200 leis

For my grandmothers: Katherine and Ruby

Aunty Lenore warned me this morning: “We have 200 leis, and it have 186 people coming!  And you see who want to be greedy and ask for two, or say they want one to take home for somebody else? Don’t give them, you hear? And if anybody who not on the guest list come off the road and try to get one, don’t give it to them! Because they not invited! Not to my party!”

I know I look good today. Everybody keep telling me I look like Diana Ross, but I find I look even better than her! This is a special occasion! My only child just get married today, and I giving her a Hawaiian reception with a luau, leis, and everything! I get the inspiration from this travel magazine from America I see the other day, dated January 1983.  The cover story was about this white actress, in her Hawaiian home! She had big blonde hair and pink press-on nails, and in the article she was saying how much she like Hawaii. Oh, and there was a picture of her at something they call a luau (they pronounce it loo-owww) with all these Hawaiians, who look kind of Chinese and Indian and Carib mix-up. And all the Hawaiians had these flowers around their necks. So when Denisha tell me she getting married, I say we going to have leis too!  My new boyfriend call this fancy flower shop in Port-of-Spain, and they say they could make leis for us out of a special type of pink and white frangipani that does only grow in Hawaii. So I say alright, yes! I always like Hawaii. Gidget goes Hawaiian, Hawaii Five-O, and now Magnum P.I.  Denisha deserve all this. Only the best for my child. Especially since she father Delroy not here!

I am standing outside of St. Timothy Hall in Mt. Lambert, handing out leis at my cousin Denisha’s wedding. She is my first cousin on my mother’s side. The red, black, and white Trinidadian flag flaps a few feet away from me, near the front wall.  It is October, so it is rainy season, and there is a heavy smell of leftover rain in the air. Water is shining on the leaves of the big palm tree near the flag. From where I stand, I can see the Northern Mountain Range, wide and green, keeping watch over Northern Trinidad. I have one lei around my head and another around my neck.  I don’t mind the coconut shell bra and grass skirt my aunt made me wear. It is nothing more revealing than what I wore at Carnival this year, “wining” down to calypso by Arrow and Merchant. Geez, Aunty Lenore went on and on about these damn leis! I told her to get some school children to string some flowers together if she wanted leis, but she said she wanted it done professionally. Anyway, she can afford it, because her new man has money. He is this big-shot who came back to Trinidad from the States about five years ago, during the oil boom. I guess he’s giving her more than Uncle Delroy ever did.

I know it sound bad, but I was glad when I hear that Delroy was trapped in Grenada. Because I wanted an excuse for not inviting him to the wedding. But aye, is just like Delroy to get trap in Grenada during the coup, eh?  His family come to Trinidad when he was a little boy, forty something years ago. All that time, he never gone back to Grenada. And now the minute he decide to go back, confusion break out there! Everybody on curfew, nobody know what going to happen, and I hear they killing people. You feel that is coincidence?  I sure is Delroy who cause that coup! And he ain’t even here at the wedding, but people still talking about him. People coming up to me after the ceremony, wondering where Delroy is. Like they more concerned with Delroy than with the bride! Anyway, I watching Panorama every night, just to see if they have some kind of footage from Grenada of him making confusion, or leading up some junta rebel militia thing.  I waiting for them to show him, with stripes paint up on his face, and one of them big Russian AK seven-forty-seven guns in his hands.

My aunt almost opted for a true Hawaiian luau experience, by having the wedding on a beach in Tobago. But then she decided on the hall instead. “The hall nice and private!” she said. “No ruffians could come off the road and start interfering in things!” I remember the first time I ever heard the word “ruffian”. When Denisha and I were getting older and starting to develop, Uncle Delroy had warned us about ruffians.

The boy Denisha marrying sweet too bad! You know he mother have Chinese in her, and the father is half Portuguese. So I hope they children will have soft hair!  See, now that is something that I can’t even say around Delroy. That I hope the children have soft hair. If I say that to him, he would be ready to give me some big long lecture, and tell me I don’t like how black people look, and how I only like black people when they don’t look too black! But that kind of talk is something he pick up when he was living away, you know. All them black power thing he pick up in England and the States. And in spite of all that, he give he last child a Russian name! No black power name like Jamal, or Kwame, or Makandal! Instead, he call him Yuri!

