A Lesson in Trini by Flora Carr
The alcohol helps with the pain, but not much. Shit, I think. I rake the skin on the backs of my legs with my nails. The bites have blossomed, resembling the splayed red flowers found on the Flamboyant trees inland. Goddamn mosquitoes. The camera bobs from its wrist-strap as I reach down for a purchase on my ankle. There are some tourists who are as innocuous as the small metal shacks found on the slopes of Paramin Valley, quietly looking out, blending into the landscape. I am no such tourist.
The boat gurgles, grey fuel-smoke spewing out of the engine. I down the last, lukewarm dregs of beer. Feeling them slide down my throat as I close my eyes, I could almost be sitting in a pub garden back in England. Only the persistent thud of the Trinidadian sun on the back of my neck tells me differently. The strange, twangy burr of 'Trini-talk' envelops me, words darting past like hummingbirds, dark shapes gone too quickly for my senses to adjust.
Unlike its sister island, Tobago, or other Caribbean islands such as Barbados, Trinidad is not equipped for tourists. My host friend jokes about the country's 'incompetence'. Reprimanded for forgetting to switch on the headlights of our car, we are told our offence will go on the 'system'. However, I'm later told that the police department has yet to computerise. The crime rate is high; we're forced to drive everywhere on roads scarred with pot holes.
I turn to my friend, who is warming her (unblemished) legs beside me. Today she is taking me, along with a group of her friends, 'down de islands': a small chain of islands to the North West of Trinidad just a short boat ride away, where more affluent citizens own beach houses.
"What time do you think we'll be back, Charlie?"
She turns to me in amusement. "Hoss, Flora, I don't know. When you go to a lime, you just leave whenever. Don't study it."
"Have you showed her how to wine yet, Char?" a friend asks. Charlie looks at me and laughs. Wining is a type of Trinidadian dancing, similar to grinding, and described to me by a fellow Brit as 'sex on a dance floor'.
"I'm British, I just can't manage it – much as I'd like to," he told me. "There are many things wrong with Trinidad, but one thing you can say for Trinidadians is that they know how to party." Their politicians are corrupt, their streets are unsafe and their sidewalks are lined with unfinished houses, but the Trinidadians will still arrive (hours late) to a fete and dance the night away, carefree. I, on the other hand, struggle with a lack of routine just as much as I struggled to wine last night in the comfort of Charlie's house – to the hilarity of my host. For a British girl who loves nothing more than writing out 'to-do' lists, the Trini mindset is nothing if not a challenge.
The milky-white sun pooled across my face, I close my eyes again. The boat lurches.
"Open your eyes, Flora, we're here!"
Blinking, I look up. Someone standing on the deck above us grabs my hand and pulls me ashore – and into paradise.
The cove is surrounded by palm trees, the kind a child might draw. The sea is the same blue-green as the pieces of glass you find, worn smooth, on a beach. Groups of pelicans course through the water, their beaks fresh slices of Julie mangoes. I am handed a glass of rum and coke; I can feel its tang on my tongue even before it touches my lips. Surely Trinidad is worth all its faults in exchange for this?
A group of girls to the side of us jump off the deck, hands held, hair flying. Music is playing, the fast, rhythmic kind Charlie likes.
"Charlie, Flora, come dance!" our host shouts. He seems to have invited half of Trinidad. Everywhere I look people are dancing: on the deck, in the kitchen, in the water. No, not dancing. Wining.
Charlie glances at me. "Maybe later," she calls.
Perhaps it's the rum, alcohol once again serving as my aid, but I look at Charlie. I smile. I say "Let's wine."
"Are you sure? Small circles remember, from the hips."
I brace my feet. It's different this time. I can feel the music in my ribcage, and something else too: a mixture of defiance and joy. I begin to dance, to wine, slow slow, my arms outstretched.
"Eh, eh, look at this gyal! Look at her try to wine!"
I grin. The horizon is a vibrant blend of blues and purples, a photo waiting to be taken. Yes, I think. Look at me .