Bocas News

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Reading with the NGC Bocas Lit Fest – Tobago

by Barbara Jenkins

Tobago one Friday morning by air and Charlotteville Library in the afternoon, Funso and Marielle are confident of the route and destination – they’d met the coordinator when they’d delivered a stack of Sic Transit Wagon for the readers a couple of months before. I concentrate on what’s ahead, as the car, under the assured command of the Prof, wiggles its way along a road so winding you can see only short stretches at a time, through a countryside livened by villages and roadside parked vehicles; a road punctuated on our right by fleeting glimpses then wide views of sweeping untouched bays and precipices and on our left by a well vegetated cliff face and an occasional panoramic vista across rolling hills and dips; a road that finally plunges down to Man O’ War Bay and we’ve arrived.

What a welcome! The readers are here! They’ve read the book! The whole book! They can discuss any story, every story! It’s not just a sad book; it’s a funny book too. It’s not only ‘back in the day’; it’s about now as well. Ahhhh! Phew! So the discussion is about enduring love and inevitable loss; it’s about courage in adversity, the loosening of the patriarchal hold, the ties of community across class boundaries. “Across the Gap”, “Erasures”, “Monty and Marilyn” are popular choices. “Curtains” again comes up for thoughtful discussion. What does the child see? What does she understand? What does the adult reader understand? They speculate on why the grandmother is angry – what has the mother done, again? Are there clues in the story that an adult reader can follow? I don’t like reading short stories, I prefer a novel, admits one reader, but, she continues, I couldn’t put this book down. Music to a writer’s ear.

Books are signed, there is cake, no, there are cakes, and other homemade goodies including a wonderful cream cheese and guava cheese dip, a splendid guava drink, and then, too soon, we must take our reluctant leave. It is quite dark. The car threads its way along a road lit only by stars. It pulls aside to allow those swifter, more route familiar, more anxious, to get to their destinations sooner and, by the by, we’re back at the house where we’re overnighting. Thank you Charlotteville for the gift of a precious applique bookmark now nestled between the pages of a well-thumbed Sic Transit Wagon.

Saturday morning, bright and early, it’s Swallows Bay, Bon Accord, where Marielle’s eyes are fixed on the sea bottom, the better to marvel at the fish darting among the huge lumps of coral that floor the bay here, I dog-paddle in the shallows, and Funso sits on the beach taking in whatever. Long before the appointed noon meeting we are at the most impressive Scarborough Library. Care has been taken here to pay visible tribute to the librarians and others who contributed to making this modern library a reality. There are pictures and bios on the walls leading to the steps that take us up a floor to where our meeting is to be held.

Upstairs, Marielle organises the refreshments table, Funso & I set out chairs in a circle while the librarian gathers the readers from far and wide. Remember, this is Saturday lunchtime! Once again I am struck by the truth of the saying that the writer writes a story; the reader makes the story. Does everyone have an old car they couldn’t bear to part with? On this journey I’ve gathered so many beloved-car stories. A car as a metaphor for life. We talk about the title, so transparent to me at the time of choosing, so enigmatic to almost everyone I’ve met. Latin tags are pretty passé I now see. As are pitch-oil stoves, shilling blocks of ice and alpagatas. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi indeed.

How does a story come? I tell them about my friend, Lorraine, and her guitar trio, about me singing along with them late one Sunday afternoon to Besame Mucho, about the sudden blinding memory-thought that my father had been a fantastic player of the Hawaiian guitar but he’d kept that part of his life so separate from us that I didn’t know it until he’d died when I was in my forties. That the sudden thought made me rush home and type out “I Never Heard Pappy Play the Hawaiian Guitar” all at once, in its entirety in just over an hour. But that other stories had other prompts. And that my biggest impetus was, and still is, a deadline. And that the MFA at UWI under Prof Aiyejina was a series of deadlines leading to a manuscript of fifteen stories.

The library closes at two on Saturdays. We pack up and leave. A detour takes us to Montpelier Cottages, to Mark & Zena, ‘long-standing friends’, as I introduce them, with Mark doing well at standing but not for too long after a recent hip replacement. Marielle and Funso wander among the cluster of wooden cottages that make up this charming homestead while Mark, Zena & I catch up. Then back to the house to gather possessions and off to the AN Robinson Airport and a gentle touchdown at Piarco Airport. Please don’t change that name. It has a location. It has a history, our history, entwined in it.

All photos by Funso Aiyejina and Marielle Forbes.