To Hail and Back

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By Anthony Deyal

The Friday family was very well known in our village and their only daughter, beloved by all, was deemed a “Good” girl by everyone who knew or met her. One Monday morning, as we pushed and shoved, fighting to get into an already full and very crowded fifty-four-seater bus headed for the city, the poor girl was shoved from behind, in front and sideways and fell on the concrete pavement.

Fortunately, she was able to get up and plunge back into the fray. Later, when I thought about it, I realised that I had actually witnessed a phenomenon that most Caribbean people consider impossible to achieve or even perceive. I had seen Good Friday fall on a Monday!

Then, at the age of 22, I was lucky enough to witness another event that could still pass for a sequence in a Marvel Comic. The year was 1968 and England was playing a Test Match against the West Indies at the Queen’s Park Oval. My friends and I were rabid sports fans and unlike other people who divided our country’s annual climate into two seasons – wet and dry – we kept the number but replaced the emphasis on weather with what was important to us. We had a football season for half of the year and a cricket season in the other half. Since we never stopped consuming alcohol at any time during the 12-month period, we had absolutely no need for separate and distinct wet and dry seasons.

We desperately wanted to be there to take in the opening day of the cricket match but could not afford the cost of the three taxis required to go from our village in the deep South of Trinidad to the far north where the game was being played, plus having to pay even more for the return journey. Going by bus was cheaper but we did not expect to arrive at the Oval on time or get buses to make the protracted trip back home. We would have to walk an extremely long way or sleep on the pavement. My friends forced on me the one option that was available – begging my father for the use of his precious pride and joy, not me or my Mom, but his brand new, second-hand car.

My former student and friend, Desmond, had just a few weeks before, through sheer luck or contact or both, got his Driver’s Licence so when my father demanded, “Who go drive?”, Desmond was our only choice. I had to “big” up Desmond for my father to agree and deliberately left out Sthat Desmond smoked weed and was addicted to it, and that his marijuana partner “Fox” was going with us. What I also did not tell my father was that Desmond was colour-blind and unable to distinguish between red and green. So bad was it that he was exempted from the Chemistry practicals.

I sat in the front of the car as Desmond, under the eagle-eye of my father, reversed unto our street with only the dogs and my father feeling threatened. According to my father, Desmond “was riding de clutch”. Riding next to Desmond in the front seat, I had it worse than the clutch. I actually clutched the side of the door not just because of the narrow misses of pedestrians and one guy with a large cart that he pushed into the drain when Desmond almost got him, but every time we roared towards a traffic light.

I was Desmond’s seeing-eye dog and also had to prevent him when, under pressure, he felt the need for a smoke or two. But we eventually arrived and sat in the front row of the cheap stands as the West Indies team did their warm-ups. “Look Sobers!” We all shouted loudly.

We were able to stand and applaud all our heroes as they did their laps around the ground. By that time, Desmond and Fox had gone behind a police bus and were indulging. They refused to listen to me when I warned them that if they got arrested, we would not be able to return home and my father would probably beat me, shoot me and then disown me. That cut no ice with them despite all the snow cones on sale around us and the bits and pieces we were putting in our cups.

The West Indies won the toss and batted. Stephen Camacho made 87, most likely inspired by our constant applause and the bottle of the appropriately named British Guiana Rum, the fine, dark blend “Top Dog,” that a friend had given me. Then Seymour Nurse and Rohan Kanhai came together and it was heaven. Nurse made 136 and Kanhai 153. Even better, the skies opened up for me and my miracle. One of the two England opening bowlers tried to stop a ferocious straight drive from Kanhai, lost his footing and almost his hand when he hit the ground.

I was blessed. The bowler was John Snow and all of us who were there that day saw Snowfall in the Queen’s Park Oval. We clutched one another as we left the grounds, happy like pappy, all planning to joke about what we witnessed, not just the brilliant West Indies batting but the miracle we had been part of. It became the joke of the week.

Now, in my 76th year, I have experienced a third wonder but this one, like my father’s car, is second-hand. I was heading to a friend’s place in North East Trinidad and the weather was as wicked as the witches in Macbeth. It was all thunder, lightning and rain with hurly-burly in the heavens and on the road ahead of me. Later, I found out that instead of hell and high water the area to which I was heading had gone to hail and back. Barbados had at least one hailstone experience, Jamaica had hail and even snow at the top of its Blue Mountains, but this was a rare event for Trinidad.

Of course, after the loud drumming on their roofs, Trinis resorted to humour as their way of dealing with fear. One told me, “Boy, I wondered why the traffic was so bad.” He paused and when I did not respond, laughed and explained “It was trying to hail a taxi.” Another friend, who lives near a golf course close to where the hail fell, called me. “Boy the hailstones that hit the windows of my car were big like golf balls. I almost get a hole in one.” I queried, “So what happened after? Did coins start to fall down on your car?” Not getting a response, I put on my best English accent, “That, at least, would have been some change in the weather.”

This was my way of avoiding the hard fact that because of climate change, hailstorms will increase and, at the same time, become more severe and costly even in Trinidad which is the most southerly of Caribbean islands and relatively close to the equator. All I could do was ask him, “What is the difference between weather like the one we experienced earlier and climate?” Then, when he gave up, I explained, “Well you can’t weather a tree, but you can climate.”

*Tony Deyal was last seen predicting that pretty soon in the Caribbean the weather forecast will be for freezing cold hail and we will go around wishing everyone an ice day.

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