By LENNOX FARRELL
Apparently, after several posted notices and unsuccessful attempts by two other bailiffs, “Higher Purchase”, headquartered in Port-of-Spain, and even more determined to re-claim their bike from Mr. Blues, sent “Tank”. It’s how he introduced himself to the street, “Tank”.
Now, Tank was a vast man. Wider than tall. He drove a Prefect, a four-seater car, “Made in Great Britain”. It clung to him like scales on cascadou fish.
And it was Christmas Eve, a time of good cheer and kind deeds. But days earlier, Mr. Blues, loud enough for all to hear, had said to our Dad, “Comrade (former Butlerites), I tellin’ yuh dis in confidence. Higher Purchase is a set ah damn tief! I done pay for dis (caressing the bike like a lover) and dey still hauntin’ meh arse. Buh one day, dey go get meh on the wrong foot, an’ is cat-piss an’ pepper in dey arse. Yuh hear meh? Cat-piss an’ pepper! Pray for dem. Please.”
Mr. Blues was like that, eccentric. A prolific gardener. Growing sweet Christmas pigeon peas. Corn, dasheen bush, fruits year-round. We, “run-arounds”, liked visiting…but when he’d gone – his toes, in rubber boots peddling outwards – all the way to town on his Raleigh, three-speed bike, coloured streamers flying from one handle. Why one and not two handles? Ask him.
“Min’ yuh damn business. I is yuh fadher friend, not yours.”
Then, from one of his pockets he’d fish out a tambran ball, or a portugal (tangerine).
As stated before, he had “confided” to our Dad that he’d already paid off for the bike.
Tank, had a reputation. One, he’d told us “more bad than Jack Palance in Shane”. On arriving, he’d parked his car near the Yankee Road, built in the war. Sweating, he’d morphed his bulk by degrees out of the car. A very determined man. He then climbed, like Moses going up for the Ten, slowly up to Mr. Blues’ one-room, mud-wattle, raven-galvanize “chicken coop”.
Of course, Mr. Blues could see from his perch, all the way into New Year’s night when you finally got your first suck-tongue kiss to boast about. Liar!
Now, what would Mr. Blues do? We were a good audience lower down, outside our homes, the walls needing more coats of temperlime – everyone whitewashed their house every year, just before Christmas. Even adding river-mud to thicken and stretch the temperlime.
When Tank reached about the length of a cricket-pitch – say, fifty yards – from Mr. Blues domicile, out came the object of Tank’s visitation. Yes, it was another visitation, but without a magnificat. Higher Purchase’s religion was served in triplicate. Mr. Blues’ with a poignard – otherwise called a cutlass.
Meanwhile the bike, innocent party to all this drama, was leaning quietly against the side of the hut, with Mr. Blues mounting guard between it and Tank.
“Blues”, Tank bellowed, his tone very unChristmaslike. “I am putting it to you – he’d spent too much time in the four-shilling court hearing lawyers talk lawyer talk – that an aforesaid bike – he pointed a Bata shoe at the peaceful thing – the property of “Higher Purchase…”
Mr. Blues, equally unChristmaslike didn’t allow Tank to finish his legalese. At least Mr. Blues was blunt. To the point. The point of his cutlass, the sharp end jammed into a papaw tree; the blunt, wooden end into his exposed navel. This gentleman was as serious as measles.
Unlike Tank, Mr. Blues was as hard-bellied as guava wood. Then, as he began to run a metal file along the length of the blade, sparks flying, without even looking in Tank’s direction, or for that matter into Tank’s reputation, Mr. Blues, jerking his head in the direction of the bike, said, quite conversationally, “Look it dey. Tek it, nuh!” (“Look, it’s there. Take it if you dare.”)
Mr. Tank got the point instantly. He sized up the situation. He had a reputation, but had built it knowing when to hold and when to fold. He considered astutely, the distance between himself and Mr. Blues. Between himself and the Prefect. Between himself and the damned bike, so near yet so far. This was maddening. And Christmas Eve?!
Meanwhile, sparks still flying, Mr. Blues continued in short, ungrammatical sentences, easily understood. “Look it dey. Tek it nuh.”
Seeing Tank hesitate, Mr. Blues added some advice. Friendly, in case Tank hadn’t considered it. “Doh go back an tell tiefin’ Higher Purchase I didn’t tell yuh to tek it.”
“Mr. Blues,” Tank began, courteously adding “Mr.” And looking for some compromise. “Ok, gimme a missed payment. And pay de damn people dey damn money for dey damn bike.”
Mr. Blues was unmoved, his hand a smooth rhythm filing steel against blade and sparks.
Tank suddenly recalled the Christmas spirit. “Look here, I don’t have no beef wid you. Ok? Except I cyar go back without nothing. Yuh corn lookin’ ripe.”
“Take some sorrel, too. It does improve performance.”
“Merry Christmas,” Tank said.
Mr. Blues replied, “many happy returns”. His cutlass sparking between Tank and the bike.
Tank, unhappy that Mr. Blues hadn’t fallen for the ruse and move away from the bike; but with unhusked corn, pigeon peas and sorrel embraced like tablets of stone, he descended, like Moses facing idolaters, now laughing like hell, to spread the talk about him and Mr. Blues’ bike.
“Merry Christmas,” he murmured.
“Many happy returns,” we chorused in unison, everything forgiven. For Christmas.