THE BOOK: People and Peppers.
PUBLISHED IN: March, 2015
AUTHOR: Kelvin Christopher James
PUBLISHER: Harvard Square Editions
SUMMARY: Gossipy, intimate, and provocative,set in Trinidad and New York City, People and Peppers gives a diverting peek into the nuances of a Caribbean island’s callaloo of inter-racial and multicultural social mores. James’s main characters are complex, motivated, and fun to know. Tall and handsome, the main protagonist, Vivion K Pinheiro, is the bastard of a half-Portuguese, half Afro- Haitian woman, and an attractive New Yorker with carrot-colored hair who danced beautifully. Accomplished as well, Vivion has earned national prestige as a scholar and athlete. As a young man trying to realize dreams, he can be selfish yet thoughtful, deceptive yet generous—no real villain, just a callow fella getting over by pulling the tricky strings of privilege and personal charm.
An important factor in his dream actualization is Vivion’s doting, wealthy mother to whom he confessed an ambition to construct an ecologically sensitive, self-sufficient house on countryside property she bought for him. He imagines the finished structure to be surrounded by a pepper farm that grows Moruga Red Scorpion peppers—the hottest on the planet.
A significant stubbing-stone to his ambitions though, is a habit of dodging difficulties—when the goings get tough, Vivion’s gone. How he deals with this failing is only one serving of this fine novel. Of other satisfying portions is the influence of the women in his life. In earlier novels, James’s female characters have been admirable stalwarts and he doesn’t disappoint here. Andaluza, the mother, is an indulgent one. Nikki, the lover, is a strong other. This empathetic novel superbly speaks to women’s compassion and tolerances in the name of love. So let’s live with Vivion as he discovers and submits to the sublime effects of romantic love and father issues.
BACK STORY: In the summer of 2014, I had just finished a short story collection that my reader decided was a pippin. I got the opinion while sitting on my terrace where my two potted Habañero pepper plants were showing off some serious produce: twenty-two colorful fruits between the two. Also, the day before that, it was announced that Trinidad had produced the hottest peppers on the planet; Moruga Red Scorpion. So out of the blue ‘Pippin’ and ‘peppers’ connected with a fellow who planted them. The rest was easy.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ THIS? Read it for the pleasure of its lilting voice, the use of language. Learn about a different culture and its mores without spending on a plane ticket. Become acquainted with fun characters with attitudes and strengths and failings and quirks just like people you already know. This story is fit for all audiences.
James (Fling with a Demon Lover, Secrets, a novel) turns a love letter to Trinidad into this stylish literary novel filled with sensuous prose and colorful setting. Twenty-something ex-athlete Vivion K. Pinheiro, now a farmer in Trinidad, cultivates a five-acre patch of specialty spicy peppers called Moruga Red Scorpion. He flies off to New York City in search of a distributor to market and sell his prized pepper crop to restaurants. Meantime, his live-in girlfriend, Shanika “Nikki” Grant-Ali, discovers she is pregnant with their child while she’s pursuing her lucrative career as a much sought-after portrait painter. The other strong, independent woman in Vivion’s life is his wealthy mother, Andaluza Ashaki Pinheiro, a real estate mogul, who spoils her only son by deeding him a former cocoa plantation. She also indulges Vivion’s other whims by bankrolling the construction of his “dream palace,” where he grows his hot peppers. While in New York City, Vivion meets and befriends jolly Hideo Arata, “the hot pepper baron of Japan,” and invites him to come and inspect his pepper-growing project. The protagonist’s passion for agriculture and ecological issues help to add the needed character depth to the rich-kid stereotype. “– Pubnlisher’s Weekly, March 2015..
“Vivion Pinheiro is growing a crop of the hottest peppers in the world. However, this charming feckless Trinidadian fellow has a problem. He hasn’t figured out how to market his crop. Known for his lack of follow-through, Vivion is often rescued by his wealthy mother, Andaluza. Sometimes he just takes off. Now, however, Vivion has Nikki, his live-in girlfriend, and he just can’t shuck all his responsibilities entirely. Then, when Vivion takes a trip to New York to try to find a buyer for the peppers, Nikki becomes friendly with Andaluza and the story, like Vivion’s peppers, gets spicier.” — Library Journal.
