Authors: V. S. Naipaul
Tags: #Literary, #Boys, #General, #Bildungsromans, #Historical, #Fiction, #Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago)
THE BLUE CART
There were many reasons why I wanted to be like Eddoes when I grew up.
He was one of the aristocrats of the street. He drove a scavenging cart and so worked only in the mornings.
Then, as everybody said, Eddoes was a real ‘saga-boy.’ This didn’t mean that he wrote epic poetry. It meant that he was a ‘sweet-man,’ a man of leisure, well-dressed, and keen on women.
Hat used to say, ‘For a man who does drive a scavenging cart, this Eddoes too clean, you hear.’
Eddoes was crazy about cleanliness.
He used to brush his teeth for hours.
If fact, if you were telling a stranger about Eddoes you would say, ‘You know-the little fellow with a tooth-brush always in his mouth.’
This was one thing in Eddoes I really admired. Once I stuck a tooth-brush in my mouth and walked about our yard in the middle of the day.
My mother said, ‘You playing man? But why you don’t wait until your pee make froth?’
That made me miserable for days.
But it didn’t prevent me taking the tooth-brush to school and wearing it there. It caused quite a stir. But I quickly realised that only a man like Eddoes could have worn a tooth-brush and carried it off.
Eddoes was always well-dressed. His khaki trousers were always creased and his shoes always shone. He wore his shirts with three buttons undone so you could see his hairy chest. His shirt cuffs were turned up just above the wrist and you could see his gold wrist-watch.
Even when Eddoes wore a coat you saw the watch. From the way he wore the coat you thought that Eddoes hadn’t realised that the end of the coat sleeve had been caught in the watch strap.
It was only when I grew up I realised how small and how thin Eddoes really was.
I asked Hat, ‘You think is true all this talk Eddoes giving us about how woman running after him?’
Hat said, ‘Well, boy, woman these days funny like hell. They go run after a dwarf if he got money.’
I said, ‘I don’t believe you.’
I was very young at the time.
But I always thought, ‘If it have one man in this world woman bound to like, that man is Eddoes.’
He sat on his blue cart with so much grace. And how smart that tooth-brush was in his mouth!
But you couldn’t talk to him when he was on his cart. Then he was quite different from the Eddoes we knew on the ground; then he never laughed, but was always serious. And if we tried to ride on the back of his cart, as we used to on the back of the ice-cart, Eddoes would crack his whip at us in a nasty way and shout, ‘What sort of cart you think this is? Your father can’t buy cart like this, you hear?’
Every year Eddoes won the City Council’s award for the cleanest scavenging cart.
And to hear Eddoes talk about his job was to make yourself feel sad and inferior.
He said he knew everybody important in Port of Spain, from the Governor down.
He would say, ‘Collected two three tins of rubbish from the Director of Medical Services yesterday. I know him good, you know. Been collecting his rubbish for years, ever since he was a little doctor in Woodbrook, catching hell. So I see him yesterday and he say, “Eddoes (that is how he does always call me, you know) Eddoes,” he say, “Come and have a drink.” Well, when I working I don’t like drinking because it does keep you back. But he nearly drag me off the cart, man. In the end I had to drink with him. He tell me all his troubles.’
There were also stories of rich women waiting for him behind rubbish tins, women begging Eddoes to take away their rubbish.
But you should have seen Eddoes on those days when the scavengers struck. As I have told you already, these scavengers were proud people and stood for no nonsense from anybody.
They knew they had power. They could make Port of Spain stink in twenty-four hours if they struck.
On these important days Eddoes would walk slowly and thoughtfully up and down Miguel Street. He looked grim then, and fierce, and he wouldn’t speak to a soul.
He wore a red scarf and a tooth-brush with a red handle on these days.
Sometimes we went to Woodford Square to the strike meeting, to gaze at these exciting people.
It amazed me to see Eddoes singing. The songs were violent, but Eddoes looked so sad.
Hat told me, ‘It have detectives here, you know. They taking down every word Eddoes and them saying.’
It was easy to recognise the detectives. They were wearing a sort of plain-clothes uniform-brown hats, white shirts, and brown trousers. They were writing in big notebooks with red pencils.
And Eddoes didn’t look scared!
