Sat | May 26, 2018

Tony Deyal | Marble and mud

Published:Saturday | February 3, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Her name was Mud. She got arrested by two policemen during a carnival dance our club gave to raise money for our annual carnival band. Even though her parents were God-fearing people and were extremely upset about her arrest and subsequent court appearance, especially as she was fined and not reprimanded and discharged as their prayers, subsequent visions, and additional candles, as well as an increased payment to both the pastor and the obeah man, had guaranteed that was also not the reason why her name was Mud.

Convictions for any offence or several were not a problem in our appropriately named Peyton Place (formerly Cassava Alley) in Siparia. It was also the name of our football and cricket teams, and thankfully so, since while it was an honour and major reputation builder to be from Peyton Place, the name Cassava Alley did not have the same cachet or ring to it.

However, if the ring was important, one of our boys would have stolen it without any hesitation. If, however, it was a cow, Nolan would have obliged, although his luck ran out more often than his sentences for larceny of cattle. Thinking about it now, he was a rustler, and Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey would have made capital of (and, especially, from) Nolan's exploits.

 

WOUNDING CONVICTIONS

 

Our captain, Rabbi, used to boast that all his convictions were for wounding, so anything on a smaller scale was, while acceptable, barely passable, nothing to boast about among some of the guys who listed assault, affray, and Arson on their CVs. Arson, whose first name was Ross, along with Bread Boy and Boyie, had done a stint at the Youth Training Centre (YTC), an institution that takes wayward young men and within the periods of their sentences, regardless of how short, converts them into hardened criminals.

I understood why this was so when my parents uprooted me from the little, central, sugar-cane village of Carapichaima and sent me to Picadilly EC at the foothills of the Laventille hill. It was a dangerous place, although innovative.

One boy, Stoddart, cut all the buttons off the newly washed clothing, drying in the neighbour's yard, as his stake in a game of marbles. He was so advanced that he went online long before the Internet was invented. It was when Mr Gordon, formerly a YTC 'teacher', left his job at the institution where, it is said, he was attacked with and not by a hoe, to take up what he thought was a safer occupation that I saw what happens to some young men when confronted by rampant authority and raging bulls.

Mr Gordon walked with a thick leather strap and used it on any of the boys in the class whenever he felt like it. We had already sat what was called the College Exhibition examination (the precursor to the Common Entrance for admission to secondary education) and were at loose ends waiting for results although, in the case of some of the boys, it was already a foregone conclusion. Failure was not an optio. It was a way of life.

Mr Gordon, full of his YTC ways and reputation, did not know what these boys were capable of. I had found out early, from my first day at school when, with the low haircut my father had given me, I was the target of what we call 'taps', open-palm smacks to the head, until I fought back, and, as is customary in Trinidad, the taps ran dry.

Jang Bahadoor Singh, an itinerant magician, who, for six cents a head, performed simple sleight of hand for schoolchildren, came to our school to put on a magic show. The show did not resume after the intermission. The magician was mugged by a few of my classmates and the money disappeared.

Mr Gordon did not last long either. He, too, disappeared. He had picked on the wrong bunch at the wrong time. Mud was different. She always had a smile as she went down the Grell Street hill where I lived to visit her boyfriend and later common-law husband, my neighbour Ban. It was as she passed the boys gathered under the street lamp around which we 'lymed' or, as the police would say, loitered, that Rabbi, or it might have been Gerald King, made her name 'Mud'.

It was 1961, I was 16 years old, when the French documentary film The Sky Above, the Mud Below, by French explorer, Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film graphically detailed a seven-month expedition into uncharted Netherlands New Guinea and featured head-hunters, Pygmies, and cannibals.

In about 1962, the year of national independence for Trinidad and Tobago, the movie arrived in our village and became more than a talking point. It was a full-blown sensation.

 

IDENTITY AND SELF-PRIDE

 

Its impact on my friends was interesting. At that time, identity and self-pride were even bigger issues than they are now. For example, a calypso on the 'spirit of carnival' included the lines, "Jump and be merry/Don't mind if you black and you ugly/You could drink with black, you could drink with white/Drink until twelve tonight/Doh matter what colour, creed or race/Jump up and shake youh waist/This is the spirit of Carnival/It's a creole bacchanal/So jump as you mad/This is Trinidad/We don't care who say youh bad."

All of us had seen a spectre that was horrifying, and, in a true sense, entertaining. It was why, when this young lady passed us as we gathered under the street light, hailing out to the men and commenting on the women, wishing them a "good night, my darling" and following it up with compliments, endearments, and promises of what we could do for them that their present boyfriends could not do, we got no response from the shy, dark-skinned young lady.

This angered the group.

"Who you think you is?" "Why you eh haul you ugly mother (expletive deleted)?" And then someone said, "Youh so black you looking jest like Mud in de picture."

And that was when she became 'Mud'. And then at the Busy Corner dance hall, when the band started to sing the Merry Men hit, Archie, based on, or taken from, a Virgin Islands calypso by Prince Galloway, the same young lady cemented the name Mud when after a few drinks, she changed the lyrics and shouted out her version at the top of her voice. Archie bucked them up and police locked her up for using obscene language. Mud dried out the next day after a night in the cell, but not her nickname. It stuck.

- Tony Deyal was last seen quoting author Nathaniel Hawthorne author of 'The Scarlet Letter', "Life is made up of marble and mud."