Love After Love
I understand a kitchen. I’m not saying Miss Betty can’t cook. But give Jim his gym-boots. She hand nowhere near sweet like mine. Two of us coming home from work, same tired, so I took over the cooking three times for the week. As it’s Sunday I decided to do my nice steamed kingfish, callaloo with salt meat, rice and, just for Solo, a macaroni pie.
While the pie was in the oven I went on the porch. Solo was there swinging in the hammock, head in the iPad as usual.
Why’s lunch not ready? Excuse me?
It’s past twelve o’clock.
I am not your slave, young man.
Well, if you’re cooking you should try and finish on time.
I told myself, Chetan, breathe. Teenagers.
Solo, don’t speak to me like that. Don’t speak to anybody like that.
The boy jumped out of the hammock and stood too close. Our eyes were nearly level.
You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not my father. I bit my lip and turned away. But he wasn’t finished.
What kind of man is always in the kitchen cooking or sitting around reading? What happen? You’re a buller man?
That was a body blow. I retreated to the kitchen. His footsteps drummed hard on the wooden floor and a door banged.
I left the food in covered serving bowls, told Miss Betty I had a headache and went in my room. Half of me wanted to punch the little shit. How the fuck he dare treat me like that? And what he know about buller man? But anger was only part of the pain. And Solo might be catching up to my height but he’s still a child. I took up the book I was half way through and settled in for the afternoon. If I couldn’t lose away with a good book I think I would go loco.
I dozed off, only waking because someone had noisily opened my door. It wasn’t quite dusk but the dim of the room suggested the sun would soon be leaving the sky. Solo crept in, carefully balancing a mug of tea. He rested it on the bedside table and stood there, wordless, staring at the floor. I took a sip. It was perfect.
What’s happening with you, Solo?
He didn’t look up.
I might not be your daddy but I do care about you. You know that.
Solo dug his hands into his pockets.
This rude behaviour is not you. Not my Solo. And your mammy told me the school called her in because you keep getting in fights. Something happened? You know whatever talk go on between us will stay right here.
He nodded, hesitated, then turned and left quietly. What worries me is that he is basically a sweet child. I’ve never seen him knocking about with the boys who smoking weed and drinking. If anything, he’s too much of a loner. I finished my tea and strolled onto the porch. Solo was alone in the hammock.
Where’s your mammy?
She went out. Not sure where.
I sat on a stool close enough to rock the hammock.
I ever told you about how I was a postman in London?
Solo’s eyes opened wide wide.
Yes, man. I was a postman. And before that I was a cab driver.
Solo’s entire face smiled.
A black taxi?
The stories I could tell you about people who sat in my cab. Ha. You think is two crazy people I bounced up? When I first went to London things were hard. Jobs you wouldn’t take back home you were glad for over there.
Please don’t give me one of them look-how-hard-we-had-it-and-how-easy-life-is-for-young-people-today stories. I get enough of that from Mammy.
I had a friend. I’ll never forget his name. Rupert Maclean. White people wouldn’t usually take the time to say good morning to a little coolie boy like me. But Rupert would always come to the door and have a little chat.
I gave the hammock a push. Every time it swung back I gently sent it off again. Never mind this rudeness. If I was the kind of man to have children I would want one like this boy.
To be honest I didn’t have a big set of friends. Brixton and Shepherd’s Bush were full of West Indians but I was always a man to stay by myself. But you see Rupert? He encouraged me. Showed me how things worked. If it wasn’t for him I might still be a postman fighting up in the cold.
So how exactly did Rupert help you? He gave you money?
Nah, nothing so. Every day I’m delivering the mail and over time we got to talking and he asked where I was from and how I reached there. He showed an interest then.
Solo sat up in the hammock.
He had a good heart. I told him how I stopped school at sixteen and he asked me why I didn’t try now. Well, who would pay my rent? But he kept behind me. Do the studying part time. He got leaflets for me. Always saying how he could tell from talking to me that I could better myself.
Remembering Rupert made me a little sad.
So, what did you do?
It took some long years but I did evening courses and eventually I got my degree. Since I was small I was good at maths so I did that. Thanks to him, when I came back I could get a job teaching. Rupert Maclean. Fate put him in front me.
Solo let his head fall back into the hammock.
Why you didn’t stay in England? If it was me I would’ve stayed.
Anything to get away from here. Trinidad’s so boring.
I stopped pushing the hammock and got up. I wanted to say something but the words were hiding.
Mr Chetan, if you leave your mouth open so, you’ll catch a fly. I closed my mouth and bit my bottom lip. It came out as a whisper.
Home, boy. That’s important. What did you say?
Home. Home is where your navel string’s buried.
LOVE AFTER LOVE by Ingrid Persaud is published by Faber & Faber, £14.99,. For more information and to buy the book, click here.
Ingrid Persaud was born in Trinidad. She won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2017 and the BBC Short Story Award in 2018. She read law at the LSE and was a legal academic before taking degrees in fine art at Goldsmiths, University of London and Central Saint Martins. Her writing has appeared in Granta, Prospect and Pree magazines. Ingrid lives in London and Barbados.
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