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Authors: V. S. Naipaul

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

Miguel Street (6 page)

BOOK: Miguel Street
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We heard Morgan’s voice, a fluting unhappy thing.

Mrs Morgan said, ‘But what you fraid now for? Ain’t you is the funny man? The clown? Come, let them see see the clown and the big man you is. Let them see what man really make like.’

Morgan was wailing by this time, and trying to talk.

Mrs Morgan was saying, ‘If you try to put that light off, I break up your little thin tail like a match-stick here, you hear.’

Then the front door was flung open, and we saw.

Mrs Morgan was holding up Morgan by his waist. He was practically naked, and he looked so thin, he was like a boy with an old man’s face. He wasn’t looking at us, but at Mrs Morgan’s face, and he was squirming in her grasp, trying to get away. But Mrs Morgan was a strong woman.

Mrs Morgan was looking not at us, but at the man in her arm.

She was saying, ‘But this is the big man I have, eh? So this is the man I married and slaving all my life for?’ And then she began laughing in a croaking, nasty way.

She looked at us for a moment and said, ‘Well, laugh now. He don’t mind. He always want people to laugh at him.’

And the sight was so comic, the thin man held up so easily by the fat woman, that we did laugh. It was the sort of laugh that begins gently and then builds up into a bellowing belly laugh.

For the first time since he came to Miguel Street, Morgan was really being laughed at by the people.

And it broke him completely.

All the next day we waited for him to come out to the pavement, to congratulate him with our laughter. But we didn’t see him.

Hat said, ‘When I was little, my mother used to tell me, “Boy, you laughing all day. I bet you you go cry tonight.” ’

That night my sleep was again disturbed. By shouts and sirens.

I looked through the window and saw a red sky and red smoke.

Morgan’s house was on fire.

And what a fire! Photographers from the papers were climbing up into other people’s houses to get their pictures, and people were looking at them and not at the fire. Next morning there was a first-class picture with me part of the crowd in the top right-hand corner.

But what a fire it was! It was the most beautiful fire in Port of Spain since 1933 when the Treasury (of all places) burnt down, and the calypsonian sang:

It was a glorious and a beautiful scenery
Was the burning of the Treasury.

What really made the fire beautiful was Morgan’s fireworks going off. Then for the first time everybody saw the astonishing splendour of Morgan’s fireworks. People who used to scoff at Morgan felt a little silly. I have travelled in many countries since, but I have seen nothing to beat the fireworks show in Morgan’s house that night.

But Morgan made no more fireworks.

Hat said, ‘When I was a little boy, my mother used to say, “If a man want something, and he want it really bad, he does get it, but when he get it he don’t like it.” ’

Both of Morgan’s ambitions were fulfilled. People laughed at him, and they still do. And he made the most beautiful fireworks in the world. But as Hat said, when a man gets something he wants badly, he doesn’t like it.

As we expected, the thing came out in court. Morgan was charged with arson. The newspaper people had a lot of fun wich Morgan, within the libel laws. One headline I remember :
PYROTECHNIST ALLEGED PYROMANIAC.

But I was glad, though, that Morgan got off.

They said Morgan went to Venezuela. They said he went mad. They said he became a jockey in Colombia. They said all sorts of things, but the people of Miguel Street were always romancers.

IX
TITUS HOYT, I.A.

This man was born to be an active and important member of a local road board in the country. An unkind fate had placed him in the city. He was a natural guide, philosopher and friend to anyone who stopped to listen.

Titus Hoyt was the first man I met when I came to Port of Spain, a year or two before the war.

My mother had fetched me from Chaguanas after my father died. We travelled up by train and took a bus to Miguel Street. It was the first time I had travelled in a city bus.

I said to my mother, ‘Ma, look, they forget to ring the bell here.’

My mother said, ‘If you ring the bell you damn well going to get off and walk home by yourself, you hear.’

And then a little later I said, ‘Ma, look, the sea.’

People in the bus began to laugh.

My mother was really furious.

