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Authors: V. S. Naipaul

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

Miguel Street (10 page)

BOOK: Miguel Street
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And so she wept and talked and wept.

We left her to herself for some time.

Then my mother said, ‘Toni look like the sort of man who could kill easy, easy, without feeling that he really murdering. You want to sleep here tonight? You could sleep on the boy bed. He could sleep on the floor.’

Mrs Hereira wasn’t listening.

My mother shook her and repeated her offer.

Mrs Hereira said, ‘I am all right now, really. I will go back and talk to Toni. I think I did something to offend him. I must go back and find out what it is.’

‘Well, I really give up,’ my mother said. ‘I think you taking this love business a little too far, you hear.’

So Mrs Hereira went back to her house. My mother and I waited for a long time, waiting for a scream.

But we heard nothing.

And the next morning Mrs Hereira was composed and refined as ever.

But day by day you could see her losing her freshness and saddening her beauty. Her face was getting lined. Her eyes were red and swollen, and the dark patches under them were ugly to look at.

Hat jumped up and said, ‘I know it! I know it! I know it a long time now.’

He showed us the Personal column in the classified advertisements. Seven people had decided to leave their spouses. We followed Hat’s finger and read:

I, Henry Hubert Christiani, declare that my wife, Angela Mary Christiani, is no longer under my care and protection, and I am not responsible for any debt or debts contracted by her.

‘Boyee said, Is the selfsame woman.’

Eddoes said, ‘Yes, Christiani. Doctor fellow. Know him good good. Used to pick up rubbish for him.’

Hat said, ‘Now I ask you, why, why a woman want to leave a man like that for this Toni? ’

Eddoes said, ‘Yes, know Christiani good good. Good house, nice car. Full of money, you know. It have a long time now I see him. Know him from the days when I used to work Mucurapo way.’

And in about half an hour the news had spread through Miguel Street.

My mother said to Mrs Hereira, ‘You better call the police.’

Mrs Hereira said, ‘No, no. Not the police.’

My mother said, ‘Like you fraid police more than you fraid Toni.’

Mrs Hereira said, ‘The scandal ’

‘Scandal hell!’ my mother said. ‘Your life in trouble and you thinking about scandal. Like if this man ain’t disgrace you enough already.’

My mother said, ‘Why you don’t go back to your husband?’

She said it as though she expected Mrs Hereira to jump up in surprise.

But Mrs Hereira remained very calm.

She said, ‘I don’t feel anything about him. And I just can’t stand that clean doctor’s smell he has. It chokes me.’

I understood her perfectly, and tried to get my mother’s eye.

Toni was growing really wild.

He used to sit on his front steps with a half bottle of rum in his hand. The dog was with him.

He appeared to have lost touch with the world completely. He seemed to be without feeling. It was hard enough to imagine Mrs Hereira, or Mrs Christiani, in love with him. But it was impossible to imagine him being in love with anybody.

I thought he was like an animal, like his dog.

One morning Mrs Hereira came over and said, very calmly, ‘I have decided to leave Toni.’

She was so calm I could see my mother getting worried.

My mother said, ‘What happen now?’

Mrs Hereira said, ‘Nothing. Last night he made the dog jump at me. He didn’t look as if he knew what he was doing. He didn’t laugh or anything. I think he is going mad, and if I don’t get out I think he will kill me.’

My mother said, ‘Who you going back to?’

‘My husband.’

‘Even after what he print in the papers? ’

Mrs Hereira said, ‘Henry is like a boy, you know, and he thinks he can frighten me. If I go back today, he will be glad to have me back.’

And saying that, she looked different, and hard.

My mother said, ‘Don’t be so sure. He know Toni?’

Mrs Hereira laughed in a crazy sort of way. ‘Toni was Henry’s friend, not mine. Henry brought him home one day. Toni was sick like anything. Henry was like that, you know. I never met a man who liked doing good works so much as Henry. He was all for good works and sanitation.’

My mother said, ‘You know, Mrs Hereira, I really wish you was like me. If somebody did marry you off when you was fifteen, we wouldnta been hearing all this nonsense, you hear. Making all this damn fuss about your heart and love and all that rubbish.’

