Hawk and Turkey

The town of San Fernando where I was born and grew up, was well-known  – like other communities – for its various characters, a number of whom would have  gained  notoriety over the years in the island and, indeed, in the wider world.

I was sitting in the Skinner Park stand watching football with a couple friends when a big argument broke out among the fans about whether the referee was wrong for blowing his whistle and giving a corner  for a ball which did not seem to have gone over the goal line.

“Alright! Alright! Leh we done dat talk! Leh we done dat talk!”, said the older man next to us, repeating his words in the manner which islanders like to do for emphasis.

Turning to us, he muttered: “If de marish and de parish could stay right here in Sando  that Thousand f-k the Queen of England, then  they have to be right when they say the so-and-so ball didn’t go over the kiss-mih-arse line , ent?

Apart from Shorty and Bullen, the Mutt and Jeff pair whom you could guarantee will be seen liming by Library Corner in the afternoon, there was also the impeccably dressed Lal Topee, he wealthy trye shop owner who was said to have killed a man in south who turned his life upside down by giving Lal  a serious  horn.

Having won the case in the High Court, Lal could be seen going to the Roman Catholic Church on Harris Promenade every morning, and later  throwing what was said to be  holy water by the bucket from the doorway of his shop unto the busy sidewalk, uninhibited by the inconvenience he was causing to  pedestrians.

Closing his ritual with the making of the Sign of the Cross, Lal would start his day of business, retiring at about five o’clock to straddle the curb in competition with the many  cars rushing past in the town’s busiest  busy traffic hub. 

A Port of Spain-bred character called Nose Gay also came to the town about once a month and was especially pleasing to the small crowd which gathered to hear him speak in stentorian tones.

No Nose Brackley – as he was called because he was afflicted with catarrh, was not loved so much for his religious content but rather for his spontaneous reaction   on being taunted with the name Nose Gay while preaching.

Individuals were known to go far and wide to  gleefully spread the stories about   Brackley’s histrionics  so that over the years, he became a legend – with many  people even travelling out of their districts to go and listen to his colourful sermons whenever word got around about his event planned for their area.

You must remember there were no telephones ,much less mobile phone  services in the Fifties, so people relied heavily on word-of-mouth messaging at the time.

“Bless me Father for I’m about to sin”, Brackley was known to say after blowing out his candle and then going off on a tirade such as:

Why all ah all yuh so and so sinners  don’t haul all yuh mudder so and so and go and eat de bread de devil knead!”

People would then marvel at the tranquil, chastened manner in which he would re-light his  candle and resume  his presentation with a straight face and a penitent voice saying: “Bless me Father for I have sinned. Let’s  return to our Psalm, my loving brothers and sisters…”

These references were necessary, I feel, to give some context to the story of Hawk and Turkey  which I am about to tell both with a sense of rueful admiration and a note of sorrow at the way how some of our seniors can slip and fall into some of society’s cracks and get badly damaged with hardly anybody noticing.

Turkey was my uncle, my mother’s younger brother who was about 15 years older than me. I held a great admiration for him as a teenager growing up.

Hawk was my mom’s cousin who – dark, with a broad chest and booming voice – was very unlike Turkey, his riding partner., as they say. Both men had one thing in common. They loved the ladies to a fault.

While they both had good jobs and took care of their legal  wives families, their main focus in life was the chase, the conquest, and handling the fall out of these many encounters which ended  in a shock –  like snapping out of  a nightmare.

Despite the womanizer image he carried, there was a private side of Turkey which he showed to me a couple times, giving me an insight  into a man who had been hurt and was very sad on the inside.

“You’ll never see me cry again!”. That’s what he told me he shouted at his mother who had a heavy hand with her dark-brown palm, a guava whip hastily broken from the tree,  a shoe,  a pot spoon and anything she could lay her hand on as she  managed the eleven children she had birthed for  short Potogee Mario who virtually lived in the shop.

Uncle Turkey also told me that despite people talking about him as the man who was making a pappy show of his wife by the number of liasons he was having, it was he himself who had been the victim of a real bad horn in the first place.

