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.

UNDER THE TAMARIND TREE CAN BE OBTAINED HERE

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Rosaliene_Bacchus

 

 

 

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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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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.

 

AN ENEMY IN OUR KITCHEN 

That incident in 1953 when I was nine years old has festered in me ever since; a malignant thing pressing on a nerve. The curtain of carefree, innocent childhood opened to reveal the occasionally hateful, intolerant world of adults.

At public school that year, Rick Sakamoto sat in the desk behind me. Some kids in our class called him names like “slitty-eyed chink.” His race didn’t matter to me. I liked Rick and wanted him for a friend.

A quiet, polite boy, he possessed a remarkable, natural talent for drawing. Anything I drew appeared stick-like and silly, but Rick and his HB pencil made it look effortless. He could sketch military aircraft and war machines that appeared realistic and I admired him for that ability. World War II had been over for eight years by then, but movies and the army surplus stores along Toronto’s Queen Street kept it alive in our imaginations. It was all heroism and excitement to us.

On several occasions I invited Rick to see my collection of model fighter aircraft, but he always declined, offering some excuse. After my birthday, I asked him again.

“We can have chocolate cake and you can see my collection of lead soldiers,” I said.

He accepted. I felt light and excited.

I thought that mild, October day in the classroom would never end. The hands of the wall clock crept like a puddle freezing over. At last the 3:15 p.m. school bell rang and we ran out through the large double doors of the building to my home three blocks away.

Upon entering through the back porch so as not to disturb Dad in his store-front barber shop, my Mother smiled and greeted us as we walked into the kitchen infused with the fragrant aroma of her cooking.

She cut two slabs of dark, three-layer chocolate cake covered with thick icing left over from my birthday the previous Saturday and poured two tall glasses of milk.

We were enjoying this after-school treat when the kitchen door opened and Dad entered. He started to say something to Mom then looked over at us. His mouth curved down; the face twisted and flushed.

“What’s hedoing here?” he said, jerking his head toward Rick.

Mother’s face warped. “Jimmy—please—don’t—” she pleaded, before being cut off by Dad’s yelling.

“You—get out!” he said to Rick. “We don’t want your kind in this house.”

My mind raced and stomach fluttered. What had we done?

Rick’s yellowish complexion whitened. His eyes widened and stared like a cornered animal; right hand suspending a fork in mid-air; unmoving mouth filled with cake.

After a tense, silent interval, my father jabbed a finger at him and spewed a staccato command like a volley of bullets.

“Get – out—of—here—now.”

I watched horrified as Rick laid down his fork, wiped the milky moustache from his mouth with a shirt sleeve, then got up and left. My body stiffened; the skin on my neck and face crawled.

As the screen door on the back porch clicked shut, Dad screamed through the half-opened window, “Don’t ever come back here again,” before returning to his shop, slamming the kitchen door behind him.

The colour slipped from Mother’s ruddy face. She looked down at the floor; white-knuckled hands scrunching her apron into a white rope.

Things had moved so quickly. The world seemed upside down. I wanted to hide.

“What did we do?  What’s wrong?” I burbled, through tears.

Mom’s chin trembled. “You boys didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Then why did Dad yell at Rick and tell him to leave?”

“Because Rick is a Japanese boy,” she said.

Why did that matter? I thought Rick was Chinese like the people who owned the corner restaurant.

“Why did that make Dad so mad?”

“During the war, the Japanese attacked the Americans at Pearl Harbour in 1941,” she explained. “Canada believed they were our enemies, too. Some people, including your father, still hate all Japanese people even though the war is over now.”

“But Rick didn’t do anything bad. That was before he was born.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Then why did Dad blame him?”

“Sometimes grown-ups do, and say things that are wrong and unfair.”

I glanced at the kitchen door leading to the shop and stiffened. Would my father return and punish me?

~~

The next morning I dreaded going to school. Mom yanked the covers off me and said to get up. How could I face Rick sitting behind me in class? I felt ashamed of what had happened.

I pushed breakfast away. Mom sat down beside me and curled her arm around my shoulder.

“Listen. What the military people in Japan did was bad, but Japanese people living here in Canada can’t be blamed for that,” she said. ”What your Dad did was wrong, but the War caused a lot of pain and suffering. War is just a game to you boys, but many people were killed and maimed for life. Some Canadians, including your father, want to blame all Japanese people for what happened no matter where they were born.”

“But that’s not right,” I said.

“I know, but some people can’t forgive what happened in the past.”

“But the bible says we have to forgive others. I don’t understand why Dad can’t forgive.”

