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Authors: V. S. Naipaul

Tags: #Literary, #Boys, #General, #Bildungsromans, #Historical, #Fiction, #Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago)

Miguel Street

BOOK: Miguel Street
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V.S. NAIPAUL
Miguel Street

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at Oxford he began to write, and since then he has followed no other profession. He is the author of more than twenty books of fiction and nonfiction and the recipient of numerous honors, including the Nobel Prize in 2001, the Booker Prize in 1971, and a knighthood for services to literature in 1990. He lives in Wiltshire, England.

A
LSO BY
V. S. N
AIPAUL

NONFICTION
Between Father and Son: Family Letters
Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples
India: A Million Mutinies Now
A Turn in the South
Finding the Center
Among the Believers
The Return of Eva Perón
(with
The Killings in Trinidad)
India: A Wounded Civilization
The Overcrowded Barracoon
The Loss of El Dorado
An Area of Darkness
The Middle Passage

FICTION

Half a Life
A Way in the World
The Enigma of Arrival
A Bend in the River
Guerrillas
In a Free State
A Flag on the Island
*
The Mimic Men
Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion
*
A House for Mr. Biswas
The Suffrage of Elvira
*
The Mystic Masseur

*
Published in an omnibus edition entitled
The Nightwatchman’s Occurrence Book

FIRST VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL EDITION, JUNE 2002

Copyright © 1959, copyright renewed 1987 by V. S. Naipaul

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain by André Deutsch Limited, London, in 1959. First published in hardcover in the United States by The Vanguard Press, New York, in 1960. Published in trade paperback by Vintage Books in 1984.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Naipaul, V. S. (Vidiadhar Surajprasad), 1932–
Miguel Street / by V. S. Naipaul.
p. cm.
eISBN: 978-0-307-77657-0
1. Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago)—Fiction.
2. Boys—Fiction. I. Title.
PR9272.9.N32 M5 2002
823’.914—dc21
2002022618

Author photograph © Jerry Bauer

www.vintagebooks.com

v3.1

For my Mother and Kamla

1
BOGART

Every morning when he got up Hat would sit on the banister of his back verandah and shout across, ‘What happening there, Bogart?’

Bogart would turn in his bed and mumble softly, so that no one heard, ‘What happening there, Hat?’

It was something of a mystery why he was called Bogart; but I suspect that it was Hat who gave him the name. I don’t know if you remember the year the film
Casablanca
was made. That was the year when Bogart’s fame spread like fire through Port of Spain and hundreds of young men began adopting the hardboiled Bogartian attitude.

Before they called him Bogart they called him Patience, because he played that game from morn till night. Yet he never liked cards.

Whenever you went over to Bogart’s little room you found him sitting on his bed with the cards in seven lines on a small table in front of him.

‘What happening there, man?’ he would ask quietly, and then he would say nothing for ten or fifteen minutes. And somehow you felt you couldn’t really talk to Bogart, he looked so bored and superior. His eyes were small and sleepy. His face was fat and his hair was gleaming black. His arms were plump. Yet he was not a funny man. He did everything with a captivating languor. Even when he licked his thumb to deal out the cards there was grace in it.

He was the most bored man I ever knew.

He made a pretence of making a living by tailoring, and he had even paid me some money to write a sign for him:

TAILOR AND CUTTER
Suits made to Order
Popular and Competitive Prices

He bought a sewing machine and some blue and white and brown chalks. But I never could imagine him competing with anyone; and I cannot remember him making a suit. He was a little bit like Popo, the carpenter next door, who never made a stick of furniture and was always planing and chiselling and making what I think he called mortises. Whenever I asked him, ‘Mr Popo, what you making?’ he would reply, ‘Ha, boy! That’s the question. I making the thing without a name.’ Bogart was never even making anything like this.

Being a child, I never wondered how Bogart came by any money. I assumed that grown-ups had money as a matter of course. Popo had a wife who worked at a variety of jobs; and ended up by becoming the friend of many men. I could never think of Bogart as having mother or father; and he never brought a woman to his little room. This little room of his was called the servant-room but no servant to the people in the main house ever lived there. It was just an architectural convention.

It is still something of a miracle to me that Bogart managed to make friends. Yet he did make many friends; he was at one time quite the most popular man in the street. I used to see him squatting on the pavement with all the big men of the street. And while Hat or Edward or Eddoes was talking, Bogart would just look down and draw rings with his fingers on the pavement. He never laughed audibly. He never told a story. Yet whenever there was a fête or something like that, everybody would say, ‘We must have Bogart. He smart like hell, that man.’ In a way he gave them great solace and comfort, I suppose.

And so every morning, as I told you, Hat would shout, very loudly, ‘What happening there, Bogart? ’

And he would wait for the indeterminate grumble which was Bogart saying, ‘What happening there, Hat?’

But one morning, when Hat shouted, there was no reply. Something which had appeared unalterable was missing.

Bogart had vanished; had left us without a word.

The men in the street were silent and sorrowful for two whole days. They assembled in Bogart’s little room. Hat lifted up the deck of cards that lay on Bogart’s table and dropped two or three cards at a time reflectively.

Hat said, ‘You think he gone Venezuela?’

But no one knew. Bogart told them so little.

And the next morning Hat got up and lit a cigarette and went to his back verandah and was on the point of shouting, when he remembered. He milked the cows earlier than usual that morning, and the cows didn’t like it.

A month passed; then another month. Bogart didn’t return.

