Despite time bending, this will be long.
There are many pieces involved.
Then, I may put them on another road.
THE COLLECTOR, Ep.2, Fragment 2
That stretch in the curving road did not last long. Soon we were back again to an unbroken run of houses on both sides, in yards thick with ornamental shrubs and trees that kept my eyes turned on the narrow road that had deteriorated noticeably. The curves were constant and sharper, the road bed rugged, with grand potholes that could not be avoided. Yet the atmosphere seemed relieved, or perhaps no longer burdened. It was alright that we couldn’t go fast, that we came to a dead stop often because other traffic blocked the road, or in spots the road itself further narrowed so only one vehicle could go along at a time and we had to give way to on-coming traffic.
We came again to a stretch with bare fields off to the right this time, but from close up I could see that they were brown not green, and I asked Mr. Harrilal what grew there.
“Cane,” he answered. “Sugar-cane.”
“I read that Indians were brought to Trinidad in large numbers to work the cane,” I said. “Is that how your family came?”
“Exactly,” he answered. “My grand-father worked the cane. I didn’t know the ones before him, but they came direct from India to the cane fields. My father and mother worked cane too, for a while, until they got enough saved to start a small business.”
“Must’ve been hard for them,” I said.
“You know it had to’ve been hard. But they didn’t sit around and complain. By the time I came along they had their little shop going, my mother tending that, and my father had his lorry delivering sand and gravel all over the place. That hill we’ve left behind in San Fernando, that used to be a good-sized hill. My father delivered many a lorry of gravel from there.”
Mr. Harrilal clearly did not wish to boast about his parents, but he couldn ‘t keep all the pride he took in them out of his voice.
“What led to your working at the oil company?” I asked.
“That was the place with the best opportunities when I left school,” he said. “My parents paid for me to go to high school, and when I finished there it was either the civil service, or teaching, or oil for the best sort of job. Oil paid best of all, so I tried there and I got through.”
“And you had to ride three buses,” I said, as a way of letting him know I wasn’t ignoring him totally, not because I had any real interest in what he was saying. “You worked that far from home.”
We went along in silence for a short while. I thought he was going to ignore my comment entirely. Then, as though he were musing from some ways back he said, “No, it wasn’t too far at all. That’s just how the road ran. It still runs that way. If you want to go from Moruga to Fyzabad by public transport you still have to go first Princes Town, then San Fernando, then Fyzabad,” he said.
“No motor cars there in those days?”
“Very few,” he said, “most of them taxis. Very few people had money to buy private cars in those days. Now, when my father had work that way I could get a ride with him at least to Princes Town. But most of the time he left home too late for me to catch the Fyzabad bus in San Fernando. I had to leave the house when the morning was still dark.”
I had to smile at that. At the muted exclamation in his voice. And I couldn’t help saying “Leaving home in the morning dark is a regular thing for commuters in California. Not unusual to spend hours on the road getting to work. And is it still the same here now that many people have motor cars?”
“On all the main roads. But when you’re driving yourself you could take more direct back roads sometimes, even if they’re not as good. Save yourself time that way.”
Mr. Harrilal seemed to have a faith in back roads.
“Is there a back road in these parts that could get us to the village faster?” I asked.
But again he answered “Not really. You have some old estate roads but they’re not reliable.”
We continued on the winding Naparima road.
After another twenty minutes or so we came to a junction with small shops and a few vendors selling produce around the intersection. As though he had it in mind for some time Harrilal pulled off the road and into the parking space alongside the shop on our side of the road.
“Pit stop,” he said, grinning at me.
We got out, and went in to what’s called an inn. Really a bar, with a long counter on one side of the room, facing an area with round tables and chairs placed as they would be in a small restaurant. Mr. Harrilal was known here.
The man behind the bar greeted him loudly, “Ay, ay, you home?”
A tall fair-skinned Indian man of an age with Mr. Harrilal, he smiled broadly and extended his hand. They shook across the counter, and Mr. Harrilal introduced me to his friend whose name was Ragbir. They were clearly happy to see one another and for a minute or two they spoke rapidly in a sort of quik-speak that I had troouble following. Then Harrilal broke away and headed for the back of the room.
“You can go with him,” Ragbir said, and I followed.
We stopped at a small urinal. Then when we were done there went on through to a covered patio where some additional tables and chairs were empty under what must have been some sort of a plastic roof. The space was light, but not airy. Directly across from these tables two women were at a long work bench preparing meats for the kitchen. The air was strong with the smell of ginger and other spices that were not familiar to me.