“Sometimes when a person feels wronged by a group of people they seek revenge. Innocent people can be hurt.”

“Will you ask Dad to forgive Japanese people and let Rick come here,” I said.

Mother shook her head with eyes sadder than I’d ever seen before.

“I’m afraid my asking him won’t do any good, son, but you must not act the way your father did. Always treat others the way you want to be treated and speak out when bad things are done to them. Wrongs added to wrongs will never make a right. They’ll just make things worse. Hate hurts the hater too.”

“I’m afraid to tell Dad he was wrong. He’ll get mad at me.”

“I understand,” she said. “Perhaps with time your father will realize that what he did was hurtful. Good people like your Dad still have faults.”

She stood up, bent down close to my face, and put her hands on my shoulders. “I want you to do something very important.”

“What?”

“Apologize to Rick. If you do that, I will be very proud of you.”

What could I say that would make the previous day’s hate and abuse go away?

~~

On the slow walk to class my shoes scuffed along the sidewalk. I saw Rick standing alone against the schoolyard fence watching a group of boys kicking a ball around.

What would he do when I approached? Would he strike out at me? I didn’t have the heart to fight back. I kicked at the black cinders covering the yard, avoiding eye contact.

“I’m sorry about yesterday,” I mumbled. “My father was wrong to say those things and make you leave our house.”

Rick’s shoulders curled in and he bit his lower lip. He wasn’t angry which surprised me.

“He can’t forgive what Japan did in the war and hates all Japanese people for it,” I said.

Rick raised his head. “It wasn’t your fault. We’re used to it now,” he said.

I knew he was bullied, but did you ever get used to it?

“It happens a lot,” he continued. “My parents moved here to get away from it, but last week a man spit at my father and called him a dirty name.”

“Where did your mom and dad come from?” I asked.

“British Columbia. My father was a fisherman. So was my grandfather and great-grandfather. My Dad had a big boat. We have a picture of it.”

“That province is far away in Western Canada. It’s on the map in our classroom,” I said.

“Mom, Dad and my uncle lived near the ocean. My parents said it was nice. There were mountains and lots of trees.”

“Why did they leave?”

“They had to.”

“Why?”

“The government made them go. They said all Japanese people were Canada’s enemies because of the war.”

“My mother told me about that. She said it wasn’t true.”

Ricks lower lip quivered. “They told my parents they couldn’t live near the ocean any more. The government people came at night and took away their house and everything else. A strange man said Dad’s boat was his now. All they could take with them was a suitcase. Mom cried when she left her house.”

A cold dread penetrated me. How could someone take away everything you own?

“Where did they make them go?”

“To a camp far away from the coast. They gave them a small cabin to live in. I was born there.”

“Gee, that’s awful,” I stuttered.

Rick’s head dropped. Sniffling, he went on. “They worked hard all day growing stuff and stayed there a long time. My uncle hated it, hurt himself, and died. After the war, government people said my parents had to go to Japan or move east. They didn’t know anyone in Japan so they came here. My dad works in a factory now, but he’s sick a lot. Mom has bad dreams and pains in her head.”

“Can’t they go back?” I said. “Wouldn’t things be better there now?”

Rick’s face hardened and his voice elevated. “Dad says there’s nothing to go back to.”

 “I’m sorry,” I said.

A defeated look crossed Rick’s face. He wiped his eyes. “Gotta go now—bye,” he said, before turning and walking away to our classroom.

~~

From then on things weren’t the same between us. I felt guilty about what happened in our house and sorry for his family’s ordeal. My father’s words must have cut his heart like a knife. A barrier arose between us; a wall of hurt that saying “sorry” a thousand times couldn’t break down. He still sat behind me, but we rarely spoke, and he stopped showing me his drawings.

Some boys kept calling him names. I wanted to beat them up for that, but they were bigger and tougher than I was.

After Christmas, Rick moved away. I never saw him again and always wondered what his life had been like. I hope it was good.

~~

Decades later the Canadian government issued an apology to Japanese-Canadians for what was done to them and offered compensation. I read that announcement with adult eyes, and memories of that long-ago day returned like the taste of sour milk.

Many of the Japanese people directly affected by those actions were in their graves by then. They were Canadians; born here, who happened to be of Japanese ethnic origin. The idea that Canada could do that to its rightful citizens was chilling. Could it happen again?

Yes, there was an enemy in our kitchen that day, but it wasn’t little Rick Sakamoto.

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

CHECK OUT MICHAEL’S BOOK HERE

 

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

Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase 
“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

Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase
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