Authors: V. S. Naipaul
Tags: #Literary, #Boys, #General, #Bildungsromans, #Historical, #Fiction, #Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago)
She became the street baby and all the women, Mrs Morgan, Mrs Bhakcu, Laura, and my mother, helped to look after her.
And if there was anyone in Miguel Street who wanted to laugh, he kept his mouth shut when Pleasure got the first prize in the Cow and Gate Baby competition, and her picture came out in the papers.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, ALONE
About nine o’clock one morning a hearse and a motor-car stopped outside Miss Hilton’s house. A man and a woman got out of the car. They were both middle-aged and dressed in black. While the man whispered to the two men in the hearse, the woman was crying in a controlled and respectable way.
So I suppose Miss Hilton got the swiftest and most private funeral in Miguel Street. It was nothing like the funeral we had for the other old widow, Miss Ricaud, the M.B.E. and social worker, who lived in a nicer part of the street. At that funeral I counted seventy-nine cars and a bicycle.
The man and the woman returned at midday and there was a bonfire in the yard. Mattresses and pillows and sheets and blankets were burned.
Then all the windows of the grey wooden house were thrown open, a thing I had never seen before.
At the end of the week a sign was nailed on the mango tree:
Nobody in the street knew Miss Hilton. While she lived, her front gate was always padlocked and no one ever saw her leave or saw anybody go in. So even if you wanted to, you couldn’t feel sorry and say that you missed Miss Hilton.
When I think of her house I see just two colours. Grey and green. The green of the mango tree, the grey of the house and the grey of the high galvanized-iron fence that prevented you from getting at the mangoes.
If your cricket ball fell in Miss Hilton’s yard you never got it back.
It wasn’t the mango season when Miss Hilton died. But we got back about ten or twelve of our cricket balls.
We were prepared to dislike the new people even before they came. I think we were a little worried. Already we had one man who kept on complaining about us to the police. He complained that we played cricket on the pavement; and if we weren’t playing cricket he complained that we were making too much noise anyway.
Sergeant Charles would come and say, ‘Boys, the Super send me. That blasted man ring up again. Take it a little easier.’
One afternoon when I came back from school Hat said, ‘Is a man and a woman. She pretty pretty, but he ugly like hell, man. Portuguese, they look like.’
I didn’t see much. The front gate was open, but the windows were shut again.
I heard a dog barking in an angry way.
One thing was settled pretty quickly. Whoever these people were they would never be the sort to ring up the police and say we were making noise and disturbing their sleep.
A lot of noise came from the house that night. The radio was going full blast until midnight when Trinidad Radio closed down. The dog was barking and the man was shouting. I didn’t hear the woman.
There was a great peace next morning.
I waited until I saw the woman before going to school.
Boyee said, ‘You know, Hat, I think I see that woman somewhere else. I see she when I was delivering milk up Mucurapo way.’
This lady didn’t fit in with the rest of us in Miguel Street. She was too well-dressed. She was a little too pretty and a little too refined, and it was funny to see how she tried to jostle with the other women at Mary’s shop trying to get scarce things like flour and rice.
I thought Boyee was right. It was easier to see this woman hopping about in shorts in the garden of one of the nice Mucurapo houses, with a uniformed servant fussing around in the background.
After the first few days I began to see more of the man. He was tall and thin. His face was ugly and had pink blotches.
Hat said, ‘God, he is a first-class drinking man, you hear.’
It took me some time to realise that the tall man was drunk practically all the time. He gave off a sickening smell of bad rum, and I was afraid of him. Whenever I saw him I crossed the road.
If his wife, or whoever she was, dressed better than any woman in the street, he dressed worse than any of us. He was even dirtier than George.
He never appeared to do any work.
I asked Hat, ‘How a pretty nice woman like that come to get mix up with a man like that? ’
Hat said, ‘Boy, you wouldn’t understand. If I tell you you wouldn’t believe me.’
Then I saw the dog.
It looked as big as a ram-goat and as vicious as a bull. It had the same sort of thin face its master had. I used to see them together.
Hat said, ‘If that dog ever get away it go have big trouble here in this street.’
A few days later Hat said, ‘You know, it just strike me. I ain’t see those people bring in any furnitures at all. It look like all they have is that radio.’
