Keith Jardim

 

All Responses Are Fiction Extracts from the Book, Near Open Water: Stories by Keith Jardim (Peepal Tree Press, UK: 2011)

 

 

1. Have you experienced internal conflict in the context of local Trinidadian society, as a result of race? Give example/s.

Main Course Question 9: from “The White People Maid”

          So, I pose up myself good and proper and watch Old Bitch straight in she loose, dry-up, lonely face, on which I sure more scalpel pass than the General Hospital see in the last year, and I call she a fetid obscenity! And just like when you see maxi taxi stop sudden-sudden in the middle of the road to pick up somebody, so Old Bitch freeze when she hear them two word. Was like a revelation pass over Old Bitch face for a few moments, because from the time I say what I say she get stupid as a manicou when light shine in it face at night. Then she catch sheself and start to cuss one set of Devil cuss. At that moment in come the daughter. And she stand up quiet-quiet and watch Old Bitch and me like she eh even know who we is. The new, pretty nose she had surgery on last year – like mother like daughter, eh? – turn up as if she does shit ice-cream.

           Old Bitch stop cussing when she see how the daughter stand up there watching we. The daughter roll she eye and say, You all don’t know how to behave? The children are awake, Ryan is home trying to sleep because he was on call all last night, and the whole neighborhood must be wondering what the hell is going on.

            Then she say to Old Bitch, Where is Sadie? I need help controlling these damn children.

            Old Bitch turn and call for Sadie, and I see a young Coolie come outside, nice and fresh looking, she must be from South, by Cedros side, because you could see the Venezuelan blood she mix with, the complexion almost as light as Old Bitch own.

            Yes, Madam? she say.

            Help Mrs. Adamson with those children, please. I’m exhausted talking to this black woman.

            Yes, Madam.

            The good Coolie girl walk out with a bowed head, if you please. That was when Old Bitch start to smile the same smile the Opposition Leader does smile when something up his sleeve, as if he have gold or cocaine in he backyard. Then is when I realize what really going on. Old Bitch look at me and say in she best Laventille Old Nigger voice, And she doh thief!

            Give she time, I say, remembering the Opposition Leader. Give she time. All of we is one in this Trinidad when it come to corruption.

            Look, I not able with the two of you all, Mrs. Adamson say, and she turn on she fancy high-heels and tock-tock out of the apartment.

            Get yuh black ass out of this compound, you hear me? Old Bitch say. Before I call the guard! And she raise she arm and point a finger upwards, just like the Prime Minister does do when he talking shit in Parliament.

            I watch she. Yes, I say, I going. I will call the guard for you, your Majesty.

           She cuss me again.

           So I start to walk out the compound as the sun going down, seeing people looking out their windows at me, some of them standing up by their door as if they never see a black woman yet.

 

 

2. Have you felt pain, humiliation, racism or prejudice because of your race? Can you talk about that?

Dessert Question 19: from “The Jaguar”

            After the bridge, after the stream, the women and cool shadows, the road entered hard sunlight. The land opened and dwellings became concrete, but the sense of hardship remained. Houses, little more than the shacks he had seen earlier, were close. Few were painted. Around a bend boys ran and shouted at him, moving their cricket game in the road just enough for him to pass. One spat on the windshield as Roy slowed.

            “Gone!” another yelled.

            Then Roy saw Freddie moving smoothly and quickly, tall, too slim, dread-locked Freddie, resident drug dealer, called Red Boy when he was a child, and now a member of an armed gang with political connections. As children he and Roy had hunted in the green mountains. Freddie waved for Roy to stop and ordered the boys back. “Them don’t know, eh,” Freddie nodded. “Times change.”

            “Freddie.” They bumped fists.

            “Pass some water on the windshield, Boss.”

            Roy hesitated then sprayed the windshield. Water and light thickened on the glass, and briefly, the world went out of focus. Freddie pulled a rag from his pocket, saying, “Leave the wipers. Lemme show them little bitches we is friends.” Roy felt foolish watching his childhood friend, who’d taught him to make slingshots, wipe the glass in front of him. He glanced at the boys. They stood apart, silent, mystified and respectful. Freddie wrung the rag and said, “Gervase.”

            “Freddie?”

            “Come.” Freddie tucked the rag back into his trousers, leaving most of it exposed to dry. A boy of maybe twelve stepped forward, trembling. “Come, I say!”

            Gervase, head lowered, came closer.

            Roy shifted and said, “Freddie –”

            “Chill, breds,” Freddie replied, raising a palm. Then to Gervase, “Watch Mr. Gonzales’ son. You hear your mammy talk ‘bout Mr. Gonzales, right?” Years ago Roy’s father had given Freddie’s parents financial assistance.

            Gervase nodded.

            “You hear Moses talk ‘bout him, right?”

            Gervase nodded again.

            “And you hear I talk ‘bout him too, not so?”

            The boy nodded once more.

            “This Roy, Mr. Gonzales’ son. Watch him.”  Gervase raised his head and looked at Roy.

            Roy acknowledged the boy with a half-smile.

