St James: The Happy Place Where Winners and Losers Meet

Most visitors to this busy, happy-go-lucky section of western   Port of Spain called  St James, discover it as  a model  of how both winners and losers can  live harmoniously with mutual respect in one small space.

Still,  looks can be very deceiving.

If you observe carefully, those five  male seniors who ritually gather at Boop’s Lounge discreetly off the main road to imbibe drinks  and cheerfully knock glasses from breakfast time to the lunch hour, are not as happy with their lives as they seem.

Under the din of raucous laughter, high fives and slaps on rum-soaked backs, you may hear the one with the enormous belly mutter something about how his wife doesn’t cook or complain about the swollen prostrate that keeps him literally running to the bathroom.

On catching the soft comment of the contented-looking  nearby Indian with silver hair, you discern anxiety in his voice as he surreptitiously asks Brieves, the bar owner, about whether “the man from Valencia” had dropped his bottle of the thing – probably that powerful, home-made aphrodisiac known as bois-bande-dey.  

Meanwhile, Noisy Boy pretends to be casually looking out the steel gate down the long street to see if  his woman was  able to get away from her husband to come and spend some quality time with him today at Boop’s.

Check You Tube for our Video Change Your Mind and Stay Away From Crime  by Rudolph Williams

In doing so, he would have got a glimpse of the group which plants itself on the lamp post at the corner  like a traffic light, crowding the footpath and spilling into the streets so that pedestrians find the area difficult to navigate.

Standing out among this motley crew is a tall, fearsome-looking Rastaman who looks like he’s been in the army, hiding his limp by deftly manipulating his cane, and always with a drink in hand from early morning till late evening.

Who are all these people, described by  the Jamaican writer Orlando Patterson in “An Absence of Ruins”, as “busy going nowhere?”

Which is so unlike  the Guyanese poet Martin Carter who wrote: “I do not live to dream/But dream to change the world”. Or the Trinidadian David Williams who wrote:

”And if one man, one Swamp man/ Come to you to explain…”

One of the big stars whose reputation precedes him on the Main Road in is a man who earned notoriety in the village for killing a man and being freed of the murder.

As a City Council worker with a permanent job who , they say, left his wife and children to go and live with a young girl of the area, he could be seen with the attractive, nicely curved darkie at the corner from early morning, sharply monitoring his investment.

Which is what Britney was, since he financed her establishment of a small business in the form of a foldable vending table which she adorned with items such as incense, cigarettes, lighters, chewing gum, soft drinks and other nicks and knacks.

Every now and then, he would send her to one of the nearby main road bars for two beers to quench their thirst – or he would go himself – all the time closely watching her sexy body with  tattoos which seem to grow in number on a monthly basis. And there’s the tall, young man – as slim as  a lead pencil and walking as straight as an arrow- who bows diffidently when you catch his darting  eyes, ready to sell you a joint of ganja from the bag he hides discreetly behind a stone in a corner of the sidewalk.

Another now bedraggled one named Burt who – after decades of deterioration from drugs – now walks with a limp and can be seen making up his  late evening bed under on the sidewalk outside the hair-dresser’s shop, asks you for just a lil dollar  while doing errands for business people on the Main Road.

All and sundry on the corner become especially alive when the big-bosomed sister arrives to set up her table to sell hot soup on a Saturday morning.

They all put a hand to help Arlene who used to work as a supervisor in a nearby pizza shop but followed her dream and transcended to doing a thriving business on the “pavement” nearby.

Here, she finds strong support from her posse on the corner, who all enjoy a decent serving of  her tasty bowls  at the end of the sales session.

The ladies who make and sell roti obliquely across the Main Road, near the bar which holds Kare-o-Key sessions on a Friday, are also diligent in their hustle ,  patronised for decades by people from all over the country – and also some who visit from abroad. 

All bars do good business, just like the hardware, the pet shop, the souse vendor, the Chinese restaurants in the area, the mosque, the small shops, the money lenders and the once world-famous Caribbean music shop which has been reduced to selling National Lottery tickets since the owner, a popular DJ and music entrepreneur, passed away  at a fairly young age.

There are also a number of casinos, legal drug stores, a Catholic Girls Elementary school, a district Library, three banks now closed down, and a few residences located above a number of business places.

It’s during the big street parades for Carnival, Hosay and other festivals that all these businessmen open their doors  24/7 to make full use of sales opportunities,  offering their unique kind of hospitality to locals and visitors who happily flock to the area to get a taste of  St James, the city that never sleeps.

The environment is not without its worrisome characters. There’s this young woman named Maria, for instance, who is said to be troubled in the context of the number of unwanted children she gave birth to.  

One evening, while the rain was falling heavily and my drinking partner Bat and I were sitting on two stools outside a bar frequented by refugee Venezuelans on the opposite side of the Main Road, the same Maria dashed across to our side, wearing a charming smile, a very short skirt and a top with plenty cleavage showing.

And, just like that, she went up to Bat and asked him: “You want to f-k me or what?”

As a mature man with big children and a huge social conscience, Bat offered to help Maria who waited patiently – with a drink we bought for her – while Bat called up a Social Worker he knew.

Upon  her quick arrival, the Social Worker took Maria into her car for some counselling then supplied her with a bunch of condoms before making plans for them to meet again.

Much to our surprise, shortly after the Social Worker had left, we could see Maria and another troubled girl happily winding to sweet Soca music in the bar from which he had earlier run across,  and waving the blown-up condoms like a Carnival Flag woman as the rain poured down on the Main Road.

That should be enough for now, therefore as the people of  St James : the  city that never sleeps,  begin folding their  tents and closing their doors to take a short rest –  even as the night vendors such as the Punch man, the Ice Cream woman, and the Jamaican Jerk vendor, all confidently emerge for another long night of duty.

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