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Friday, March 31, 2006

THE RAID by Magaret Adams Birth


THE RAID

Margaret Adams Birth



Kalipersad came around afternoons to do fix-up work for Tantie Ivy. He was a nice boy, the oldest son of a decent widow woman, which was why Tantie said she had been willing to hire him. "Most chirren these days headin' for disaster, and they spreadin' it as they go," she would say. "But, Kalipersad, I give you work to do because I know you willing to work, you need to work, and I can trust the work you do. You understand what I saying here? I know I can trust you." Some people said that another of the reasons Tantie Ivy had hired him was that he was a dark-skinned Indian, and she was a Creole, so she knew what it meant to be looked down on due only to the color of your skin; and it was true that there were women who wouldn't give Kalipersad a glance, and other people who would choose to ignore him because he was as dark as a Creole. Some people said that Tantie Ivy trusted no one not to raid her house—she kept so many possessions hidden away in a special storage room in her cocoa house; but Kalipersad's presence served as proof of protection to the neighborhood, and she kept a constant eye on Kalipersad whenever he was around. Whatever prompted her trust in him, though, Kalipersad was grateful for it. It was Tantie Ivy's trust which, in large part, fed and clothed him and his family—that, plus the little sweet shop Ma kept in the front of their house.

His mother had been a widow for even longer than Tantie Ivy: Tantie's mister had been dead these five year and nine month; Kalipersad's mother had been a widow since Kalipersad had fifteen years, and now Kalipersad was a strong young man with twenty-seven years. Overnight, his mother's widowhood had transformed Kalipersad's boyhood into manhood. Kalipersad's father had worked for the Trinidad Forestry Service; in the spring he had sowed seedlings, and in the fall he had felled trees—a lot of teak and mahogany, since the Forestry Service often planted for financial and enviromnental profit, both, with a view to export, and Americans liked teak and mahogany. But one fall day, Kalipersad's father went into the forest and didn't return home in the evening. For months afterward, Kalipersad had had a recurring nightmare: he heard a knock at the front door, and then his father's voice calling, "Why you lock me out? Why you wouldn't wait for me before closing up? Why you locked me out?" But then, right as Kalipersad reached the door, all he would see was his mother's laundry quivering in the slight night breeze. Tears would be running down his face because he'd failed him—he hadn't reached his father in time—so he would run into the forest in a desperate search for his father, and he wouldn't be able to feel his running legs, or hear or smell anything around him—until he heard an echoing crack, and knew that he was going to die just as his father had, was going to be crushed to death, and he could feel the crushing weight on his chest. Then he would realize that he was still breathing, still alive, still crying and feeling the crushing weight on his chest but, thank God, still alive. And his father was still dead. And he, along with his mother, was still responsible for the family. Well, really, he alone was responsible for the family. That was simply how things were...

At first he had worked for Trintopec, but then the oil boom fizzled out. Next, he took a fifteen-hour-a-week retail sales job in one of the men's clothing stores in nearby Port-of-Spain, but his wages were barely enough to pay for transport and work clothes... He had been invited on many occasions—well, "invited" wasn't quite the right word—but Kalipersad continued to refuse to join the limers at the foot of Hopewell Trace; he intended to find other, more stable, means of making money, and so Tantie Ivy hired him for weekdays after her husband died. A man dead and buried was no good for making household repairs—but then Kalipersad came along and, as Tantie Ivy often remarked, "Kalipersad, you save me from disrepair and despair!" That would give the two of them a good laugh: imagine her needing rescue and him the hero! She was a big old Creole woman who weighed eighteen stones if she weighed an ounce, and he was a short, wiry, dark East Indian with such a baby face that, whenever he crossed the threshold of the rum shop, he was teased: "You not allowed in here, boy! You got to wait ‘til you a man before you can come in here!" Not only was his physical stature in question at the rum shop, but his authoritative stature was also in question at home: he worked hard to provide for his family, yet no one—especially his younger brother Jagdeo—accorded him the degree of respect which he believed he deserved. So, secretly, he liked being Tantie Ivy's hero.



