Anitha Robinson -Author

Animal lover and writer Anitha Robinson is thrilled to create stories about animals and the environment. Her experiences volunteering with organizations like World Wildlife Fund and local animal shelters, along with visiting animal sanctuaries nearby and faraway, have inspired many story ideas. Anitha is the author of a young adult trilogy.

Anita Robinson

The first book, Broken Worlds, was released in 2014 by CBAY Books. Broken Promises and Broken Dreams followed in 2017 and 2019 respectively. Recently, Anitha created a KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING blog. She collects and shares uplifting stories of people showing kindness to animals and each other. Her hope is to inspire others or at least bring joy to someone reading her posts. Her blog can be found at https://anitharobinson.com/blog/.

She graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario with a Bachelor of Commerce and went on to become a Chartered Accountant. Though accounting and writing seem like polar opposites, she has combined these two worlds by offering ‘Tax Talks’ to writers. Anitha lives on a hobby farm in Ontario with her husband, two children, and many animals. She hopes one day to turn the property into an animal sanctuary. Anitha is represented by Tanusri Prasanna of Foundry Literary & Media.



 

Anitha, thanks for taking the time to do have this conversation with me. I’d like to talk about your book BROKEN WORLDS, released in 2014, and your writing life so far.

Q. What kind of research did you do for Broken Worlds and how much time did it take? What are your sources, typically?

A. The idea for Broken Worlds came to me in a dream, or more accurately, a nightmare. Normally, when I wake up, the details of the dream are long gone and at most I’m left with a vague, fuzzy memory. Not this time. I clearly recalled the details of this nightmare—being alone at night, chased by two men, the sound of their footsteps getting closer. I was terrified when I woke up. I was taking a writing class at the time and it was my turn to share a piece with the class, so I started writing about the nightmare. At this point, there was no research. But as the story unfolded, the characters came to life, and the plot took shape, and that’s when I started to research things like the layers of the atmosphere, the colours one would see as they pass these layers, the sounds of the forest, to name a few. Research takes a fair bit of time and varies from project to project. I can’t pinpoint an exact amount of time. For this book, my main sources were the internet and my husband, who helped me with the medical aspects of the story.

But for my middle grade adventure story and picture books about endangered animals, in addition to the internet, I also contacted people who help save these animals for their input.

Anitha Robinson Broken Worlds

Q. Broken Worlds is written in the First Person, the voice being that of the protagonist Kalli. Why did you decide to write this book in First Person? And why Kalli?

A. I wrote it in first person, because I was writing about myself in the nightmare. This POV allowed me to express what I saw and felt.

Q. You chose to write Broken Worlds in the present tense, as the action unfolds. Why was this? Do you think this is a more satisfying approach to writing? Why?

A. I find writing in present tense heightens the tension. It allows the reader to experience everything with the character in real time. As this was a story filled with action, I felt it was the best way to write it.

Q. What is your approach to writing? Do you plot in advance, perhaps chapter by chapter, or make it up as you go along?

A. I started writing Broken Worlds ten years ago. At that time, I just wrote from the top of my head. There wasn’t a lot of planning. But with the second and third book, I started with an outline and plotted the story ahead of time. It changed a bit as I was writing, but the general trajectory of the plot remained the same.

Q. The surprise in the plot of Broken Worlds comes around the half-way point when Ellis reveals that he is different (spoiler alert!) Was this how you created your plot, or did you suddenly decide on this when you reached that point in the book?

A. From the start, I knew Ellis was not going to be the good guy he seemed. I wasn’t sure what that would mean exactly, until I had written a few chapters, and then it came to me—he had to be an alien.

Q. Do you have any tips for upcoming writers on how to get published, traditional or Vanity publishing?

A. If someone wants to get published there are a few things they should do. First of all, read a lot. This way you will discover the types of stories you like to read which should help you decide the type of stories you like to write. I love reading picture books, middle grade and young adult, hence, that’s what I write. Next, write without expecting it to be perfect. Don’t allow the need to be perfect to deter you from writing. Once the words are on the page, then you can go back and edit. Which brings me to my last tip—find a critique partner/writing group to give you feedback and help edit your story. Sometimes what you think you’ve said isn’t what comes across, and a writing buddy can help sort that out, among other things.

Q. Has writing gotten any faster and easier for you since 2014, considering you’ve followed up with two sequels to Broken Worlds?

A. Before Broken Worlds was published, writing felt like a guilty pleasure, because I was the only one who benefitted. I would fit it in between taking care of my kids, working, chores around the house. But after the book was published, I gave myself permission to write most, if not every day, even for 30-40 minutes. Broken Worlds took me almost four years to write, but I finished the first draft of Broken Promises, in eight months.

I wouldn’t say writing has gotten easier. I think I’m better at it, because I spend more time working at my craft. I attend workshops, belong to critique groups where I give and receive feedback, and I write most days.

Q. Is there a favourite among all the characters in Broken Worlds? Why is he/she your favourite?

A. If I had to pick just one character, it would be Sammy. Even though he died very early on in the book, he was very important to me. I felt protective about him and the difficult life he was forced to live at such a young age.

Q. When Kalli returns to her mother’s house, she is greeted by the smell of curry, onions and spices, an obviously very Asian environment. Does this relate to your background and childhood? If so, how?

A. My parents emigrated from India and it was often difficult trying to blend the two cultures—Indian and Canadian. Especially at school. Being a kid is hard enough. Most of us want to fit in with others, but when you look different, it’s almost impossible. I remember being teased and bullied about the colour of my skin and how my hair and clothes would smell like spices and onions. When I got older, I worked hard to douse myself in sprays and perfumes whenever I went out, hoping it would cover the scent of curry. But it was also a very familiar smell, it was the smell of home, so there was also a comfort in it. That’s the part I wanted to bring out for Kalli—the comforting, familiar smell.

Q. The planet Istriya in Broken Worlds is a bleak, dystopian world plagued with pollution and on the brink of collapse, both environmentally and physically. Do you see this as a parallel to our own problems on earth? Was this a part of your theme?

A. I do worry Earth will become like Istriya. Many humans are motivated by profit alone. They don’t look past their need for instant gratification and they don’t take time to consider the detrimental long-term effects of their actions. Earth is our only home, but we are not its only inhabitants. We share this planet with other species, and I don’t believe our needs are any more important than theirs. I believe it’s important when making a decision that we consider—what are the long-term consequences of doing this? What harm will this cause to other species? And is there another way, where the gratification may not be as quick or as large, but it is sustainable for us and other species.

Q. How did you arrive at the names for your characters in Broken Worlds? Is there a science behind this or are names chosen randomly? Is there a connection between names and characters?

A. The main character’s name is Kalyana Farris to reflect her parents mixed marriage. There was no science for choosing the names of the characters for my Broken Worlds trilogy. However, for the middle grade and picture books I write featuring animals as the main characters, I try and choose names that have meanings about those animals. For example, I wrote a picture book about a rhino named Faru. Rhino in Swahili is Kifaru.

Q. What was the greatest stumbling block for you in creating and writing for the character of Ellis—someone of the opposite sex?

A. Ellis was a complex character to write, and not because he was male. Initially, he was manipulative and determined to save his species. But there was also the part of him that didn’t want to cause harm to anyone. As the story continues, he struggles with the realization that his mother is not the good person he thought. He then must figure out a way to save both worlds, his own and Earth. But when it becomes clear he can’t save both, he has to choose, and that was a hard character arc to develop.

