There is a rich history of performance art in the Caribbean and one of our most acclaimed is the Trini/Grenadian, Paul Keens Douglas, who burst on the scene in the mid 1970s with a memorable album, Tin Tin, celebrating ordinary life on these small rocks. Although he has continued to produce excellent work it is this raconteur’s tale of Tanti at de Oval from that album that remains my favorite. And now I know why. Buried beneath the bookish persona my mother projects, is a Tanti Merle like the one in that story, waiting to come alive. Last Saturday, on the third day of the cricket test match between the West Indies and Australia, she finally got her chance.
The whole family had descended on the new Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, built specially for the 2007 Cricket World Cup. Both parents came, as well as The Husband, and our boys, who are often called the “two twins”. (As in, “All yuh is brodders or two twins?) True most days I am so tired it feels like I must have been looking after four little boys but at last count they are still just the “one twins”. So our little posse set out – parents and grandparents eager to bear witness to the one or two twins first live cricket match.
We would have taken them sooner but there never seemed to be any cricket on at this purpose-built cricket venue since the World Cup season – which we missed by hanging out in London. You see since 2007 the Oval has hosted precisely one small inter-island cricket match, one football match, the inauguration of the current PM, and two funeral services of national celebrities. But finally, with the Aussies on tour, this small rock is hosting our first test match at the architecturally award-winning Oval. By the time you read this you may already know we lost to the might of those beasts from down under - again. Given the prowess of the Aussies it was a very respectable loss.
So how does my respectable, intellectual mother morph into a version of Tanti Merle at de Oval? Well, for starters Tanti Merle loved a day at cricket but had to reconcile this with a fear of starvation and sunstroke – hence her famous large basket of food and pink parasol. Dr. S. was not far behind. Even though I assured her that our seats were in the shade and ample food and drink were on sale, she still started cooking from the night before. There was enough food to feed the entire neighbourhood. Then she started wondering how to take it all into the Oval. She dusted off her old market basket. It was time to act.
“Mom, you can’t take that basket.” I pleaded.
“Why not?” she retorted.
“The Oval website says no bags of that size.” I said, hoping she would not dash to her laptop and start Googling: Kensington oval Bridgetown market basket entry cricket match.
“What size?” she asked suspiciously.
“Basket size. Here, take this nice bag I brought you.” I said shoving a blue Marks and Spencer picnic bag at her.
“Are you ashamed of my basket?”
“Of course not mommy. But rules are rules. We don’t want them to refuse us entry because of the basket.”
Phew… that would have been really embarrassing. But then she took down a huge red golf umbrella – the kind that would have poked out the eyes of everyone within a two-metre radius. I again invoked the Oval’s rules and regulations. She sighed and put it back.
So off we went sans market basket and golf umbrella but still smelling like a mobile café. We had a spare ticket meant for a friend who could not join us. I said we should sell it. Everyone else wanted to keep the spare seat as a food stand. In the end I sold it at a discounted price to a quiet, young man wearing Trinidad national colours and speaking with a soft Guyanese accent. I figured he would blend in with our posse just fine and not be any trouble. But all he wanted was to get into the Oval and meet up with his friends so the seat remained empty and did eventually serve as the food stand.
We got to our excellent, shaded, seats and settled in to watch the Aussies bat at a steady rate of about three runs an over with the Windies unable to answer by taking any of their wickets. Even The Husband was getting bored. Then Phil Jacques hit four runs. The crowd came alive and started waving the Digicel-supplied red, plastic, number four, signs and blowing the red, Digicel whistles and horns. First Born was not amused.
“Stop cheering! They are not our team.” he ordered his family.
“Darling we should show our appreciation of good play.” I suggested.
“Not for them.” he replied firmly.
Then Jacques hit another big boundary. Four runs. The Oval was awash with waving red plastic “4” signs. My mother dived into her bag. Before I knew what was happening she was standing up sharing slices of sweet, coconut bread to all the people sitting near us in the Greenidge and Haynes stand. Lord knows what she would have started sharing if it had been the Windies belting out fours and sixes.
We had not properly wiped the crumbs of the sweet bread off our faces when the players headed off the field for lunch. Dr. S. sprung into action and started a production line heaping steaming Pelau (a yummy dish of rice, vegetables and chicken) onto plates and handing them out. As the smell of food wafted through the stand our little Guyanese/Trini boy, whose seat was being used to as a Pelau pot stand, appeared. We made to clear his seat and offer him food but he declined. In true West Indian fashion he had not come for his seat or food but to check we were okay and did we want some of their food. When he was satisfied that we were going to be fed just fine by Dr. S. from her blue picnic bag, he left, only to return a few minutes later bearing ice-cold drinks for us all.
As the cold Banks beer hit the back of my throat I knew that in spite of all the crime, corruption and pettiness in our region we have so much to be grateful for. There might be hell in Haiti but with people like our kind, generous little friend around, there is hope for us all. Look carefully and you will find the god of small things and ordinary people in the most unlikely places – like in de Kensington Oval.
(This week’s blog is specially for Avion Crooks who does Paul Keens-Douglas better than Paul Keens-Douglas.)