            “Gone,” Freddie said. Gervase turned but was unable to miss the slap from Freddie’s heavy hand. It caught the back of his head just beneath his right ear. He staggered, dropped to his knees, then rose and ran up the road.

            Freddie reached for Roy’s hand on the steering wheel and held it between his palms. He bent to Roy. “Praise,” Freddie said. “Praise. I remember your father, I remember you.”

            “Okay,” Roy said, wanting to go.

 

3. Do you experience privilege because of your whiteness or perceived whiteness? How so? Can you speak about the relationship between whiteness and economic, professional or social privilege? Or, can you speak about having been rejected, denied opportunity or ostracised because of your whiteness or perceived whiteness?

Main Course Question 20: from “The Visitors”

            “So you must work with your old man,” Guzman said.

            Besson, fidgeting now, his beer almost finished, clasped his hands on his stomach, looked straight at Trevor and said, “But of course. Of course. He have it made, man. You think if my father had a big house so I would be flying round this island looking for guerrillas to shoot?” He sucked his teeth – a bubbly, hissing sound. “Man, you making joke.”

            “You?” laughed Guzman. “You would find some slackness to hook up in.”

            Trevor said, “No, I don’t work with my father.”

            “You looking at two big men like we, men of the Defense Force in a state of emergency, and lying so bold face?”

           Trevor felt the honesty of his reply bring on an unfamiliar force in him: defiance. It pleased him to see Besson annoyed by his answer. Yet he knew it was tactless.

            “A big, nice house,” Guzman said; “money, security and so on. You must be working for your father. You must want a piece of this action, man. You set for this life and the next.”

            “I’m not the business kind,” said Trevor.

            “Not the business kind,” Besson said. “What kind of business it is exactly?”

            “Shipping.”

            “How you could be so stupid to miss out on that?” Guzman pointed at the house. “Or part of it. Your father have too much to pass on.”

            Trevor gave no response.

            “He will get it anyway,” Besson said. And then: “Shipping.” Besson was thoughtful.

            “But maybe not the business,” Guzman said. “And it must be a good business, judging by the house. How you could not want it?”

            There was nothing else to say or do, and he did not want to continue waiting. With an irritated expression, Trevor rose, impatient for them to end their stay or begin their final act. Besson leaned forward, his fat face tensing in anger, and also rose; right hand curling around the gun on his hip. With an absurd kind of relief, Trevor watched him when he said: “We have reason to believe you are bringing arms into the country. Drugs also. We go search the house for evidence now.”

 

4. Can you talk about what it feels like to live as a white person in Trinidad or the Caribbean? Would you say that your local space operates as a racially ordered, segmented society or is it an integrated space? Or, is it both segmented and integrated, but in different areas of your life.

Appetiser Question 5: from “In the Atlantic Field”

            He wants to be far away from everything human. Something terrible has happened, is going to happen. He knows it with the same certainty he knows the amber and orange sky is there above an ocean whose weight now rests in his heart, his eyes, and brain. He makes an effort to sit up, to resist the feeling of suffocation, of something being quenched forever in him.

 

5. Can we escape race in our local (Trinidadian) space? Are we a post-racial society? Is this something we should work towards? Is it achievable?

Main Course Question 14: from “The Marches of Blue”

            They arrived at the block-shaped church, with its pitched wooden roof and grey stone walls stained with sun‑dried fungus. Palm trees, bent and tired‑looking, swayed their flickering, sun-tinted leaves like large scissors. An old man with patchy grey hair was sitting on a box near the entrance to the church. He sat hunched forward, gripping a stick for support. He wore a raggedy black suit which might have been in style in the 1930s, and stared at Nicolas’s grandmother. The left side of his face jumped involuntarily and his lips were collapsed in a toothless mouth; he moved them constantly, as if tasting the soft flesh. He mumbled something and then spat on the ground near his box.

            “All right, Albertine, take care,” his grandmother said, in an indifferent voice. She never looked at the old man.

            “Okay, Mrs. Roberts. Thank you very much. You take care now.” She leaned forward. “You must write a nice book, Nicolas.”

            “I’ll try,” he said, twisting around and looking straight at Albertine’s eyes.

            “Don’t take too much sun. This heat too bad!” And pulling her red bag after her, she laughed with effort and got out.

            Nicolas saw Albertine go straight to the old man sitting on the box.




Bio:


Keith Jardim was born and raised in Port of Spain, Trinidad where his parents moved to from Guyana. He is a graduate of Emerson College, where he earned a Merit Fellowship for his MFA. He has won a James Michener Fellowship, The Paul Bowles Fiction Award, and a C. Glenn Cambor Fellowship at the University of Houston’s Writing Program. His work has been published in Denver Quarterly, Mississippi Review, Kyk-Over-Al, Wasafiri, The Antigonish Review, Trinidad Noir, The Guyana Arts Journal, Moving Worlds and many other publications. Jardim’s first book, Near Open Water: Stories (2011), was a semifinalist for the 2012 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature; later that year, it was included on World Literature Today’s Nota Bene list. He teaches at Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait.

 

 

 

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