The strains of the steelband music swayed cool and complete on the wing of a breeze, laced to infinity with the pungent smell of the creative juice, as the fellas used to say. Horatio back a stand in the corner, propping up against a mango tree and watching the movements of the panman as he pounded out the sweet melody from the tenor pan. Panorama fever was hot in the air and Horatio could feel its excitement rumbling deep within his belly, rising like a mighty breaker engulfing all in its powerful giant swell. He know already that Living Steel had it this time. Only Conquerors, the defending champs, could be a serious threat. But Horatio had confidence in Living Steel. He made his way to the pan yard every night, although he didn’t play himself, and did not leave until they closed up shop for the night. Their inclusion in the Panorama finals came as no surprise to him. He knew sweet pan when he heard it. Their ship had finally come in and he knew his was next. He could hear its call like a syncopated du-dup beat of the iron heating up the pace of the gyrations from down in the engine room.
Horatio himself was a budding calypsonian. He had visions of making it to the Soca Monarch Finals or even to Dimanche Gras. Maybe he could even find his way on to the international stage like Sparrow and Rudder, or he could be the man to replace the Grandmaster, now that he had made his exit and was singing for St. Peter at that calypso tent in the sky. He had gone public with his singing of calypso three years ago, using the sobriquet, The Lord Little Axe, because he prepared to cut down big tree. The first time he tried out for the Revue, they laughed at him.
“Wa yuh goin wid dat?”
“Yuh want tuh embarrass we?”
”Yuh call dat kaiso?”
”Yuh call dat kaiso?”
“Go take more lessons an check we back in de nex’ half a century!”
His career ended no sooner than it had started. He went home with his tail between his legs to nurse his wounds and swore never to show his face in public again. But Carnival fever got the better of him, and even as he lay on his bed that night, cogitating on his calamities, a kaiso began to take shape in his mind with an urgency that screamed for release. Sometimes he sought escape in dope or alcohol, and sometimes again only the sweetness of his woman’s thighs could make him forget his deepest longing, if even for a little while. But it always came back with renewed vengeance every time he was alone, and its gnawing insistence stayed with him until he had no choice but to fly up like a man possessed, grab pen and paper to jot down the kaiso before it took wings and flew out of his brain, or before the compulsion drove him insane. And then he would spend the rest of the night strumming on the guitar, and singing it over and over until he got it right. Nobody in the household could sleep when inspiration hit, so they give Horatio a little self-contained batchy outside next to the chicken run, and even made jokes about sound-proofing it to protect the chickens.
At first Horatio used to sing kaisos about how times was hard and man was catching hell to survive.
“It had a time in dis colony
When everybody had money exceptin me
Hard time for so in dis lil country
When tings was real brown for yuh boy Rachie
Ah cyah get a wuk no matter how hard ah try
It look as if good times done pass me by”
But everybody singing them hard times songs, so the next year, he make a change. He start singing pan kaisos and dressing like Kitch – top hat, powder blue three piece suit and two-toned suede shoes. Nobody could dress like Horatio. Not even de Scrunter himself. And then he would make a pass by the panyards and shift into high gear, trying to convince the arrangers to play his tune.
“Ah make it jus for de pan. Yuh hear dat pause and den de run? Ent it sweet? Try to visualize the chip an’ en de leggo come Carnival Tuesday. See dem crossin de Savannah stage draggin dey feet like dey cyah walk an den de breakaway pelt everybody off dey feet an have dem jumpin high high high like jigger worm in dey foot!” It cyah get much better dan dat! Gih de tune ah lil try, nah!”
“It unbeatable, man, make no mistake!”
The fellas would laugh because it was like Horatio was hearing a different music from everybody else.
“Wid a lil fine-tuning yuh could reach de big yard!”
“Check we back next Carnival season!”
”It go sound better on brass, man! Try Roy Cape!”
“Why yuh doh go Yangatang? They looking for somebody to sing during intermission.” Angel Dust tell him once, and the boys double over in laughter.
But Horatio take Dust seriously and show up bright and early next morning at the Yangatang Kaiso Tent for audition. Well, the whole place turn ole’ mas. Nobody could figure out what the tune was about. Nobody could figure out where verse end and chorus start and when chorus end and verse pick back up again. The musicians looking confused; the bass man wiping his brow in frustration, and the back up singers abandon their post, as the wisest option. But Horatio could real talk! So he end up landing the position to sing during intermission with the agreement that the band would take recess and he would try the kaiso acapella. Horatio didn’t mind.“Yuh gotta start somewhere” he explained to the boys that evening, “Yuh gotta creep before yuh walk. Yuh boy will be up there where the air is rare before long!”
Next day he pass through Grand Bazaar and buy a floor length mirror to practice in front of. For the next few days nobody could see Horatio, not even the chickens. Rosita passed by as usual every afternoon to bring a plate of food, a bowl of soup or some bake and buljol. Horatio would take the food with one hand, consume it and pass back the empty utensil without ever looking up from the confused scribblings, which postured as musical score. He never once notice how she dress up in her finest especially for him, how she let her hair fall loosely about her shoulders and occasionally toss it back in feigned nonchalance in imitation of those Hollywood actresses stars who had laid singular and uncontested claim on sensuality. He never noticed how she was all powdered and rouged and lipsticked – all dolled up`just to catch his eye. It never register even when she positioned herself directly in front of him and strike up what otherwise could have been the beginnings of a lively conversation. All her feminine charms went unnoticed on Horatio.