“James (Secrets; A Fling with a Demon Lover) introduces readers to the crazy quilt of ethnicities, cultures, and religions that make up the island of Trinidad. He writes in a Trinidadian lilt that is catchy, charming, and much like calypso. Following Vivion around New York is like trying to do the limbo. How low can he go without hitting the ground? And observing the group of smart capable women who keep Vivion on track is a salute to feminism at its most delightful. This is a romance with life well worth reading.”—Aandrea Kempf.
“I am happy to recommend Kelvin Christopher James’ latest novel People and Peppers: a Romance to a wide general readership. My enthusiasm is based on two factors. First, the book presents an engaging “problem”: the love affair between an attractive young, unmarried pair, who, it turns out, will soon be parents. This could become, in the hands of a lesser writer, a very turgid business. But James has the knack for telling his story with the quality that Italo Calvino, in his Six Memos for the Millennium, suggests as a primary virtue, i.e. lightness.
It is this lightness that leads the reader into an evermore intimate engagement with the characters and the playing out of their lives. It also permits James to deal with quite
serious material of a personal and social nature – what James Baldwin calls “the price of the ticket” – in a way that acknowledges the vicissitudes of history, including colonialism, without derailing the essentially joyful forward momentum of his tale.
Second, People and Peppers serves as a transparent, and therefore very effective, introduction to contemporary life in Trinidad and Tobago. James conveys a great deal of cultural – and culinary – information by weaving it seamlessly into the “romance.” I finished this volume with a lot more knowledge about this two-island nation, its people and customs, than when I began, without feeling I’d worked hard to gain it.
A third factor, one that arises from the timing of the book’s publication, gives it a measure of added value, particularly in light of the issues raised into public discussion by the recent police shootings of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City and elsewhere. Trinidad and Tobago, while hardly free from social conflict, have an entirely different perception of “race” than we are used to in the U.S. It is instructive to find oneself, via James’ culturally-informed writing, living, albeit fictionally, in a society where race, that very real and deadly absurdity, is not the dispositive factor in people’s ways of seeing or dealing with one another. The genetic and cultural “callaloo” of T&T makes reduction to “black” or “white” impossible, so James’ characters, while hardly blind to skin color, hair texture or any other distinguishing feature, must, in the end, come to terms with one another based on – to paraphrase Dr. King’s words – the content of their characters.” — Eric Darton (Divided We Stand: a history of the World Trade Center) Jan. 9, 2015 NY City.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Trinidadian-American, Kelvin Christopher James holds a B.Sc. with honors in Zoology and Chemistry from the University of West Indies (St. Augustine, Trinidad), an M. A. and a Doctorate in Science Education from Columbia University Teacher’s College. He lives in Harlem, New York City.
Kelvin abandoned formal schooling at an early age to support his family. He was the sole assistant to Dr. Gaston. P. Blair, a researcher of Red Ring disease—which still destroys coconut trees at bearing age. Working at the Central Experimental Station in Centeno, these two were first to explain basic data such as life cycles and transmission of the nematodes (Aphelencus cocophilus) which cause the disease. Young Kelvin’s contributions as science photographer, all-purpose technician, and “developer of devices” were duly acknowledged by the scientific community. This appreciation for the ways of science helped him win a full scholarship to the University of the West Indies. another of his high achievements was being selected to represent the nation as an Olympic athlete (400 sprint.)
Always with a love for travel, Kelvin eventually visited New York, found that it offered opportunity as varied as its communities, and decided to mingle. The bubbling New York literary brew he encountered led into actually writing short fiction and some poetry. Several pieces were published in notable magazines, and praise from that medium grew his confidence and soon he was absorbed by the craft. In 1980 he abandoned his supervisory job at the chemistry laboratory in Harlem hospital to write full time.
In 1989, Kelvin was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in fiction. Villard Books of Random House published Jumping Ship and Other Stories in 1992, and
then Secrets, a novel, in 1993—Secrets was first runner-up in the Commonwealth Writers Prize that year. A Fling with a Demon Lover was published by HarperCollins in 1996. In 1996, he was granted a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in Literature. He has published novels, The Sorcerer’s Drum, Web of Freedom, Meek, the Mooch, and four short story collections through Amazon’s KDP. People and Peppers, a romance by HSE who should also publish Augments of Change next year.
Website is at www. kelvinchristopherjames.com
AUTHOR’S COMMENTS: “This novel’s purpose is to entertain the reader who wants a pleasant vacation from her/his world. The author recommends readers to relax and have fun.”
