They called him Uncle Chocolate. The name started with family members and expanded to people in his neighbourhood until he, and everyone who knew him accepted his name as Uncle Chocolate.
He stood up in The Pussy Willow. It was a small bar with rough countertops and bald light-bulbs. “Now, fellas, this little move here is what I call the fishing pole.” He planted his feet shoulder-width apart and bent his knees. He stretched his arms out in front of him, fingers pointing downward and jerked back and forth. “Change up the distance of your feet depending on the size of fish you hoping to catch. See, and add a little bounce to your head, a few shoulder moves, and the ladies go fall like flies.”
The men in The Pussy Willow laughed. Uncle Chocolate shimmied a bit, enjoying their attention. He wasn’t from the same area as these men. At thirty-seven, he lived comfortably on the bottom floor of his parents’ two-story house. He wasn’t rich, but he was better off than the men in the bar. Still, he liked coming to the bar, talking to the men about women and drinking rum and coconut water.
He draped his brown, soft arm around the shoulders of Trevor Walters, a young black man who used to catch birds for a living but had since started learning to read from the bartender. “See, here, I could real school this young chap.” Uncle Chocolate grinned broadly and winked, a move he always did when using foreign slang. “After you get off them primer books you go graduate to the real useful thing.” He slipped his hand into his back-pocket, wagged his eyebrows dramatically and pulled out a paperback. “Mills and Boon. Romance novels. It go teach you some slick moves and the dames dig a reader. You start reading these and see if you still need to empty your pocket upstairs.” He pointed to the top floor which was a brothel at night.
The other men slapped their callused hands on their knees and stamped their feet on the floor, its uneven panelling vibrated and added to the din.
A man perched on a backless bar stool addressed Uncle Chocolate. “Indian, you eh play you crazy, eh? Is so you tie up that Indian woman head from up the hill? She invite all of we to all you wedding.” His face split into a teasing smile, with the tip of his tongue sticking out and his gold front tooth shining.
Uncle Chocolate shook his head, amused. “Is that time already? I thought she give them out last month?”
A thin dougla man playing All Fours in the corner put down his cards and answered, “Nah, last time was two months now. She did try for Valentines. But Mister Man over there eh show up.” He pointed at Uncle Chocolate with his thumb and grinned. “But Gimmicks say she eh giving up. She going to invite all of we again. I ask she if Uncle Chocolate know she throwing his wedding and she gone and say that the groom eh know, and is a surprise. She say he go be pleased as punch when he see the event she put on. I tell she is five times now he eh show up and if she worried. She say Uncle Chocolate is twice a normal man, so sixth time is the charm.”
Trevor put down his drink. “How you tie up she head so?”
Uncle Chocolate sprawled off in his chair. “Man, I didn’t do she nothing. All I do was splash on a little Drakkar Noir and slide up next to she and say, ‘aye babes, you looking real on. Let we go get a KFC snack pack.’”
The man with the gold tooth stamped his foot on the floor, laughing. “A snack pack?”
“Yes, man. She’s a chicken and chips slut. She the kind of broad where it go only take two piece of chicken and a pack of chips.”
Trevor put down his drink. “She make a real good curry duck at that last wedding she throw with the tent in the backyard,.”
The man with the gold tooth closed his eyes and rubbed his belly. “Oui, sah. And that channa and aloo.” He licked his lips. “And that roti? Soft, soft, soft. Man I nearly bite my finger off eating she food.”
Uncle Chocolate leaned forward. “See here, that is why I cannot go. That dame must be trying to slip me some love-potion in she food. You know how them women does get, always visiting some obeah man and trying to trap a innocent fellas like me.”
The card player scoffed playfully. “Who forcing you to eat? Talk truth, is Gimmicks lacing food with potion you afraid of, or is that light-skinned Sheena you worried about?”
Uncle Chocolate shook his head. “Who? Sheena? You mad or what? She don’t own me. She just my main broad. I not she man.”
