On Trinidad, the island of the steel pan, calypso, and carnivals, Annabelle Castello grows up in the impoverished Bristol Village before circumstances transport her to the affluent city of Port-of-Spain. At an early age, Annabelle achieves more than she could have ever imagined in her wildest dreams— wealth, power, and fame—due to her youth and bewitching beauty. As she grows older and her looks begin to fade, however, Annabelle yearns to embrace the simple values and happiness she once knew.
Forty-five years after leaving for the city, Annabelle impulsively abandons everything and heads back to Bristol Village in search of her past, the only man she has ever loved, and the baby girl she left behind. But as she arrives in the village with the hope of reuniting with her love Ricardo, Annabelle is distraught when she learns he has died. Just as she finds solace in the fact that she still has her daughter, Annabelle receives devastating news that will change her life forever.
In this poignant tale, a woman embarks on a heartfelt journey back to her past where she soon discovers that nothing is ever as it once was.
“Joseph has obvious empathy for his characters and the remarkable ability to slip into and out of the persona of each character and maintain voice and tone.”—Foreword/Clarion Review
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By Roland P. Joseph
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Roland P. Joseph
All right reserved.
The red Mazda coupe travelled dangerously fast along the narrow, tortuous road of the island's east coast, precariously negotiating the sharp bends and wooden bridges. The driver's gauzy white scarf fluttered about in the breeze as she rushed through the alternate single-lane bridge, ignoring the queue of eastbound traffic which was about to enter the bridge. She knew she acted uncouthly, but she had to get to Ricardo quickly. The letter alluding that he was on his deathbed was already three weeks old when she opened it. It was a race against time. Pulses of excitement raced through her body like a loaded electrical wire dangling in a storm. Her thoughts were a fusion of distant memories and wishful imaginings of a faint and misty world—a world she had to embrace again before it faded into obscurity. Her dwindling sanity depended on it.
Forty-five years was along time—a very long time. What if ...? She quashed any negative thoughts that emerged in her mind. As far as she was concerned, everyone and everything lay frozen in time, waiting to unfurl when she arrived. She was as nervous as a child anxiously awaiting the results of an important exam, but highly optimistic. This had to be her reward for the seemingly good deeds she had done in her life. She had already paid in full for her bad deeds, she pacified herself. An aura of sadness came over her as she recalled her father saying to her as a child whenever she was sad, "No situation is permanent; time heals all wounds." Oh, how she wished he were still here to hold her and tell her it would be okay.
Darkness had descended as she approached the village of Manzanilla. The white, distant breakers of the long stretch of beach came into view as she cleared the sharp bend. The car tyres against the loose planks of the Bailey Bridge dispatched a volley of clattering echoes into the serenity of the evening. A dark canopy of clouds posed a threat to the October moon which waited on its cue from the fading sun. A chilly breeze periodically rustled the copious stretch of coconut palms, which formed a revolving panorama in the rear-view mirror.
Her left hand moved away from the steering wheel to the back seat, groping around for a black leather handbag. She glanced quickly to the back to navigate its location, but as she redirected her focus onto the road, she frantically grabbed the steering wheel with both hands. Her heart pounded loudly; she had to make a snap decision. The dark outline of a bison appeared out of nowhere and stood statuesque in the middle of the road. She was driving too fast to stop, and both sides of the road were lined with coconut palms. As she approached the animal, she closed her eyes and fidgeted with the steering wheel, slamming on the brake pedal with enormous force. Her head remained down, her eyes closed. After a few seconds, she slowly raised her head, took a deep breath, and exclaimed loudly, "Thank you, God!" She reached into her handbag and retrieved a packet of cigarettes, lighting one with trembling hands. She took a deep pull and exhaled slowly.
The loud screech of the brake interrupted a group of gossiping women who sat on the steps of a cluster of small, craggy cottages of the nearby coconut estate. Bare-breasted men attending to small, scattered fires of burning sticks and leaves abandoned their chore. Children of varying sizes attired in ragged hand-me-downs left their game of hide-and-seek to investigate the commotion. With the assistance of two of the men, she managed to reposition the car onto the roadway. The right fender was damaged, but she would worry about that tomorrow. For now, her only concern was to get to Ricardo.
Night was approaching swiftly. The large, luminous moon peered through streamers of dark clouds with a shimmer of violet and purple. A cool sea breeze caressed her face and stroked her mussed hair, sending a refreshing sensation through her body. The thick growth of coconut palms was now a mass of dark shadows sprinkled with silver splashes. The peaceful ambiance emanating from the hamlet she now approached triggered her into a nostalgic mood.