Q. Is there a central theme in your three books? What is it?

A. I would have to say there are two themes- is that allowed? The one theme is the effects of greed. The people of Istriya destroyed their planet to the point it became uninhabitable. They were unwilling to change their selfish ways and it resulted in the planet no longer being able to sustain their behaviour. The other theme is love and our need for it and what we are willing to do to find it and then keep it.

Q. If you were to pass on one particular piece of advice to an upcoming writer of Young Adult Science Fiction, what would it be?

A. This is a hard questions, because I don’t consider myself a science fiction writer. The story about Kalli, started as a nightmare, and science fiction allowed me the best vehicle to share it.

Q. Do you have a favourite childhood book? Please share the reason behind your enthusiasm for this book…

A. I love mysteries. One of my favourites as a child were the Meg Mysteries. I have fond memories of sitting on my bed and losing myself in the story.

Q. What other authors and books have influenced your work since then?

A. J. K. Rowling- because I loved reading the Harry Potter series to my kids.

Katherine Applegate- I loved how she brought Ivan to life in The One And Only Ivan. His character, his sad situation, it all just leaped off the page and wrapped around me. I was so desperate to help Ivan. This is the kind of emotion I aspire to create in my readers. I want them to fall in love and care about my characters, so they cheer them on.

Q. Is there a point in your life when you realized that you wanted to become a writer? Please share the circumstances with us.

A. I have always loved writing, but it was never something I considered pursuing as a career. Growing up, I think a lot of emphasis was put on finding a career that would allow me to be financially stable and self-sufficient, and in my family, the arts was never considered a viable option. I wish it had been. I wish I had looked into career paths that involved writing, instead I became a Chartered Accountant. I don’t regret it (well not always). Being an accountant allowed me to work from home when I had my children, so I could be with them. I was able to organize my work around their schedules. But writing was always a part of my life. I would write little stories for my kids. Eventually, I took a few writing courses, devoted more time to writing, and realized how much joy it brings me.

Q. Do you have a fixed routine when you’re writing, or do you wait for the muse to strike you?

A.I try and start each day with yoga. It’s a lovely way to clear my head and I feel good after. I’ve recently decided to cut back my accounting work back to about 10-12 hours per week. I try to get my work done first thing in the morning, so that I have the rest of the day to write or do other things I enjoy.

Q. All the world needs heroes. Tell us about some of the protagonists in your three books. Is there real-life inspiration behind them?

A. The inspiration behind Kalli (other than the nightmare) is all the young girls and women, who are forced to marry someone they don’t want to. It must be frightening to stand up against the pressure to do so, especially if your life could be in danger if you don’t do what is expected.

I feel so sad about the real-life inspiration behind Hadley’s character. She appears in the second novel. She tells her parents she is gay and their reaction forces her to leave her home. During my research, I read that the majority of teen runaways are LGBTQ. They are forced out of their homes because their parents, the ones who are supposed to take care of them, kick them out of the house, for being who they are. It’s heart-breaking.

Q. What is the most difficult part of YOUR artistic process in completing the cycle for one of your books?

A. I still work as an accountant and there are many chores to do around our house- so for me the most difficult part is fitting in the writing, making sure I allow myself time to write.

Q. Do you find the process of writing exhausting or energizing? How do you cope with the physical demands of the profession?

A. I find writing very energizing. I love days when I wake up, knowing for sure I get to write. I don’t find it physically demanding, because I don’t put pressure on myself to write a certain number of words every day. I write because I love it. I think putting pressure on myself would take away the joy and perhaps the creativity.

Q. Is your approach to writing one that encompasses a formula that might meet your reader’s expectation, or do you write to suit yourself?

A. I write about things I care about. I love animals, but since I can’t be like Jane Goodall, who is out there, physically saving the animals, I write about them. I hope my writing will help them in some way.

Q. Did you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people would know of? If so, can you give us a hint?

A. That’s a great idea. Maybe I should start doing this!

Q. What do you consider the mark of success for a writer? How does she know she’s been successful?

A. For me writing is my joy, my relaxation- it’s even a form a therapy. I lose myself in my stories when I write. It makes me happy- and for me that’s success!

Q. Assuming you always think there’s room for improvement, what’s your approach to becoming a better writer?

A. I continue to read, write, and edit. I also find critiquing other writer’s work helps make me a better writer. I can often see my mistakes in their work,

Q. What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?

Twitter: @AnithaRobinson.

Website- www.anitharobinson.com

https://anitharobinson.com/blog/

 

Return to Little England by Enrico Downer

Return Little England 20190808_101450

BOOK REVIEW

Return to Little England

A Love Story…and more

Copyright 2019 By Enrico Downer 262 pgs

Published by KDP Independent Publishing

Review by Ken Puddicombe

Author of Racing With The Rain, Junta, and Down Independence Boulevard And Other Stories

In Return to Little England, Enrico Downer’s fourth book, Victor West returns to Barbados on a quest to take his mother’s ashes for burial in her native soil, in keeping with her wishes and, “he feels compelled to spend the rest of his days in the same chattel house close to his mother’s ashes.” In life, Wilhomena West clearly had an overwhelming impact on her son and in death she continues to chart a path for him to follow: “…some inexplicable magnetism seemed to be pulling him back to the spot where he had enshrined his mother’s ashes.” Will Victor also eventually end up with the woman she had earmarked for him?

Resentment thrives in the book, from all sides. In a farewell thrown by his company, an African-American tells him: “I never did like West Indian people…you people come here to my country and…you wanna take over…” Victor faces this dislike because he’s come to America and succeeded. But when he returns to Barbados the young immigration officer chides Barbadians for leaving in the first place: “Maybe they shoulda stayed home an’ put their shoulders to the wheel like the rest of us.” Success, it seems, breeds resentment, even in your homeland.

Victor stops in the Bojangles Bar prior to his return to Barbados. It is where he and Mickey “…anointed the floor with a few drops of Mount Gay (rum) Eclipse.” This seems to be a prevalent practice in the British Caribbean. On the same page, Mickey: “Man I been t’inkin’ o’ goin’ backhome f’r de last twenty-five yeas o’ my life an’ look I still here” is the cry of many of the Caribbean diaspora who long for the warmth and comfort of the land of their birth but continue to brave the cold climate of North America with all its related drawbacks, in order to attain the wealth unobtainable in their native land. For many, tied to their new country, returning home permanently is a dream they gave up a long time ago.

Victor is unapologetic for the four loves he will experience in the book. His mother, Wilhomena, who had a profound influence on his plans, his career and his integration into American society at a time when “race was raising its ugly head.” Valerie, his first love who gave herself freely to him. Zelda, who performed above and beyond the call of her nursing duties. And Barbados, unable to get out it of his blood stream, creating a longing that causes him to hear his mother’s voice “whispering over and over that it was time to go home…time to return to their little island in the sun, the island she called her Little England.”

Our hero thinks of himself as being like “Odysseus coming home after decades of battling the rigours and frictions…” At the time that he left, “Barbados was not free of this rigour and friction…caused more by a class structure and divide between dark and fair…” While abroad, “he longed for his home-grown fare of sweet potatoes…” with a nostalgia that opened up an unquenchable thirst for such fare. Victor is typical of many native sons who are blind to their country’s many appealing features, only to yearn for them when abroad and eventually re-discover them on return.