After hours of trying failed to produce results, Rosita would suck her teeth and flounce off as if in a swirl of indignant petticoats, swearing never to return. But come one o’ clock next afternoon and she’d be there once again faithfully, having convinced herself that the previous day was merely an aberration. Some days she simply perched herself on the bar stool to feast her eyes on his rippling muscles as he picked out the tune on his guitar, pausing to scribble musical notations as he went. Rosita would eventually get fed up and slip out the backdoor, equally unnoticed, and go hang out with Ludy and JoyAnn down by Ling’s dry goods store at the junction where the boys dem does go to play all fours. She swear one o’ these good days when water more than flour she go take God outa she thoughts and give some play to one-eye Rollo, who always fixin dat glass eye on she like he want to put she on a plate an sop she up with a piece o fry bake.
It had a time when things couldn’a been sweeter between Rosita and Horatio. They used to be thick like condensed milk They’d steal up to de lookout on de road to Maracas Bay to watch the sunrise and to make plans for their future together. They had it all worked out. When they saved enough from Horatio’s job as a cook on the cruise ship and Rosita’s seamstressing, they’d build a house on the land in La Seiva that Pappy had left for Horatio in his will. They had already agreed that the two biggest rooms in their house would be the kitchen for Horatio and a sewing room for Rosita. Rosita wanted four children – two boys, two girls – but Horatio had always dreamt of raising his own cricket team with one reserve – twelve – so they had settled on the median number - eight. The land was expansive enough to plant some plantains and ground provisions, rear chickens, and livestock, and that was exactly what they intended to do. That is, until that day when suddenly, as he stand up there by the bar in the Revue watching Sugar Aloes attack the Government, the kaiso bug hit. Now all Horatio could think of was pleasing the crowds in the tent and appearing live with the likes of Sparrow, Rudder, Cro Cro, Rio, Aloes, and Stalin. No Rosita had honey enough to make him abandon his dream. So when the opportunity came to sing in the Yangatang tent, he snatched it without a second thought.
Is six weeks now he singing in Yangatang and Little Axe is now the main attraction. His fame spread far and wide. Yangatang drawing the crowds away from Spectakula and Revue. People coming from all down Sando to hear Little Axe, and to see him in action. They say he dance like Cardinal and he out of tune like Fluke and Jackson. He selling song copy too bad! But the tent manager, Clovis, pocketing all the profits and every night Little Axe going home with his pockets empty. But he ain’t mind that because the melody that lodge itself deep in his system giving him a happiness no money could buy an no Clovis could take away.
Little Axe have a stage get-up that beat the competition hands down. Who could beat a Barnabas Collins suit – stand up collar, cape and all -- except not in black. Not Little Axe. Carnival is color; kaiso is color. So he head down to Aboud’s on Queen Street and ask dem to bring out they most dazzling lamé, which just happen to be flaming red with gold thread all over. He mix dat in a kinda half and half way with royal blue crush velvet on the left side of the jacket, the rightside of the pants and inside of the cape, so de cape look like a red lamé cape on the outside but when he flap he vampire bat wings and spread out, all yuh seeing was royal blue lining the inside. And de buttons down de front of de suit match the royal blue. As he swear never to show he face in public again, every night to go on stage he top off de outfit with a Phantom like mask covering he eyes and with Spock ears attached. When Little Axe take de stage, he come complete with guitar and saxophone; he learn to play them growing up in the orphanage up in Tacarigua.( Dat was when they still was ‘orphanage” – nowadays dey gone for higher; is “children’s home”). People say he look like a midnight robber in broad daylight.
De Axe blow up over night. Is only a matter of time before he move up from intermission and get on de regular docket, he tell himself. He aiming for a second half appearance – that was where they put the jumpy calypsos, road march contenders. People want to hear something spicy after they listen to philosophical and social commentary all through the first half.
But then, almost as suddenly as it started, the laughter die down. The Axe find his popularity starting to wane. He have to work twice as hard to get a rise out of the crowd. It ent anything about him or his act that change; but the problem is newness. It have a new kaisonian who hail by the sobriquet ‘Luvaboi,’ a real crooner who walking through the crowd during intermission, singing love ditties to the ladies, and messing with the Axe’s program. All eyes on Luvaboi. De man dress up like a long time sagaboy – de kinda outfit de Axe ditch long time ago – he have on a fedora hat complete with feather on the side, a waist length form-fitting jacket with silver studs and a matching pants so tight it showing all he have to offer, which don’t look like much to Axe, but the ladies seem impressed. It don take much to impress the kinda jagabat he singling out for special serenading attention, anyway, Axe console himself. An when Luvaboi grow tired o them, which is real fast, he shift focus to the old dry up battleaxe and them who look like they experiencing extended life-water drought, the kind that threatening to settle in permanently if you don quickly broaden yuh scope to include nowerians like Luvaboi.
Miss Millie belong to the second classification. Horatio know she for years. She have a big mansion on de hill not far from Horatio lil two room batchy. She stevedore husband, Quashee, die accidentally on the job a couple years back (a crane crush him) and left she childless but with a whopping set o money from he pension and compensation for loss. So Miss Millie don work nowhere. She only goin from party to party, tent to tent, nightclub to nightclub, on the hunt. She was the Axe’s biggest fan. She offer him money to come over to her place and do his routine privately just for her. But the Axe refuse. I mean, how he go do that to Rosita, and for that shriveled up ole sacbatai. When he tell the boys them down at the rumshop they laugh.