Mrs Hereira began to cry.

My mother said, ‘Look, I didn’t want to make you cry like this. I sorry.’

Mrs Hereira sobbed, ‘No, it isn’t you, it isn’t you.’

My mother looked disappointed. We watched Mrs Hereira cry.

Mrs Hereira said, ‘I have left about a week’s food with Toni.’

My mother said, ‘Toni is a big man. You mustn’t worry about him.’

He made terrible noises when he discovered that she had left him. He bayed like a dog and bawled like a baby.

Then he got drunk. Not drunk in the ordinary fashion; it got to the stage where the rum was keeping him going.

He forgot all about the dog, and it starved for days.

He stumbled drunk and crying from house to house, looking for Mrs Hereira.

And when he got back he took it out on the dog. We used to hear the dog yelping and growling.

In the end even the dog turned on him.

Somehow it managed to get itself free and it rushed at Toni.

Toni was shocked into sense.

The dog ran out of the house, and Toni ran after it. Toni squatted and whistled. The dog stopped, pricked up its ears, and turned round to look. It was funny seeing this drunk crazy man smiling and whistling at his dog, trying to get him back.

The dog stood still, staring at Toni.

Its tail wagged twice, then fell.

Toni got up and began walking towards the dog. The dog turned and ran.

We saw him sprawling on a mattress in one of the rooms. The room was perfectly empty. Nothing but the mattress and the empty rum bottles and the cigarette ends.

He was drunk and sleeping, and his face was strangely reposed.

The thin and wrinkled hands looked so frail and sad.

Another
FOR SALE
sign was nailed to the mango tree. A man with about five little children bought the house.

From time to time Toni came around to terrify the new people.

He would ask for money, for rum, and he had the habit of asking for the radio. He would say, ‘You have Angela’s radio there. I charging rent for that, you know. Two dollars a month. Give me two dollars now.’

The new owner was a small man, and he was afraid of Toni. He never answered.

Toni would look at us and laugh and say, ‘You know about Angela’s radio, eh, boys? You know about the radio? Now, what this man playing at? ’

Hat said, ‘Who will tell me why they ever have people like Toni in this world!’

After two or three months he stopped coming to Miguel Street.

I saw Toni many years later.

I was travelling to Arima, and just near the quarry at Laventille I saw him driving a lorry.

He was smoking a cigarette.

That and his thin arms are all I remember.

And riding to Carénage one Sunday morning, I passed the Christianis’ house, which I had avoided for a long time.

Mrs Christiani, or Mrs Hereira, was in shorts. She was reading the paper in an easy chair in the garden. Through the open doors of the house I saw a uniformed servant laying the table for lunch.

There was a black car, a new, big cai, in the garage.

XIII
THE MECHANICAL GENIUS

My Uncle Bhakcu was very nearly a mechanical genius. I cannot remember a time when he was not the owner of a motor vehicle of some sort. I don’t think he always approved of the manufacturers’ designs, however, for he was always pulling engines to bits. Titus Hoyt said that this was also a habit of the Eskimos. It was something he had got out of a geography book.

If I try to think of Bhakcu I never see his face. I can see only the soles of his feet as he worms his way under a car. I was worried when Bhakcu was under a car because it looked so easy for the car to slip off the jack and fall on him.

One day it did.

He gave a faint groan that reached the ears of only his wife.

She bawled, ‘Oh God!’ and burst into tears right away. ‘I know something wrong. Something happen to
he’

Mrs Bhakcu always used this pronoun when she spoke of her husband.

She hurried to the side of the yard and heard Bhakcu groaning.

‘Man,’ she whispered, ‘you all right?’

He groaned a little more loudly.

He said, ‘How the hell I all right? You mean you so blind you ain’t see the whole motor-car break up my arse?’

Mrs Bhakcu, dutiful wife, began to cry afresh.

She beat on the galvanized-iron fence.

‘Hat,’ Mrs Bhakcu called, ‘Hat, come quick. A whole motor-car fall on
he?