Barbados gained independence in November 1966 when British colonies around the world were negotiating theirs. Victor finds when he returns four decades later that the situation has not changed much. Valerie tells him: “We Bajans still have our hang-ups. Sometimes I am a white woman and sometimes I’m black and sometimes I’m neither.” The colour gap is alive and well in Barbados. This divide and overt bias also seems to be consistent among many Caribbean societies, at home and abroad. Colorism, described by Alice Walker in her book In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Proseis “Prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. [my italics].” Valerie was “welcomed…in the banking industry in Bridgetown (the Capital) where white was almost as stellar a qualification as any other.” Caribbean and Guyanese societies, it seems, are still fascinated with and ruled by the old dominant colonial era policy of colour and creed, similar to the Divide and Rule doctrine.

Victor comes from a long line of strong, proud and independent women. His maternal grandmother traced her treeall the way back to (sugar) plantation workers and “she kept a bamboo-framed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation hanging above her bed…” His mother Wilhomena, an enterprising woman, leaves for America when she is in her 40’s, a bold and courageous step by any measure. And Victor, himself, at the age of 13 goes to America and is in his 50’s when he decides to leave all he’s worked for in the land of milk and honey and head back to a country with which he’s not kept in touch, and an environment with which he is no longer familiar. The entire West family, it seems, an enterprising lot, are not afraid to explore new horizons.

But Victor finds what he sees on the island doesn’t fit with his memories—“the roads had shrunken, and distances seemed half of what they used to be. People…standing still…this air of lassitude as if the island had been taking a break…” The risk every re-migrant faces—the drastic change in pace and the difficulty in adapting. “He was still possessed with that intractable sense of urgency…the frenetic rush of big city life was still in his blood.” Can he adapt? Only time will tell. He will also find that the village of Seclusion is not the same, the older folks he knew (the cobbler, the tailor, the carpenter) have all passed on and have been replaced with two new generations in the four decades since he left. There is also a hint that the changes in the society have not all been for the good since “Windows and doors were reinforced with decorative steel bars…not how he remembered them as a boy.” Victor has to face the challenge of coping with local jealousy over the perceived new-found wealth being brought back with him; add the bitterness of a local population faced with the vicissitudes of a post-independent uncertain economy and political structure. And “they told him the streets at night were riddled with crime and fights between the young broke out with frightening regularity.” In this, Victor’s challenge is no different from any re-migrant in every Caribbean island, and Guyana. Has he replaced the hectic pace with insecurity? Is there really security if he has to keep looking over his shoulder in his environment?

Author Downer paints a picture of a rural Barbados—like so many other societies— controlled by superstition and living with customs and mores that rarely change in time. “A black sheet had been placed across the mirror of her (his mother’s) bureau to frustrate the evil spirits that visited Bajan houses at night…” In a scene later in the book, “It suddenly dawned upon him (Victor) that the woman was not real flesh and blood, that she was an evil spirt.” Even after his four decades abroad, Victor is enthralled by the spirts that haunt his old country. Will he ever overcome this propensity to believe in the occult?

Downer’s picture of rural Barbados also includes no indoor plumbing and “Every morning…his (Victor’s) first chore was to grab two galvanized buckets and head off to the standpipe three blocks down…” Even on his return he finds the same conditions, heading to the same standpipe, relieving himself in the “doorless outhouse.” It’s a brave soul who would desert the comfort of his amenities in America to return to this!

Victor soon explores his native land and finds “rolling hills of green and quilted fields in the valley that reminded the English of England.” Indeed, with over a million visitors to the island every year, half of those come from the mother country. “His homeland had awoken from her spell, but his people had not yet thrown off the cloak of Britishness they had worn from birth…One-armed Horatio Nelson was still standing on his pedestal…(in) the Square of Heroes (which) was once Trafalgar Square.” But Victor also recognizes that “the crush of visitors” have driven the “400 thousand-year-old coral floor…sea anemones…on the way to extinction.” Will this move away from industry and agriculture and growing dependence on tourism, like so many Caribbean nations, result in an eventual Paradise Lost?

Panama is a recurring theme in the story. Close to 20,000 Barbadians (10% of the population and about 40% of adult men at that time) worked on the Panama Canal in its heyday. The effect on the economy of Barbados in the 1904-14 period of canal building cannot be overstated, nor can the impact of father-less households when Bajan men didn’t make it back to the island. Fifty-six hundred workers died on the project, about 4,700 of them West Indians and Bajans must have figured prominently in that death toll—the reason Victor’s father never made it back to his homeland. In Barbados, it was the mother who had to set the tone of discipline and run the household. The bartender in the local rum shop tells Victor: “They was strict, worse than de father, if de chile had a father. Dese mothers use-ed to rule de house like a general. They never spare de rod.” Such a woman must have been Wilhomena West.

In the days following his return to his native land, Victor will find, like so many re-migrants who’ve spent a life time abroad and are like salmon fighting an upstream battle to return to their spawning grounds—that only the bravest and most resilient will make it. While he lost a mother he gained a wife; lost a lover and gained a son…left the rat race behind and settled for the peace and calm of an island he couldn’t get out of his blood. Will this lead to true happiness? The reader will discover.

AMAZON LINK FOR Return to Little England

https://www.amazon.com/Return-Little-England-Love-Story-ebook/dp/B07QHJGJG6/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=return+to+little+england&qid=1564245944&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Under The Tamarind Tree by Rosaliene Bacchus

UNDER THE TAMARIND TREE

 Copyright 2019 By Rosaliene Bacchus 284 pgs

Published by Lulu Press, Inc. USA

Review by Ken Puddicombe

 

Front Cover - Under the Tamarind Tree

The fruit of the Tamarind Tree holds a puzzling allure to people in the tropics, its tangy and acidic fruit devoured obsessively, even as it stimulates the taste buds with spasms of unpleasantness that last long after the fruit is consumed. The tree becomes a symbolic forewarning of all that befalls the colony of Guiana and its main protagonist, Richard Cheong—taste at your peril, because there is a price to pay!

The book is filled with images that evoke this obsession with the tamarind tree, like when Richard “looked up at the bright green tree, towering over him like a vengeful judge. The way their fine feathery leaves folded up at dusk used to fascinate him as a kid. No more.” The Tamarind Tree reminded him of the guilt (over an illicit affair) and shame (that he had lost his son and heir). Richard’s best friend, Wesley describes Richard’s sister Mildred, who is Richard’s main foil in the plot: “She’s like tamarind: sour-face with a hard soul like the tamarind seed.”

The book starts in 1953, when Guiana is still a colony, the only British possession in all of South America. Nationalism is rearing its head in British colonies around the world and Guiana is no exception. The colony is a polyglot of languages and cultures: Hindi and Urdu from India; Chinese mainly from Hong Kong and some from the mainland; Portuguese mostly from Madeira, all of these passed down by the older generation of indentured workers brought to the colony by the British planters as a deliberate ploy to supplant the African slaves (after the abolition of slavery in 1833) and suppress wages. Add these languages to the pidgin English of the Blacks already there and you arrive at a creole mish-mash. Along with their languages, these people also brought the rich culture of their homeland. Richard Cheong, the main protagonist is caught between these societies throughout the book which is rich with the cultural heritage of the Portuguese and Chinese Catholics and British Anglicans, the Muslims, the Hindus getting married in their own rites.