“Boy Axe, you jokin. De ‘oman rollin in dough! How yuh go turn down dat?” Speak Easy say.
“Ah wish was me. All now so ah headin to town on shoppin spree!” Jambo interject.
“Hear nuh Axe,” Rollo say, “ All she need is some good lovin. At she age a few minutes once every two-three weeks go suffice. Rosita ent have to know. All it takes is bad mind, an yuh sittin pretty!”
“”Yeah boy! She know endless people. Word have it she have de inside track wid Clovis!” First Eye inform him.
And all Next Time had to offer was “Don pass it up next time! “
Back then he didn’t pay them any mind. To hell with influence he just couldn’t stomach the old hen. Now she take up with Luvaboi and start to give the Axe the cold shoulder. And, besides, Luvaboi don’t look like he very discriminating.
But Axe have to think fast before he lose he spot at Yangatang and have nothing on the back burner. So he hatch a plan that he sure will work. He waylay Millie after the Saturday night late show. As she passin out through the patrons door, he grab she by the arm and pull she aside.
“How about a drink, Millie?” he asked in his most seductive baritone.
“Wha’ happen Axe, yuh noticing de ole Millie all of a sudden?” she asked, a tone of blunt sarcasm in her voice.
Axe was thinking fast.
“Ah have a business proposition yuh might be interested in.”
“”Okay. One drink. Ah have plans.”
“So who yuh have plans with?” he asked as they walkin side by side toward Miramar. Horatio stand back to hold the door open for Millie, while at the same time glancing furtively around hoping none o’ Rosita friends see them together.
“Luvaboi, of course. Who else!”
Horatio locate two seats in a dark corner and motion Millie to sit on the inside.
“What yuh takin?’
“Bring a Carib!” He ordered a scotch. Johnny Walker on the rocks. He need fortification to sweet talk Millie.
“So doods, wha goin orn dese days? You an Luvaboi in tight?”
“Off an on – nutten too serious. Ah still waitin for you” she smiles to reveal two missin teeth, one on top and one below. If you don’t look closely she could pass as naturally gap-toothed, but Horatio looking closely and sizing up the merchandise. He take a deep breath and put his arm around Millie shoulders.
“Yuh tink yuh ready for serious? Yuh come to de right person!” he whispers in her ear. She blushes and snuggles up closer to him, positive that this was harmless. Giving Axe a little play ent go harm Luvaboi, who probably meeting one of he other lady friend before meeting she later. Besides, she always had a thing for the Axe. He was more she speed. It was just he who was playing hard to get.
In the back of her mind somewhere she remember him saying he had a business proposition, but not wanting to break the mood, she let it simmer in the back there for a while. Their corner turned green, blue, yellow, red, and purple in turn as the strobe light spun its magic in their direction. People were sitting clustered around the dance floor where the floorshow was about to begin. Miramar had the best floorshow in town: fire- eaters, limbo dancers, some comedy, a calypsonian, a live band, and the strip tease. A few unattached patrons were playing all fours at the bar and still more were streaming in.
Millie settled like green tea dregs in Horatio’s arms and turned her face up to him.
“How about a kiss before we deal?” she asked.
Playing for time Horatio said, “It getting noisy in here.”
“We could go by me!” Millie offered, and without waiting for Horatio to respond, she plunks down a twenty on the table, shouts “keep the change” to the waitress, grabs Horatio by the hand and shepherds him out the door. Millie hail a PH taxi for home. She ent live too far from Horatio, so he only hoping Rosita ent find out. She pay the taxi and they get out at she gap. The house ent really no mansion but it far bigger than any he ever been inside in his life. The verandah wrap around the house all around with plants everywhere yuh look, hanging plants, and potted plants. He feel like he in de Garden of Eden. The living room alone could fit his entire house. She have separate living room, no table and four chairs up against a wall in the living room like most people he know. And she have one mako stereo set up like a young fridge. And no faded linoleum an greasy oilcloth. Polished hardwood floors, frilly curtains, wall-hangings, and chandeliers everywhere. The place smell a little old and musty because she never home, always on the prowl. Horatio sink down on the plush couch wondering how the hell he getting himself out o this one. Millie bring him a ice cold Carib an sit beside him, she hand on the inside of his thigh. He want to flinch but he have to play the game. Besides, she is oman an all oman have de same thing, all you have to do is close yuh eyes an pretend. Once he have she eatin out o his hands he could drop de charade. So he pull Millie closer and start to kiss she. Is like she suddenly turn into a hot young thing and Horatio feel he manhood rise. Next thing he know they in bed together; he on top the ole croan an she sweating in heat and she begging him not to stop.
“Yuh behave like twenty-something!” he tell Millie after the storm die down.
“Is not de age o de ship but de motion of de ocean!” she smile, kissing him on the lips and running her fingers through his hair. “An you not bad yuhself!” Horatio lean back and light up a Du Maurier thinking about the business proposal.
“Yu think yuh could talk Clovis into putting yuh boy on de docket for de second half o de show?”
“Anything for Sweet Axe. “
“Ah have a act ah think he go like.”
“Tell mih all about it”, Millie was all ears.
“Ah changing mih routine. Ah have a song ah tink he go like. It catchy too bard! An ah have enough verses for plenty encore. An ah playin de sax as added attraction.”
