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Stabroek News

Miles from 'nowhere'
published: Monday | April 21, 2008

Tony Deyal

"Miles from nowhere

I guess I'll take my time

To reach there."

ONE OF the people I work with in Antigua is named Miles. Almost every time I see him, my mind hits the Cat Stevens' classic, Miles from Nowhere. It is difficult not to say or sing it aloud. I resist the temptation because while people accept the concept of a bus, train or car coming out of 'nowhere' to do them, their vehicles or other loved ones grievous bodily harm, to imply that they themselves have emerged from 'nowhere' is considered insulting.

The Mighty Dougla, in his prize-winning calypso about the plight of 'douglas' or Afro-Indian mixtures (I am neither one nor the other, six of one, half a dozen of the other), sings about the little dougla kid who, tormented by one racial group ran to the other for succour and was asked, "No-whereian, what you come here for?"

Miles away from Miles and high in the sky, or as high as a propeller plane can go, I was as many miles from nowhere as one could be. As I thought of my no-whereian status, I remembered what happened to Cat Stevens after 9/11. Stevens, an extremely popular pop singer, changed his name to Yusuf Islam. Because of that, Stevens was on a 'terrorist' watchlist. When United States security found his name on the passenger list of a transatlantic flight from London to Washington, they diverted the plane to a remote airfield in Maine, leaving him literally miles from nowhere.


While my flight was not diverted, I had to create my own diversions. LIAT left late as usual and as we made the tedious trip to Barbados, I felt literally miles from nowhere. Fortunately, the flight attendant, a young Guyanese lady named Sherree, made the trip comfortable for all of us. My wife Indranie, who is also Guyanese, insists that people from Guyana are the most hospitable in the Caribbean. I agree. Even in the midst of dire poverty, there are many Guyanese who, although poor in material wealth, will still invite you to their homes and try to press a gift on you before you leave. Perhaps her upbringing puts Sherree miles ahead of the others, but in spite of her upbeat attitude, I continued to feel that we were all miles from nowhere.

Thinking about nowhere

I started to ruminate on the word 'where'. It is essentially 'here' with a 'w'. 'There' is 'here' with a 't'. One hears of here, there and everywhere, whereabouts and wherewithal, wherefore, where-from and wherein, whereas and whereinto. But if there is no where, how can you come out of it, or be miles from it? In that case, where the heck are you? Many adolescents seem to know exactly where nowhere is. When my son George was a teenager and I asked him where he was going, he always said, "Nowhere." I never thought to ask him where exactly nowhere was. Now the opportunity, having been missed, cannot be regained. I never got anywhere when I questioned him and now I am nowhere close to understanding.

A nowhere story

Even the dictionaries are never clear on exactly where nowhere is. Essentially, it seems, 'here', 'there' and 'where' are determined by one another. If you're not here, where you are is there. If you are not there, where you are is here. And if you're here today and gone tomorrow, where you've gone to is nowhere.

I have a nowhere story. It is an old story full of racial and national stereotypes, but as I was mere miles from nowhere, I thought of it and presented it as I remembered it. On a group of beautiful deserted islands in the middle of nowhere, two men and one woman from each of several nationalities were stranded following a shipwreck.

One month later, on these same absolutely stunning deserted islands in the middle of nowhere, the following events occurred. The Italian man killed the other Italian man for the Italian woman. The Frenchwoman and the two Frenchmen are living happily together in a ménage à trois. The two German men have a strict weekly schedule of alternating visits with the German woman.

Getting to work

The two Greek men are sleeping with each other and the Greek woman is cleaning and cooking for them. The two Englishmen are waiting for someone to introduce them to the Englishwoman. The two Bulgarian men took one long look at the endless ocean, and another long look at the Bulgarian woman, and started swimming. The two Japanese men have faxed Tokyo and are awaiting instructions. The two Chinese men have set up a pharmacy, a liquor store, a restaurant and a laundry, and have got the woman pregnant in order to supply employees for their stores.

The two American men are contemplating the virtues of suicide because the American woman keeps endlessly complaining about everything in and out of sight. The two Irishmen have divided the island into north and south and set up a distillery. They do not remember if sex is in the picture because it gets sort of foggy after the first few litres of coconut whisky. But they're satisfied because at least the English aren't having any fun.

Tony Deyal was last seen wondering if LIAT acquired jet planes instead of the propeller ones they have now, will it be a case of going nowhere fast?

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