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Two hours in Curepe
Now and then reality slams into you and throws you off, into an orbit you’ve worked hard to avoid. Such a moment was last Friday, when, a couple of hours before I picked up my daughter from school, my car did a PNM—started making ominous noises and stopped working. I was able to get it to the mechanic, and was told it wouldn’t be fixed till Saturday.
I decided to take my daughter out of school a half-hour early, since I’d have to take two taxis, and try to find a driver to do an off-route to get home. But even before I got to my daughter, I had to pass through Curepe on foot—an always unpleasant refresher lesson in Trini topography. In a car, you see a discontinuous Trinidad—one where you can ignore the long, sordid stretches, and stop only at the bits you like.
Rely on public transport, it’s a different experience. You’re at the mercy of public thoroughfares, taxi routes, taxi drivers and your fellow passengers, an experience so unpleasant, it could be a tourist attraction: relive the Middle Passage.
My problems started near lunchtime. Where I was stranded on the Eastern Main Road, a real restaurant, or even a reliable mall food court, was one or two taxi-rides away and I found myself looking at doubles vendors, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, fast food and a supermarket.
I don’t get the “doubles experience” which seems to be stylish these days: a vendor selling oily, unhealthy food, prepared in a place and in a manner you don’t see, usually dished out on the roadside, near an open drain, and susceptible to every manner of germ and unsanitariness. I haven’t had doubles, or food poisoning, in more than a decade.
So not doubles. The hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant I trolled by next was filled with unpleasant-looking, badly-dressed people, eyeing oily rice and mottled noodles and a very disturbing-looking meat specimen through a grimy glass case. I looked in fascination at the customers, jostling at the counter to get the attention of the illegal Chinese immigrant who didn’t speak English, with gestures and grunts, then moved on.
In the supermarket’s deli section, a small, bored attendant stood watching water trickle into a coffee cup, while about ten people stood behind the counter. Several staff members walked aimlessly around, avoiding the customers. The sandwiches and pastries for sale in the display felt like wood to the touch.
I started to mutter WTF-type expostulations under my breath, which the clerks ignored, and which didn’t seem to faze the other customers. Then I realised the customers actually were more stolid than the food or the clerks. They were quite calm about it all. Ingesting poisonous food and walking around in the stultifying heat has probably pushed Trini evolution sideways.
Oh, yeah, the heat. It’s hot as hell on the streets. Sweaty, headachy hot. And everyone feels it. Most people you meet are irritable and pissed off—so much so, most people don’t realise this isn’t normal. You get the sense that everyone walking around, waiting for taxis, shopping at the illegal DVD vendors and so on, is wound pretty tight.
I gave up on lunch and headed for my daughter’s school in St Joseph. I got her just before 2 pm and we walked out to the main road for a taxi to get to Curepe. After 15 minutes, I realised either all taxis were full or unwilling to risk picking up a man and child. We had to walk to Curepe—since we had to get to the Chaguanas stand before rush hour.
By this time, the five (primary and secondary) schools grouped around my daughter’s school let out, and the uhm, students, began swarming the streets, talking at an unbelievable volume and in an almost incomprehensible dialect. Three school girls barrelled by, one telling the other:
“Somebody I ent know call me tree time today.”
“You talk to dem?”
“Yeh, but dey didn’t tell me who they is.”
“I thought was your grandmudder.”
“Nah, mih granmudder dead.”
At this point, my daughter pulled my hand. “Why they so loud?”
“I dunno,” I said. “Don’t look them in the eye.”
“Her granmudder died?”
“Apparently,” I said.
“I think she killed herself to escape her grandchildren.”
Twenty minutes and an exhausting piggyback ride later, we arrived red-faced, sweaty and overheated at the Curepe taxi stand. My daughter refused to walk any further once we passed a rubbish heap with cockroaches forming a conga line.
It only took five minutes of negotiation to get the driver to rip me off only a moderate amount to take an alternative route home.
The taxi was not air-conditioned, and featured very irritating music.
Our trip home is usually quite enjoyable, but this week, my daughter’s equanimity was a little off. Once we were in the car, I started our usual conversation: “How was school this week?”
“I don’t know.”
“How are you?”
“Stop asking questions.”
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
“I hate you.”
“I’ll buy you a new toy.”
“OK, but stop talking.”
When we arrived home, after only a short, 20-minute walk when the taxi dropped us off, my daughter ran into the house, headed straight for the fridge, and stood in front of the open door.
Seeing a potential dad-moment, I said: “You know, a lot of people have to do that every day.”
“Do what?” she asked.
“Walk and take taxis to school.”
“Yep. You don’t see them because you go to a private school.”
“What’s a private school?”
“About $3,000 a term.”
“I love you, Dad.”
And reality returned, mercifully, to normal.
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