Hat was cleaning out the cow-pen. When he heard Mrs Bhakcu he laughed. ‘You know what I always does say,’ Hat said. ‘When you play the ass you bound to catch hell. The blasted car brand-new. What the hell he was tinkering with so?’

‘He
say the crank-shaft wasn’t working nice.’

‘And is there he looking for the crank-shaft?’

‘Hat,’ Bhakcu shouted from under the car, ‘the moment you get this car from off me, I going to break up your tail.’

‘Man,’ Mrs Bhakcu said to her husband, ‘how you so advantageous? The man come round with his good good mind to help you and now you want to beat him up?’

Hat began to look hurt and misunderstood.

Hat said, ‘It ain’t nothing new. Is just what I expect. Is just what I does always get for interfering in other people business. You know I mad to leave you and your husband here and go back to the cow-pen.’

‘No, Hat. You mustn’t mind
he.
Think what you would say if a whole big new motor-car fall on you.’

Hat said, ‘All right, all right. I have to go and get some of the boys.’

We heard Hat shouting in the street. ‘Boyee and Errol!’

No answer.

‘Bo-yee and Ehhroll!’

‘Co-ming, Hat.’

‘Where the hell you boys been, eh? You think you is man now and you could just stick your hands in your pocket and walk out like man? You was smoking, eh?’

‘Smoking, Hat?’

‘But what happen now? You turn deaf all of a sudden?’

‘Was Boyee was smoking, Hat.’

‘Is a lie, Hat. Was Errol really. I just stand up watching him.’

‘Somebody make you policeman now, eh? Is cut-arse for both of you. Errol, go cut a whip for Boyee. Boyee, go cut a whip for Errol.’

We heard the boys whimpering.

From under the car Bhakcu called, ‘Hat, why you don’t leave the boys alone? You go bless them bad one of these days, you know, and then they go lose you in jail. Why you don’t leave the boys alone? They big now.’

Hat shouted back, ‘You mind your own business, you hear. Otherwise I leave you under that car until you rotten, you hear.’

Mrs Bhakcu said to her husband, ‘Take it easy, man.’

But it was nothing serious after all. The jack had slipped but the axle rested on a pile of wooden blocks, pinning Bhakcu to ground without injuring him.

When Bhakcu came out he looked at his clothes. These were a pair of khaki trousers and a sleeveless vest, both black and stiff with engine grease.

Bhakcu said to his wife, ‘They really dirty now, eh?’

She regarded her husband with pride. ‘Yes, man,’ she said. ‘They really dirty.’

Bhakcu smiled.

Hat said, ‘Look, I just sick of lifting up motor-car from off you, you hear. If you want my advice, you better send for a proper mechanic’

Bhakcu wasn’t listening.

He said to his wife, ‘The crank-shaft was all right. Is something else.’

Mrs Bhakcu said, ‘Well, you must eat first.’

She looked at Hat and said,
‘He
don’t eat when
he
working on the car unless I remind
he?

Hat said, ‘What you want me do with that? Write it down with a pencil on a piece of paper and send it to the papers?’

I wanted to watch Bhakcu working on the car that evening, so I said to him, ‘Uncle Bhakcu, your clothes looking really dirty and greasy. I wonder how you could bear to wear them.’

He turned and smiled at me. ‘What you expect, boy?’ he said. ‘Mechanic people like me ain’t have time for clean clothes.’

‘What happen to the car, Uncle Bhakcu?’ I asked.

He didn’t reply.

‘The tappet knocking?’ I suggested.

One thing Bhacku had taught me about cars was that tappets were always knocking. Give Bhakcu any car in the world, and the first thing he would tell you about it was, ‘The tappet knocking, you know. Hear. Hear it?’

‘The tappet knocking?’ I asked.

He came right up to me and asked eagerly, ‘What, you hear it knocking?’

And before I had time to say, ‘Well,
something
did knocking,’ Mrs Bhakcu pulled him away, saying, ‘Come and eat now, man. God, you get your clothes really dirty today.’

