Doubles Half-Century

Balram Colai has been selling doubles for over 42 years, and has been a staple at St Helena Junction for about 35 years.
Balram Colai has been selling doubles for over 42 years, and has been a staple at St Helena Junction for about 35 years. - BC PIRES


My name is Sleepy and I’ve been selling doubles for over 42 years.

Just say, “Sleepy Doubles, St Helena,” and everybody know me.

Throughout the world, people know me.

My real name is Balram Colai but if people read in the papers about Balram, they wouldn’t know is Sleepy.

I started off selling doubles under the planes in Piarco International Airport, right by the plane. The people in the tower used to give me green light toride across the runaway and sell under the wing. Sometimes the pilot would see me waiting to cross and radio the tower and tell them not to let me cross until after he land. So people could come down the plane stairs and buy doubles. I used to be on the ramp and all in the hangar and thing. Those were the days. You can’t go anywhere near the airport now.

People’s carry my doubles all over. It have some Barbados people, some St Lucian, some Jamaican, when they come, they buy by the hundreds. To take back.

My doubles travel all over the world, up to the Middle East and all.

Ten cents was for doubles when I started. Now is $4, some places, $5.

When my father got sick when I was around 13-14, I stopped school and started selling doubles to maintain the family. A little boy really. But I was the eldest boy.

I never finished school.

But I have nothing to regret because, with this work, I educate all five of my children.

I have a son living America, a daughter living Canada, and all of them is well off. My last daughter is a teacher. I have eight grands.

And everybody is happy. And I’m happy with that. I take care of all of them and my original family with doubles.

Sleepy is a nickname a guy just give me. He say when I wake up, I always looking sleepy.

To do this work, you have to get up early in the morning. So you’s look sleepy.

I have people eating by me since I started off, riding on the bike.

I used to ride my bike down to St Helena Junction, but every day, before I reach the junction, I sell out. People used to walk up the road to meet me, to make sure they get they doubles. They used to be waiting for me along the road and people nearly get in accident, children nearly get bounce.

So that is why I stop riding the bike.

I have a stable spot at the junction. About 35 years on the same spot.

Sleepy & Son is me and my son, Ramesh. They’s call him “Apache.”

I will go to Maracas Beach most of the time.

Sleepy & Son doubles business is run by Balram Colai, above, and his son Ramesh.

All doubles people around St Helena buy from me but I never buy doubles from anybody.

You can’t get doubles like mine anywhere else, so it don’t make sense I buying.

The rush hour is 7.30 am to half-nine, but on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, is from half-past five straight until finish, ten o’clock, most of the time.

We prepare from the evening before. My wife gets up around 1 o’clock. I get up around 3.30 am.

When I go home 10 am, I don’t sleep. Just take a little relax, start over to prepare for the next day.

Because is a lot of work. People see the sales, but not the preparation.

The whole of St Helena Village know me. And, who don’t know me, I know them! Is still village life.

Doubles business attract more people now. I might have to employ people because I looking to expand.

My son and them, like they ent able. My son get himself damage and can’t work.

He’s force himself to come and help weekends.

Over six months now, I getting real pressure.

I’s carry the madam to cinema, watch a little Indian movie, but I like to see my movies home. I have real action movies. I go on Netflix. I have a 62-inch TV hook up on stereo, to computer, everything. My wife pops corn and we good right there.

So I feel like I in cinema when I home.

By the help of God, I never encounter any bad experience in doubles. Nobody never try to rob me or nothing.

Nothing troubles me. Because I walk with the Lord, and he is the major man in any business or walk of life.

The best thing about the job is meeting pleasant customers. I have real nice customers. Christmas and any holidays, a lot of customers bring gifts for me!

I don’t think there’s any bad part, except maybe when the weather is rough. But I have a shelter so even bad weather don’t bother me.

A Trini is about having good fun. And when they go and have their fun, every morning, they come looking for Sleepy. Lime whole night and look for Sleepy doubles to have a revival. They begin their day with me.

Trinidad and Tobago is my homeland.

It used to be pleasant long time, but not again. But we have to live with it.

In St Helena, compared to other places, we have it nice.

Read a longer version of this feature on Wednesday at A version of this feature first appeared in July 2014


"Doubles Half-Century"

More in this section