AT A MOMENTARY PARTING OF THE LADEN CLOUDS, just as Vivion stepped outside, brilliant moonlight illuminated the quiet night. He slid the front door to until the lock clicked shut, then turned for the grass and rubber-tiled path that led to the front gate. Then all at once he was smiling ironic at the cartoon panel a beaming full moon presented him—his shadow on the wall as a humpbacked scoundrel creeping away from a crime.
But hold up right there! This full moon was lime-lighting a false scenario.
True. His backpack was crammed to its over-stressed zippers, and granted, he was sneaking out of his marvelous palace. But rather than villain of the plot, this time he was, more or less, the selfless gallant who—by leaving this most comfortable nest and fleeing into uncertainty—was saving a damsel from distress while, at the same time, keeping a parent sane. All of this valiant action being done with the sole aim of delivering his closest persons from the evils of bitterness and strife.
Yes! To Vivion a ‘Hero’ label sounded just about right.
Consider that practicing selfless restraint, he did not mention his personal need for breathing space. Neither did he bring up a commanding urge to breakout from the physic cage called Comfort in which he felt entrapped. And then standing out like a flare, there was the situation regarding his over-exuberant pepper-farm venture: due in equal parts to last year’s experimenting and this year’s favorable weather, in a few short weeks he’ll be rewarded with five acres of ripe, high-grade produce. Five acres of ripe hot peppers! Hundreds of pounds of produce! All that abundance.
And only couple weeks ago Vivion realized he had no working idea of how to effectively trade them.
As far as getting them off the trees and transport ready, he could depend on Mr. Maharaj, his head gardener, to get pickers and packers, but although months ago he had seen the signs of a bumper crop, in his elation he had not taken the thought a step farther. He had not made arrangements with either wholesalers or large-scale vendors to deal with his experimental successes.
Now, no matter Vivion’s best moves, the endgame seemed doomed. He had one last play to make, but however that might turn out, right now it was time for a break, a reliever. So though disappointed to the max, he was leaving the troublesome scene to an
emergency expert. A veteran who was swift at assessment and solution—who had worked for him since forever used to be an anxious day.
Mother, once more, would have to take care of his mess.
When he got to the gate cut into the two-foot thick hibiscus fence, the smile lines bracketing his broad mouth were curved grim and downward. He tightened his lips as he gently latched the gate and turned left into the moonlit gravel lane through the woods towards the main road. He paused there for a moment, drew in a deep breath and squared up his shoulders resolute, then was fast away.
Above him, black clouds were low and building, erratic beams of moonlight shone through, and a rising wind was playing pitch and toss with overhead branches, making their shadows restless as swelling waves. Quick strides pushing the road behind, Vivion kept best as possible within the branches’ swaying shadows. Branches that rustled with damp whispers forecasting rain. Vivion had figured for that, though. The junction a mere quarter mile on, even if it did rain, he’d still have had time either to get a bus or a taxi—some sort of regular transport—or else get lucky. He did feel that whatever came up, he’d have time to manage it. Although—and he grinned at the thought—he didn’t mind rain at all! Night was bad enough, but a wet night would definitely keep Shanika from coming after him, not his Nikki.
Regardless of weather, he didn’t expect she would though—he had taken steps to make it so. He had left his study door closed, and the overhead light on, and the computer playing light classics as he did when busy. Also, since moving in six months ago, she had shown herself to be a late sleeper. And lastly, in consideration for over-concern at his sudden absence, he had left a note under the computer keyboard that read:
“Nikki, sweetheart, not to worry. Just a thing I have to do. Be back in a few that might take maybe three weeks, hgs&ksss.”
Truth be told, he did have strongest feelings for this fine woman!
Arrived at the junction without incident, Vivion stood sheltered in the deep shadow of a giant mango Rose tree. Long minutes passed with him tense, waiting for what he didn’t know. All at once he was feeling vulnerable. While getting here, not wanting to seem furtive to any who might’ve chanced on noticing, he had worked his will at not looking back. Right now though, just standing still, lurking in shadows, did not at all support that earlier strong-willed poise. Driven by a sudden frantic urgency, he just had to know if he had been followed. So he turned around and as far as squinted eyes could focus, searched the moonlit track he had walked. Then he blinked and closed his dried out eyes, rested them a bit before he had them again straining and staring through the opaque moonlight.