The car that fell on Bhakcu wasn’t really a new car, although Bhakcu boasted that it very nearly was.

‘It only do two hundred miles,’ he used to say.

Hat said, ‘Well, I know Trinidad small, but I didn’t know it was so small.’

I remember the day it was bought. It was a Saturday. And that morning Mrs Bhakcu came to my mother and they talked about the cost of rice and flour and the black market. As she was leaving, Mrs Bhakcu said,
‘He
gone to town today.
He
say
he
got to buy a new car.’

So we waited for the new car.

Midday came, but Bhakcu didn’t.

Hat said, ‘Two to one, that man taking down the engine right this minute.’

About four o’clock we heard a banging and a clattering, and looking down Miguel Street towards Docksite we saw the car. It was a blue Chevrolet, one of the 1939 models. It looked rich and new. We began to wave and cheer, and I saw Bhakcu waving his left hand.

We danced into the road in front of Bhakcu’s house, waving and cheering.

The car came nearer and Hat said, ‘Jump, boys! Run for your life. Like he get mad.’

It was a near thing. The car just raced past the house and we stopped cheering.

Hat said, ‘The car out of control. It go have a accident if something don’t happen quick.’

Mrs Bhakcu laughed. ‘What you think it is at all?’ she said.

But we raced after the car, crying after Bhakcu.

He wasn’t waving with his left hand. He was trying to warn people off.

By a miracle, it stopped just before Ariapita Avenue.

Bhakcu said, ‘I did mashing down the brakes since I turn Miguel Street, but the brakes ain’t working. Is a funny thing. I overhaul the brakes just this morning.’

Hat said, ‘It have two things for you to do. Overhaul your head or haul your arse away before you get people in trouble.’

Bhakcu said, ‘You boys go have to give me a hand to push the car back home.’

As we were pushing it past the house of Morgan, the pyrotechnicist, Mrs Morgan shouted, ‘Ah, Mrs Bhakcu, I see you buy a new car today, man.’

Mrs Bhakcu didn’t reply.

Mrs Morgan said, ‘Ah, Mrs Bhakcu, you think your husband go give me a ride in his new car?’

Mrs Bhakcu said, ‘Yes,
he
go give you a ride, but first
your
husband must give
me
a ride on his donkey-cart when he buy it.’

Bhakcu said to Mrs Bhakcu, ‘Why you don’t shut your mouth up?’

Mrs Bhakcu said, ‘But how you want me to shut my mouth up? You is my husband, and I have to stand up for you.’

Bhakcu said very sternly, ‘You only stand up for me when I tell you, you hear.’

We left the car in front of Bhakcu’s house, and we left Mr and Mrs Bhakcu to their quarrel. It wasn’t a very interesting one. Mrs Bhakcu kept on claiming her right to stand up for her husband, and Mr Bhakcu kept on rejecting the claim. In the end Bhakcu had to beat his wife.

This wasn’t as easy as it sounds. If you want to get a proper picture of Mrs Bhakcu you must consider a pear as a scale-model. Mrs Bhakcu had so much flesh, in fact, that when she held her arms at her sides they looked like marks of parenthesis.

And as for her quarrelling voice …

Hat used to say, ‘It sound as though it coming from a gramophone record turning fast fast backwards.’

For a long time I think Bhakcu experimented with rods for beating his wife, and I wouldn’t swear that it wasn’t Hat who suggested a cricket bat. But whoever suggested it, a second-hand cricket bat was bought from one of the groundsmen at the Queen’s Park Oval, and oiled, and used on Mrs Bhakcu.

Hat said, ‘Is the only thing she really could feel, I think.’

The strangest thing about this was that Mrs Bhakcu her self kept the bat clean and well-oiled. Boyee tried many times to borrow the bat, but Mrs Bhakcu never lent it.

So on the evening of the day when the car fell on Bhakcu I went to see him at work.

‘What you did saying about the tappet knocking?’ he said.

‘I didn’t say nothing,’ I said. ‘I was asking you.’

‘Oh.’