I was the loyal husband who stayed at home with the kids when I was off duty. I dropped and picked them up from school. I took them for walks. I helped them with their home lesson”. I heard the pain in his strained voice as he stressed on the I.

“When I was casually told  by an unthinking neighbour that she saw Stella cavorting with her Principal just down the hill from where we lived in the new house I bought with a company loan, I went crazy and, it was a good thing I did what I did or I might have  committed murder”

The dramatic story, as I got it from a number of people in the south community, was that  on Carnival Monday morning, on arriving at his job with lunch kit, safety hat and glasses, Turkey did one of the weirdest things a sane man can do.

Instead of signing the attendance register, he wrote out his resignation on a violently ripped out exercise book page and, with a sneer, handed it to his Supervisor and walked off the industrial  plant of the big transnational company which every man dreamed of working for. 

Ah leff de wock! Ah going into music! 

Turkey told his aunt whom he had lived with in a room before, and resumed premises with a guitar and I, his adoring nephew, and two nieces around him, to join in singing a number of songs to start his new career.

After fifty years, I still poignantly remember at least one of Turkey’s songs which went like this:

If I cry every time you hurt me

Then I’ll be crying all the time

If I made a scene each time

That you weren’t true to me

Then I’ll be crying all the time

And our love would never be

by Uncle Turkey, 1962 or thereabouts.

And while Hawk might have gone through a similar kind of experience I was not aware of, there was one very significant dramatic event which I will never forget. It involved both Hawk and Turkey together with a woman and a man and, yes, I was right there in the mix as a sixteen-year old.

I was at Tanty Ro’s house late in the evening when Grimes, a smart-looking City Hall yuppie who had moved into the same street a few months ago with his buxom, dark wife Gina, a nurse.

It turned out that because they both worked shift – like the nice nurse-girl  living near the corner up the road – Hawk and Turkey found it very convenient to  mosey by during the day when Grimes was at his posh job and share some quality time with the idle Gina – either individually or as a visiting pair.

The social process moved smoothly until Hawk was reportedly sent to work in  Barbados by his company  for a couple weeks and, missing his night nurse so badly, he decided to write her a letter advising her to lock leg on Grimes, her husband, until he could return and resume active duty.

Having found the letter and confronting his wife in the civilized way he knew how, Grimes stepped across to Tant’s house a few days later to discuss this game-changing matter.

Standing on the demarcation line where the low, bare galvanized ceiling of the kitchen was separated from the living room of the house, I was able to glance across and hear Grime talking in somber fashion while Tanty loudly commiserate with him, all the time mentioning Turkey as the person she felt should be talking to Hawk about his behavior.

Glancing back into the kitchen which only I could survey, I was surprised to discern Turkey signalling me urgently. “You want to go for a lil drive?”, he asked with a wicked smile.

In response to my eager nod of acceptance, he directed me to go through Miss Sobratee’s yard  to the back street where he would join me shortly. On reaching the area, who else could I see behind the steering wheel of a huge American rented car but Hawk himself – with Gina in party clothes snuggled deep in the back seat?

As I slid into the back at Hawk’s signal, Turkey appeared in a rush and, opening the front door quickly and, with a flourish, ordered the driver: Let’s go, amigo!

The stories of Hawk and Turkey continued down the years until Hawk found himself confined to the apartment he always rented in the care of his faithful wife Alana until he passed away on a meagre income.

Turkey held a few good jobs and – although his pensions were enough to afford a fine  apartment or townhouse – he chose to go and take up residence in a government-sponsored Home for Geriatrics (derisively referred to as The Poor House) in a secluded community deep in central Trinidad.

There, divorced, voluntarily isolated except for a handful of visitors like myself, he quietly kicked the bucket in the arms of his younger brother, Stephen who had grown to like the place so much that he moved in a couple weeks later.

During the last weeks of his eventful life, Turkey had got accustomed to playing a calypso by the Mighty Power on his cassette player which recalled t a popular Indian singer to who had  performed to sell-out crowds across all ethnic groups because of one extremely popular number which went, in part:

So I like Tun Tun!

And You like Tun Tun!

And we like Tun Tun!

Who ain’t go like Tun Tun?

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