Early next morning my mother said, ‘Look now, I giving you four cents. Go to the shop on the corner of this road, Miguel Street, and buy two hops bread for a cent apiece, and buy a penny butter. And come back quick.’

I found the shop and I bought the bread and the butter- the red, salty type of butter.

Then I couldn’t find my way back.

I found about six Miguel Streets, but none seemed to have my house. After a long time walking up and down I began to cry. I sat down on the pavement and got my shoes wet in the gutter.

Some little white girls were playing in a yard behind me. I looked at them, still crying. A girl wearing a pink frock came out and said, ‘Why you crying?’

I said, ‘I lost.’

She put her hands on my shoulder and said, ‘Don’t cry. You know where you live? ’

I pulled out a piece of paper from my shirt pocket and showed her. Then a man came up. He was wearing white shorts and a white shirt, and he looked funny.

‘The man said, Why he crying?’ in a gruff, but interested way.

The girl told him.

The man said, ‘I will take him home.’

I asked the girl to come too.

The man said, ‘Yes, you better come to explain to his mother.’

The girl said, ‘All right, Mr Titus Hoyt.’

That was one of the first things about Titus Hoyt that I found interesting. The girl calling him ‘Mr Titus Hoyt.’ Not Titus, or Mr Hoyt, but Mr Titus Hoyt. I later realised that everyone who knew him called him that.

When we got home the girl explained to my mother what had happened, and my mother was ashamed of me.

Then the girl left.

Mr Titus Hoyt looked at me and said, ‘He look like a intelligent little boy.’

My mother said in a sarcastic way, ‘Like his father.’

Titus Hoyt said, ‘Now, young man, if a herring and a half cost a penny and a half, what’s the cost of three herrings?’

Even in the country, in Chaguanas, we had heard about that.

Without waiting, I said, ‘Three pennies.’

Titus Hoyt regarded me with wonder.

He told my mother, ‘This boy bright like anything, ma’am. You must take care of him and send him to a good school and feed him good food so he could study well.’

My mother didn’t say anything.

When Titus Hoyt left, he said, ‘Cheerio!’

That was the second interesting thing about him.

My mother beat me for getting my shoes wet in the gutter but she said she wouldn’t beat me for getting lost.

For the rest of that day I ran about the yard saying, ‘Cheerio! Cheerio!’ to a tune of my own.

That evening Titus Hoyt came again.

My mother didn’t seem to mind.

To me Titus Hoyt said, ‘You can read?’

I said yes.

‘And write?’

I said yes.

‘Well, look,’ he said, ‘get some paper and a pencil and write what I tell you.’

I said, ‘Taper and pencil?’

He nodded.

I ran to the kitchen and said, ‘Ma, you got any paper and pencil?’

My mother said, ‘What you think I is? A shopkeeper?’

Titus Hoyt shouted, ‘Is for me, ma’am.’

My mother said, ‘Oh.’ in a disappointed way.

She said, ‘In the bottom drawer of the bureau you go find my purse. It have a pencil in it.’

And she gave me a copy-book from the kitchen shelf.

Mr Titus Hoyt said, ‘Now, young man, write. Write the address of this house in the top right-hand corner, and below that, the date.’ Then he asked, ‘You know who we writing this letter to, boy?’

I shook my head.

He said, ‘Ha, boy! Ha! We writing to the
Guardian,
boy.’

I said, ‘The
Trinidad Guardian?
The paper? What,
me
writing to the
Guardian
! But only big big man does write to the
Guardian?

Titus Hoyt smiled. ‘That’s
why
you writing. It go surprise them.’

I said, ‘What I go write to them about?’

He said, ‘You go write it now. Write. To the Editor,
Trinidad Guardian.
Dear Sir, I am but a child of eight (How old you is? Well, it don’t matter anyway) and yesterday my mother sent me to make a purchase in the city. This, dear Mr Editor, was my first peregrination (p-e-r-e-g-r-i-n-a-t-i-o-n) in this metropolis, and I had the misfortune to wander from the path my mother had indicated ’

I said, ‘Oh God, Mr Titus Hoyt, where you learn all these big words and them? You sure you spelling them right?’