Eddoes said, ‘It have a lot of things I could sell them.’
I used to think of the man and the dog and the woman in that house, and I felt sorry and afraid for the woman. I liked her, too, for the way she went about trying to make out that everything was all right for her, trying to make out that she was just another woman in the street, with nothing odd for people to notice.
Then the beatings began.
The woman used to run out screaming. We would hear the terrible dog barking and we would hear the man shouting and cursing and using language so coarse that we were all shocked.
Hat said to the bigger men, ‘Is easy to put two and two and see what happening there.’
And Edward and Eddoes laughed.
I said, ‘What happening, Hat?’
He said, ‘You too small to know, boy. Wait until you in long pants.’
So I thought the worst.
The woman behaved as though she had suddenly lost all shame. She ran crying to anybody in the street, saying, ‘Help me! Help me! He will kill me if he catches me.’
One day she rushed to our house.
She didn’t make any apology for coming unexpectedly or anything like that. She was too wild and frightened even to cry.
I never saw my mother so anxious to help anyone. She gave the woman tea and biscuits. The woman said, ‘I can’t understand what has come over Toni these days. But it is only in the nights he is like this, you know. He is so kind in the mornings. But about midday something happens and he just goes mad.’
At first my mother was being excessively refined with the woman, bringing out all her fancy words and fancy pronunciations, pronouncing comfortable as cum-fought-able, and making war rhyme with bar, and promising that everything was deffy-nightly going to be all right. Normally my mother referred to males as man, but with this woman she began speaking about the ways of mens and them, citing my dead father as a typical example.
My mother said, ‘The onliest thing with this boy father was that it was the other way round. Whenever I uses to go to the room where he was he uses to jump out of the bed and run away bawling-run away screaming.’
But after the woman had come to us about three or four times my mother relapsed into her normal self, and began treating the woman as though she were like Laura or like Mrs Bhakcu.
My mother would say, ‘Now, tell me, Mrs Hereira, why you don’t leave this good-for-nothing man?’
Mrs Hereira said, ‘It is a stupid thing to say to you or anybody else, but I like Toni. I love him.’
My mother said, ‘Is a damn funny sort of love.’
Mrs Hereira began to speak about Toni as though he were a little boy she liked.
She said, ‘He has many good qualities, you know. His heart is in the right place, really.’
My mother said, ‘I wouldn’t know about heart, but what I know is that he want a good clout on his backside to make him see sense. How you could let a man like that disgrace you so?’
Mrs Hereira said, ‘No, I know Toni. I looked after him when he was sick. It is the war, you know. He was a sailor and they torpedoed him twice.’
My mother said, ‘They shoulda try again.’
‘You mustn’t talk like this,’ Mrs Hereira said.
My mother said, ‘Look, I just talking my mind, you hear. You come here asking me advice.’
‘I didn’t ask for advice.’
‘You come here asking me for help, and I just trying to help you. That’s all.’
‘I don’t want your help or advice,’ Mrs Hereira said.
My mother remained calm. She said, ‘All right, then. Go back to the great man. Is my own fault, you hear. Meddling in white people business. You know what the calypso say:
Is love, love, love, alone
That cause King Edward to leave the throne.
Well, let me tell you. You not King Edward, you hear. Go back to your great love.’
Mrs Hereira would be out of the door, saying, ‘I hope I never come back here again.’
But next evening she would be back.
One day my mother said, ‘Mrs Hereira, everybody fraid that dog you have there. That thing too wild to be in a place like this.’
Mrs Hereira said, ‘It isn’t my dog. It’s Toni’s, and not even I can touch it.’
We despised Toni.
Hat said, ‘Is a good thing for a man to beat his woman every now and then, but this man does do it like exercise, man.’
And he was also despised because he couldn’t carry his liquor.
People used to find him sleeping in all sorts of places, dead drunk.
He made a few attempts to get friendly with us, making us feel uncomfortable more than anything else.
He used to say, ‘Hello there, boys.’
And that appeared to be all the conversation he could make. And when Hat and the other big men tried to talk to him, as a kindness, I felt that Toni wasn’t really listening.