Hat and his friends began using Bogart’s room as their club house. They played
wappee
and drank rum and smoked, and sometimes brought the odd stray woman to the room. Hat was presently involved with the police for gambling and sponsoring cock-fighting; and he had to spend a lot of money to bribe his way out of trouble.

It was as if Bogart had never come to Miguel Street. And after all Bogart had been living in the street only for four years or so. He had come one day with a single suitcase, looking for a room, and he had spoken to Hat who was squatting outside his gate, smoking a cigarette and reading the cricket scores in the evening paper. Even then he hadn’t said much. All he said – that was Hat’s story – was, ‘You know any rooms?’ and Hat had led him to the next yard where there was this furnished servant-room going for eight dollars a month. He had installed himself there immediately, brought out a pack of cards, and begun playing patience.

This impressed Hat.

For the rest he had always remained a man of mystery. He became Patience.

When Hat and everybody else had forgotten or nearly forgotten Bogart, he returned. He turned up one morning just about seven and found Eddoes and a woman on his bed. The woman jumped up and screamed. Eddoes jumped up, not so much afraid as embarrassed.

Bogart said, ‘Move over. I tired and I want to sleep.’

He slept until five that afternoon, and when he woke up he found his room full of the old gang. Eddoes was being very loud and noisy to cover up his embarrassment. Hat had brought a bottle of rum.

Hat said, ‘What happening there, Bogart? ’

And he rejoiced when he found his cue taken up. ‘What happening there, Hat?’

Hat opened the bottle of rum, and shouted to Boyee to go buy a bottle of soda water.

Bogart asked, ‘How the cows, Hat?’

‘They all right.’

‘And Boyee?’

‘He all right too. Ain’t you just hear me call him?’

‘And Errol?’

‘He all right too. But what happening, Bogart?
You
all right?’

Bogart nodded, and drank a long Madrassi shot of rum. Then another, and another; and they had presently finished the bottle.

‘Don’t worry,’ Bogart said. ‘I go buy another.’

They had never seen Bogart drink so much; they had never heard him talk so much; and they were alarmed. No one dared to ask Bogart where he had been.

Bogart said, ‘You boys been keeping my room hot all the time?’

‘It wasn’t the same without you,’ Hat replied.

But they were all worried. Bogart was hardly opening his lips when he spoke. His mouth was twisted a little, and his accent was getting slightly American.

‘Sure, sure,’ Bogart said, and he had got it right. He was just like an actor.

Hat wasn’t sure that Bogart was drunk.

In appearance, you must know, Hat recalled Rex Harrison, and he had done his best to strengthen the resemblance. He combed his hair backwards, screwed up his eyes, and he spoke very nearly like Harrison.

‘Damn it, Bogart,’ Hat said, and he became very like Rex Harrison. ‘You may as well tell us everything right away.’

Bogart showed his teeth and laughed in a twisted, cynical way.

‘Sure I’ll tell,’ he said, and got up and stuck his thumbs inside his waistband. ‘Sure, I’ll tell everything.’

He lit a cigarette, leaned back in such a way that the smoke got into his eyes; and, squinting, he drawled out his story.

He had got a job on a ship and had gone to British Guiana. There he had deserted, and gone into the interior. He became a cowboy on the Rupununi, smuggled things (he didn’t say what) into Brazil, and had gathered some girls from Brazil and taken them to Georgetown. He was running the best brothel in the town when the police treacherously took his bribes and arrested him.

‘It was a high-class place,’ he said, ‘no bums. Judges and doctors and big shot civil servants.’

‘What happen?’ Eddoes asked. ‘Jail?’

‘How you so stupid?’ Hat said. ‘Jail, when the man here with we. But why you people so stupid? Why you don’t let the man talk?’

But Bogart was offended, and refused to speak another word.

From then on the relationship between these men changed. Bogart became the Bogart of the films. Hat became Harrison. And the morning exchange became this:

‘Bogart!’

‘Shaddup, Hat!’

Bogart now became the most feared man in the street. Even Big Foot was said to be afraid of him. Bogart drank and swore and gambled with the best. He shouted rude remarks at girls walking by themselves in the street. He bought a hat, and pulled down the brim over his eyes. He became a regular sight, standing against the high concrete fence of his yard, hands in his pockets, one foot jammed against the wall, and an eternal cigarette in his mouth.

Then he disappeared again. He was playing cards with the gang in his room, and he got up and said, ‘I’m going to the latrine.’

They didn’t see him for four months.

When he returned, he had grown a little fatter but he had become a little more aggressive. His accent was now pure American. To complete the imitation, he began being expansive towards children. He called out to them in the streets, and gave them money to buy gum and chocolate. He loved stroking their heads, and giving them good advice.

The third time he went away and came back he gave a great party in his room for all the children or kids, as he called them. He bought cases of Solo and Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola and about a bushel of cakes.

Then Sergeant Charles, the policeman who lived up Miguel Street at number forty-five, came and arrested Bogart.

‘Don’t act tough, Bogart,’ Sergeant Charles said.

But Bogart failed to take the cue.

‘What happening, man? I ain’t do anything.’

Sergeant Charles told him.

There was a little stir in the papers. The charge was bigamy; but it was up to Hat to find out all the inside details that the newspapers never mention.

‘You see,’ Hat said on the pavement that evening, ‘the man leave his first wife in Tunapuna and come to Port of Spain. They couldn’t have children. He remain here feeling sad and small. He go away, find a girl in Caroni and he give she a baby. In Caroni they don’t make joke about that sort of thing and Bogart had to get married to the girl.’

‘But why he leave she?’ Eddoes asked.

‘To be a man, among we men.’

BOOK: Miguel Street
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