He took good time to check and double check and give tenuous doubts space to materialize. And after all that thorough effort, Vivion sighed and nodded as, in general, he had to agree with himself that everything was everything, that all seemed safe.
The gravel-covered track he had trod made the foot a ‘T’ with the asphalt paved main road, a blacker than black divide that curved to the left around a low rise fifteen or so yards away. From his present position under the aged mango Rose tree he was able to see headlights from traffic in both directions on the main road. On the other hand, anyone coming up the lane would eventually discover him. But on yet another hand, there were
no trees or convenient shadows alongside the main road. He fidgeted for a bit before murmuring “Better safe than sorry” and started up the main road around the low rising curve. Up because that was the direction of the busy town, the nightlife place where taxis would be available even at this late hour. He walked and kept looking back until he was well out of line sight of the junction, and then stood there in the open. Again feeling exposed, Vivion made quick assessment of his surroundings and shrugged. Worse come to worst, he could jump down and hide in the deep roadside drain.
Right now all to do was wait.
His thoughts returned to Nikki and how she’d take his absence. She’d most likely blame Mother, assume the worst. See her as inciter supreme. Or she might paint herself as the thorn that pierced a beautiful mother-son balloon. With her painter’s tendency, she’d create a tragic palette of hopeless colors. And she’d be dead wrong.
Mother wasn’t so.
At the beginning when they first got together, Vivion was showing her some photos of his sweetheart, and as he halfway expected, a main concern was his sweetheart’s coffee brown skin. “She kinda dark, not so?” said Mother as she took the photo and angled and refocused it to suit her critical vantage.
On it right away, Vivion invented: “That deeper color is due to the sheen of Dougla skin. The natural oils from the mix of Indian and who ever. Nikki lighter brownish in real life.”
Mother had moved on, assessing another shot. “She hair look nice though,” she said. “How it so long and black and curly, hmm, it remind me of mih own”—tossing her salt-and-pepper mane back as she added—“when I was younger.”
By the end of that visit Vivion found out that Nikki’s independent spirit also reminded Mother of her younger self. Which was seriously rare respect for a ‘nowadays’ woman, which was Mother’s word substitute for decadent and worse. Another winner was that Nikki’s special talent as a successful artist ruled out her using Vivion as a cash cow, a gullible catch that’d set her and her family on easy street. They were already there.
That sort of grasping woman had no chance with Mother; not with the hardships in sweat and soul she had survived to be who she was, and of which she spoke in aloe-bitter tones.
Vivion’s biggest surprise was his gradual understanding that Mother’s chief objection to his woman had more to do with her preference to them living together unmarried. To his mother’s mind this clearly showed how Nikki had been influenced by slack, foreign ideas she picked up at those New York schools he told her of.
Fact is, it wasn’t ‘foreign ideas’ at all. From what Nikki had related to him, most likely it was the unexpected money resulting from her talent that was sort of the spoiler. On the one hand it firmed up her stubborn, independent nature to do things her way, or not at all. On the other, it spurred her sympathetic spirit making an instinctive generosity casual—she could always sell another painting if needs be.
Which was hardly likely.
Because Nikki’s major cash flow bubbled from kind acts done years before while she part-timed in a nursing home for senior ladies in New York City. There, for fun much more than profit, she painted pleasing portraits of her charges. Developed a technique of invigorating the paintings—pieces which were always well-received, and much
appreciated. Built herself a reputation and a following, too. Then as it happened, with sad goodbyes to all that, she returned home to Trinidad with her parents.
It turned out, though, that financed by one of those elderly ladies, a family member—a brother or a son—opened a business in Toronto making nostalgic portraits similar to Nikki’s. “Memory Lane Portraits” was its name. Two years after being back home, in the packet of legal documents and a postage-paid return envelope they sent Nikki, lawyers explained that since she was the inspiration and model for the business, the original financer had insisted Nikki receive a ten percent share of all profits. The letter went on that the majority shareholder group was eager to have the documents signed, sealed, and delivered ASAP.
A postscript stated that the group regretted being unable to travel to her beautiful island nation and take care of the matter personally.
Nikki’s father Osman, in imam manner, thought he smelled a rat in the urgent tone of business, but hadn’t the energy to pursue his suspicions. So his thinking being that ten percent of anything is better than no percentage at all, he advised Nikki to sign and send the papers.
