Bocas Lit Fest

by Barbara Jenkins

Sangre Grande Library on a Wednesday afternoon, the day after the Tuesday Divali holiday, and traffic from Port of Spain is so light you can be excused for thinking that Trinidad has not only adopted but extended the Spanish ‘Puente’ whereby a public holiday falling near a weekend is bridged by having another day off to make a long weekend, and that we Trinis, having already absorbed Monday, had added an extra span to the bridge and made the weekend run into Wednesday too. So we not just early, we early-early. Just Funso and me this time and poor fellow, he, who lives out east, will have to take me back west to POS afterwards and then head back east, back home. But he’s his usual cool self. No problem.

The librarian did so want to meet Marielle, but there’ll be another time in the second round of the programme, when readers, having made their own group choice about the second book, will have the discussion led by a Bocas team member along with either the writer or someone erudite who knows the work. The third phase of the programme is a series of workshops for aspiring writers drawn from the reading groups. This aspect has generated some excitement among readers whom we’ve met on tour. Some readers do say that they’re inspired by the fact I wrote these stories for this, my first book, in my late sixties, and that the book was published when I was seventy-one, and that I never studied English beyond age fifteen and was a teacher of geography! So, I’m hoping that some scattered seeds are germinating along the way and that the workshops attract and help to bring out many new voices.

It is a full house here at Sangre Grande. We expand and expand the circle. I count that Marielle’s tea plates, usually easily enough, will not go round to all! There’s a display of Author’s picture (x2!) and bio, thoughtfully set up by the librarians. Thank you. “It’s Not Where You Go, It’s How You Get There” is what they want to hear me read from first. That’s a sure sign that the readers have got well into the collection. The traffic jam in the story is in the wild west, in Diego Martin, but here, in the far east, everyone can relate to the scenario and have much to relate, including how to spend time profitably while immobilised on the road. For instance, I have a colleague who would regularly arrive at the school where we taught with one eye neatly outlined and fully mascaraed and shadowed, the other a blank canvas, depending on how many red lights she met around the savannah that morning. Out of a determination to be truthful in answering my readers’ inevitable question: Is it real? Did this really happen? I have to confess that, in the real situation that prompted the story, I was having a friendly exchange with a sympathetic colleague not a tempestuous break-up with an anal boyfriend. Real life inspires the imagination, I say.

Funso tells me on the journey west afterwards that I should read from “Ghost Story” more often. He’s right. Sangre Grande readers were rolling in laughter at the antics of Ghost, at the reaction of the villagers to his antics, at the twists and turns of fate, at the resolution. Everyone also has a ghost story. I feel sometimes that the way we people relate to one another whether they’re up there or down there on the social totem pole, or the zaboca tree for that matter, the ‘give him/ give them a chance’ T&T philosophy of life makes this country a whole Ghost Story by itself.

Debe and Mayaro fall through the cracks of scheduling and life’s unpredictability. However I’m hopeful that somehow it could still happen and, someday, by way of Debe, Sic Transit Wagon and I will make our pilgrimage to the Archaic site where the oldest human remains in the West Indies were excavated, so as to pay homage to Banwari Woman’s first final resting place. We could then also look forward to the salt sea spray, the waving coconut trees, the rolling surf, the long stretch of the Cocal, the iridescent Ortoire, on the way to Mayaro. Maybe it’s in Debe or Mayaro that I’m destined to have my meeting with lotto. Who knows?

Photos by Funso Aiyejina.

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