The card player shrugged his shoulders, palms facing up. “Well, how you afriad so?”
Uncle Chocolate raised his hands to shoulder level. “Aye, aye. Is not only me I worried for. That woman go have a heart attack if I show up.”
The men stamped their feet laughing. Trevor, in an unusual show of liveliness, said, “Man, you have to show up. You have to show up. It go be real kicks.”
Uncle Chocolate gave a thumbs-up sign. “I go think about it. In any case, I go have to show Gimmicks it worth the wait.” He winked, and chuckled while the men banged the counter in approval.
Uncle Chocolate didn’t understand why Sheena Rampersad was being so cold. He’d pressed his white shirt and khaki pants, taken her for a stroll around the San Fernando Promenade and even picked her a pink wildflower—beauty in all this mess, babes, just like you. Still, she barely looked at him and sat on the rust-speckled park bench with her legs clamped together so closely that he was worried.
Finally, she jerked her head towards him, neck sunken into her shoulders and her bottom lip folded beneath her top lip like a snapping turtle. “So I hear that you well planning on going to that Giatri woman wedding.”
So that was all. He grinned, pleased with causing this pretty young woman to feel jealous.
“Who is Giatri? You mean Gimmicks?”
“What you skinning your teeth for? You didn’t think how this would make me feel? Why you choose to persecute me so?”
He sighed. “Is just kicks.”
“Kicks for who? You and a bunch of nowherian men? You didn’t think those same kicks go make me a laughingstock?” She shook her head. “I don’t know what I so surprise for, even Jesus had a Judas.”
“How I Judas?”
“You betraying me this way!”
“Oh, Lord, woman. Don’t start acting like your mother. You taking this too serious. Gimmicks just some crazy girl.”
“Just some crazy girl? That supposed to make it better?”
She continued in this fashion until he interrupted her. “Why you arguing about this in public so for?”
She paused. “Why you vex about that for?” She jerked her head away from him. “I was just making sure I safe.”
That angered him. “I never hit a woman in my life.” And he wasn’t about to start on Sheena, whose fair skin would bruise easily. She was acting too out of hand. Imagine if the fellas from The Pussy Willow heard about her behaviour. What if he didn’t go to the wedding and they thought it was because of Sheena? He had to show her who was boss. “Look here, Sheena, don’t sour down the evening so. I done tell you, is just kicks.”
“Then you go have no problem with me showing up, right?”
He dipped his head, closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. She really was pushing it. “Nah, is no big thing. Come if you want.”
She lowered her chin. “Then, is a done thing. I go show up with you. And everybody go know who man you is.”
He was dressed in an ironed seersucker suit, with a gold chain peeking out from under his collar and polished black tasselled shoes. Sharp, with a dab of Amin’s powder under his arms, just in case he had to raise his hands while dancing to chutney music.
Gimmicks’s house looked the same: corrugated iron roof, signal red steps and an unpainted concrete driveway. A small palm tree in the yard separated the rusty gate from the house. Its leaves were turning yellow and there was a large anthill at its roots. He could hear Indian music and laughter coming from the back of the house. Gimmicks and the fellas must be there.
Sheena jabbed him in the ribcage. She arched a perfectly plucked eyebrow and pursed her lightly glossed lips. “Aye, aye, aye. Not so fast, Mister Man. You not going back there without me on your arm.” She wore a black dress with red hibiscus flowers on it and strappy sandals. Her long legs and arms were bare save for a heavy gold cocoa-pod bracelet on her right wrist. She had on a pair of gold dangling earrings. Her shiny straight hair was loose. She continued, “This place is the pits. I don’t know how you could know people from this area. This house real small, I surprise it have two level, I did think she must live in a flat house. Them steps real coolieish, though. That more what I expected.” She raised her eyebrows and shook her head. “At least she have a water tank. I surprise she used to running water. Still, she probably never even see a water heater much less have hot water. She living with she parents?”
She sneered. “I surprise. Is probably the only decent thing about she. What she father is?”