"There you is, Kalipersad! I almost think you not coming today!" Tantie Ivy guffawed with a mulish rasp. "You don't come today, and I was going to need to call my oldest and ask he to visit me this weekend—just to make repair on that gutter there. See that gutter?"
"I apologize being late, Tantie." Kalipersad shrugged his shoulders and gazed at the ground.
"Look at me, son," she demanded. "Everything okay?"
His forehead fell. "‘Okay' got nothing to do with it!" he snapped.
"What?"
"Oh. Sorry, Tantie. I not mad at you. I mad at Jagdeo."
"Mad for what? What it is you mad about, Kalipersad?"
"You know I don't stand for nothing from Jagdeo, Tantie. I only he big brother, not he pa, but you know I work to take care of he."
"Yes, son, I know that..." Tantie Ivy nodded her half-gray head in affirmation. It was a little bit gray on the sides, but almost white down the middle, and looked like a skunk's coloring. Nature funny that way, she thought. It give you what it give you, even if it look wrong at the time.
"I will not stand for nothing from Jagdeo!" Kalipersad cried. "What he does think? I putting food in he mouth by sitting on my fanny all the day and looking pretty? I break my ass for that kid, and he don't say thanks—and he is going to get me in trouble!"
Tantie Ivy didn't normally stand for cussing, but this time she ignored it. She patted Kalipersad's hand. "Come now, boy. What got you vex so? Tell Tantie what the problem be."
"Jagdeo is the problem—he and those limers he spend he time with." Kalipersad's dark face turned even darker—black, like a vulture's feathers—as the blood rose under his skin.
"Well, I ain't like the limers much, either, son, but I don't think they is that bad—a little careless with they mouths, maybe, but they is more talk than action. You know that," replied Tantie Ivy. "Don't forget, Jagdeo still a boy. He just doing what you never thought you could or should do, so you might not understand."

"No Tantie. You wrong. When Jagdeo started to lime, I told myself, ‘Give he six month or a year. He will soon tire when he sees that liming alone ain't enough to make he a big man. A big, big man does get a job and take care of heself and he family, and then, if he want to, it okay to lime with he friends.' But Jagdeo don't believe that. He tell me, ‘Lots of the limers ain't have regular jobs. As they need money, they find work.' But Jagdeo ain't even worked irregular. Ma no longer has any control over him at all, and neither do I. He considers only heself and how to fulfill he desires. Is like you say—he headin' for disaster, and he spreadin' it as he goes."
"It is that serious? You sure?"

Kalipersad nodded.

"I wouldn't believe it but that you tell me it." Tantie Ivy wagged her head sadly. "You a good boy, Kalipersad. I know you going to do right by Jagdeo and the rest of you family. You ain't ever done any less than that. I expect it of you. Remember that. And beside, if you don't keep you backside clean, don't come around here no more." She finished her speech with a chuckle, but Kalipersad wasn't sure where the humor was.

With that, Kalipersad escaped to the corrugated roof and the gutter repair. From the corrugated, Kalipersad could look down on all of the homes on Hopewell Trace—and he could see the limers, Jagdeo included. They had a big grocery bag full with local weed that the one they called "Brownie" grew in his garden, which was in the bushy part of the already lush village of La Mére. Bushy and hot—that was a dangerous combination. Most residents of La Mére took pride in what a cool place it was to live—not hot and crazy like Port-of-Spain; anyone who heated things up was not appreciated. At home he would talk to Jagdeo—again. He would try to talk to Jagdeo as a brother, not as a father, and to approach him as a peer, not as a judge. "Don't you know that dope will dupe you, man?" he would say. Maybe that would get Jagdeo to laugh. If only they could laugh together, perhaps they could communicate... Would Jagdeo know what "dupe" meant?... Kalipersad spent his afternoon brooding, and pounding nails, and brooding, and twisting wire, and, when the boys on the block started to play their evening game of football, he took that as a signal to dismount from his perch.

"I not finished yet," he told Tantie Ivy. "I'll finish tomorrow. Okay? Good night, Tantie."
"Good night, son," she said. "See you tomorrow."

****

As Kalipersad passed through the back part of Tantie Ivy's land, on his way home, he rehearsed what he would say to Jagdeo. He already had the first sentence: "Don't you know that dope will dupe you, man?" But what could he say after that? He was so angry at Jagdeo, and so scared of him, both at the same time. Jagdeo was uncontrollable, unpredictable; he needed discipline. "Don't you know that dope will dupe you, man?" Jagdeo might laugh, and then Kalipersad might respond, "You have no trouble laughing in my face, and that is okay, but dope will make you laugh in the face of the law, and it may even make you laugh in the face of death someday. You can laugh in my face all you want, but you best square away your life where drugs is concerned." No. Jagdeo would either continue to laugh at him and not hear the rest, or would tell Kalipersad, "Go back to church, preacher man!" That was one of Jagdeo's favorite sayings to direct at Kalipersad. Try again. "Don't you know that dope will dupe you, man?...You know what ‘dupe' means? It means dope will play you for a fool, man! You like playing the fool, and having the world laugh at you behind you back?" But then Jagdeo would say something like, "Better the fool I is than the fool you is, brother!" How could he reach Jagdeo? He'd been trying for years, and he'd never succeeded yet. He would keep on trying, though...