We all knew that Eddoes wasn’t a man to be played with.
You couldn’t blame Eddoes then for being proud.
One day Eddoes brought home a pair of shoes and showed it to us in a quiet way, as though he wasn’t really interested whether we looked at the shoes or not.
He said, brushing his teeth, and looking away from us, ‘Got these shoes today from the
, the dump, you know. They was just lying there and I pick them up.’
We whistled. The shoes were practically new.
‘The things people does throw away,’ Eddoes said.
And he added, ‘This is a helluva sort of job, you know. You could get anything if you really look. I know a man who get a whole bed the other day. And when I was picking up some rubbish from St Clair the other day this stupid woman rush out, begging me to come inside. She say she was going to give me a radio.’
Boyee said, ‘You mean these rich people does just throw away things like that?’
Eddoes laughed and looked away, pitying our simplicity.
The news about Eddoes and the shoes travelled round the street pretty quickly. My mother was annoyed. She said, ‘You see what sort of thing life is. Here I is, working my finger to the bone. Nobody flinging me a pair of shoes just like that, you know. And there you got that thin-arse little man, doing next to nothing, and look at all the things he does get.’
Eddoes presently began getting more things. He brought home a bedstead, he brought home dozens of cups and saucers only slightly cracked, lengths and lengths of wood, all sorts of bolts and screws, and sometimes even money.
Eddoes said, ‘I was talking to one of the old boys today. He tell me the thing is to never throw away shoes. Always look in shoes that people throw away, and you go find all sort of thing.’
The time came when we couldn’t say if Eddoes was prouder of his job or of his collection of junk.
He spent half an hour a day unloading the junk from his cart.
And if anybody wanted a few nails, or a little piece of corrugated iron, the first person they asked was Eddoes.
He made a tremendous fuss when people asked him, though I feel he was pleased.
He would say, ‘I working hard all day, getting all these materials and them, and people think they could just come running over and say, “Give me this, give me that.” ’
In time, the street referred to Eddoes’s collection of junk as Eddoes’s ‘materials.’
One day, after he opened his school, Titus Hoyt was telling us that he had to spend a lot of money to buy books.
He said, ‘It go cost me at least sixty dollars.’
Eddoes asked, ‘How much book you getting for that?’
Titus Hoyt said, ‘Oh, about seven or eight.’
Eddoes laughed in a scornful way.
Eddoes said, ‘I could get a whole handful for you for about twelve cents. Why you want to go and spend so much money on eight books for?’
Eddoes sold a lot of books.
Hat bought twenty cents’ worth of book.
It just shows how Titus Hoyt was making everybody educated.
And there was this business about pictures.
Eddoes said one day, ‘Today I pick up two nice pictures, two nice nice sceneries, done frame and everything.’
I went home and I said, ‘Ma, Eddoes say he go sell us some sceneries for twelve cents.’
My mother behaved in an unexpected way.
She wiped her hand on her dress and came outside.
Eddoes brought the sceneries over. He said, ‘The glass a little dirty, but you could always clean that. But they is nice sceneries.’
They were engravings of ships in stormy seas. I could see my mother almost ready to cry from joy. She repeated, ‘I always always want to have some nice sceneries.’ Then, pointing at me, she said to Eddoes, ‘This boy father was always painting sceneries, you know.’
Eddoes looked properly impressed.
He asked, ‘Sceneries nice as this?’
My mother didn’t reply.
After a little talk my mother paid Eddoes ten cents.
And if Eddoes had something that nobody wanted to buy, he always went to my uncle Bhakcu, who was ready to buy anything.
He used to say, ‘You never know when these things could come in handy.’
Hat began saying, ‘I think all this materials getting on Eddoes mind, you know. It have some men like that.’
I wasn’t worried until Eddoes came to me one day and said, ‘You ever think of collecting old bus ticket?’
The idea had never crossed my mind.
Eddoes said, ‘Look, there’s something for a little boy like you to start with. For every thousand you collect I go give you a penny.’
I said, ‘Why you want bus ticket?’ He laughed as though I were a fool.
I didn’t collect any bus tickets, but I noticed a lot of other boys doing so. Eddoes had told them that for every hundred they collected they got a free ride.