Richard is also superstitious, like his forebearers. He has an ongoing conversation with his dead younger brother Eddie and his father. This is almost driving him crazy, and the reader gets into his head as he is thinking of his wife and deceased son: Pa, I don’t know she (his wife Gloria) no more. She want to live in dead people house, like she still holding on to jumbies (evil spirits). This obsession with his deceased son and the yearning to have another will eventually create a chasm between him and his wife. His older sister Mildred tells him: “All you wanted was a stupid son. Did it ever occur to you to ask your wife what shewanted?” At one time, beset by personal problems and conflict with Gloria, he thinks: I should-a know the damn tamran tree was a bad omen. He even threatens the tree at one time: “I going cut you down, limb by limb,” as if this would solve all his problems! He thinks of his wife: An obeah-man had given her control over his (Richard’s) mind. Superstition controls Richard and rules the land.

The book is filled with the Guyanese twang born out of this array of languages that has bred a paucity in the way Guyanese speak, creole like, at a rapid pace that takes liberties in the grammar that many in the English-speaking world would find difficult to decipher. It has a rhythm and meaning all of its own. Like when Richard tells his pregnant wife: “You ain’t sleep good last night. Go lie down. I making breakfast.” Or when he describes the death of his child to Mama Chips: “My baby son dead. The cord cut off he air.” The death of his son is a harbinger for all that subsequently befalls Richard, since his obsession with having a male heir is typical Guyanese male swagger and he grows blind to his wife Gloria’s needs. At one point in the book he even blames himself for his marital problems, but in typical machismo style: “It’s all my fault. I was too soft with her (Gloria). I should-a listen to Lach (his friend) and show her I was the boss…” Spousal and emotional abuse is not outside the realm of showing a woman who is the boss and infidelity is built into the psyche of the Guianese male of the era: He needed Gertrude (his mistress—called an “outside woman” in local terms) [for him] to be a man again…to numb the pain of losing his only son.

In1953 the Guiana constitution was suspended by the British under the perception that the country was threatened by Communism, this at a time when Britain was governed by the Conservatives under Churchill, an avid anti-communist. British troops were sent to “retake the colony from the upstart nationalist socialists/ communists” and the country lost its self-government. In the book the Guiana Labor Party under Lalkumar (actually the Peoples Progressive Party [PPP] under Cheddi Jagan) is swiftly thrown out of office and the leaders incarcerated. The Peoples National Congress (PNC) that was headed by Forbes Burnham is represented by an ambitious Baxter. The third opposition party, United Force (UF), “the newly founded Portuguese party” led by Peter D’Aguiar is headed by the fictional Xavier.

Bacchus captures the upcoming racial conflict, disturbances, racial cleansing (“Some-a-we gotta leave the village we great-grandparents live in and move to a more safe village…”), and insecurity between the two main races: Indians and Blacks. The riots and conflagration in 1962 when arsonists burnt down the business section of the city was a turning point in the security and stability of the country, a time after which police had to carry arms.

In a moment of lucidity, when his daughter Lizzie asks, “Why are blacks and East Indians fighting?” Richard replies: “I think it got something to do with old hurts. From the days when slavery did end. Trouble start when the white people start bringing ships full a East Indians to work in the cane fields.” And she, in a moment of precocious perspicacity, says: “But that was a long time ago.” It does not explain that this inherent hostility handed down through generations had something to do with slavery being replaced by an indentured system tying East Indians to the land. Nor does it account for the resentment of freed slaves that the hoped-for fair wages they sought from the plantocracy disappeared into thin air due to the cheap wages paid to those indentured workers.

Tamarind Tree is also a nostalgic walk through the yesteryear of a former British Colony where some of its inhabitants still yearn for the good old dayswhen they feel they were able to walk the streets safely, where they can claim things were much better off under the British. The local girls are said to be enamored with the white soldiers and look upon them as a way out of the colony into a better future. People suffer under the illusion that a move to the mother country is a means to living a good life and the road to independence holds untold risks. Richard’s mother-in-law Dorothy describes her husband, Winston Henry, a police officer and main antagonist: “But you know how father is. He more loyal than the Englishmen.” His is a typical colonial view shared by those who didn’t  think the colony was capable of self-government or independence. And who knows, perhaps the post-independence era might very well contribute to this outlook.

Richard: His dream of breaking away from the Lee-a-Shoo (his employer) family hung out of reach, like a kite trapped atop a coconut palm. It becomes an apt allegory for the colony as it strives for independence, its constitution (one of the most progressive in the British Caribbean at that time) suspended and the drive for self-government thrust decades back. But, ever the entrepreneurial spirit imbedded in him, like his ancestors and many Guianese, Richard starts a chicken farm and eventually strives to break the ties that bind him to his father-in-law, this in parallel with the drive for independence from Britain. His farm is in the outskirts of Georgetown and he ponders over his separate life from his family: Why me and my family gotta live separate like this? This is the price for we independence? His independence, it seems, has to come with a price, similar to the colony.

Elections are held before independence in May 1966 and the system has been changed to Proportional Representation—a deliberate move engineered by the British and American governments to keep the socialist Jagan (ala Lakumar) out of power and hand power over to the opposition parties. British soldiers patrol to keep the uneasy peace. The exodus has begun: “Richard passed people lined up outside the American Embassy in Georgetown.” The business class and the rich have started transporting their wealth abroad. The middle class seek visas for America and Canada and other nations.

There is hope. “…the tamarind tree, glorious with yellow blossoms and pink buds, leaves and blooms covered the rain soaked black earth.” In the end, Evelyn, his sister, tells Richard: “I’m glad you’re finally seeing the light.” It is too late for Richard to find the happiness he desperately sought with Gloria. But he is consoled by the fact that his oldest daughter Lizzie is devoted to him. His business has started to prosper, too. There is hope for his future, but we’re not sure about the future of the Tamarind Tree and the new country of Guyana. Richard says in the 1968 election which was manipulated with massive fraud at home and abroad: “Independence is only a big word. The white people still running the show.” The country is being turned into the world’s first socialist cooperative republic and a dictatorship runs the country, but life goes on.

Under The Tamarind Tree adds to the glorious collection of literature by Guyanese abroad writing about a tempestuous era that is too swiftly glossed over and forgotten in the world of power politics.

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DOWN INDEPENDENCE BOULEVARD AND OTHER STORIES (2017) by Ken Puddicombe


PERFECT EXECUTION AND OTHER STORIES (2017) by Michael Joll

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DANCING MY WAY TO 80 (2019 Private Publication) by Doris Naraine

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WITNESSES AND OTHER STORIES (2019) by Raymond Holmes

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Raymond Holmes: Writing

Ray Holmes

Raymond Holmes in Brampton, Ontario.  He writes plays, novellas and short stories. His stories have been published in Unleashed Ink, an anthology created by the Barrie Writers Club, The Northern Appeal, a Simcoe County literary magazine and Commuterlit, a Toronto based ezine. His plays Boris and Hermanand The Lonely Vigil Of Emily Baxterhave been performed at the South Simcoe Theatre in Cookstown, Ontario. The latter play was awarded third prize in the 2014 Ottawa Little Theatre Playwriting Contest. His play The Pooman, will be read at the South Simcoe Theatre in June, 2018. Raymond also enjoys making furniture and playing the violin, although he admits to performing the latter activity rather poorly.