“Yuh go have to get a more carnivalish outfit – hot shirt with frills on de sleeve an yuh belly showin, ah sailor pants wid a wide straw hat. An besides, dem tings does cost plenty. Way yuh gettin dat kinda money from? Yuh have to come good to convince Clovis”
“How about a lil investment? As soon as de gig start to make, yuh go get yuh money back wid interest.”
Millie still glowing from the hot and heavy session so she say yes.
“Ah thought yuh was meetin Luvaboi tonight. Yuh not late?”
“Doh worry bout Luvaboi. He go see me when he see me. Right now we focusin’ on you!”
Millie don’t know why but she sweet on Little Axe. All he have to do is look at she and she melt. An dem rippling muscles dat he seem so unaware he have . . . boy, they does make she knees go weak. An especially after tonight! Well, although he ent know it yet, she go be stuck on to the Axe like laglee. Luvaboi was a side attraction and she have plenty o those. Easy come easy go. Men not fussy. They don’t care bout looks once you have something to offer them. She ent no Miss Universe an she way past she prime so every thing drop like spit but it have men who ent mind dat. Dey still come to she like flies because she have money. But somehow she feel Little Axe go be different.
All this time Horatio tryin to figure out how he go explain this to Rosita. “Rosita ent have to know,” is what Rollo say. The more the Axe think about it the more sense it make. He tell heself Rollo have a point; what she don’t know ent go hurt she. Buy she some new clothes with the spoils and she go be happy, “Why not!” he say out loud.
Millie stirred in his arms, “Wot yuh say?”
“Nutten,” Axe replied pulling her closer. And they did it again. He did not get home until foredaymornin. Rosita barely stirred when he crawled into the bed. She accustom to him staying out late after tent, drinking with the boys them. He fall asleep the moment he touch down.
Rosita looked at herself in the bathroom mirror, combing out her long wavy hair and brushing it til it shone. All the while she was singing to herself,
“I’m every woman. It’s all in me!” and tossing back the hair like Chaka Khan. Over three weeks now she ent seein Axe at all. He coming in late and sleeping all day. They not talking. When he not sleeping or out, Axe in the back room practising dat damn calypso.
He say he have to practise cause Carnival just round de corner an he hope to get pick for de Soca Monarch competition. Last Sunday he ent get home til day clean. None o’ de boys see him. She know dey lyin to cover for he because they stories not matchin. Everyday he comin home with new clothes, new tent outfits, new shoes. He even put in a gold cap in front. De Axe get a tattoo of a snake coil round a tall axe on he upper arm. An to make matters worse, he showin even less interest in love makin than before. Rosita try everything in the book until she give up in frustration. Since he get on the second half docket at Yangatang, Horatio feel he in thing and nobody could tell him he eye black. He buy she a few new outfits but that perk her curiosity even more. “Is way he getting all dis money from?” she ask herself. Anytime she try to ask Axe anything, he bristling and getting on her case. Is a defensive strategy, Rosita know that. It just confirm that somethin up. She just ent know what. But she swear she goin’ find out. No sense working up she self and sending up she blood pressure for nutten. Axe makin he self happy, so Rosita decide she go make she self happy too.
Rollo had his eye on Rosita since she first get in with Horatio. At first he just watch an whistle when she pass by.
“Watch de trailer!” he used to tell First Eye and de boys. “Imagine getting yuh hands around that!”
“Not me nuh, Rols boy. I ent tangling wid dat gyul. Dat is the Axe property!”
“Axe ent even own de pants he wearin” Rollo laugh. “All she need is a man to treat she nice. De Rollo could show she de good life. Treat she like de Queen o Sheba!”
“Doh waste yuh time, man! She ent have you to study! She only have eyes for the Axe. An wot you could give she? You ent wukkin no way!””
“But ah could throw good waist! Axe ent have time to please no woman! Kaiso is he ‘oman! An besides ah learning a trade. Soon a go be makin more money dan de law allow ”
One day he see Rosita passin strugglin with two brown bags o’ groceries from Ling shop. Rollo offer to help she. He walk she all de way home, making small talk. Another time he bounce she up in de market. Rosita was nearly in tears because some Indian man pass an brush by she just so an say “Trigger for Nigger!”
“Doh take it so hard,” Rollo tell she. “How was he to know yuh have Indian in yuh? Yuh doh really look Dougla; yuh look more Spanish.”
“An where is Horatio to protect mih when ah need him most? Is bes’ ah doh have no man at all!”
Dat was where Rollo get his cue.
“I could be yuh protector. If I had a nice woman like you, ah never leave yuh side! Some men doh know dey own luck!”
After that day he make it his business to position himself by the bridge where Rosita does pass everyday going to Ling shop. On de way back she wid she friends so he could only look and appreciate from a distance. Den he start passin by de batchy to see if the Axe home, just after he just see Axe pass wid Millie headin up to de house on de hill.
Rollo know he give Horatio advice to give Millie play, but that was only because he wanted Rosita for himself. He know de gyul hurtin but is only at times like these that she will give him a second thought. God knows he only mean for de Axe to hit it once or twice, get wot he want an move on. How was he to know de Axe an Millie would get in so thick. From the look o’ things, Millie sink she fangs deep into the Axe and he in over he head. He probably want to get out but don’t know how. It too late, anyway. Is like what she give him to rub, he eat.