He would get up and walk away from us suddenly, without a word, when somebody was in the middle of a sentence.
Hat said, ‘Is a good thing too. I feel that if I look at him long enough I go vomit. You see what a dirty thing a white skin does be sometimes? ’
And, in truth, he had a nasty skin. It was yellow and pink and white, with brown and black spots. The skin above his left eye had the raw pink look of scalded flesh.
But the strange thing I noticed was that if you just looked at Toni’s hands and saw how thin and wrinkled they were, you felt sorry for him, not disgusted.
But I looked at his hands only when I was with Hat and the rest.
I suppose Mrs Hereira saw only his hands.
Hat said, ‘I wonder how long this thing go last.’
Mrs Hereira obviously intended it to last a long time.
She and my mother became good friends after all, and I used to hear Mrs Hereira talking about her plans. She said one day she wanted some furniture, and I think she did get some in.
But most of the time she talked about Toni; and from the way she talked, anybody would believe that Toni was just an ordinary man.
She said, ‘Toni is thinking about leaving Trinidad. We could start a hotel in Barbados.’
Or, ‘As soon as Toni gets well again, we will go for a long cruise.’
And again, ‘Toni is really a disciplined man, you know. Great will-power, really. We’ll be all right when he gets his strength back.’
Toni still behaved as though he didn’t know about all these plans for himself. He refused to settle down. He got wilder and more unpleasant.
Hat said, ‘He behaving like some of those uncultured people from John John. Like he forget that latrines make for some purpose.’
And that wasn’t all. He appeared to develop an extraordinary dislike for the human race. One look at a perfect stranger was enough to start Toni cursing.
Hat said, ‘We have to do something about Toni.’
I was there the evening they beat him up.
For a long time afterwards the beating-up was on Hat’s mind.
It was a terrible thing, really. Hat and the rest of them were not angry. And Toni himself wasn’t angry. He wasn’t anything. He made no effort to return the blows. And the blows he got made no impression on him. He didn’t look frightened. He didn’t cry. He didn’t plead. He just stood up and took it.
He wasn’t being brave.
Hat said, ‘He just too damn drunk.’
In the end Hat was angry with himself. He said, ‘Is taking advantage. We shouldnta do it. The man ain’t have feelings, that’s all.’
And from the way Mrs Hereira talked, it was clear that she didn’t know what had happened.
Hat said, ‘That’s a relief, anyway.’
And through all these weeks, one question was always uppermost in our minds. How did a woman like Mrs Hereira get mixed up with Toni?
Hat said he knew. But he wanted to know who Mrs Hereira was, and so did we all. Even my mother wondered aloud about this.
Boyee had an idea.
He said, ‘Hat, you know the advertisements people does put out when their wife or their husband leave them?’
Hat said, ‘Boyee, you know you getting too damn big too damn fast. How the hell a little boy like you know about a thing like that?’
Boyee took this as a compliment.
Hat said, ‘How you know anyway that Mrs Hereira leave she husband? How you know that she ain’t married to Toni?
Boyee said, ‘I telling you, Hat. I used to see that woman up Mucurapo way when I was delivering milk. I telling you so, man.’
Hat said, ‘White people don’t do that sort of thing, putting advertisement in the paper and thing like that.’
Eddoes said, ‘You ain’t know what you talking about, Hat. How much white people you know?’
In the end Hat promised to read the paper more carefully.
Then big trouble started.
Mrs Hereira ran out of her house screaming one day, ‘He’s going mad! He’s going mad, I tell you. He will kill me this time sure.’
She told my mother, ‘He grabbed a knife and began chasing me. He was saying, “I will kill you, I will kill you.” Talking in a very quiet way.’
‘You do him something?’ my mother asked.
Mrs Hereira shook her head.
She said, ‘It is the first time he threatened to kill me. And he was serious, I tell you.’
Up till then Mrs Hereira hadn’t been crying, but now she broke down and cried like a girl.
She was saying, ‘Toni has forgotten all I did for him. He has forgotten how I took care of him when he was sick. Tell me, you think that’s right? I did everything for him. Everything. I gave up everything. Money and family. All for him. Tell me, is it right for him to treat me like this? Oh, God! What did I do to deserve all this?’