 

GOING HOME

What I am about to tell you is true. I swear it.

At first, I thought it was a dream during a period of restless sleep later that night, or the product of an imagination distorted by the exhausting double shift, but now I’m convinced it really happened.

It occurred on September 28, 2017, a rainy night. I’ve been a cab driver for twenty-five years. I like my job, but it’s tough slogging: long hours, all kinds of weather, traffic jams, cooped up in what seems, at times, like a mobile sardine can. On the plus side, meeting people is the best part of the job. It helps if you like your fellow human beings.

Most fares are decent souls, but there’s the odd drunk or disgruntled individual to deal with. Early on, a cabby learns to accept people for who they are. Encounters are brief and annoyances, for the most part, are dust to be brushed away and forgotten.

Out-of-the-ordinary events do occur, but nothing like what happened on that wet, cold evening last fall…

white sedan during nighttime

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

It rained all day and into the evening. The axiom More rain equals more fares and more money wasn’t in effect that night.

Cab drivers always pray for rain. No one likes to get wet and if you don’t have your own vehicle the only options are to use an umbrella or take a cab. People don’t seem to like umbrellas.

The downpour fell across the black top like a drifting curtain, dancing whichever way the wind urged it. Islands of golden light shimmered on the surface, breaking into pieces then re-connecting again as the wind moved tree branches back and forth across the yellow gleam of the street lamps. The tires of the cab emitted a coarse whisper over the deserted, wet road. Brilliant flashes of lightning hung in the sky like twisted knives, followed by drumbeats of thunder.

The radio was silent, punctuated by intermittent static.

“Need a car for area four,” the dispatcher said.

Couldn’t take the fare. I was in area six.

No street pickups and no radio calls. Enough driving for one evening, I decided.

On the way home, I noticed a short, solitary figure standing at the corner of Belmont Street and Middle Road under a tent of light cast by the street lamp. I stopped the car and watched. The person wore a long-sleeved hoodie and track pants, arms clasped against the chest. I could see the sheen of water-saturated clothing and rain dripping from the elbows. Who would stand outside in this deluge? The sight sent shivers up and down my cramped back muscles.

The bus in this area ran on the hour and it was ten past—a long wait for the next one. Could it be a fare? Even people who rarely used cabs often got tired of waiting in inclement conditions. I held back. Mike in car number 457 was robbed a month ago by someone with a similar description. Maybe this person’s a druggie. Perhaps I should keep going. The figure had a slight build. A youth, perhaps? It was a terrible night; unfit for man or beast. I’d be grateful if someone stopped to pick up my child in this kind of weather. It wouldn’t be right to just drive away.

 I stopped and lowered the glass on the front passenger power window. I kept the doors locked until I could see the face. You can tell a lot by how they look. Addicts have a wild, desperate appearance. Crooks and thugs look mean and threatening.

The person was motionless, head bowed. The face wasn’t visible through the gap bordered by the folds of the hood.

 “Lousy night. Need a cab?” I said.

As the head lifted, the dripping edges of the hood parted to reveal the pale, round face of a young woman. The tension in my hands relaxed. She bent down to look in at me but didn’t reply.

“Hate to see you standing out here alone, soaking wet.”

She stared for a few moments. I expected her to decline, but she said, “Yes, I would like a ride.”

The voice was soft and even. Her teeth should have been chattering from the soggy chill, but in spite of being drenched by cold water, she didn’t appear to be uncomfortable.

I unlocked the doors and waited, but she made no move to enter the car.

“Sorry. Forgot my manners for a moment,” I said, before jumping out and opening the rear door. Doing that for customers was a long-lost courtesy in the taxi business.

She slid into the back seat. Good thing it was vinyl covered. Wet cloth seats are a bitch to dry out this time of year. I got back in and took a tissue to my rain-spotted glasses.

“Where can I take you?”

“I want to go home,” she said, in a plaintive tone that reminded me of a tired child about to burst into tears.

“Where’s that?”

She hesitated, as if unsure. “It’s Twenty-three Stone Gate Circle—in Bennington.”

Hadn’t been to that address before. After turning on the meter and tapping the address into the GPS, I pulled away. “Okay. That neighbourhood’s not far from here,” I said, noting the time and distance displayed.

Our eyes met in the rear-view mirror. The hood dropped to her shoulders, revealing strands of long, straight blond hair streaked darker with wetness. As she leaned back, the soaked fabric hugged the curves of her upper body.

Her face appeared devoid of makeup, including the bow lips, and the most remarkable thing about it was the skin—whiter and clearer than any I’ve seen—the pallor relieved only by bright, round, green eyes fixed on mine. With a hand the colour of a white cloud she brushed stringy tresses from her cheeks and wiped her forehead. How old was this attractive young woman? Sixteen, seventeen, perhaps?

She looked around the inside of the car, as if riding in a vehicle was a novelty. I’d had all sorts of women passengers: prim professionals dressed in neat suits, young, provocatively dressed flirty ones, faded middle-aged housewives, gabby washed-out old women and everything in between, but nothing like her—a captivating, mysterious presence.

Many of my fellow drivers didn’t talk to customers except to ask where they were going and announce the fare at the end of the run, but I always tried to connect. People liked to talk about themselves, and some were interesting. This young woman had vulnerability written all over her. Despite my initial misgivings, I was glad I stopped.

“What’s your name young lady?” I said.

She continued to stare at me. I shouldn’t have started by asking a personal question. You had to be careful what you said to women. “Forgive me, Miss, I—”

“That’s all right. My name’s Cece.”

“Is that short for something?”

“Cecelia.”

“That’s a nice name.”

“I don’t like it, and prefer just Cece.”

“Is it all right if I play the radio at low volume, Cece?”

“I don’t mind.”

“You like music?”

“Yes. I know Elvis Presley.”

“You like Presley? Great singer, but he died in 1977. I figured you’d like more recent stuff by U2, Ed Sheeran or maybe some of the indie groups.”

“I know George Michael, David Bowie and Prince, too.”

“Yeah, they’re more contemporary. Too bad they’re all dead now. It’s tragic how talented lives can end like that.”

 “It’s sad for any life to end; saddest for those left behind,” she said in a flat tone. Her previously sallow face glowed, now that she was sheltered from the damp, cold night.

“What grade are you in?”

“I was in grade ten.”

Was? She’d dropped out of school. Her whole life ahead and no education? Well, not any business of mine to give her the Stay in school spiel. I’m sure her parents did.

The rain, which had eased, now intensified. I adjusted the defroster and switched the wipers on high. Fog settled on the road ahead like a grey blanket, the headlights of oncoming cars piercing the hazy wetness.

She wasn’t much of a talker. A stale smell of wet clothing and hair drifted forward. The rancid odour reminded me of a wet dog, only not as strong or objectionable.

At a stop light two blocks away from our destination Cece was no longer visible in the rear-view mirror. Did she lie down? Was she ill?

I pulled over and turned to look.

There was no one there.

