Fiction: Life among the minorities

July 6, 2018 Fiction , POETRY / FICTION

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Jerome Teelucksingh




Francine was born in the small Caribbean island of St. Vincent. She was of Indian descent. In 1898, her maternal great grandparents departed India to work on a sugar plantation in St. Vincent. She was proud of her Indian heritage. After a bitter divorce she migrated to New York in 2002. She often made short visits to Caribbean islands including Montserrat, Dominica and Grenada.

She lived with her sister’s family in an apartment in New York. She needed privacy and was searching for a cheap apartment. However, this was not a priority as she was busy seeking financial support to assist West Indians who were affected by natural disasters.

Sunita and her husband, Deo, lived in Queens in New York during 1978 to 2009. They were of Indian descent and returned to their homeland, Trinidad and Tobago in January 2010 but experienced religious and racial discrimination. With a heavy heart, they decided to bid their friends and relatives goodbye and returned to New York in April 2011. He was sixty years and his wife was fifty five years. Both hoped to retire and eventually return to the Caribbean. Sunita enjoyed listening to Sounds of Music on 1240 AM WGBB and Best by Request Show on Sunday mornings on WPAT 930 AM. She was a devout Hindu and joined a Vedic mandir located at Richmond Hill in Queens. Her daughter, Lalita, was vocalist who sang classical Indian songs and her son, Avinash, was skilled in playing the tabla and dholak. Lalita hoped to participate in the Miss T&T NY competition which would be held at Pace University. The family enjoyed the Hawan and Sandhya mantras.

Deo also attended the nearby Raj Yoga Center and participated in the annual Street Prachar on 121st Street and Liberty Avenue which involved bhajan singing and chanting of mantras. Participants were treated to free refreshments.

Sunita saw Francine on the television and also heard of her work on the radio. Five days later, she contacted Francine and invited her to speak at the mandir. Francine agreed and met Sunita and they went to the mandir. After they went to the Kaiteur Restaurant and Bar and purchased a shrimp roti.

Francine read the poster on the wall. It was an advertisement for a Talent Competition at Smokey Oval Park on 127 Street and Atlantic Avenue in Richmond Hill. ‘This is something I should attend. I would be able to meet many West Indians and get a lot of signatures.’

Sunita read it and agreed. ‘It’s not far from here, I will arrange transport. Last year I attended a Phagwa parade at Smokey Park. It was colorful and I sensed so much joy and unity.’ She pointed to another poster. ‘This might also be of interest.’ It was a public invitation to commemorate the East Indian Arrival in the Caribbean.

Francine also read the flyer. ‘Have you heard the musical band that will be playing?’

‘Yes, the Sansar Sangeet Orchestra is well known and I believe they are located in Richmond Hill. I’ve heard them play in parties and weddings,’ said Sunita.

After the meal, both women exited the restaurant and headed for the subway. Sunita said, ‘I’ve found an apartment for you to stay in during the next two weeks.’

‘Thanks very much. I am grateful for your hospitality.’

Sunita continued, ‘It’s located at 101 Avenue in Ozone Park.’

Francine nodded. The subway train stopped and they exited the train and station. Sunita pointed to three skyscrapers. ‘It’s the middle one.’ They entered the compound and went up the elevator. Sunita opened the door of the apartment and Francine entered.

‘I like it. It’s roomy and quiet,’ said Francine.

Sunita pointed to the refrigerator and showed her the bathroom and living room. She gave her the keys and then departed.

Next day, Francine attended a cricket match at Baisley Park in Queens. It was a game between the Indo-Caribbean Federation Select XI vs Nizam Hafiz Memorial XI. The players were mostly Indo-Guyanese and Indo-Trinidadians. She was able to obtain five hundred and twelve signatures. She regularly bought food from a West Indian Roti Shop at Rockaway Boulevard. She enjoyed the saltfish, parata roti, baigan choka, oxtail and dhalpuri.

Dorothy never learnt to cook the food that Terrance enjoyed. Both were migrants who resided in Queens in New York. He was from Trinidad and Tobago and worked as a security guard in NXIVM, an Albany-based marketing company and she was a housewife. She could not cook rice and after it was burnt would tell him it was fried rice. After burning the chicken she would tell him it was fried chicken. She could make one dish- macaroni and cheese. And this soon became a dish which Terrance and Dorothy ate four times each week. She consumed a significant amount of canned and frozen foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Dorothy regularly visited her neighbor, Carla, who was a Barbadian immigrant. Carla taught her how to prepare healthy dishes. She entered Carla’s home and began admiring the trinkets and ornaments on the shelf. Carla was in the kitchen and said, ‘Yes, those came from different parts of the world.’ Dorothy quickly snatched two trinkets and placed them in her purse.

Dorothy did not want to assist but wanted to look at the preparation. She complained, ‘Anytime ah peel garlic my fingers burn and de potatoes are too difficult to peel. One time while peeling a potato and I nearly cut off a finger. I don’t like to clean dasheen bush because it always staining my fingernails.’ Dorothy grabbed a spoon and container of salt and quickly placed them in her pockets. Carla checked the clock. She had fifty minutes to shower, change her clothes and reach to the hospital. As a result of her terrible cooking skills, Terrance was forced to enroll in cooking courses. Most of his monthly income was spent on purchasing food from Chinese restaurants, the nearby deli and West Indian roti shops. On mornings he would stop at Singh’s Roti Shop on 118th Street on Liberty Avenue and buy doubles and roti with bodi, bhagi or pumpkin. He also purchased his lunch- aloo pies, chow mein or peleau. Most evenings he bought baked chicken and macaroni pie for dinner.