I liked Uncle Delroy, and I still miss him. He used to come and visit us sometimes when we were little, usually on the weekends.  I remember one time when Denisha and I were kids, we were outside with him picking mangoes. We picked two mangoes from the lowest branch, because it was all we could reach.  But Uncle Delroy told us not to eat those mangoes, because they were not the best ones. He walked around the tree, studying it. Then he pulled at one of the higher branches, until it came down to his eye level. He plucked two dark yellow mangoes with red and black smudges. Then he wiped and peeled them with a little knife he carried about, and gave them to us.

Delroy would have real problems with this wedding. I could hear him now, lecturing me, in that stupid high-pitch voice he does use when he pretending to be joking but he really serious. He would probably say “What wrong with a normal Trinidad wedding? Whoever hear of people wasting flowers to put around people neck, at a Trinidad wedding?”  Oh, and he would laugh that stupid laugh, and he would ask me something ridiculous, like if I think this is some type of cruise ship. You see, that is why we couldn’t live together. Delroy did not like nice things like I did. He did not want to better himself, like I did. All the years he spend in England and then the States, and he ain’t even come back with a bit of refinement. You think he try to do something big when he come back to Trinidad, like be a school principal or politician? No! All he do was sit outside in the evenings, drinking puncheon rum, and laughing loud-loud with low-class people.

It would have been nice if Uncle Delroy were here, to make a father-of-the-bride speech. I liked his voice. One time when I was eight, our family went to Mayaro Beach for the day. Uncle Delroy asked Denisha and me what we were learning in school. We told him we had learnt a poem, and a happy expression came over his face when we told him what it was. “I must go down to the sea!” he exclaimed. “I remember that!” And then he recited the whole poem by heart. He had not heard it since he was a little boy, but he still remembered all the words. He made the poem sound so real, almost as if he had wrote it himself. Uncle Delroy was not a big man, but he had a rough, deep voice — even deeper than some other men’s. It was not fine-sounding, like those people on the radio and TV. But it was clear and strong. And it always had a bit of a laugh to it.

When I first met Delroy, he had just come back from England. It was the same year that Trinidad get independence. He had been studying law in London.  Anyway, to make a long story short, Denisha was born the next year. But he and I used to fall out, so he did move out and was living in Siparia. We used to see him sometimes. He would come and spend the weekend, and make sure Denisha was doing well in school. But when she was ten, he went to the States. He say he was going there to make money to send back for us. But then he come back to Trinidad a few years later, and take up with a woman in Rio Claro, and have this Yuri. I didn’t even know when he come back to Trinidad. He was hiding from me, because he didn’t want me to know he was back. He even used to go and visit Denisha in school, instead of coming to the house. But I bounce him up one day and he had to acknowledge me! I call out “Aye, Delroy!” so everybody could hear, and he was forced to turn around and talk to me.  I tell him “I hear you have a son, and his name is Yuri. What kind of name is that?” and he say “Yuri is a unique name, and nobody else here have it. Trinidad don’t need any more Errols, Dexters, or Lesters!”

Denisha has been bright since we were little. She usually placed in the top three after each term test, when we were in primary school. But one term, she came sixth. She bawled when she gave Uncle Delroy her report book to sign. But he was not mad. Instead, he hugged her, and told her that he knew that she would come first next time. Then she told him that she did not like school and did not want to go anymore. Uncle Delroy shook his head. He was not vexed, but he was firm. “Don’t ever say that you don’t like school,” he told her. “When my mother was little, she had to leave school when she was ten, because she had to help her mother with the other children. She cried when she found out she could not go back to school!” He said that Denisha and I were lucky, because we could go to school for as long as we wanted.

Denisha have a good job as an elementary school teacher. Last year she went to Margarita Island for shopping with her friends. She can buy nice things for herself. She have three pairs of them fancy strappy shoes with  heels, tight jeans like the ones Brooke Shields does wear, jerseys that say “Flashdance”, roller skates, nice makeup, records, and two pieces of  real jewellery. And her man buy her a nice little car, and she tell me she will take me anywhere I want and I don’t have to fight up with taxis. We have all of that, and we didn’t need Delroy to give it to us.

I give a lei to my aunt’s friend, Miss Powell. “All you start serving food yet?” asks Miss Powell, who stares at her lei with suspicion. She looks as if she is about to eat it. “No, Miss Powell,” I say. “But we have appetizers!” I point to some of my cousins, who are walking around with trays. “What they serving?” asks Miss Powell. “It looks kind of small!” I tell her that the trays contain cheese-and-pineapple sticks, beef pies, and special snails from Hawaii. “Too bad Delroy didn’t cook the food at this wedding!” says Mrs. Lum-Lock, who is standing behind Miss Powell.  “I couldn’t make my Sunday dinner without the pepper sauce and green seasoning Delroy used to make for me!” Miss Powell nods and turns around. “Aye Marguerite! Is true, you know! Delroy could really cook! And he roti? Indian people and all used to beg Delroy to make roti for them, and they are the ones who invent roti!” Mrs. Lum-Lock nods. 