But it was not Rollo on Rosita’s mind as she dressed that evening. She plan on going to Yangatang with Ludy and JoyAnn that night to see what the deal was. Ludy say dat Mairoon tell she she does see Miss Millie and Horatio arm in arm after the show every night. She ent believe dat. No way. Not Axe. He ent go give that old fowl a second glance. She doubt Ludy down to de bone, but just to satisfy she own mind she going along tonight. She ent telling Horatio nutten. She going with the flow. A few weeks ago she would be sure everybody lying on Ratchie but now she not so sure. If he not interested in her then he must be showing interest in some body else. But not no-teeth Millie! Eh eh!
Town was hot that night. Carnival spirit trembling in the air. People everywhere going to fete, to tent and it have pan around de neck competition down by City Hall. People walking all over the place and vendors makin they name in the place. If it ent oranges, is nuts, souse, corn soup, soft drinks, beer, doubles, ice-cream, boil corn, roast corn, phoulourie, coconut water, oysters, all kinda thing. Endless taxis soliciting passengers down Independence Square. And all the weeklies selling hot off the press like hot hops. Everybody happy except for de vagrants who ent have no way to rest dey head tonight. All dey store front hideouts busy with human traffic and Woodford Square worse. Russia and Craig could only watch an cuss as people pass by an kick dey carboard box beds like football, fling spit on it, and even wipe de dog mess dey step on off dey shoes on it. Russia swear this go be a big one for the next B.A.T.T. (Beggars Association of Trinidad and Tobago) meeting and Craig, the walkin political bulletin board, already thinking up what he go write on he next placard. Is like vagrants have no rights at all! An Doris an Batie antsy because dey planning to pull dey cardboard beds closer to Russia and Craig tonight. But with all de crowd in town, everything turn ole mas.
Dressed to kill, Rosita, Ludy and JoyAnn weave they way through the crowd an make they way to the St. Ann’s taxi stand to catch a taxi to Yangatang. Not a taxi in sight. It look like they turnin’ round up at Prince Street because of all de activity further down town.
“Gyul it ent go be nice walkin dat distance wid dese heels!”
Gyul, take it off an walk bare feet. Nobody ent go notice. Dis is carnival! I go take mine off, too!” Ludy say.
“Me, too!” JoyAnn chime in.
So three bare footed dress to kill chics headin up Frederick Street and nobody even notice anything strange. They sit in the third row of the $25 dollar section which is somewhere in de middle of the hall – near enough to observe the happenings but too far to be detected from up onstage. The show start exactly at 8 with the emcee singing a political commentary kaiso to de tune of the opera classic,‘La Donna est mobile,’ except entitled “Is we who put dem dey.” Nearly every kaisonian in de first half get endless encores. But de emcee get de most. He hittin dem joke after joke. Den he start on de people in de front row. A gyul throw back she head an laugh out loud, he tell she,
“ O Gad! Dat is a tongue in yuh mout? It so big ah thought it was a city! An it have so much bump like it have residential area, too!” An den he turn to anudder one an shout, “Who let de dogs out?”
Rosita glad she somewhere in de middle because everybody who find deyself up under de stage getting bad fatigue.
De intermission line up is Luvaboi an a chinee kaisonian name Happi Lee, who replace Little Axe. Rumor have it dat Happi Lee is a big time accountant with some bank head branch, but watchin he on stage yuh wouldn’t have a clue. De kaiso ent have no tune, no melody, and nobody could understand de words. Allyuh could hear is something bout sweet Caroline. And when he dance, de foot an dem going in different directions, de hand in yet anodder, an de body somewhere in between. People laughin til dey cryin. A woman with a stringband o chirren from some where deep south throw she hands up in de air an shout, “Oh Gad! A chinee kaisonian!” De whole crowd gorn off!
“Anybody want boil corn?” Ludy ask. They all wanted, so JoyAnn go with she while Rosita keeping she eyes peeled on de stage for signs of Horatio. Luvaboi, in a tight spandex jump suit with flared legs below the knee and open in front down to de waist exposin he hairy chest, struttin up de aisle singing, catch sight o Rosita an make he way across to where she sittin. “Gyul yuh so pretty, yuh could have all mih money” An he singin jus to she. Rosita blush. He touch her face and tilt her chin up to him before movin on. Ludy and JoyAnn slip into dey seats handing her a drippin boil corn dat smell deliciously well-seasoned.
“Gyul guess who we see in de corn soup line?”
“She ha to buy corn soup because she cyah eat boil corn nor roas’corn wid all dem missin teeth! Wid all dat money yuh would tink she’d spend some on some false teet!”
They all laugh.
De emcee was back on giving out door prizes. De winner was a ol jagabat from down George Street dey call she Big Six. She gorn up to collect she prize – a variety basket of liquor.
“A deejay do yuh make-up, darlin?” de emcee ask Big Six, “Tell him he went a lil heavy on de bass!”
Then he announce a special prize – a bottle o Johnny Walker Black for de first virgin to come on stage. A ole battleaxe in a halter top with fry bake breasts an spare tires hanging out all around was first to reach up on stage. People start to laugh.
“Get yuh ole arse orf de stage! You ent no damn virgin!”
Come to hear de tale, she visiting from de Virgin Islands.
The emcee wipe he brow in relief, “Ah was about to say! If nutten else, I know a virgin when ah see one!”
Kaisonians get rank in de second half according to how hot dey road march contender is. Dey save de best for last. Not surprising, Little Axe in a yellow an black pimp get-up looking like a toucan was first to take de stage. Is a kaiso Rosita never hear before something bout a ole lady who want him to blow out she birthday candles for she.” He doin a sax solo wid it. But de kicker was de ole lady he bring on stage – none other dan Millie she self. She an Horatio doin a suggestive routine winin up on each other shamelessly, and Millie have on a halter top an tights. All she belly expose an not even de tights could hide de cellulite.