“I think he own a couple of maxi taxis. She mother does work in Fabricland, that store on High Street that the Gopauls own.” He straightened his pants.
“Stop fixing yourself. Why they allowing this spectacle for?”
He paused. “It hard enough for people to be happy.” He shrugged. “They don’t want to break she hopes, I think. Giatri is a soft-hearted girl in she way.”
Sheena put her hand on her hip. “So is ‘Giatri’ now? I thought you call she ‘Gimmicks’?”
He started, realising his error. “She no match for a classy woman like you. And too besides, this is just kicks. You miles prettier. Whole different class.” Hopefully, she’d stay calm in public. He patted her hand and gestured expansively. “Anyway, check out this scene. What I tell you? The girl bazodee.”
He grinned. Indian music blasted from the three Bose speakers connected at the back by an orange extension cord. A long table was on the left. He smelled curry and went over to investigate. There were three metal pots on the table. The two smallish ones held curried channa and mashed pumpkin sweetened and spiced with cumin. The fluffy paratha roti was wrapped in wax paper in a Styrofoam box on the table next to a pile of wet banana leaves which functioned as plates. Curried duck was in the largest pot, steam was still rising from it and it smelled of ground coriander and cilantro. A quarter of it was gone. It was the favourite, evidently. He felt peckish and picked up a banana leaf.
Sheena folded her arms. “What is it you doing? I thought you was worried about she lacing the food with a love-potion?”
He put back the leaf. Some of the men from The Pussy Willow were in the corner. A dark Indian man stood near them, dancing. His shirt was unbuttoned exposing his paunch. He spread his arms wide and jerked his shoulders rhythmically, though not in time with the music. The men laughed at him. One of them nodded at Uncle Chocolate. He grinned back and pointed at Sheena. The man shook his head, but didn’t stop laughing.
Suddenly, tassa drumming blasted from the speakers. Uncle Chocolate saw the men holding their sides. He heard a high-pitched wail which morphed into Indian-style singing. All the guests seemed amused, all smirks and pointed fingers. A woman draped in a blue sari with gold sequins and a tarnished brass belled anklet swirled from the house towards the backyard. She tucked the blue scarf covering her head to the side of her face. It was Gimmicks. Her eyes were lined heavily and her lips were orange-red. She’d put on a little weight since he’s last seen her two years ago, though she was by no means fat.
She started to twirl her body from left to right, slapping her hands over her head. She did this three times before anchoring her left foot to the ground and shaking her right foot in a jerky manner. Her arms were spread wide and she moved them in a similar fashion to the dancing man. The guests laughed, first quietly, and then out loud. Uncle Chocolate was suddenly embarrassed for her.
She spun around twice, and began twisting her waist. She stopped. Her arms dropped and she pointed at him. He was aware of Sheena’s closeness. He felt Sheena’s grip, and the fabric of his shirt. Everyone looked at him, rubbed their palms together and laughed through gaping mouths.
Gimmicks smiled and stamped her barefoot. The bells jingled. She stood in front of Sheena and him but addressed the crowd. “Ent I did tell allyou he go show? Ent I did say that it go happen?”
He felt Sheena removing her hand. This wasn’t good. He had to keep Sheena occupied. “You want a Cokes, babes?”
Gimmicks stood akimbo. “Who is this now?”
Sheena folded her arms. “Sheena Rampersad.”
Gimmicks addressed Uncle Chocolate. “This the one who mother is the big-time teacher in the primary school?”
Sheena pushed herself in front of Uncle Chocolate. “Is me self. What you talking to him for? He not serious about you.”
“If he eh serious about me, why it is you come for?”
“He come to laugh at you.”
“ Shut you mouth. You eh no body to him. What you acting like you in the picture for?”
“Eh-heh? Well, you well hear about me, but I never hear about you.”
Gimmicks stuck her tongue in her cheek. “Is this woman you did choose to two-time me with?”