This backed by an “Okay” from a friend’s lawyer uncle, Nikki signed the papers. Two months later she got a check from Canadian Royal Bank. A cover note explained:
The attached cheque is due part payment of profits from Memory Lane Portraits; Inc. for the last two years. Because of legal clauses regarding payout limitations, checks of similar amounts payable to you, or your legally designated payee, will be arriving on or about the second Monday of every third month. After three years, due payments will then equal the current market value of Memory Lane Portraits; Inc.
Thanks for your business. Have a nice day!
The check was for twenty thousand Canadian dollars!
Nikki didn’t bother multiplying by six for exchanged T&T dollars. Past pure astonishment, she was moved to shedding grateful tears as a humbling question overwhelmed her mind, “Who was that sweet and generous old lady?”
When a few weeks ago it first occurred to him that he was unprepared for the expected bounteous crop, he took his concerns to Mother. Found her in the rocking chair on the verandah, cold of eye and standoffish. “You couldn’t see that coming?” she said. “Well I could see it coming like a slap to mih face. But you have eyes for something else. Not so? You like a jackass led by a short carrot,” she goaded. “You not seeing this far ahead!” She snapped fingers for emphasis.
Vivion breathed out his patience as a sigh. “Okay Mother, you’re right. No need to gloat. I didn’t think ahead. I was so caught up in the day-to-day. I just didn’t think—”
Mother interrupted, “So your girlfriend couldn’t remind you? I hear she living there day-to-day too, like a owner. What you having she there for? Eh? Is the saltfish you like so?”
Vivion thought to stop right there. Not say another word. He now realized her heading. A couple months after Nikki moved in, Mother’s displeasure had turned to puzzlement when Vivion bragged that in New York Nikki used to get thousands of dollars for her paintings, that her work was praised in important magazines, and that she had a following of cognoscenti up there.
With furrowed doubting brow, Mother had asked, “You serious, Vivion? Who dream you that dream? Anybody could make up fairy tale. You think everybody who go the New York get a fortune? You think it have gold in the streets up there?”
Vivion had kept check of his temper. He didn’t say that she herself had bragged about the opportunities found in New York. For who had the brains to see, she had proclaimed, a gold mine of ideas was there. It was where she got her idea to build the block of two-storied two-and-three bedroom townhouses that made her rich! It was there in New York that she got the contractors and building plans from Trinidadian immigrants turned US citizens!
And more important than all that, it was most likely in New York that she met the pale-skinned father he had never known!
But though angry and defensive, Vivion didn’t say any of that. Instead he insisted, “This is not old talk, Mother. Is bald truth. I checked on the Web. It there for anyone to see. People, experts, say she paints portraits that capture nostalgia. I could tell you the quotes by heart. One critic say “she returns youth and bright promise to aging faces.” Is about how she uses color and brush strokes and stuff like that. Technique and whatnot. I don’t really know. But clients love what she does. They go crazy for it. They pass over big bucks. Mother, look. You gotta get this. The two years since they moved up to Tamana Valley, Shanika Grant-Ali, yes, my Nikki at twenty-five is most likely the richest young woman in the area. I mean, who you think pay for that eight-room ranch house the family living in. Who you think pay Dr. Mason for the land to build on?”
Mother sucked frothy contempt through her teeth. “So why don’t she take she rich backside and go live she rich life with she own rich kind. Why she have to move in with my gadabout son in the fancy future-house that I build for him?”
“Mother, don’t bring up that stale house stuff. I know what I do same way I know what you do. And about Nikki, we went through that already. I tell you the truth that she moved in because I didn’t mind, because I couldn’t tell she not to, and because I weak for her. That’s it! Simple!”
“So you happy she here then?”
“Yes, Mother, most of the time. Sometimes I still like mih solitude. But listen to me!” he pleaded as she had started for the back door screen. “You gotta listen and believe!” he said earnestly when she stopped and turned around. “We get along. We really do. She is the first woman I know who let me be me, myself. She totally on my side. She at ease around me. Public or private, she bold enough and makes moves I like. We give each other space when we busy into we own thing. When we have to. She like to work upstairs in the back room facing the creek and the forests. The tall immortelle trees swaying mournful. I prefer down here looking at the openness. That’s what I like about her. Plus other things. Like how both a’ we like to cook. She know every Indian dish on the planet. Some she learn from she father, some she invent. To me that’s great. Listen to this. Sometimes we cooking different meals and exchanging with each other to taste and judge. It does be so funny. You should hear what does come up when we try to describe tastes and smells. The comparisons alone, you have to laugh. I telling you, Mother, we does have a good time. Really.”