Also, his secretary began cooking lunch and dinner for him. His acceptance of these meals soon led to an extramarital affair. Dorothy knew of the infidelity but neither demanded a divorce nor accused him of any wrongdoing. She believed it was her duty in life to be a housewife and did not want to seek employment outside the home. More importantly, she did not want to jeopardize her comfortable lifestyle of having a home, car and yearly holidays.

Due to the regular eating of oily and greasy foods, Terrance suffered from high levels of cholesterol and his wife became diabetic. Additionally, their two children, Nasha and Allan were overweight and had problems adjusting to life in New York. Both were in their twenties and were being pressured by their parents to get married.

On Sunday evening Dorothy asked her daughter, ‘Is that another engagement ring?’

Nasha blushed. ‘Yes, my new fiancé gave me last week.’ Nasha wore expensive rings and would boast of imaginary boyfriends and fiancés.

‘What happened to Alejandro? Did you break up with him?’ asked Dorothy. She looked at Nasha’s ungainly figure and thought that she was fortunate that men were interested in marrying her.

There was a sad look on Nasha’s face. ‘Alejandro was a doctor and died in a car accident. He was tall, muscular, blue eyes and blond hair.’

Dorothy feigned sympathy. ‘I’m sorry to hear about the tragedy.’ She had grown accustomed to hearing tall tales of Nasha’s boyfriends and fiancés being killed in accidents, murdered or met their demise by suicide. ‘I hope he lives long enough for us to meet him and for you to marry him.’ Nasha nodded and quickly left her home. She headed for the mall to buy a new ring.

Three months later, on Valentine’s Day, a floral arrangement was delivered to Nasha’s home. The card stated- ‘From Rawle with lots of love.’ Dorothy thought it was a wrong delivery and asked the courier to check the address. He checked and confirmed it was correct. Nasha slowly descended the stairs and saw the expensive bunch of flowers on the dining table. She ran towards it and clapped her hands. She excitedly said, ‘Who sent it?’

‘It’s from Rawle. Maybe it’s a wrong delivery. We’ll keep it until someone calls to explain the mix-up. I hope it’s not from another stalker.’ Dorothy placed the flowers in two vases.

‘Rawle! Yes, I know him. He’s my latest boyfriend.’

Terrance was watching television. He heard the conversation between his daughter and wife. He suspected that his daughter was living in a fantasy world of romance. He was aware that she regularly ordered flowers for herself and boasted to everyone it was from her boyfriend.

Dorothy was relieved. ‘Good I’m glad that is cleared up. Why don’t you invite him over for dinner or for brunch. He seems like a nice boy and we would like to meet him.’

‘He recently moved from Texas and is a bit shy. He is slim and drives a Mercedes Benz. His father owns a chain of pizza stores. Maybe later but I’m meeting him for lunch at the mall. I’ll tell him about the invitation. He sent me a really nice email yesterday and I’ll forward it to you.’ Nasha also created email accounts and Facebook pages in the names of these imaginary boyfriends and would connect them to friends or print the messages for her mother to read. For more than a decade such scenarios would be repeated. She would fabricate elaborate stories of boyfriends and fiancés. To make the stories plausible she would regularly buy rings and jewelry and send flowers to her home.

In May 2018, Terrance was in the study room checking his income tax forms. He opened the laptop computer and switched it on. He began browsing the online edition of the three daily newspapers of Trinidad and Tobago. He was surprised to read that the government was planning to release fifty prisoners as part of the country’s observance of Independence. He felt this was foolish because of the island’s high murder rate.

Dorothy passed near the study. She had a basket overflowing with dirty clothes. She checked pockets before placing them in the washer machine. Her hand touched something in a pocket of Terrance’s jeans. She thought it was money but was shocked to see tablets. She read the label and realized they had never used this method of birth control. She felt light-headed. She knew of the consequences but decided to confront him.

After regaining her composure, she shouted, ‘Ah found something in your pocket that we never use.’

Terrance was reading the sports page. He was unaware of her discovery and thus did not realize the seriousness of her statement. ‘What honey? A cookbook?’ Dorothy remained quiet and then began crying. She ran into the bedroom and locked the door.

Nasha heard the argument. She whispered to herself, ‘Thank God my fiancé is not like that. And when we are married I know he will always be faithful.’ She checked her cellphone for text messages.

Dorothy was humiliated and began contemplating suicide. She felt a drug overdose would be least painful. She glanced at a copy of the New York Times that was on the kitchen table. She was shocked to see an article on a sex cult operating within NXIVM. She hoped her husband was not involved.






Jerome Teelucksingh

I am from Trinidad & Tobago (in the Caribbean). My short story ‘Cricket in the Caribbean’ was published in the Caribbean Writer and ‘Pastor Tries to Save The Environment’ was featured in the anthology Jewels of the Caribbean.  Also, my short story, ‘The Tourist’ appeared in the IUP Journal of Commonwealth Literature. My poetry has also appeared in magazines and journals including the Poetry Box, Taj Mahal Review, Journal of South Texas Studies, San Pedro Review and Diálogos.

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