Rosita want to get up an walk out but she cyah move, is like rock stone anchor down she behind. After de show, Rosita an she friens wait til everybody leave before headin out. Who dey could see walkin arm in arm but Ratchio and Mille, too engrossed in each other to see anybody else. Rosita went home to wait for Horatio to show up. She pack he clothes in two cardboard box, rest he guitar an he sax on top of it an sat down to wait. Two hours pass. No Horatio. Three hours – still no Horatio. All this time de mad blood dancin round in she head. She know he go come there with some sweet talk but she ent in no mood for sweet talk tonight. Four hours. She hear a whistling comin up de gravel pathway to de front door. De same damn tune he sing in de tent. De mad blood take a turn for de worse. Rosita get up, grab de guitar an smash it on de floor as Little Axe turn he key in de door. As he enter she swing it at him.
“Take yuh bloody tings an get out!”
“ Wot!!” Horatio in shock. Like de ‘oman take leave of she senses o’ wot?
“Ah say take yuh f….in tings an get to hell out!”
Rosita didn’t ask for an explanation and needed none. She start to help him. She pelt de sax outside, followed by de guitar. She shove de box dong de steps and was comin back for de next one when he waylay she and pin she against de wall.
“Yuh mad o wot woman?”
“Doh touch me! Go by yuh ole ‘oman darlin. Is wrinkle flesh yuh want? Take wrinkle flesh!”
Horatio finally took his bundle and left if only to get Rosita to stop screaming and waking up de whole commessive neighborhood. This would be the talk o’ de town for months to come until something juicier came along. And to think he let de ‘oman put him out of he own batchy. Is only for a season, he tell heself, until she cool dong. Once she had a chance to think things over and realize wot a catch he was, she go cool dong. Soon enough! Meanwhile he go chill wid First Eye. So Little Axe turn down de gap to Little Axe batchy, he zangee bundle under he arm an whistlin as usual but really to calm de flutters of anxiety in he stomach. Why de gyul cyah understan he wid Millie for a reason an a season? Once tings get better she go be history. Is Rosita he doin all o dis for but she refuse to listen to reason. Woman again!
“I could a tell yuh all along yuh was playin wid trouble!” First Eye commented when he heard the story. “Yuh could stay here for de nite but de place too small man, an mih sweetheart comin by tomorrow for some good times. Yuh want she give mih up o wot? Why yuh doh check Millie; I sure she go be glad to take yuh in.”
Thanking God for small mercies de Axe curl up in de corner on de floor wid a blanket. He convince heself he in a bad dream an it go be alright in de morning. De woman behaving like he commit some crime. Is not like dey marrid or anyting. He is a free agent. Because he hook up wid Millie? He ent see how dat is such a big problem. Men doin it since de beginning of time. Yuh cyah be a popular kaisonain an have only one ‘oman! Yuh have to broaden yuh repertoire and get yuhself a whole retinue o’ dem. Way she ever hear dat? If she sensible, she go do like other women an ignore it. She ent de first an she ent go be de las some thing like dat happen to. Way she go get a man in dis island to be faithful to she 24/7? She mad o wot? She ent know variety is de spice o’ life? He is a angel compared to dem odder tess an dem. An too besides, he only wid Millie for a reason an a season. Is all for de greater good!”
Even First Eye did commiserate wid him. After all, First Eye ent no saint heself! Next morning before Rosita wake up, Axe was at de door. Use he key an walk in, makin breakfast for she --eggs, toast, hot cocoa, orange juice, sausage. He cut a stem of red hibiscus from de hedge out front and stick it in a glass wid water like he see dem star boy do in de movies. He gorn in to de room wid de breakfast on a tray whistling. Still whistling he find heself out on de street an de breakfast an de rest o he clothes all over him – tray an all. Needless to say, she still mad.
“Minor setback!” Axe console heself. Well alright then, so he was wrong. She go take a lil longer than one night to cool dong. Is okay; he go wait. But he got to live some way in de mean time. So he gather up he self an head up de hill.
Millie welcome him wid open arms. Doh mind he ent do it sooner! To hell wid Rosita! If yuh cyah keep yuh man den yuh doh deserve him!. Millie leave he dere watchin Bulls put nuff licks on Jazz an went on a shopping spree for she new found live-in man. She outfit him in de latest from head to toe, den she come back home an cook up a storm. Pelau, stew chicken, cole slaw, fried plantain, de works an den she make some home made passion fruit juice to wash it dong wid. After dat she attack de Axe like he ent see man in years. “For a reason an’ a season!” de Axe console heself before takin’ de plunge.
Every day de same ting happen. Months pass. Carnival come an gorn an he preparing for next Carnival an ah next round o’ competitions. When reserves start getting low Millie went out to look for wuk because Axe have a huge appetite and he love nice clothes. He want a new outfit each time he appear n stage. She ent understan’ way he doin’ wid all de blue notes she givin’ him. He eatin de money faster dan she could make it, so she get a second job. By day she servin fried chicken and corndogs at Royal Castle an by nite she dancing an bussin tables in Miramar. De Axe doh cone an meet she any more; she say she ha’ to hire Luvaboi an he PH taxi to bring she home dem dark nite hours. When she ease sheself through de door, de Axe ready an waitin. He go to find some outlet to expend de excitement an energy he building up all day, so she doh mine; anyting for de Axe..
