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Wednesday 22 May 2019
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Joe and the maggots


A coda to Ainsley and the snails

HARD TO say which was a more Trinidadian moment: last Saturday’s fatal ploughing into a group of cyclists by a motorist (probably, allegedly) considering only his own momentary driving advantage; or the question put to the (white) president of Arrive Alive this week, that, if it were brown or black people who’d been killed, not white folks, nobody would care.

No surprise that, 100 years on, World War I dominates European minds when, closer to 200 years after emancipation, our own attitudes to race in Trinidad remain the ones forged – the ones we were branded with – on the plantation.

I would be a hypocrite to fault TV6’s Fazeer Mohammed for asking a race-based question: in 2006, despite my then editor Keith Smith’s repeated direction not to, the first question I asked pan legend Andy Narell, who probably comes from Belmont as much as Brooklyn, was, “So, what’s it like, being a white boy come to play pan in Trinidad?” (It’s a reflection of Narell’s dignity and decency that he answered the most shameful question I’ve ever asked.)

We’re in a mess, not because interviewers as good as Mohammed will ask unfair questions of Sharon Inglefield (or Narell), but because we “interviewers” cannot discern that we only think sensationalist questions are important because we have low enough self-esteem to turn a national tragedy (or a fine player of the national instrument) into a barrack-yard quarrel. Steven Sackur would never ask an Auschwitz survivor if she didn’t think that Jews were asking for trouble.

That slack question, though, pulled me out of the slump I’d been in since Joe Brown’s death. We all have to die, apparently – though, like William Saroyan, the American writer, I’ve always felt an exception would be made in my case; and even more so, Joe’s.

God couldn’t have taken Joe because He loved him so much, because love must be returned to be real, not mania, and Joe didn’t give a flying firetruck about God. Joe would never enter a church; unless, perhaps, there was a good prospect of leaving it with a beautiful woman. Joe daily broke bread (and drank fine wine) with his congregation; Joe made a literal living from banqueting and a figurative feast of his short life.

I’d trade any number of Pastor Gheri Curls for a single Joe Brown, and not just because God apparently wants those men-of-the-cloth-and-purse. Joe made his living by serving discerning people well, not by stealing one-tenth of the incomes of gullible, superstitious people; Joe would choose the right wine to accompany a perfectly grilled shrimp, not torture you for all eternity for eating it.

Still wrestling with my backyard overrun with weeds and wild vines – my own Garden of Gethsemane, which will soon become a Garden of Get-Something-and-Spray – I waged hand-to-hand spade battle with the tall grass that had swarmed over the flower bed borders like Donald Trump’s caravan of Mexican terrorist rapists. My wife said, “At least he went doing something he loved.”

Yes, yes, he did love cycling almost as much as cooking. You’ve got to, to ride up Hololo Mountain Road and not break a sweat until East Hill.

But there was something he loved more.

And this is why I will always choose a sinner before a saint.

In my garden, remembering Joe Brown and Ainsley Chan (who died last month), I stumbled upon those firetrucking snails again. Half-a-dozen got flicked into the bucket of saltwater without thought; but then I found two who really were. Firetrucking snails.

Snails, in the act of sexual congress, are no less repulsive, and could even be said to be doubly so.

The shock of the people who cared for him will take a long time to pass; but I hope to eat many more fine lunches at Jaffa at the Oval; and hope the chefs always remember Joe’s trick of serving three roasts over the afternoon, so it is always piping hot and fresh.

I let the snails finish what they were doing, thinking Joe would have approved; and how much longer he deserved to live than so many, including the people who would treat his death as an occasion to play their racial selves.

Tonight, I will raise a cognac to Joe Brown with his own toast – “The first cognac and the last cognac are always good ideas; the problem is all the congnacs in-between” – and try to forget that I will never see him again.

And remember that, every time I’ve seen Andy Narell since he gave me a terrific interview that people loved, I’ve ducked and run; I still dare not look him in the face, to see my own self-abnegation.

BC Pires sometimes sits and thinks, sometimes sips and thinks, sometimes just sips

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