Sheena curled her lip. “Let me tell you something Miss Lady, there was two Marys, but I know I is not Magdalene.”
“What you talking about preacher? You want to act all big-shot?” She pointed at Sheena’s face. “All I know is you coming in my house to guzzle down my Cokes, and tell me that I eh mean nothing to Faizal?”
“Get your hand out my face. I cannot help it if my man see that I sweating bullets because you cannot afford a fan and he decide to go get me one of your measly Cokes is on him. Is not like I go drink them anyway. That must make you glad as you and your family look like allyou can’t afford sweet drinks.” She swatted Gimmicks’ finger. “Get your finger out of my face.”
Gimmicks jerked her head back and slapped Sheena. The crowd oohed. Sheena clutched Gimmicks’ hair, yanking her down. Gimmicks dug her hands into Sheena’s grip. Sheena screeched but didn’t let go. Faizal tried to pull Sheena off while another man pried Gimmicks’ hands out of Sheena’s hair. The two girls started clawing at each other’s faces.
“Calm down, calm down,” said Uncle Chocolate to Sheena.
“Faizal, what that skettelle do to my face? What she do to it?”
“Nothing, nothing.” Her face was scratched badly.
Sheena touched her cheek gingerly. “Who is that old lady?”
He turned around. An older woman with a limp grey plait and sandaled feet petted Gimmicks’ hair. The woman wore a peach shalwaar. It was Gimmicks’ mother, who even by sari-wearing standards looked coolieish.
She shook her head. “Why it is you come for, Faizal? You cannot just give the girl some peace?”
Sheena put her hand on his shoulder. “He not to blame.”
“I eh talking to you. He know what he do. Coming around here, filling she head with nonsense. Then he just stop when he find out that he mother find Giatri too dark-skinned and she eh want no dark-skinned grandchild. You feel I forget that business? Now, you want to act like big man? Breaking she heart eh enough, Faizal? You have to make she a laughingstock too, eh? And even then, you have to come to brutalize she?”
“I didn’t do she nothing, tante,” he said.
“You know what you do. You build she hopes up and then you break she down. She eh fancy like Miss Lady over there,” she jerked her head in Sheena’s direction, “But she did well like you. Get out my house, and take your woman with you. You is a heartless man.”
Uncle Chocolate started. He put his hand on Sheena’s shoulders. “Come, girl. Let we leave.”
Uncle Chocolate smoked a cigarette on the street corner. He remembered Giatri in her cherry-red dress with the well-worn shoulders. She had been pretty, with sunshine in her black hair turning it a reddish brown. He didn’t known then that she was so tender-hearted. That she’d believe his sweet-talk. That kissing her was kissing a child with a woman’s body. She was always so soft-hearted. She made it too easy. But he hadn’t meant to laugh at her. Giatri’s mother had no right to say he had no heart. It was Sheena who put her hands on Giatri. That had surprised him. His classy main squeeze with her fair fair skin and light light eyes. Such high, high class. Fighting a little coolie girl he never cared for in the first place. What it matter anyway? All woman is the same. They like attention and to win. They always want to win even when it was no competition. All they was good for is stories and free time. Is not his fault if them want to act doltish and lose they mind over him. They knew what he was.
He spat out the side of his mouth. Them fellas from the bar go catch real kicks from all this bacchanal. Plus, there was that nice-looking dame from the other street. But first things first. He needed a drink and to clear his mind. He couldn’t wait to talk this over with the men at the bar. Sheena, Mrs. Rampersad daughter fighting? Over him, Uncle Chocolate? Man, if you see madness for so! This one pulling that one hair. That one cuffing this one. I never see more thing in my life! You eh play you a sweet man, eh?
Phedra Deonarine lived in Trinidad for eighteen years before her family moved to Vancouver, Canada. She was the Truman Capote Fellow for the Rutgers M.F.A program. Her work has appeared in Indiana Review, MIEL, The Golden Key, among others. Follow her @thelilcabbage