“So then why you don’t marry up this woman and make she respectable? Why you don’t give me a respectable grandchild and give she a respectable child instead of letting people throw bad eyes at she for living here in sin with a no account man.”
At that, Vivion’s ire fought back. No account! Sin! Who, what was she talking about? She who only believed in Eshu and Haitian obeah. She who has a mudada voodoo doll sitting over her mirror. Who was she to make judgment? In any case, what he cared about sin would prance through a needle’s eye. And as far as no account went, not cent from her, he had earned himself a free University education. He also had had choice whether or not to represent the nation in international athletics. That don’t sound so no account.
Still braking his exasperation, he stood up and said, “Mother let’s not get into that, okay. You might have a thing about people and respect. Especially about bastards. But I don’t. I grow up bastard and I doing fine—“
“—only because of yuh mother’s efforts at the expense of she pride and dignity!” she interjected.
Temper taking over all at once, Vivion got loud saying, “Mother, I say we not going down that road. I know you went through harsh times. You suffered. You went to New York on vacation and come back with a light-skinned baby boy, a Yankee child that is me. I get that. You come back to social disdain and so forth. That was how it was in your day. But that time pass. It ent so no more. It not all the way gone but it on the way out. Look, I understand why Nikki parents abandon ship because she living with me. That’s their choice made from their ancient ethics of their ancient times and religions. In a way they same as you. But since they don’t feed or fend for she or me, I just don’t give a damn! Why should I? Why should we?”
“So is you and she against the world, eh? And that’s why you feeling big tall man enough to shout down yuh own mother?”
And that’s how that discussion had died, or more exactly, passed out from exhaustion, to be revived and contested some other day.
Tuesday a week later Mother surprised him. It was a sticky afternoon and he was staring blankly at the dark green hibiscus fence that shielded the front of the ground floor from the road when, with her white wide-brimmed hat aslant at the usual rakish angle, she pushed open the fence gate and sashayed through. Vivion smiled. A dainty picture in a sleeveless red dress with a shirred full skirt, she looked half her age. Loosely knotted at her narrow waist, accenting her hour-glass figure, was a wide black belt. White socks and black sneakers completed the outfit. From walk to wear he could see her good mood.
Knowing that although she had the password, she’d still ring the doorbell, he sprang up and went to the door so that as she got there he opened it and smiling wide, greeted, “Hey, Mamita. What la Señora en rojo doing looking so fine out here among the forests and farms? Come on in out of the heat.”
Despite his awful, affected accent, she entered, unpinned her hat from her hair and fanned her face with it. She replied, “So I have to explain mih self for taking a stroll?” Her tone, though, was playful.
Vivion turned from the fridge and exclaimed, “Mother! Don’t tell me you walk all the way from the junction.”
“Well, what else to do? After I get off the bus, ten minutes I waiting for a taxi and none ent coming. In this heat to boot. So I start walking and that was that. I end up reaching.”
Vivion handed her a tall glass of cool coconut water with a dash of Angostura bitters. “Poor thing,” he said. “This will make the pretty little lady feel better.”
“Thanks, boy,” she said, “coconut water is a true thirst blessing,” and downed half of her drink. Then she put the glass on the table and gathered up her hair in a bun. “Sometimes this hair could be a burden, you know,” she declared with a sigh as she reclined on the cool leather couch.
As they sat and chatted and drank beverages, it occurred to Vivion that Mother had come by on the only day that Nikki was away socializing with her artsy folks. He got to wondering if it was deliberate, the thought so distracting him that he didn’t hear a question put to him. “What you say, Mother?”
“Is not what I said. Is what have you other minded? What’s on yuh mind?”
“Is nothing, Mother,” he said. Then, as he created an appropriate one, added, “Nothing bad. I was only wondering if you in a mood to see how the peppers thing working out. Would you? Please?”
“In this heat?” said Mother, her raised eyebrows almost joining in protest.
“It will only take five, ten minutes and look at the thermometer. It saying 80. So it cooling down some already,” he returned with a clever cower that was part disappointed shrug and part accusation.
