Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Tony Deyal: The carnival over: dead can dance

Published:Saturday | October 24, 2015 | 12:00 AM

We grew up hunting small animals. While people like my grandfather, uncles and Mr Jones, the neighbour, had dogs and went out looking for deer, agouti, armadillo and whatever else they could kill, we looked for iguanas by day and opossum or 'manicou' by night.

As the currents of history bob and weave in my head, sometimes getting snarled in the synapses of fading memory, I remember a carnival where Mother Nature might have got her own back.

I had met a girl named June from nearby Penal, a tall, light-skinned girl who travelled on the bus that passed through my home town, Siparia, and Penal on the way to San Fernando. I am not sure how it happened, since I had worshipped her silently for many weeks, but one day she spoke to me and the day after I kept the seat next to me for her. After a few days of shy smiles and terse greetings, she invited me to come to Penal for Carnival. I was in heaven.

The celebration in Penal, a rural, more agricultural community, did not start until the afternoon. That morning, instead of going to Jour Ouveret, or the dawn masquerade that initiates our two-day carnival festival, I went hunting iguana in the Quinam forest with my father and some of our friends. Looking back at it now, hunting is something that I would never do again and have not done for the past 50 years, but this was the environment in which I grew up, and it was not just acceptable then but was mandatory if you wanted to be with your friends and family.

Recently, seeing pictures of roadside vendors selling trussed-up iguanas made me sick. I cannot change the past, but sometimes we all wish we could. This is one of those occasions.

We were all looking forward to 'Rex and Bread', our name for an iguana sandwich, or stewed iguana with dasheen. We walked in a straggly line through the forest with Mikey, whose eyes could spot a 'guana' from a mile away, in front with the gun and the rest of us in Indian file behind. Franklin, who was in front of me, flicked aside a long, hollow branch which was hanging perpendicularly from a vine. It came back and struck me on the side. Then about a million 'Jack Spaniards', or wasps, attacked that side of my face, which got red, swollen and painful instantly.

The hunt ended because nobody could put up with my moaning and grumbling about the pain, and how I could not go to meet the girl with my face 'swell up' like that. My father suggested, jokingly, that I should go and find another nest of wasps to sting the other side of my face so that the swelling could balance out. I was not amused.

 

date with destiny

 

My mother was more sympathetic and helped with a mixture of Thermogene and Vicks. By one o'clock, when it was time to leave for Penal, much of the swelling had gone down. I put on a sailor cap and set forth for my date with destiny smelling of menthol and my father's Old Spice.

I am not sure what I was expecting, but it was not June, her mother, her father, grandfather, grandmother and many brothers and sisters making up an entire truckload of what we call 'cocoa-panyols', or Spanish-descended people. My sailor cap drooped in disappointment. Wherever June and I walked, we were surrounded by disorderly children gulping down snow cones and whatever else they could consume. Sticky fingers held my hands.

 

The magic had gone

 

We wandered towards the park where the carnival competition was being held. The formal opening was by Sir Grantley Adams, premier of the West Indies Federation. Later, when the federation crashed, Sparrow sang, "When Grantley Adams took up his post/ That really made things worst/ We don't want no Bajan Premier/ Trinidad can't be capital for here/ So the grumbling went on and on/ To a big referendum."

I still see Sir Grantley, in the hot sun, opening a carnival in a distant community, far from anywhere, in an accent that nobody really understood, and making a speech that was as unmemorable as it was unappreciated.

The rest is history. I cannot recall ever seeing June (Jean?) again or Sir Grantley. The magic had gone. The swelling on my face went down. The next day, Carnival Tuesday, I went to Port-of-Spain to see the bands parade. I decided to check out my cousin Cynthia, a nurse who worked in the hospital on Charlotte Street. Just outside the hospital, I had to wait for a moment to cross. Two steel bands, coming from opposite directions, made the passage difficult.

In a flash, crossing became impossible as people fled for their lives. It was the famous clash that Lord Blakie sang about, "And when the two band clash/ If you see cutlash/ Never me again/ To jump up in a steel band in Port-of-Spain." It was immediately a case of Tony gone and pandemonium take over. Perhaps the Jaycees felt the same way. Maybe even Sir Grantley as he faced the heat. But definitely the iguanas. Musician Andre Tanker and drummer Andrew Beddoe had the perfect line, "When the hunter becomes the hunted/ Everybody looking for place to hide."

- Tony Deyal was last seen with his mixed-up memories wandering through Charlotte Street where, as Sparrow says, "the good times meet,/ Wahbeen and grog and pan beating fine,/ And all them things on mih mind."