s late night at home. By the time I am in a meeting at three this afternoon, it will be a wee bit after sunrise back home, so that will mean that I have stayed up all night again, and I’m usually in bed by nine, ten at the latest.”
“Waiting on someone?”
“Not at all. My colleagues went ahead of me to the office.”
“Mind if I join you?”
Not until then did I shrug and give him a curious smile, left it up to him to pursue me.
His jacket had a bulge from the weight of his gun. His pant leg caught over the backup gun he had strapped to his ankle. Hot day. Didn’t take his suit coat off. Baby face with the eyes of death.
He was Trini but didn’t speak with a strong Trini dialect. He sounded almost British. He had been trained to suppress or erase his accent the way Hollywood erased the accents of many.
He sat and said, “Pardon my rudeness. My name is Neziah. Neziah De Lewis.”
“Neziah De Lewis. That is a beautiful name. It sounds royal.”
“It does, especially the way you say it with your accent.”
“My name is Samantha Greymouth, but most people call me Sam.”
“Sam it is. I will call you Sam.”
“Sounds beautiful the way you say my name, Neziah.”
“Likewise, Sam. The way you say my name makes it sound brand new and original.”
I told him that I was in Trinidad on behalf of Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited.
He told me the name of his Trinidadian-based companies. I told him I had never heard of them.
Then he said, “Have you heard of Mrs. Karleen Ramjit?”
“No, afraid not.”
“She is my sister. You remind me of her. You have the same powerful energy.”
“Flirting with a woman that reminds you of your sister, Neziah, is that a good thing?”
“My twin sister is remarkable.”
“You’re a twin?”
“All women should be like Karleen.”
“Women don’t want to own the same dress as another woman. Being like another woman, that’s simply out of the question.”
He smiled. I smiled.
The newspaper in front of me caught his eye, pulled his words toward politics, the conversation starter, and maybe his way of testing my values, gauging my intelligence, seeing if I was worthy of adultery.
He said, “Too many of my people live day to day in unhappiness.”
“I read most of the paper. Sounds like some sort of oppression.”
“It is. Poverty is oppression. Oppression is worse than slaughter.”
“Is it that bad? The sea. The sun. The sand. So lovely here.”
“Oppression is why we kill one another in the streets.”
“All over the world, or are you only speaking of here?”
“Eastern Port of Spain was labeled one of the most dangerous places on the planet. That was in a report. Criminal gangs. Gangster-style killings. The guns are not going away. We’re close to South America. Easier to get a gun than a plate of food in some areas.”
“Our country is wealthy, but there is corruption. That aspect of our island is out of control. A purification process is necessary.”
I asked, “What does that mean? What is a purification process?”
“What it means, Sam, is that we will one day take charge on behalf of the people. My sister leads us. We have a plan.”
“An elitist intervention?”
“No. With the people. We will one day lead the people away from the guns and the drugs. The violence among the poor will end.”
“Sounds very ambitious. You make it sound very spiritual.”
“Part of the journey will be spiritual. Some have become too cynical, and that has to be rectified. We are here to kill the dragon.”
“A metaphorical dragon.”
“We want to change what is wrong and lead others toward what is right.”
“Struggle is a never-ending process, Neziah. I’ve seen that around the world. Freedom is never really won. The battle never ends.”
“We recognize that. You have to earn it with every generation. You have to build momentum and keep that momentum going. We are prepared to make sacrifices and do the hard work so our children will not have to live in the poverty we know now, not have to watch their sons and daughters and mothers and fathers slaughtered in the roads. People are afraid to leave home. You become a prisoner in your own area. You live in violence and are afraid to walk from Nelson Street to Duncan Street. Do that and you’re robbed and found dead. Do the reverse, you’re shot in the head, the murder posted on YouTube.”
“Wicked. Sounds like parts of America I’ve seen on television.”
“The Americas run from Canada to the end of Argentina.”
“I stand corrected. The United States. I have seen the television show Cops, shows like that. The rest of the Americas is twice as bad.”
“And it is the same in London and Russia and countless other places on the globe. It says a lot about God’s faulty creation.”
“And New Zealand. Don’t you dare leave my island country out. I’m also very proud to say we have drive-by shootings, stabbings, murders, carjackings like the Americans, mainly in our Brisbane area. So don’t exclude us from the global madness.”
He went silent.
I had fucked up.
Brisbane was in Australia, not in New Zealand.
I was ready for the killer of a king to call me on that, to sense that all was wrong, kick over the table, pull his gun, and ask me who I was.
With my fingers touching the gun inside my purse, I asked, “Are we okay?”
“Just thinking. Our island had become the Caribbean’s murder capital. That makes me unhappy. That makes me very unhappy.”
“When I lean to the left, I can hear the people in the ramshackle areas up in Kingston, Jamaica, laughing at the killings in the ramshackle areas down here. No offense, but the Jamaicans want their title back.”
I winked at him.
He asked, “Where were you born? You’ve heard my story. What’s yours?”
“I was born in a place called Kawerau. Eastern Bay of Plenty. Was born in the oldies’ caravan.”
“ ‘Oldies’ means parents. A caravan is what you call a mobile home. Had a long drop out back.”
“Outdoor toilet. Had to dig a deep hole, put a barrel at the bottom. We lived in our own type of oppression. I know poverty very well.”
“You and your parents?”
“The oldies split before I was a teenager. My father left my mother when I was ten, maybe when I was nine, went to Nuku’alofa, Tonga.”
“What did he do there?”
“Got a great job. Started a new family.”
“How’d you get by?”
“My mum worked in a movie theater for a while, then eventually became a frock tart and worked on Xena: Warrior Princess. She was almost killed on the job.”
