Conversation with Keith

By Raffique Shah
February 13, 2011

Raffique ShahHE sits on what appears to be a rock hewn from the long-abandoned Laventille quarry (so it seems, anyway, memories of that piece of the Hill’s history now distant), floating somewhere in the sky, shock on his face as he recognises my features. Without query over what I was doing “there” (wherever “there” may be) or greeting me (as was his wont), he booms: Raffique, yuh read where a reporter from my paper—yes, my paper!—wrote that my remains were to be “interred” at the Crematorium? What a thing! What dey interred…mih ashes? Heh heh. By the way, what you doing here? Don’t tell me….

Nah! Keith, I couldn’t visit you when you were stricken, and I didn’t want to risk my life attending your wake. If dem boys could shoot up a panyard metres away from your house…at least I know it safe up here. Whaaat? He butts in, Ah ole soldier like you gorn soft? You ‘fraid to enter Laventille? I know you used to lime up John John with Fergie and Noray and dem fellas. Boy, we really gone through! I understand you, though…no need for apologies. In fact, ah just sitting here meditating on what I can do from this vantage point..heh heh heh…vantage point…if I can do something, anything, to help my people on the Hill.

So how it going, Bro? I know you made peace with your God and prepared rather elaborately for this…’er, eventuality. Yeah, I did…I knew it was coming. To tell the truth, ah happy to be free from pain. Ah pain-free now…heh heh. It okay here, and don’t ask me where “here” is.

De fella at the Gate ‘ent look anything like the Peter they show us in paintings, so I have no idea who he is. But he grumpy no arse. I ask the man, politely, eh, Borse, I want the suite next to Kitch and close to Charlo, I is a Trini, and yuh must know, since you know everything, that I love mih pan and calypso.

He screw up he face, look at mih as if I don’t belong (I almost tell him to send me back where I come from…but the pain, boy, the pain!). I kept looking at him, waiting for mih suite number…dey could only have suites here, right? He eventually turned to he computer and start clicking on the mouse. Wey yuh laughing at? Dey computerise de whole world…heaven and hell, too! Yuh think Bill Gates and dem easy? Ah bet dey ‘ent declare these sales on dey tax returns!

Where yuh from, again? Grumps ask mih. Ah steups. Trinidad! ah bark. You know Trinidad, Borse? De land of good kaiso, sweet pan, multiculturalism (between you and me, I didn’t know about that until Gypsy get the wok…I always thought “all ah we is one” was good enough to describe how Trinis live). Anyway, he punch in a few keys, looked at me puzzled, and say, just so: But I don’t see your name here! You sure you in the right place?

Well Raffique, ah could ah dead wid laugh, no pun intended, eh. Ah thought I should tell him: well, send mih back where ah come from! But when I remember some of the sh*t going on in Trinidad…look how even Tobago change, when ah thought of how Despers had to move from the Hill, how dem jackasses-with-guns shoot Henry…ah used to call him “Cy”…I say to mihself “eh eh, not me, if I have to break into dis restful place, ah staying here”.

But how come you sitting on a rock? I ask. I thought by now you would be neatly ensconced in a suite, serenaded by angels, eating the best pelau or whatever they serve up here? Ahhh! he all too quickly responds. De food, boy, de food! It great! Is not pelau, eh. Like dey don’t serve fried chicken or souse. At first ah thought dey send me in the Muslim section…or maybe Hindu. No meat, but whatever it is—and I ‘ent ask dem—de damn t’ing tasty. Is buffet style to boot! Mih first dinner here, ah helped mihself three times! Well, ah was really hungry…a whole week without food while everybody at mih wake eating. I was there, hovering at the ceiling, watching Andy and Lenny and Roy and dem fellas eating up a storm…and me? I floating there, empty belly! So the first night ah pig out, to be honest. But de food great.

So if you don’t have a suite, and I ‘ent see nobody else here, where de hell you does sleep? Sleep, Raffique? And by the way, doh use the word “hell” nah…Ole Grumps might overhear you and send mih backside there. Nah, you don’t need to sleep here! You waking day and night.

Not a tired bone in mih body, no pain. No pain, boy! Everybody here waking, which led me to ask myself: ah wonder why people does hold wakes for the dead? Heh heh! If only dey had pan and rhythm sections, you could party forever.

He looks around furtively. Ah hope Grumps ‘ent hear dat. I look at my watch, timing my visit. Well, I didn’t go to overnight there! Keithos, I say, I must get going. Go? Where? Back to Trini-land, I say. Sit down, man, leh we talk.

Keith, I really must go. All right, he grudgingly agrees. Say hello to everyone for me. I shall, Bro. And you rest in peace. Rest! Yuh mad or what? Is rhythm for Grumps!

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