Bhakcu worked late into the night, taking down the engine. He worked all the next day, Sunday, and all Sunday night. On Monday morning the mechanic came.

Mrs Bhakcu told my mother, ‘The company send the mechanic man. The trouble with these Trinidad mechanics is that they is just piss-in-tail little boys who don’t know the first thing about cars and things.’

I went round to Bhakcu’s house and saw the mechanic with his head inside the bonnet. Bhakcu was sitting on the running-board, rubbing grease over everything the mechanic handed him. He looked so happy dipping his fingers in the grease that I asked, ‘Let me rub some grease, Uncle Bhakcu.’

‘Go away, boy. You too small.’

I sat and watched him.

He said, ‘The tappet was knocking, but I fix it.’

I said, ‘Good.’

The mechanic was cursing.

I asked Bhakcu, ‘How the points?’

He said, ‘I have to check them up.’

I got up and walked around the car and sat on the running-board next to Bhakcu.

I looked at him and I said, ‘You know something?’

‘What?’

‘When I did hear the engine on Saturday, I didn’t think it was beating nice.’

Bhakcu said, ‘You getting to be a real smart man, you know. You learning fast.’

I said, ‘Is what you teach me.’

It was, as a matter of fact, pretty nearly the limit of my knowledge. The knocking tappet, the points, the beat of the engine and-yes, I had forgotten one thing.

‘You know, Uncle Bhakcu,’ I said.

‘What, boy?’

‘Uncle Bhakcu, I think is the carburettor.’

‘You really think so, boy? ’

‘I sure, Uncle Bhakcu.’

‘Well, I go tell you, boy. Is the first thing I ask the mechanic. He don’t think so.’

The mechanic lifted a dirty and angry face from the engine and said, ‘When you have all sort of ignorant people messing about with a engine the white people build with their own own hands, what the hell else you expect?’

Bhakcu winked at me.

He said, ‘I think is the carburettor.’

Of all the drills, I liked the carburettor drill the best. Sometimes Bhakcu raced the engine while I put my palm over the carburettor and off again. Bhakcu never told me why we did this and I never asked. Sometimes we had to siphon petrol from the tank, and I would pour this petrol into the carburettor while Bhakcu raced the engine. I often asked him to let me race the engine, but he wouldn’t agree.

One day the engine caught fire, but I jumped away in time. The fire didn’t last.

Bhakcu came out of the car and looked at the engine in a puzzled way. I thought he was annoyed with it, and I was prepared to see him dismantle it there and then.

That was the last time we did that drill with the carburettor.

At last the mechanic tested the engine and the brakes, and said, ‘Look, the car good good now, you hear. It cost me more work than if I was to build over a new car. Leave the damn thing alone.’

After the mechanic left, Bhakcu and I walked very thoughtfully two or three times around the car. Bhakcu was stroking his chin, not talking to me.

Suddenly he jumped into the driver’s seat and pressed the horn-button a few times.

He said, ‘What you think about the horn, boy?’

I said, ‘Blow it again, let me hear.’

He pressed the button again.

Hat pushed his head through a window and shouted, ‘Bhakcu, keep the damn car quiet, you hear, man. You making the place sound as though it have a wedding going on.’

We ignored Hat.

I said, ‘Uncle Bhakcu, I don’t think the horn blowing nice.’

He said, ‘You really don’t think so?’

I made a face and spat.

So we began to work on the horn.

When we were finished there was a bit of flex wound round the steering-column.

Bhakcu looked at me and said, ‘You see, you could just take this wire now and touch it on any part of the metal-work, and the horn blow.’

It looked unlikely, but it did work.

I said, ‘Uncle Bhak, how you know about all these things?’

He said, ‘You just keep on learning all the time.’

The men in the street didn’t like Bhakcu because they considered him a nuisance. But I liked him for the same reason that I liked Popo, the carpenter. For, thinking about it now, Bhakcu was also an artist. He interfered with motor-cars for the joy of the thing, and he never seemed worried about money.

But his wife was worried. She, like my mother, thought that she was born to be a clever handler of money, born to make money sprout from nothing at all.

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