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The night I stubbed my toe at Leroy Clarke’s house

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Three weeks after arriving in Portof-Spain I got my first big scoop. I’d been sent to an Art Society talk, where Leroy Clarke was speaking.


On arrival I was intrigued to find a man dressed in African clothes sitting on the panel looking pensive with two glasses of what appeared to be rum in front of him.


Among other things he said he disliked the Art Society and the brutality of Trinidadian society. Then he revealed that paintings had been stolen from the National Museum. Investigating this the next day I found it to be true, two Cazabons were indeed stolen, then returned. The whole thing had been covered up for a year. It turned out to be my first big scoop. All thanks to Clarke.


After the talk I introduced myself and told him we were neighbours. “Let me give you my number, you must come up some time,” said Clarke.


When the day arrived I was excited, anticipating my visit to the orange mansion on the hill, the esteemed artist’s residence and studio.


During the day I texted Leroy to tell him I’d be there around 8 pm. Receiving no reply I called him.


“Can’t you come earlier? In the afternoon perhaps?” he asked. “I doubt it,” I said, “I work from 9-5.” “Oh,” he said, sounding disappointed. After work I went home and ate then made my way up on foot, along the dark, winding Cascade Road.


He had given me directions and so presently I arrived at the gated compound before the road bends round into the village called the Blanca.


I signed in with the security guard and walked towards the enormous house. As I reached the door somebody called to me from a balcony above.


“Come in, take off your shoes and walk right up, we’re upstairs,” said the unmistakable voice.


I came in. Took off my shoes, then peered into the gloom looking for a staircase. The house was almost entirely dark and I had no hope of fumbling for the light switch. Instead I headed towards a chink of light.


Before I knew it, WHAM! I’d stubbed my blasted toe! Never mind, I thought, at least I’ve located the stairs and, besides, this evening’s going to be great. I walked gingerly upstairs through the finely decorated house.


Eventually I came to a library and the voice in the shadows called me out onto the balcony where I saw two men seated opposite each other.


One was a man in his fifties, the other was Clarke. Both sat in the darkness, but Clarke, seated in the corner, was virtually invisible. After the introductions I began to make small talk. “It’s interesting that all the streets around here are named after posh parts of West London,” I said. “Richmond, Kensington, Chelsea...” “Oh,” said Clarke.


“Do you know West London at all?” I went on. “No.” “Oh. Have you ever been to London?” “No.” “LeRoy,” I said, “I wanted to ask you...” “Don’t call me LeRoy,” interrupted the great man.


“Oh! Haha!” I laughed, involuntarily. “What should I call you?” “Call me Chief,” he said. “Everybody calls me Chief.” I looked to his unlit companion for guidance and to check if this was some kind of joke. “He’s right you know. They do,” said the unlit companion.


I declined to enquire as to why this was the case but instead asked, “Can I call you Mr Clarke?” “No. Call me Chief.” Then, as if to demonstrate how it was done, the unlit companion referred to our host as Chief, and continued to do so periodically. “What do you think of this, Chief? What do you make of that, Chief?” And so forth. As it was almost pitch black, I believe my grin was hidden.


“I was wondering about some of the things you said at the Art Society, it was hard to tell if you were joking or serious, I found your comments amusing...” I continued. “I never joke,” Clarke replied. “I’m a very serious man, you know.” “Ok,” I said. “Can I get a drink?”


He told me where to find the rum so I went back inside, briefly perusing the immense bookshelves crammed with wonderful volumes of anthropological and historical texts as well as fiction.


Downstairs in the kitchen I fixed a drink using a chilled glass from the freezer. Very quickly, Clarke and the companion (now lit) appeared.


“I noticed you have Merleau Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment,” I said breezily.


Clarke turned to the lit companion, “Looks like we got a CIA here.” Out in the covered studio in Clarke’s yard we sat and looked at some of his latest paintings. They were enormous and showed the hallmarks of a very gifted artist’s hand. I liked them.


“Why do they hang your paintings in the back stairwell at the museum?” I asked. “Do they?” He replied.


“I like your African clothes. Have you ever been to Africa?” I asked. “No,” he replied. And then, abruptly, he said, “Gentlemen, I’m going to have to call a halt to our evening.” I checked the time. I’d been there 45 minutes.


Maybe he needs to rest, I thought to myself. Perhaps I should have come in the afternoon. Instead of working.


Having said our goodbyes I went to put on my shoes in the dark and made my way home. My toe began to throb. Why hadn’t I noticed it before?


On my way home I thought about the brief encounter and what it meant. And all the way home my thoughts arrived back at the same simple realisation: I had stubbed my blasted toe! 


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