How could she have left without me knowing? Passengers rarely jumped out to evade paying the fare, but when they did it was impossible for the driver not to realize. I chased one asshole a year ago—he bolted to avoid paying a four-buck fare, but he turned on me with a knife. Now I don’t bother going after them. Could be worse—someone who pukes all over the car. Big bucks to clean that mess up and a chunk of lost time.

Was I micro-sleeping: having temporary episodes of sleep so brief that I felt continuously awake, but in fact had lost consciousness and failed to respond to sensory inputs? That must be it. That’s when she left.

I reached over and placed my palm on the seat. It was dry.

My thoughts tumbled and collided. Nothing made sense.

The meter over the dash continued to click. The digits displayed $6.20 then flipped to $6.30. I turned it off.

The location marker on the GPS blinked—the destination address displayed at the top of the screen. Black letters on a white band read 23 Stone Gate Circle—the address she gave me. It was only two blocks away. Why would I have imagined an address I had never heard of, nor been to?

I had to go there.

“You have arrived at your destination,” said the synthetic, feminine voice of the GPS a few minutes later.

The neighbourhood was upscale—wide roads bordered by large, mature maple trees and populated by an enclave of ivy-covered older brick and stone Georgian-style homes. I turned into number twenty-three’s wide, circular cobble-stone driveway flanked by flickering gas-fired coach lamps. A plaque on one stone column read Hanson.

The lawn and gardens were expansive and meticulously kept; the perfume of wet grass and cedar trees, strong. I imagined a blazing fireplace inside the home, an elegant decor and luxurious furnishings. The owners must be well-to-do.

The rain stopped. I stood at the end of the flagstone walkway for a few minutes inhaling the fresh, clean air and staring at the house. Wind rustled leaves on the trees like whispering voices. The face of the moon glimmered through a clearing sky.

Why was I here? What would I say to the occupants? They’d think I was a fool. I could almost hear their derisive laughter. You should go away now, I thought, but the urge to know was overpowering and pulled me up to the polished, heavy oak front door. I noted the brass intercom box to one side of it and the security camera mounted above.

My right hand trembled as my finger hovered over the ornate doorbell button. I drew in several deep breaths, straightened my jacket and smoothed my hair. I pressed the button, heard the resonant notes of the chimes inside, and waited.

 “Who is it?” a female voice said through the intercom.

I looked up at the camera so my face was clearly visible. “I’m Paul Wilkins—a cab driver.”

“What do you want?”

“I’d like to talk to you, if I may. It might be important.”

After a pause, the voice said, “Are you alone?”

“Yes,” I replied. Couldn’t she see that from the camera?

After a few moments I heard a deadbolt retract. The door opened a little way and a woman’s head appeared.

“Yes? May I help you?” she said, a thin, inquisitive smile on her face.

I cleared my throat. “May I ask if a young woman named Cecilia lives here?”

The door swung open and the warm air of the dwelling’s bright interior caressed my face, making me blink. The person standing in the doorway was an old lady, wearing a dove-grey dress, with neatly coiffed hair, a patrician appearance and a round, wrinkled face with clear skin and bright green eyes. Tasteful and expensive jewellery glittered from her neck, hands and wrist. I glimpsed a framed photo on a side table just inside the door; a familiar-looking young face with fair skin and long, blond hair. My mouth was dry. It was difficult to swallow.

The woman’s weak, questioning smile collapsed.

 “Why are you asking about her?” she said.

“She was a passenger coming to this address but left the car just before we would arrive. Since its dark and the weather’s so terrible, I was concerned that she got home okay.”

The woman’s eyes flared with anger and she jabbed her finger at my face.

“If this is your idea of a joke sir, I don’t appreciate it. You’ve got some nerve coming to our home at this hour.”

“I’m sorry, I—”

“Don’t you think we’ve been through enough pain all these years without people like you adding to it? Is planning sick pranks like this your idea of fun?”

“I don’t understand. What are you talking about?”

Her voice cracked. “You know darn well what I mean. Did someone put you up to this?”

“To what?”

“Making a joke out of our daughter’s death.”

The last two words struck me like stones. It felt like my heart stopped. Coldness crept up into my torso like a sponge soaking up ice water.

“Death? But I just—”

“You’re insinuating that you didn’t know that our sixteen-year-old daughter Cecelia was killed on this day thirty years ago?” she said.

The shock must have taken my mind elsewhere for a few moments. The next thing I recalled was observing the woman’s lips moving, then hearing her insistent, irate voice rising in volume.

 “Answer me, Paul, the cab driver. Are you pleased with what you’ve done? Now you can laugh about it with your friends. They’re likely as depraved as you are.”

“No… You don’t understand, I—”

“I understand you and your kind well enough.” Hate boiled in her eyes.

“Where did this happen to your daughter?” I said.

Her hands curled into white knuckled fists. Her eyes shone with moisture and the veins in her neck reached out. “Near the intersection of Belmont Street and Middle Road, as you well know. She was struck by a hit and run driver on a rainy night like this and died broken and alone in the gutter.”

Her words flew into the air, circled like birds, then settled into my consciousness.

“But that’s where—”

“People like you are evil.” Her words came out like hot nails.

“I’m so—”

“Spare me your fake sympathy,” she said, in a mocking tone.

“But I—”

“Do you know what it’s like to bury your only child? They never found the driver. It’s hard enough for us to get through this day without you coming here and doing this. Have you no humanity or feelings?” She sniffled and tears made tracks in her mascara. “Even decades of passing time can’t erase our heartache and loss.”

Each word was like a lump of white-hot coal. I tried to explain what happened. “Please let me—”

“Leave our premises now before I call the police,” she screamed and then slammed the door.

I sat in the car a long time before driving home. After tossing and turning I drifted off to sleep. The noise of a dripping tap woke me up at 3:00 a.m. It had never interrupted my sleep before. Did I dream of an encounter with a dead girl whose life was absorbed by a city street corner like a sponge and re-animated decades later? Her name and address floated among the jumbled images in my mind. I thought of the hurt on the mother’s face. It was all so real. I went down to the cab, turned on the GPS and touched Destinations on the menu. The last address was 23 Stone Gate Circle. Things didn’t make sense. Perhaps I was going mad.

*

The next day I travelled downtown to the library to access archived microfiche copies of the city newspapers. There it was on the front page of the September 29, 1987 morning edition of the City Examiner:

YOUNG WOMAN KILLED BY HIT AND RUN DRIVER

Cecilia Hanson, sixteen, of 23 Stone Gate Circle in Bennington was struck and killed at the intersection of Belmont Street and Middle Road last evening. There were no witnesses, but police are…

Cece, I think of you often. I could have reached back and touched you that evening—known if you were tangible or phantom. Would your milk-white hand have felt warm and alive in mine, or merely air slipping through my fingers?

I’m sorry you couldn’t go home. Wherever you are, I hope you can find peace.

END

THIS AND OTHER ENTERTAINING AND IMAGINATIVE STORIES CAN BE READ IN RAY HOLMES COLLECTION AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON

 

 

Michael Joll -Author’s Short Story

 

Born in England during the Late Pleistocene Age, Michael Joll has called Canada home since shortly after Confederation. He has held many jobs, from selling Continental Delicatessen in Selfridges on Oxford Street in London, to temporary part time deck hand and purser on a car ferry plying the North Reach of the Bay of Quinte. In between he was gainfully employed for forty years too many. Retired since 2004 (“The hours are great, the pay not so much”) he has spent most of that time writing fiction. He has lived in Brampton, Ontario since the mid-1970s with a wife (his own) and the memories of the dogs with whom he has been privileged to share his life.