Titus Hoyt smiled. ‘I spend all afternoon making up this letter,’ he said.

I wrote : ‘… and in this state of despair I was rescued by a Mr Titus Hoyt, of Miguel Street. This only goes to show, dear Mr Editor, that human kindness is a quality not yet extinct in this world.’

The
Guardian
never printed the letter.

When I next saw Titus Hoyt he said, ‘Well, never mind. One day, boy, one day, I go make them sit up and take notice of every word I say. Just wait and see.’

And before he left he said, ‘Drinking your milk? ’

He had persuaded my mother to give me half a pint of milk every day. Milk was good for the brains.

It is one of the sadnesses of my life that I never fulfilled Titus Hoyt’s hopes for my academic success.

I still remember with tenderness the interest he took in me. Sometimes his views clashed with my mother’s. There was the business of the cobwebs, for instance.

Boyee, with whom I had become friendly very quickly, was teaching me to ride. I had fallen and cut myself nastily on the shin.

My mother was attempting to cure this with sooty cobwebs soaked in rum.

Titus Hoyt was horrified. ‘You ain’t know what you doing,’ he shouted.

My mother said, ‘Mr Titus Hoyt, I will kindly ask you to mind your own business. The day you make a baby yourself I go listen to what you have to say.’

Titus Hoyt refused to be ridiculed. He said, ‘Take the boy to the doctor, man.’

I was watching them argue, not caring greatly either way.

In the end I went to the doctor.

Titus Hoyt reappeared in a new role.

He told my mother, ‘For the last two three months I been taking the first-aid course with the Red Cross. I go dress the boy foot for you.’

That really terrified me.

For about a month or so afterwards, people in Miguel Street could tell when it was nine o’clock in the morning. By my shrieks. Titus Hoyt loved his work.

All this gives some clue to the real nature of the man.

The next step followed naturally.

Titus Hoyt began to teach.

It began in a small way, after the fashion of all great enterprises.

He had decided to sit for the external arts degree of London University. He began to learn Latin, teaching himself, and as fast as he learned, he taught us.

He rounded up three or four of us and taught us in the verandah of his house. He kept chickens in his yard and the place stank.

That Latin stage didn’t last very long. We got as far as the fourth declension, and then Boyee and Errol and myself began asking questions. They were not the sort of questions Titus Hoyt liked.

Boyee said, ‘Mr Titus Hoyt, I think you making up all this, you know, making it up as you go on.’

Titus Hoyt said, ‘But I telling you, I not making it up. Look, here it is in black and white.’

Errol said, ‘I feel, Mr Titus Hoyt, that one man sit down one day and make all this up and have everybody else learning it.’

Titus Hoyt asked me, ‘What is the accusative singular of
bellum?’

Feeling wicked, because I was betraying him, I said to Titus Hoyt, ‘Mr Titus Hoyt, when you was my age, how you woulda feel if somebody did ask you that question?’

And then Boyee asked, ‘Mr Titus Hoyt, what is the meaning of the ablative case?’

So the Latin lessons ended.

But however much we laughed at him, we couldn’t deny that Titus Hoyt was a deep man.

Hat used to say, ‘He is a thinker, that man.’

Titus Hoyt thought about all sorts of things, and he thought dangerous things sometimes.

Hat said, ‘I don’t think Titus Hoyt like God, you know.’

Titus Hoyt would say, ‘The thing that really matter is faith. Look, I believe that if I pull out this bicycle-lamp from my pocket here, and set it up somewhere, and really really believe in it and pray to it, what I pray for go come. That is what I believe.’

And so saying he would rise and leave, not forgetting to say, ‘Cheerio!’

He had the habit of rushing up to us and saying, ‘Silence, everybody. I just been thinking. Listen to what I just been thinking.’

One day he rushed up and said, ‘I been thinking how this war could end. If Europe could just sink for five minutes all the Germans go drown ’

Eddoes said, ‘But England go drown too.’