****

When Kalipersad reached home, he saw a police car in front of his house, and the front door open.

Ma was screaming, "No! No-o-o! I not invited you in here! This my house, and shut allyu mouth talking about my son!" Her screams trailed off into a long, inarticulate wail followed by choking tears. Ma was incapable of believing anything bad about any of her children.
Kalipersad burst through the front door. "What the hell is going on here? What you are hassling my Ma for? Eh?"
"We here to search you house," said the policeman.
"You what? For what? Is this on account of Jagdeo? I going to beat he hide raw! Where's Jagdeo?"
A voice from behind the policeman said, "My guess is he either out smoking weed, or jumping my little girl's precious bones, man."
"Shut allyu mouth!" shrieked Kalipersad's mother.
Kalipersad walked over to her and hugged her. He clasped her strongly, and she began to tremble in his arms; he was afraid that, if he released her, she might shatter, like a dropped piece of china. "I here now, Ma. Let me handle this."
Then he turned to the anonymous voice. "How you do know so much about Jagdeo? Who is you little girl?"
"Dularie Ramroop. Allyu may call me Mr. Ramroop. And you little brother got my little girl in the family way. And I going to see that he damn well straighten up! I know he don't like it, but he got to behave like the man he is now."
"Yeah," Kalipersad agreed. "You is right. He do. I know he been heading for problems. I guess I just been hoping that it wouldn't come so soon."
"Is nine month soon enough?"
Kalipersad felt his blood rising again, but was also aware that he was more enraged at Jagdeo for his actions than he was at Mr. Ramroop for his words—so he apologized the best he knew how. "I been trying, but I ain't been able to control him."
"Yeah, I know," snorted Mr. Ramroop. "You don't have any control over him, but I will have. I will make him have—starting now."
"We searching this house—at once," said the policeman then. "Duty calls, and I'm answering the call."
Kalipersad's nightmare sensation returned for the first time in years: he felt the crushing weight on his chest, but now he knew beyond all doubt that he was awake and alive.
"You not doing any such thing! What you think you going to find here anyway?" Kalipersad stood akimbo, his elbows sticking out like a challenge.
"Dope," replied the policeman. "We got a tip."
"I bet you did!" Kalipersad's look shot bullets through Mr. Ramroop. "You need to arrest Jagdeo, that fine. He in trouble, he need to learn he lesson. Catch he wheresoever you see he misbehaving with the law. And, as for you and you little girl, Mr. Ramroop, make Jagdeo do whatever is right by allyu. Punish Jagdeo—that all right—but don't punish we family."
"Excuse me, Mr. Kalipersad," the policeman said. "I got a job to do."

****

Next day, Kalipersad showed up at Tantie Ivy's house, as usual.
"What I tell you before, boy?"
"What?"
"What I did tell you before? I hear about what happen at you house last night— the raid. You a nice boy, Kalipersad, but I can't place myself in this kind of position. I is a lone old lady. People know it. I have to watch out for myself. I compromising myself if I associate with a boy whose house is raid."
"I ain't understand, Tantie."
"Sure you do, son. You always did understand. I was clear with you on that. You know I don't make no joke. I tell you, you always welcome here as long you keep you backside clean. But, boy, things is now a mess. I don't associate with people who have trouble with the law. Otherwise, they will think my house worth raiding."
"Who will think?"
"Whoever matters. Whoever thinks I might have something of some value here. Thieves. Policemen. They have no discretion when they raid. You have to agree with me. Tell me I'm right... I sorry, Kalipersad, but you can't come around here no more. Good luck, son."
"But, what you are going to do without me, Tantie? I watch out for you good."
"You should look out as good for you own as you do for me—and I going to look out for myself."
Kalipersad continued to stand there, immobile, unbelieving, aching. So, he couldn't protect them forever; but that had been his primary motivation for the past twelve years. Once more, he had failed someone who he loved—first Jagdeo, then Ma, and next Tantie—and, long before any of them, he had failed Pa. No one remained. He was alone. In his own way, Kalipersad died a little bit right then, crushed to death, the same as his father.
"One of these days," said Tantie Ivy, "you will understand. Nature funny that way. It give you what it give you, even if it look wrong at the time.

Posted by jebratt :: Friday, March 31, 2006 :: 0 comments

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