 

MJoll New Background for CS

Author Michael Joll

A HANDSOME WOMAN

by Michael Joll

He studied her through binoculars from the shade of his second floor suite balcony at the Fairmont Colony Hotel. A handsome woman, he concluded. Lissome. Striking even, with her thick, wavy red hair pulled back and tied behind her neck. The late afternoon sun caught the silver strands in her hair and set them glinting like quicksilver.

   She stretched her long limbs, arched her back and reached behind her neck with her fingers extended and her toes pointed, a springboard diver about to enter the pike position. She pushed her sunglasses up over her forehead until they rested above her hairline, and swung her legs over the side of the padded chaise lounge until her feet met the patio pavers.

   The Barbados sun had travelled along its prescribed arc and the umbrella no longer cast its shade over her. She reached past a magazine and a thick paperback novel on the table at her elbow and picked up the plastic bottle of 60 sunblock. She squirted a generous amount onto her palm and smoothed it into her thighs.

   He wished he could do it for her.

   Her thighs firmed to her touch while she massaged the lotion into her skin. She bent forward as she worked her quads, squeezing the firm muscles as expertly as a masseuse She turned her attention to her shins and calves and leaned further when she spread the lotion over her ankles and feet. Her breasts moved with her, straining to escape the skimpy bikini top that revealed a tantalizingly generous, freckled cleavage. He held his breath, hoping for an accidental wardrobe malfunction. When none occurred, he took in the polished toenails and matching fingernails, and the freckles dotting her arms and cheeks.

   He sighed. Without question he was in love with the red-haired goddess lounging beside the pool.

   He set aside his binoculars and rubbed his eyes. A bead of sweat ran from his temple, along his jaw line and under his chin. He made no attempt to mop it as it disappeared into the tangle of grey chest hair sprouting from his pale skin.

   Her calisthenics over for the moment, the goddess sat up again. She applied another generous helping of sunblock to her abdomen and over her breasts and throat, slipping her fingers beneath the cloth of her bikini top. Making sure she had all the bases covered, the man decided, the binoculars back to his eyes again, regretting that he was too late and too far away to offer help. She undid the elastic back strap, reached behind her neck to untie the shoelace thin straps and let them dangle at her side while she held the top in place with one hand. Inviting. If she knew what she was doing to him . . . She pulled the front of her bikini top down until the interesting bits almost peeked out, leaned against the backrest of the chaise and applied lotion to her face and shoulders. Satisfied, she dropped her sunglasses over her nose and glanced over her shoulder toward the hotel.

   He held his breath. “She’s teasing me,” he muttered. “It’s as if she knows I’m watching her.”

   A slight commotion coming from the beach disturbed the man’s thoughts. He aimed the binoculars in the direction in which he saw several people pointing. He focused through the palm trees near the water’s edge, and then he saw them: a shoal of flying fish breaking the surface of the Caribbean, their fins flailing the surface into a maelstrom and showering the still air with a million diamonds. Hard on their heels a pod of dolphins surfaced, basket-weaving their sleek bodies over and through the lazy waves in search of dinner.

   He turned his attention to the woman at the pool edge, on her feet now and clutching her bikini top to her chest with one hand while shielding her eyes from the sun with the other. She turned to a white-haired woman at her side and pointed out to sea. The old woman followed the line of the outstretched arm and jumped with excitement at the sight of the dolphins in full chase. He saw the women exchange words, then resume their seats once the show was over.

   The redheaded goddess hooked her bikini top back together and pulled her chaise into the shade of the umbrella. The man saw her lean toward the elderly woman and say something. She opened her beach bag, reached in and pulled out a diaphanous chiffon top, which she wrapped around her shoulders.

   The show was over for the man, too. He put the binoculars down and turned to his crossword puzzle. He only did the cryptic crosswords, and always in ink, never pencil. He didn’t make mistakes. Not any more. He had made too many in his life. He sipped at a cold bottle of Banks beer, its sides dripping with condensation in the February heat while he wrestled the crossword into submission.

   A movement caught his eye. He glanced up from his crossword in the direction of the redheaded nymph. She stood up, and now she wandered towards the pool edge. He grabbed the binoculars and watched her dip a toe in the lukewarm water, sending ripples scurrying away from her. Her bare, freckled shoulders shone in the sun. The flimsy top lay abandoned on the chaise, a sleeve draped over the side as if it still contained its wearer, the cuff touching the concrete paver. A slight breeze fluffed life into the cloth before fading away, leaving the sleeve a study in still life.

   The goddess slipped into the pool with scarcely a ripple to betray her entry. She surfaced and pulled her hair behind her, squeezing water down her back. She smiled as she spoke unheard words to a young man close by. The man on the balcony overcame a momentary pang of envy, envy that she should be speaking to a good-looking, tanned and lean-muscled young man, and even a little jealous that his own body, now well past its best days, could not hope to compete with that of a narcissist half his age.

   She swam several effortless lengths then hauled her body out of the pool in one movement and sat on the edge with her feet in the water. From the vantage point on his second floor balcony, the man noticed that the young Lothario had already moved on to a trio of much younger women with whom he was obviously flirting. She moved her head. For a moment he thought the woman might have glanced up to his balcony. No, he decided, she hadn’t, but he imagined he caught a hint of a smile flick across her lips before she looked back at the pool. Or maybe not. His rational brain told him that a human heart does not melt, do backflips or any other such nonsense, including standing still. He froze for a second, and then turned his attention to his crossword. 14 Down. Backflip. He wrote the four missing letters in the empty squares, and set his pen aside with a satisfied smile.

   He thought of lighting a cigarette, a Sobrani Black Russian, his favourite for twenty years, ever since his business allowed him to indulge his weakness and he could afford the premium price. His hand twitched involuntarily in a gesture all too familiar, reaching out. The cigarettes were not within reach. They were back home, where he had deliberately left them, in a silver and tortoise shell cigarette box on the desk in his den, the box unopened for four months as a test of will power. He studied the twin purple-blue ridges of the long scar running down his sternum, and the marks left by the staples, a now-permanent reminder of his open-heart surgery the previous fall, and knew he was lucky to be alive. His heart had indeed stopped. Once.

   The sun cast long shadows across the hotel’s spacious palm-studded grounds. He searched the pool for the goddess, but she had vanished from sight. Through the binoculars he sought her by the beach, but could not find her. The large, open sided pavilion where they served breakfast and lunch, accompanied by hummingbirds, lizards and the occasional inquisitive parakeet bent on sharing a meal with the guests, surrendered no trace of her. He noted with satisfaction that the young man with the muscles had also departed the pool. So, too, had the trio of scantily clad women the young man had been trying to impress.

   Then he caught sight of her, the goddess with her skin now aflame in the orange and red fires of the setting sun. A gentle breeze tugged at a strand of unruly hair at her temple. She rescued it with a finger and hooked it behind her ear. She turned, and when she looked towards the hotel he saw a yellow hibiscus blossom tucked behind her other ear, and her chiffon top tied loosely around her trim waist like a bronze sarong, softening the sharp triangle of her bikini.

   He knew he had to go to her. He had to speak to her, to bask in her presence.