Titus Hoyt agreed and looked sad. ‘I lose my head, man,’ he said. ‘I lose my head.’

And he wandered away, muttering to himself and shaking his head.

One day he cycled right up to us when we talking about the Barbados-Trinidad cricket match. Things were not going well for Trinidad and we were worried.

Titus Hoyt rushed up and said, ‘Silence. I just been thinking. Look, boys, it ever strike you that the world not real at all? It ever strike you that we have the only mind in the world and you just thinking up everything else? Like me here, having the only mind in the world, and thinking up you people here, thinking up the war and all the houses and the ships and them in the harbour. That ever cross your mind?’

His interest in teaching didn’t die.

We often saw him going about with big books. These books were about teaching.

Titus Hoyt used to say, ‘Is a science, man. The trouble with Trinidad is that the teachers don’t have this science of teaching.’

And, ‘Is the biggest thing in the world, man. Having the minds of the young to train. Think of that. Think.’

It soon became clear that whatever we thought about it, Titus Hoyt was bent on training our minds.

He formed the Miguel Street Literary and Social Youth Club, and had it affiliated to the Trinidad and Tobago Youth Association.

We used to meet in his house, which was well supplied with things to eat and drink. The walls of his house were now hung with improving quotations, some typed, some cut out of magazines and pasted on bits of cardboard.

I also noticed a big thing called ‘Time-table.’

From this I gathered that Titus Hoyt was to rise at five-thirty, read Something from Greek philosophers until six, spend fifteen minutes bathing and exercising, another five reading the morning paper, and ten on breakfast. It was a formidable thing altogether.

Titus Hoyt said, ‘If I follow the time-table I will be a educated man in about three four years.’

The Miguel Street Club didn’t last very long.

It was Titus Hoyt’s fault.

No man in his proper senses would have made Boyee secretary. Most of Boyee’s minutes consisted of the names of people present.

And then we all had to write and read something.

The Miguel Street Literary and Social Club became nothing more than a gathering of film critics.

Titus Hoyt said, ‘No, man. We just can’t have all you boys talking about pictures all the time. I will have to get some propaganda for you boys.’

Boyee said, ‘Mr Titus Hoyt, what we want with propaganda? Is a German thing.’

Titus Hoyt smiled. ‘That is not the proper meaning of the word, boy. I am using the word in it proper meaning. Is education, boy, that make me know things like that.’

Boyee was sent as our delegate to the Youth Association annual conference.

When he came back Boyee said, ‘Is a helluva thing at that youth conference. Is only a pack of old, old people it have there.’

The attraction of the Coca-Cola and the cakes and the ice-cream began to fade. Some of us began staying away from meetings.

Titus Hoyt made one last effort to keep the club together.

One day he said, ‘Next Sunday the club will go on a visit to Fort George.’

There were cries of disapproval.

Titus Hoyt said, ‘You see, you people don’t care about your country. How many of you know about Fort George? Not one of you here know about the place. But is history, man, your history, and you must learn about things like that. You must remember that the boys and girls of today are the men and women of tomorrow. The old Romans had a saying, you know.
Mens sana in corpore sano.
I think we will make the walk to Fort George.’

Still no one wanted to go.

Titus Hoyt said, ‘At the top of Fort George it have a stream, and it cool cool and the water crystal clear. You could bathe there when we get to the top.’

We couldn’t resist that.

The next Sunday a whole group of us took the trolleybus to Mucurapo.

When the conductor came round to collect the fares, Titus Hoyt said, ‘Come back a little later.’ And he paid the conductor only when we got off the bus. The fare for everybody came up to about two shillings. But Titus Hoyt gave the conductor a shilling, saying, ‘We don’t want any ticket, man!’ The conductor and Titus Hoyt laughed.

It was a long walk up the hill, red and dusty, and hot.

Titus Hoyt told us, ‘This fort was built at a time when the French and them was planning to invade Trinidad.’

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