“Pardon me for staring at you with such respect.”
“Only if you pardon me for the same.”
He grinned and said, “Your arms are so toned. You’re fit.”
“Netball. Hiking. Aerobics. Biking. Keep away from too much bread.”
“You have the body of a dancer, Sam. No kids?”
“None. Maybe next year. Or the year after. My husband tells me that I need to be as fit as I can be before I decide to up the duff and have a rug rat or two or three or four.”
He asked, “What’s your religion?”
“Are you asking me if I am a member of the unquestioning, self-righteous faith against all rationalism and morality characterized by a lack of critical thinking?”
“What religion rules New Zealand?”
“I was born Christian, but I really have no interest in religion.”
“Religion is about moral guidance.”
“Rubbish, Neziah. The Crusades spread genocide, rape, slavery, torture, murder, animal cruelty, and some of the most insanely sadistic shit imaginable, and evil was justified by saying their version of God commanded them to do it.”
“Every country, every society does horrible things, allows horrible things, for the greater good.”
“Good point, but it makes me wonder.”
“What does it make you wonder, Sam?”
“Maybe what we see as good is just evil that has won.”
“If evil did win, then it would call itself good, and call what was seen as good the new evil.”
“What has won, Sam, what always wins is the work of doing what is best for the people.”
“Talking about religion, in my opinion, is a gerbil on a wheel, gets nowhere fast.”
“You’re right. I tend to play devil’s advocate. If you had taken one side, I would have taken the other. That’s what I do. I love intellectual stimulation. It arouses me. How moral are you, sexy woman?”
“How moral are you, married man? How moral are you?”
“I asked you first, married woman who is visiting my island.”
“You’re looking at me like you want to visit my island.”
“How moral are you? Answer me. I asked you first.”
I said, “I have to be off to a meeting soon.”
“Same for me.”
“So, if there is a particular direction you want this to go, if you have any hopes beyond us sharing a table while we sip coffee, let’s hurry in that direction. I’m not much on small talk and chitchat and taking the long route, not when a straight line is always the best route.”
He smiled. “How long are you here?”
“Are you interested in making something happen?”
“I am. I am very interested.”
“My husband is far away. Maybe you should put your wife on hold so you can hold me awhile.”
“I can come to your hotel after this event with my sister. An afternoon of pleasure.”
“No. I don’t want any issues with my company. Illicit behavior is frowned upon, plus I’ve only been there for six months. I don’t want to be seen as the young, wild Kiwi on the job. If we have sex, we have to fuck away from my hotel. Anywhere but the Hilton. I’m at the upside-down Hilton, by the way. So if we fuck, we can’t fuck there.”
“To the point. I like that. The way you say ‘fuck’ is erotic. It arouses me.”
“Sure it’s not the coffee?”
“Personal question, Sam?”
He asked, “When was the last time you had sex?”
“May I be honest?”
“I’d hate to come here on a business trip and not get to sample anything outside of the doubles and curry chicken before I returned to my island country. How boring would that be? This is where I stand. I’m married, have to be respectful, have to be discreet. My colleagues are also friends of my husband. Understand? I can manage to slip away at night, but during the day I have to maintain a certain look for my employer.”
“Only free tonight, Neziah. My colleagues are going to lime on Ariapita Avenue tonight, are going to the Aria Lounge to watch a launch for Genesis or W.I.L.D., but I told them I was too tired to hit the streets and I’d sleep in a bit. Work dinner with the colleagues tomorrow night. Then I fly out the next morning.”
“I have an event tonight. It’s a busy day for our organization and the people of Trinidad.”
“Oh well. If I’m ever this way again, or if you’re ever in New Zealand, I hope to run across you.”
“You’d find someone else.”
“I could sit at the bar later, maybe, see what happens, who comes in, who shows interest in a lonely Kiwi drinking chocolate martinis.”
I toyed with my wedding ring, played the part of the Kiwi visiting the island on business regarding holdings for a New Zealand company, a woman who needed to let the Miley Cyrus in her run free. He toyed with his wedding band. It was impressive. German-made. Expensive.
He said, “I can come for you around eleven.”
“Are you sure?”
“I can cancel my date, which will be no problem, and arrange for you to come along in her place.”
“I’d be honored to spend the evening with you, Sam.”
“How should I dress?”
“Wear something easy to remove.”
“Bring your frenchies.”
King Killer left the coffee shop and I watched him get inside the backseat of his private car and be driven away like royalty. I stared at the man who had killed a king of the streets and paved the way for his group. Handsome. Fuckable. A wave of guilt hit me. I made sure King Killer was out of sight before I changed SIM cards in my cellular and called the man I was in love with, dialed Johnny Parker’s number.
He answered on the first ring. “Hello?”
I didn’t say anything. All I could do was inhale, exhale, miss him like crazy. Missed him so much my head ached and my eyes wanted to water.
He said, “Jennifer? Is this you, Jennifer?”
Last month, before this Trinidad assignment, I had an almost normal life, had used the name Jennifer, a form of the Welsh Gwenhwyfar, a name that meant “white fairy”—a little self-deprecating humor. Johnny was my boyfriend. We’d spent most nights together for four months. And had taken vacations together. The last was from Florida to Denver. During our helicopter tour of a mountain range in Colorado, we saw several snowboarders taking on the steep terrain of the couloir. The next day we both had done the same. He was as daring and athletic as I was. I had been living the perfect lie. Dates. Movies. Birthday cards. Too bad his ex-wife had become a problem that had to be dealt with.
I cleared my throat, turned on my Brooklyn accent, and said, “Parker. I miss you, baby.”
Then I hung up.