One Saturday night after evening mass, we came home and saw Delroy outside. I hadn’t seen him for a couple months, but he was there that night, slumped down on one of the white chairs in the gallery. He was just staring at the ground. “Good evening Uncle Delroy!” my niece say, and “Good evening Daddy!” Denisha say. He just ignore them, even when they went up to hug him.  They ask me what was wrong with him. I told them that he was haunted, and they should just leave him alone. Then we went in and closed the door, and leave him outside. When I get up the next morning, he was gone.

Here is Miss Fanny Singh, Denisha’s teacher from primary school. Here are the Josephs, Uncle Delroy’s cousins who live in America. Here is Mr. Walker, a school principal in Point Fortin, who takes his lei and says “Delroy is my good friend, yes!” Here is Dr. Daly, a red-skinned doctor from San Fernando, who takes his lei and says “Delroy is my good friend, yes!” Here is Father Figaro, a priest from Arima now living in Princes Town, who takes his lei and says “Delroy is my good friend, yes!”  Here is Mr. Pope, the man who built my aunt’s house, who takes his lei and says “Delroy is my good friend, yes!”

Denisha do well despite him!  Her hair was neat when she went to school, comb up and cane-row nice. And her shoes were always white, and her uniform was always neat. And she do well in school too! I have to give Delroy credit for that! Because is he brains she get for sure.  But unlike him, she do something constructive with her brains, instead of wasting them!

I like weddings TOO BAD! That is why I get married three times! But Delroy conspicuous by his ABSENCE, as they say! I don’t agree with marriage– women never  HAPPY and with them you can’t do right FOR DOING WRONG! Why Denisha had to rush-rush to get married? She PREGNANT? Because I find that she put on some size when I see her in the church, you know? She will make some nice-looking children — they will have NICE HAIR! I like that Lionel Richie song. That girl succeed DESPITE she father, yes! Is true that Delroy in GRENADA? Maybe is just as well he ain’t here! WHY WE HAVE TO WEAR THESE FLOWERS? I know somebody who see him in Grenada. Delroy is my GOOD FRIEND. That man is like a BROTHER to me! Delroy is something else! He should have been here to give his DAUGHTER away. I had to catch a taxi from quite Siparia for this wedding and I hungry too bad! Where the bride? SHE STILL TAKING PICTURES? 

There are now only two leis left. However, there are still fifteen unchecked names on the guest list, so I am puzzled as to where all the leis have gone. I suspect Miss Powell.  A vagrant is now walking towards me, with a big smile and squinted eyes. His dreadlocks graze his shoulders, and he is wearing old-looking jeans, a jersey that says BWIA (and then in italics British West Indies Airways, and then in quotes “You’re the reason we fly!”), and a pair of yellow rubber slippers. I want to turn him away, but I think it is best to be polite. I ask him his name, and he says “Lester X!” He then laughs. His eyes rest briefly on my coconut shell bra in a disapproving way, then he peers over my shoulder to try and see what is going on inside. “I’m sorry sir, but I don’t see any Lester X on the list,” I tell him. This seems to confuse him. But then he tilts his head upwards and raises his eyebrows, as if he has just remembered something important. He apologizes: “Oh sorry, I was walking by, and I hear some music and see some people dressed up fancy and going in, so I decide to follow them.” I tell him, in my most serious voice, that only people on the guest list are allowed in the reception. He says “Don’t worry. I ain’t staying long!” I open my mouth to protest, but then he grabs the two remaining leis and walks into the hall.

I am afraid to stop him, because even though I am now grown up, I still want to show respect. Yes, it is Uncle Delroy. He is smart, so he probably knows that I was only pretending not to recognize him. As he heads into the main area where everyone is gathered, I hear him shout out to my aunt:  “Lenore, you having a party and you ain’t invite me? But that ain’t right!” 


Jenille Prince lives in Ottawa, Canada. Her parents are of Trinidadian descent and she lived in Trinidad for a few years during her childhood. In her stories, Jenille likes to focus on the mix of Caribbean and Canadian cultures and outlooks, and how they can co-exist in a single person. Her fiction has previously appeared in Poui and St. Somewhere Journal.

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