Hat said, ‘Is to start getting worried when he begin collecting pins.’
But something happened that made Eddoes sober as a judge again.
He said one day, ‘I in trouble!’
Hat said, ‘Don’t tell us that is thief you been thiefing all this materials and them?’
Eddoes shook his head.
He said, ‘A girl making baby for me.’
Hat said, ‘You sure is for you?’
Eddoes said, ‘She say so.’
It was hard to see why this should get Eddoes so worried.
Hat said, ‘But don’t be stupid, man. Is the sort of thing that does happen to anybody.’
But Eddoes refused to be consoled.
He collected junk in a listless way.
Then he stopped altogether.
Hat said, ‘Eddoes behaving as though he invent the idea of making baby.’
Hat asked again, ‘You sure this baby is for you, and not for nobody else? It have some woman making a living this way, you know.’
Eddoes said, ‘Is true she have other baby, but I in trouble.’
Hat said, ‘She is like Laura? ’
Eddoes said, ‘Nah, Laura does only have one baby for one man. This girl does have two three.’
Hat said, ‘Look, you mustn’t worry. You don’t know is your baby. Wait and see. Wait and see.’
Eddoes said sadly, ‘She say if I don’t take the baby she go make me lose my job.’
Eddoes said, ‘She know lots of people. She say she go make them take me away from St Clair and put me in Dry River, where the people so damn poor they don’t throw away nothing.’
I said, ‘You mean you not going to find any materials there?’
Eddoes nodded, and we understood.
Hat said, ‘The calypsonian was right, you hear.
Man centipede bad.
Woman centipede more than bad.
I know the sort of woman. She have a lot of baby, take the baby by the fathers, and get the fathers to pay money. By the time she thirty thirty-five, she getting so much money from so much man, and she ain’t got no baby to look after and no responsibility. I know the thing.’
Boyee said, ‘Don’t worry, Eddoes. Wait and see if it is your baby. Wait and see.’
Hat said, ‘Boyee, ain’t you too damn small to be meddling with talk like this?’
The months dragged by.
One day Eddoes announced, ‘She drop the baby yesterday.’
Hat said, ‘Boy or girl?’
We felt very sorry for Eddoes.
Hat asked, ‘You think is yours? ’
‘You bringing it home?’
‘In about a year or so.’
‘Then you ain’t got nothing now to worry about. If is your child, bring she home, man. And you still going round St Clair, getting your materials.’
Eddoes agreed, but he didn’t look any happier.
Hat gave the baby a nickname long before she arrived in Miguel Street. He called her Pleasure, and that was how she was called until she became a big girl.
The baby’s mother brought Pleasure one night, but she didn’t stay long. And Eddoes’s stock rose when we saw how beautiful the mother was. She was a wild, Spanish-looking woman.
But one glance at Pleasure made us know that she couldn’t be Eddoes’s baby.
Boyee began whistling the calypso:
‘Chinese children calling me Daddy!
I black like jet,
My wife like tar-baby. And still -
Chinese children calling me Daddy!
Oh God, somebody putting milk in my coffee.
Hat gave Boyee a pinch, and Hat said to Eddoes, ‘She is a good-looking child, Eddoes. Like you.’
Eddoes said, ‘You think so, Hat?’
Hat said, ‘Yes, man. I think she go grow up to be a sweet-girl just as how she father is a sweet-man.’
I said, ‘You have a nice daughter, Eddoes.’
The baby was asleep and pink and beautiful.
Errol said, ‘I could wait sixteen years until she come big enough.’
Eddoes by this time was smiling and for no reason at all was bursting out into laughter.
Hat said, ‘Shut up, Eddoes. You go wake the baby up.’
And Eddoes asked, ‘You really think she take after me, Hat?’
Hat said, ‘Yes, man. I think you do right, you know, Eddoes. If I wasn’t so careful myself and if I did have children outside I woulda bring them all home put them down. Bring them all home and put them down, man. Nothing to shame about.’
Eddoes said, ‘Hat, it have a bird-cage I pick up long time now. Tomorrow I go bring it for you.’
Hat said, ‘Is a long long time now I want a good birdcage.’
And in no time at all Eddoes became the old Eddoes we knew, proud of his job, his junk; and now proud, too, of Pleasure.