Axe get de nod to enter de Soca Monarch prelims. Dat morning, he wake up as usual wid Rosita makin hasicara in he brain. He wanted she to be there to see him perform. Skinner Park dong Sando is a difficult venue. Yuh make it big there, yuh could make it big anywhere else. So de Axe nervous too bad. Millie insist he go straight to Sando early to beat de crowds. But she cyah go because she wukkin all day.
“Ah go have a special something waitin’ for yuh when yuh get back tonite “ she tell him. Millie ent know while she wukkin’, he spending he days thinking up ways to win Rosita back.
Axe get a idea. He stop off by Rollo.
“Yuh comin to de show to support yuh boy?”
Rollo scratch he head an rumple up he brwo. “Well ah wasn’ planning on it. Ah more broken dan de law!’
Axe pull out a blue note he get from Millie. “Here! Consider dis investment for de future. I hereby nominate you as mih fan club president. An ah want yuh to bring fan # 2, Rosita. But doh tell she is I who ask. She trust you. She go come wid you!”
“Leave it to de Rollo. Your wish is my command. She go be dey, by hook or by crook!”
“Leave it to de Rollo. Your wish is my command. She go be dey, by hook or by crook!”
Later that day, when de Axe hear he intro music an de emcee call he name, he leap onto de stage like superman an launch forthwith into he tune with he guitar hanging loose from roun’ he neck. De only person enjoy de tune is de Axe. He prancing up an dong de stage an he fingers racin up an dong on de frets, an in between he pull out de sax, but de lyrics fallin flat on de raucous crowd. De Axe get pelt wid toilet paper, an’ rotten tomatoes. A ‘oman hold up a placard mark “NEXT!” but de Axe ent givin’ up, especially when he eyes make four wid Rosita an she have a placard high up in de air mark “KAISO!” So de mojo wuk! De Axe tell heself. Soon he go be back in tight wid Rosita. He suddenly realize nutten else matter. Not Millie, not money, not nutten. Not even makin it big in kaiso. He swear if she only give him de time o day he go marry she widout a second thought. To hell wid no-teet Millie. She have money but she cyah make he heart smile like Rosita. De Axe thinkin settlin dong, chirren, de works. All he have to do is win Rosita back.
Since dat day, he feedin Rollo money to sweeten up Rosita an bring she wherever he performin’: Yang-a-Tang, Young Kings, PSA, Soca Village, Customs, Center of Excellence . . .. Millie ent suspect a ting; she still dey, wukkin nite an day an keeping de Axe well supplied. An at nite de Axe hittin it as usual ‘for a reason an a season.’ So while de Axe layin he win-Rosita-back plan carefully, Millie still feelin’ happy an secure. She have de Axe an life good. But she too busy wukkin to go to UWI fete, Piggott fete, so de Axe send Rollo for Rosita; same for Panorama, Pan Around de Neck, Soca Monarch, Custom Boys, TSTT. Meanwhile he still holdin on to he spot at Yang-a-Tang an planning for next year Carnival season when he know he go blow dem away wid a winin combination of conscious lyrics, jumpy beat an catchy hook. So every day he practisin’.
“Doh worry,” Rollo tell him, “Ah have everyting under control!”
“She say she want a new shoe”
So de Axe shellin out de money he get from Millie to buy nice tings for Rosita, but she ent talking to him yet.
“Hang in there!” Rollo tell him, “She beginning to come around. Just larse nite she arsk for yuh; she say she missin yuh, bard!”
“So yuh tink ah could pay she a visit now?”
“Not yet, man! Wha’ wrong wid yuh at all? Yuh go blow yuh chances if yuh make a move too soon. When she missin yuh enuff, she go come after yuh.”
So de Axe hol’ he han’ a lil longer. Every nite he getting wet dreams of Rosita an de tension building. One nite in de heat of a passionate tangle, he call Millie ‘Rosita” an she pelt him to de udder side o’ de room before he know wot happenin.’. For several nights after dat, she put two hich pillow down de middle o de bed and wear she dustercoat an big mako curlers to bed. Den she switch tactic an start stayin out all nite – say she wukkin over time. Every morning Luvaboi in he PH droppin’ she home and dey park up in de car talking long an snugglin up before she come in side. De Axe watchin he breadbasket float dong de river before he very eyes an cyah do one damn thing about it. One morning, he ketch dem kissin. Millie tootless mash mout grip like superglue to Luvaboi own, an she giggling an blushin like a lil schoolgyul in uniform. “Better not confront she lest she put mih out” de Axe tell heself. It too soon! Once she runnin de ‘donzeye,’ dat is all he care bout. She still givin it up when de mood take he but de passion gorn – on both sides. De Axe doh mind – if he tink bout Rosita he could perform like usual.
“So when boy?” he ask Rollo one day de two o dem flingin back a flask or two at Ramlal’s. “Ah dyin to see she!’
“ Patience, man. Good tings come to dose who wait!’