“Well, okay,” surrendered his mother. “But not a minute more.”
Vivion was overjoyed. This was her first visit since more than two years ago when earth-moving tractors had just finished forming beds and banks and drainage canals that converted open land into an organized garden. Now it was a well-functioning farm, a sea change difference from the fiascoes of the first year. The pepper project was all around wonderful, and success was in the air like a happiness buzz. In high spirits he was ready to show off the fruits of his ingenuity and determination.
As they were passing the bee hives, he crowed, “Mother! I telling you straight. Look at them hives. Best investment I could’ve made. Even I was only guessing it’d work. You have to admit you was thinking it wouldn’t. Eh? Not so? Now look at how them pepper plants flowering. Eh! Lavish. Lavish is the only word. And you taste how the honey different, kinda tang—?”
“Vivion,” Mother cut in with a voice dry as dust, “as far as I remember, it was me who buy those hives from a Chinese fella down by the wharf, and it was the same me who had Mr. Ramdeen workmen install them. That’s all I remember ‘bout your wonderful hives.”
At which point, atmosphere and ambience made it clear that the tour should end, so Vivion responded, “You feeling the heat like me? What you say we go back in the palace, eh? It definitely cooler in there.”
Head held high, Mother cut him an ambiguous look, tossed loose strands of her salt-and-pepper mane from her shoulder, and started for the turf-grass track back to the house.
Both of them sweating beads, sneakers off on the back porch, they slid the blind open and entered the air-conditioned living space. Vivion went to the fridge, poured them tall glasses of their preferences; Mother drinking fresh coconut water with a dash of Angostura bitters, he the same with a heaped tablespoon of powered skim milk swizzled in.
Then they sat savoring the quiet cool as from outside came sounds of Nature going about business. The wind creaking branches that shrieked their glee like school children at recess. A woodpecker knocking out a nest somewhere in the bamboo stool by the creek. It was hammering with a rhythm, four or five volleys of a neat quick rat-a-tat-a-tat beat, then a stop so sudden your ears missed the beat and waited. Hoping, as maybe the working bird took a look around, checking if he had drawn unwelcome attention.
Then he’s back on the job. Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat.
“I wish that bird would stop its confounded noise!”
The protest startled through Vivion’s reverie, “What?”
“That blasted bird is hammering me a headache!” said Mother.
And Vivion realized that she was still vexed. Maybe about the bees. For the first time it occurred to him that this might be the reason she had shunned the palace. But he couldn’t have this. Right away he decided to make amends. Things were going too blue skies nice to have such a slight matter throw up clouds.
“Mother,” he said. “I want to say I didn’t forget how much you did with the bees and the house and everything. Is that I just don’t talk about it. But I does feel about it. And one thing certain, I feel grateful.”
He spoke the last like a plea and watched as she sipped her coconut water while over the rim of her glass she gave him a long complicated look; at the same time soft and indulgent, yet with a tinge of petulance.
Eyes holding his, she sipped and sipped her drink then, finally, looked away as she said, “Look, boy. Don’t take no horrors from me. Okay. Is only the heat that get to me. I know you appreciate what I do. Is just . . .” and she left the thought hanging there in the quiet room.
Even the woodpecker was waiting in silence.
At which Vivion, feeling forgiven, said cheekily, “I know what. Is the smell of them bee-hive honey that you set off. Them bees’ product too sweet even for you.”
Seeing her genuine smile, he went over to her, bussed her head and said, “What you say I give the old Queen a refill, eh?” and took the glass from her hand.
Smile grown wider, she said with mock severity, “You’d better stop that stupidness right there, right now. One thing I too old for is foolery!”
“But Mother you know I ent joking. You know you is the queen around here. You know any and everybody will do whatever for you. Goes without saying. Me! Moi! All I have is ideas. Like putting in we own bees to do we own pollinating. That is part of my Integrated Self-Supportive System for superior ecological management. You know, like using the river for irrigation and hydroelectric energy, like setting up the overflow as a tilapia fish pond. Remember when I tried that? But what ever I think up, I never forget you is the M.M.I.H. My own personal Mistress of Making It Happen.”
Merry as a songbird, he hugged his mother around her neck, and although she made no accommodation to ease the awkward embrace, Vivion could breathe in her pleasure.
Outside, the woodpecker returned to nest building.
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