by Barbara Jenkins
We approach Point Fortin Library by our own national geographic voyage of discovery, ie, guided by Waze, Shivanee’s smartphone app. We go along bits we recognise — Mosquito Creek, Shore of Peace, and bits we don’t – narrow bridges of wood where at night, no lights, only candleflies, you’d be sure to see the flash of a white broderie anglaise petticoat and hear the clop – tap, clop – tap of La Diablesse as she passes by.
We zip along forest-lined roads called traces. You soon know why that name when you come across traces of the past – great hulking shells of buildings, rusted frames holding together remnant shattered windowpanes, huge clunky chunks of abandoned machinery and equipment. What? Why? How? … Unanswered, unanswerable. Why not refurbished as Industrial Archaeology… also unanswered. Clusters of gently decaying wooden houses, once white with green trim, collapsing, green paint flaking galvanised roofs, one grander house set apart on a little rise, windward side of the rest, a long covered flight of steps, a wide verandah, the tunnelled home of termite colonies, these speak of a time of expat managers and supervisors, isolated in a cloister that was the life of the oil industry, down here, deep south, Forest Reserve. Spanking bright massive silver tanks now dominate, flashy SUVs parked at a clubhouse is the new life, as is the occasional stretch of new wide tarmac divided by orange barrels that appear and disappear without warning, without signage, without notice so Marielle doesn’t know and neither do we passengers which bit is two way, which is dual carriageway, which is in use, which is incomplete. The road rises steeply so that nothing is visible beyond its crest, which we mount and descend to face yet another rise and descent and still a third, as stomach heaving as a funfair roller coaster. We learn later that this stretch is called ‘Three Sisters’. (Did you find out why? Funso asks when I tell him about it. There’s a story in that story, he says.)
We come to a sign that reads Point Fortin and we go along it, passing a few scattered houses, the odd parlour, a car finishing place, a nails parlour, but not the clustering and busyness you’d expect from a town, then we come to a T-junction that points us to Point Fortin again and a time-bound one-way road and finally to the RBC and directions that we can follow. We finally come upon the kind of busyness we’d expected – throngs of people going determinedly about their business, weaving cars and parked cars and sluggish cars, schoolchildren in uniform delaying homegoing, the usual main road stores and food places. A pizza place advertises ‘Special Divali Pizza’ and I hear Shivanee giggle as I wonder aloud whether it substitutes parsad for salami. Somewhere along the road we stop to buy lotto, one Quick Pick for me, real numbers for my companions.
The librarians at Point Fortin make the whole adventure of getting there so worthwhile. They have set out table laid with a lace table cloth on which there is a nicely mounted colour card ‘About the Author’ that includes a photo & short bio. In front of that is a coffee table with two copies of the books displayed upright and flanking a brass vase with a gilded dried arrangement of leaves & seed heads. They bring out tea plates and a tiered cake stand bearing white frosting & silver sugar ball covered chocolate mini-cupcakes. They even go through the library gathering the audience who are very appreciative and attentive. What’s that bible parable about the rich man setting out a feast for friends who disappoint and he sends his servants out to gather those in the highways and byways, and all, including the host, having a wonderful time? Thus it is for us in Point Fortin. And, more icing on the cake/s, we are able to park off road and afterwards we have the gratefully accepted kind offer from someone to drive ahead and lead us out as far as Claxton Bay.
I understand why Bocas has selected a collection of short stories for this programme. If a reader has limited time allocated to leisure reading, then a single short story can bring both satisfaction and something to bring to a discussion, whereas, with a novel, reading only the first dozen or so pages can leave a reader in limbo. I wonder though how many readers get beyond the first couple of stories in a collection, any collection. Why? Because readers volunteer that their favourite stories are “Curtains” and “It’s Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White”, the first and second stories in the book. Many readers on this journey tell me that the stories are sad, that they tell of a time when women had few options, when life was hard, poverty widespread. The younger readers say it tells them about life ‘back in the day’. And those who haven’t read the book say they’ve been inspired by the discussion to want to know more and are now determined to read the stories.
As a footnote, the lotto has rolled over, so there is no need for me to search through my jeans pockets for my ticket to see whether I’d struck lucky. Something about ‘a meeting in Samarra’ flashes through my mind, but I can’t recollect the context.
All photos by Shivanee Ramlochan.