So Axe spending he days working on a jumpy kaiso he say is a surety for de road march. He get First Eye, Next Time, Jambo and de boys dem to help him wid a hook. De ting come togedder like a maestro. Axe know he have dem for sure dis time. He get a tenor pan solo to run de chorus, he pay a drummer to play de jimbé while two thick young tings from Salibia jock dey wais an wine. Wid money he get from Millie he outfit dem in colorful short skirts, rib-tickler tops with frilly sleeves and plunging necklines, an tall heel strap-up sandals. An with a matchin rainbow outfit heself he singin,
Well, Rosita comin down
Doh get me wrong
Mayaro come in town
And when she feelin sweet
Rosita get de beat
Dis is Carnival
Sweet Trinidad bacchanal”
Millie say he have a hit for sure an she goin to talk to Clovis. Axe get First Eye to make a demo for Clovis to listen to.
He was leanin over de front banister dat morning takin a smoke when outa he eye corner he sight de car comin up de hill. De same PH, wid Millie an Luvaboi in front too close for comfort. He look round for a big rock toplet through de winshield but ketch heself in time. Not dis morning. Millie jump out de car before it could come to a full stop an run up de walkway waving a paper in she han.’ It was a letter from Clovis who wanted to see him instantly. Dat is how he end up wid de coveted spot closing the show. Dat mean he kaiso is a possible people’s choice an top road march contender. Axe in he element. It doh matter no more dat Millie choosin Luvaboi over him. Endless money on de way. He ent go need she no more. He could buy Rosita anyting she want from he own pockets. To hell wid Millie! Everything have purpose, for a reason an a season. De reason no more an de season pass. So while Mille at de niteclub dat nite, de Axe decide he throwin caution to de wind an goin an try he han wid Rosita. He pack a bag in case he ha to stay overnite or longer for all yuh know. How she go resist a successful kaisonian? De long hard road an all he efforts finally pay off. Any ‘oman go want to be wid de prospective Road March King! He still have he key so he goin brave. Axe put orn he finest threads an half empty de bottle o English Leather all over he self, take up he guitar, sax, an bag over he shoulder an’ head down de hill.
De house silent an alone so he let himself in an sit in de dark smokin’ a Du Maurier Special an waitin.’ Not long afterward, she come home. But she wasn’t alone. Axe could recognize dat voice anywhere. She an Rollo nearly fall through de door pullin orf each other’s clothes, kissin an pullin at each other hungrily, droppin pieces o clothin’ allover de room on dey way to de bedroom. In shock de Axe remain sittin silently in de corner for God knows how long watchin dem, listenin to de animal sounds comin from de bedroom, before he quietly let himself out.
Axe never return to Millie’s an neider to Yang-a-Tang. Dey give somebody else he spot. Nobody see de Axe; nobody know way he disappear to.
Luvaboi move into de mansion on de hill an First Eye an dem say he even wearin Axe clothes. Rosita an Rollo get marrid when she fine out she expectin. Dey walkin all over de place arm around each other. Dey think bout de Axe every now an then, an wonder how come he just drop out o sight just so. Maybe he find out Millie did hornin he. Or maybe he find out about dem. But nobody feelin guilty. De Axe willingly walk out on a good ting to make he name in kaiso. Love of soca does make man do strange tings, oui! Luckily Rollo smart enough to seize he opportunity. Is not today he start eyein dat gyul. Good tings really come to dose who wait!
Some years later, he takin Rosita an de kids to Maracas Bay in de little jitney he buy. Tings not goin too bad wid him dese days. He take a carpentry course in John D an wukkin freelance. Tings boomin in town an it have plenty carpentry wuk available. An while Rollo doin he li’l carpentry an’ some handyman wuk on de side, Rosita still sewin by day, an sellin’ boil an roas’ corn round de savannah at night. She does carry de chirren wid she an let dem help she collect money an pick up husks an ting. Den Rollo does come an pick dem up in de jitney. She have three boys de spittin image o’ Rollo, an a gyul dat look jus like she. Dem chirren could a been Axe own if he did only play he cards right. She still have dat sorf spot for he, but she happy wid Rollo an he doh look at nobody else but she. Dey stop by de lookout to let de chirren stretch dey legs, take some pictures o’ de view an buy dem some sugar cake an chataigne.
Dey had piled back into de car and were about to drive off when a man wid a colorful shirt an a straw hat approached strummin’ a guitar, he face covered in mouch’ an beard an several o’ he teet missin. Dese ole-time kaisonians who cyah make it in de tent does come by de lookout an sing for touris’ for a yankee dollar or two. Make up a extempore or two, tell Miss Touris how nice she look, an have she eatin out o dey hans. Dat is how dey does make dey livin. Some o’ dem have nowhere to res dey head when de nite come; dey does sleep in de cabanas on de beach or by de lookout an reminisce on better days gorn by.
Is when de scrawny bearded man wid he collar bones stickin out come closer to car window to serenade de chirren dat Rosita heart skip a beat. She would recognize dat voice anywhere, although de face doh even look familiar any more.
Well, Rosita comin down
Doh get me wrong
Mayaro come in town
And when she feelin sweet
Rosita get de beat
Dis is Carnival
Sweet Trinidad bacchanal”
Rosita heard Rollo’s sharp in take of breath as realization dawned, but if little Axe recognized them, he did not show it – through it all, the vacant sad emptiness never left his eyes. Little Ralphie handed him a dollar and he bowed low and smiled revealing his bald-pated mout and waving to them as they drove off. Rosita looked back an he was already serenading a fat white woman in shades, a sun visor and, (God forbid!) shorts. Neither she nor Rollo spoke about it but he took her hand reassuringly and she knew she had made the right choice. She had Rollo and the kids, and Horatio had his calypso.
© KPLewis (Kalypsoul)