   He left the suite and took the stairs to the ground floor. He pushed through the French doors of the hotel’s art deco rear entrance and stopped on the patio, his head swivelling from right to left, searching for her. He spotted her, standing alone, gazing out to sea, one side of her slim, lithe body illuminated by the flame of a tiki lamp flickering by her side, the other cast in shadow. The sun had almost set, dipping the bottom edge of its disk in the sea like a nervous swimmer testing the water. In minutes, night would cloak Barbados in velvet and the steel pan band would begin its off-key duel with the tone-deaf cicadas.

   She turned as the man neared her. Her face registered neither surprise nor fear at his approach. He slowed and came to a stop a step from her side. He tugged at the hem of his Hawaiian shirt, lurid purple and pink glowing in the sunset, and for a moment stared away from her at the silhouettes of the palm trees. Then he lowered his gaze to the flame coloured hibiscus printed on the front of his shirt. He shuffled his feet, fighting to suppress the nervousness that had bedevilled him since he was a gawky teenager with acne and braces and horn rimmed eyeglasses, trying to summon the courage to ask a girl for a date.

   He looked into the eyes of the red haired Athena standing as immobile as a Greek statue. A quizzical and slightly bemused smile crossed her face. He took in the freckles on her cheeks and the tracery of crows’ feet radiating from the corners of her eyes, crinkling with her smile. Her eyes glowed emerald green and sapphire blue with flecks of gold and amber to add to his confusion. He had never beheld a woman more serene or beguiling as the one who stood before him now, eyeing him with curiosity.

   “Hi,” he said.

   “Hi, yourself,” she replied with a broad smile. Her hand strayed to her hip. It swayed slightly, provocatively as she twisted round to face him fully.

   His licked his lips nervously, covered his mouth with a hand and coughed lightly. He gazed into those bewitching eyes again and took a deep breath.

   “I just wanted to tell you,” he said, “how glad I am that you married me all those years ago.”

END

THIS AND OTHER STORIES APPEAR IN MICHAEL JOLL’S COLLECTION

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Stories
by Michael Joll
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Janet Naidu -Poet

Janet Naidu was born in Covent Garden, Guyana, a rural village close to the sugar plantations of Farm and Diamond.  Janet comes from humble beginnings—her father worked as a cane cutter and her mother sold greens in the village and in the market place.  She, along with her seven siblings assisted their parents in earning extra income.

Janet has made Canada her home since 1975. In 1973, two of her poems appeared in a small booklet called Heritage. After writing sporadically over the years, her first collection of poems, Winged Heart (1999) was short-listed for the Guyana Prize for Literature, poetry category.  Her other two collections include Rainwater (2005) and Sacred Silence (2009). Her poems capture themes of uprooted movements, nostalgic memories, resettlement, feminism, resilience and survival. Her writings also include essays of cultural and historical themes. Janet Naidu (4)
Her poetry and writings have appeared in news media, online publications, anthologies, referenced in books on Indo Caribbean themes and in the Women’s Journal of the University of the West Indies.

Janet obtained a BA from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of London, UK.


Janet, thanks for taking the time to do this interview for my readers. I’d like to focus on your collection Rainwater, in addition to your writing, in general.

Q. At what age did you start to write? What do you remember writing about? Does that writing still exist today?

A. As a teenager I sold greens in the village with my mother and had a notepad to write down credit given to the villagers. I used to also make little sketches and writings at the back pages when I waited for people to purchase items in our baskets. But most significantly, I started writing to pen pals around the world after posting my name and address in a pen pal magazine. I had pen pals from New Zealand, England, Germany, Japan, Pakistan, USA and many other countries. It was during this time, I entered into writing to pen pals around the world, telling them about my family life at home, and life in Guyana. I used to get creative, talking about simple things in the village, like when the sugar cane would burn and the cane dust would come through our windows. I made it sound exciting. Living in Canada, I am often taken back to that time when I was care free and thoughts of the natural world flowed so greater then. This reflection continues to influence my writing.

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Down Independence Boulevard –What Readers Say About it

February 19, 2017

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“Down Independence Boulevard” is another masterpiece by Kenneth Puddicombe following on the heels of “Junta” and “Racing with the Rain” both of which also fall into the category of excellent historical fiction.His latest work is packed with sixteen wonderfully written stories from which the reader can pick and choose the ones that are most appealing, as I have. Anyone who has read Ken’s previous books will have been already accustomed to his skill in holding the reader’s imagination with page after page of exciting detail. Whether he is writing about the political struggles between different factions in the former British Guiana or more intimate stories of a personal nature within a Guyanese family, his possession of a broad vocabulary and a masterful use of the English language should impress any reader. I haven’t yet read the entire sixteen stories which is another benefit of selecting the stories that one wants to read in any sequence. So far I am enjoying “Down Independence Boulevard”.You will too.

Rosaliene Bacchus

February 27, 2017

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An excellent read. Ken Puddicombe’s short stories are riveting and, in many cases, heartbreaking. His stories give us a close-up view of the effects of political unrest in disrupting the lives of families and individuals, forcing them to seek refuge in foreign lands. But Puddicombe doesn’t end there. He takes us to Canada and the United States where the immigrants, legal and illegal, attempt to rebuild their lives. Each story is a gem.

Ken Puddicombe sparks curiosity, melancholy, anger, and laughter as he shares the lives of the various characters in “Down Independence Boulevard”. These stories lend a glimpse into Guyana’s history and culture, while unraveling unique storylines. The reader is torn between being able to relate to the characters in one story, then feeling outraged by their actions in the next story! The stories build slowly, and you find yourself pondering and questioning, and then the answers are slowly revealed. As a first generation Canadian, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Guyana through the lives of Puddicombe’s diverse characters, his choice of settings, and the lifestyles of the characters. “Down Independence Boulevard” left me missing the characters and wondering what is to come for them…perhaps a sequel!


Having read the previous books by Ken Puddicombe,I must say that Down Independence Boulevard was masterfully presented by him and once again showed his skilful depiction to detail, which appeal to the five senses and imagination. Ken’s way of delving into our imagination with his many sensuous details help the reader realize that persons,places and things are within the phenomenon he describes.
The start of every page not only brought humour but the longing to get to the next page to experience the characters with the imagination you could be that person.
Reading the assorted stories was a pleasant change from having to read through a book with the same characters from beginning to end.
Well done; highly recommended and look forward to the next writings of Ken Puddicombe.
Bazp


Elaine Gardiner

March 7, 2018 at 3:47 pm

“Down Independence Boulevard” is an amazing first collection of short stories and Ken Puddicombe’s remarkable story telling. “Black Friday” left me with sadness; “The Family Photograph” brought a smile to my face, but “The Last Straw” has to be my favourite, as I am left imagining about the outcome of the moustache (!) and hoping that Zorina was able to have a successful and happier life, but then I am continuing in my mind what was only a story, but such a good one!



Jean Tiwari

Down Independence Boulevard and other stories

A great book of well written and descriptive short stories.

I do have quite a few favourites, some of which relates to my years growing up in Guyana.

My favourite of all would be “The Last Straw” a story a woman being exploited by her in-laws and her very vain husband. Her revenge was quite amusing, and I smiled to
myself a long time after, whenever I thought of the ending. Was even smiling while writing this and recalling the story. Would love a follow up on this. -Jean Tiwari