Friday, February 23, 2024

Finding myself

Himself told himself you are charged for speeding

Himself told himself that the policeman lying

Himself told himself don’t shout

And in his own court, himself charged himself for contempt of court.

Calypso by Theophilus Phillip, The Mighty Spoiler

A lot of people believe that if, like me, you’ve lived to the ripe old age of 76 you must have found yourself long before now. What I tell them is while I’m not old enough to have known the dead sea before it got sick, what I know is not to go into an antique shop because they will put a label on me and start the auction.

One of my friends I had not seen for a while said loudly when we met on a crowded street, “Tony boy! I almost didn’t recognize you. You’re so old your ID card has you listed as 000001.” I replied, “Well at least I didn’t come here as an illegal immigrant hiding in the hold of a ship. Instead of a birth paper you have a boat paper.”

However, as we used to say in the old days, “leaving all joke and fun aside” most people don’t realise that in the process of aging you are apt to lose your memory. As I head into 77, the address of the ancient tv-show, 77 Sunset Strip, I have real problems with names. I mix up the names of my children, and my older son George constantly has to let me know that he is not Zubin. However, as I remind him, he should be glad that so far I have not called him Jasmine or Marsha.

My father had a droll way of dealing with situations like that.  He would ask me about something which he wanted done, had asked me to do for days, and which I had not done exactly as, or when, he wanted. My response was always, “I thought this is what you want me to do.”  “Well,” he would say, dryly, “You waste that thought.”  It was he who had assured me that talking to myself wasn’t bad in itself. It became a problem, however, if I ever found myself asking myself, “Eh? What you say?” His droll sense of humour sometimes got me angry. One day, when my father insisted that I go hunting in the forest with him and some friends, I was so angry that when my friend Franklin hit what seemed be a hollowed-out branch to clear his way through the bush, I struck it back with force.

Unfortunately, there was a wasp or Jack-Spaniard nest in it and they all ganged up on me, leaving the right side of my face badly swollen. When I started complaining that I was supposed to meet a girl later that day and couldn’t go with my face like that, he said, “We will find another Jack Spaniard nest and get them to bite you on the left side of your face so it will even out. She wouldn’t know the difference.”

I never liked being in our small “parlour” or shop and once gave a woman four pounds of salt instead of sugar. If it was intended for coffee or tea, the problem would have been minimal. But this was Christmas time and she was now in the final throes of preparation. She was expecting her children from “overseas” all of whom were anticipating slices of her delicious fruit cake. Or so she told my father as she demanded compensation.  He had no choice- or so he said both times- when he was paying her for her ruined mixture of fruits, eggs, flour and salt, and when he was paying me back for the trouble I had caused him. It was not the first time that I found myself in serious trouble. Actually, even before I found myself, trouble constantly found me.

Trouble was also the only constant in my school career. While the Literary and Debating Society thoroughly dissected the pros and cons of the topic “Homework, a necessary evil”, I had already resolved the dispute by leaving out both the “necessary” and the nightly homework, and was almost thoroughly dissected myself by the Principal armed with a thick leather strap.

My father was also not much help. I had avidly read Treasure Island and Coral Island and was convinced I had a genuine affinity for the sea. So, when we went to the beach I dashed for the water only to find myself pulled back sharply by my father with the reprimand, “Eat first. When you dead they bathe you but they don’t feed you.”

Later in life, having gone abroad briefly to satisfy the government’s need to have nationals trained in journalism, I found myself back in Trinidad with what is called a “post” in the public service. The post was not so much a trading post or a hitching post as a compost. It is then I found myself on television. Many years later, after I left my post and had been off the air for some time, I was walking down Frederick Street in Port of Spain when a woman stopped me. She said, “Wait! Wait!” Looking me up, down, back, front and sideways she said, “I know you. I sure I know you! Wait, don’t tell me. Don’t tell me.” Then her eyes lit up. Proud of her memory she said loudly, “You used to be Tony Deyal!”

I thought of that when, on my way to the Trinidad airport at 4.30 one morning, the taxi that was taking me got into a three-car smash caused by someone putting what we call a “big stone” on the Beetham Highway with the sole intent of getting the car to stop so the driver and passengers, if any, could be relieved of their worldly wealth. The taxi taking me to the airport hit the car in front of it which had hit the first car in the melee. At the time, and even now, it was not a salubrious environment in which to find yourself.

In fact, the present minister of national security of Trinidad and Tobago, a former policeman and lawyer, while on a visit to the area in his capacity of acting attorney-general, had to run from an angry constituent who, egged on by the community, was intent on wetting down the politician with dirty water, perhaps for sins of omission, commission or both. The minister’s feet were not as quick as his mouth and he was soaked. The incident is so memorable that one of the folks from the area quipped, “They have to take him out from his present constituency and put him to run in we own.”

However, when my taxi crashed into the pile-up, I was scared to see emerging from out of the dark houses, many big, half-naked men and even children all seemingly intent on robbery with violence. One of them, the leader of the group, took a long, hard look at me. I clutched my bag. He peered at me. My knees trembled. “Deyal?” he asked. Then he smiled, “Boy, I really like your column!”

 * Tony Deyal was last seen insisting that while people say nothing is impossible, he does nothing every day. 



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