The flickering light of candles and kerosene lamps peered through the windows and crevices of the squalid cottages. The serenity comforted her like the arms of her pa. It reminded her of the world she was once a part of, a direct contrast to the harsh world which had adopted her. It was as though the wind of change had spared this village from its cruelty—to her, this was a good omen. The cacophony of croaking frogs and buzzing insects overpowered the distant roar of the ocean and occupied her consciousness for a fleeting moment.
Joyanne? What will she think of me? Will she think that I had abandoned her? She must know the truth. The memory of the little baby girl she kissed goodbye forty-five years ago brought tears to her eyes.
Sparkles of lights through teary eyes were her first vision of Mayaro. But she was too engulfed by thoughts and filled with excitement to become nostalgic over the town which filled her childhood memories. Her old school and other familiar sights did, however, manage to flash through her mind, if only for a moment.
She was now a short distance away from the hamlet of Bristol Village—her home. There were other places she had called home in her lifetime, but to her, this was her ultimate home. She felt safe and comforted there. Memories of her father saddened her. She had disappointed him and was denied the opportunity to make amends. She was not going to be denied the opportunity to make amends to Ricardo. Fate would not rob her of that chance again. If only she had taken heed of the haunting presentiment which assailed her, she would have been home to respond to the letter right away. The flight from New York was delayed by almost four hours. It was an unrewarding trip. Her business deal went sour; nothing substantive was achieved. If only she were there to have immediately responded to the letter, she scolded herself.
While in New York, she had a gnawing premonition to return home. It made her uneasy and sad. But it was a dream, a recurring nightmare that convinced her to abort her stay in New York. The first time she had had the dream was about a year ago, and it was a long time since she'd had the dream, only this time it was more vivid, more intense. It petrified her.
She was walking along a road with Ricardo, and he was holding a baby in his arms. Although she didn't see the baby's face, she instinctively knew it was Joyanne. No words were spoken between them. It was dark, pitchblack. They walked without seeing where they were going. Then suddenly, she realized that they were way ahead of her; she was being left behind. She grew scared and began walking faster and faster, but she could not reach them; then they disappeared from sight, and she was left alone in a sea of darkness, scared to death. At this point, she sprang from her sleep, sweating profusely. The dream was the same as the previous times, only this time it lasted longer. Usually, she awoke at the point where she realized they were slightly ahead of her.
That very morning, she'd called the airline, adamant that they book her on the next flight home. She scrambled her belongings and bundled them into the suitcase, ran into the shower, dabbed on some make-up, twisted her hair into a roll, and called a cab. But this had to be the worst day of her life. Thinking that nothing else could go wrong, an announcement that the flight was delayed—due to technical problems with the aircraft—came through the airport's paging system. Half an hour turned into an hour, two hours, three hours, and four hours. By now, she was seething with anger and anxiety.
The announcement that the flight was now boarding snapped her out of a catnap and into a moment of disorientation. She straightened up her slouched body and passed her hand through her hair in a combing motion. After an agonizing six hours, she felt a sense of relief as the aircraft hit the runway. She was home at last!
She suddenly realized that there was no one to meet her at the airport, for in her haste to leave New York, she forgot to telephone her chauffeur, Lionel. She waved for a taxi and placed herself in a lounging position in the back seat as the car departed from the airport.
The voice of the driver asking for directions to her home woke her from a slumber. Talking through a yawn, she directed the driver to her home in the posh suburbs of Port-of-Spain.
It was an enormous white house with a steep green roof, set in a sprawling, well-manicured garden. The woodwork was intricate, bequeathing the island's colonial past. The driver observed that the house looked like an iced wedding cake.
"Oh, where is Lionel!" she muttered. She turned to the driver and said, "Could you pop the horn?"
"I wonder where Lionel could be!" she mumbled to herself.
Moments later, the front door was flung open. "Madam, I ... I did not expect you home until next two weeks. Sorry I take so long to come to the door, but ... I was, I was," Lionel said with a mortified expression on his broad, dark face, buttoning his shirt as he approached the car.
"Help me with the luggage," she said.
She followed him into the foyer as he hobbled with a suitcase in each hand.
"You can leave them here; I'll take care of them in the morning," she said.
She flung her shoes off her feet as she entered the large living room and jumped onto the sofa, sighing loudly. "Could you please get me a cold drink of water?" she asked.
She guzzled down half the water and stared curiously at Lionel. "Who's in the shower?" she asked.
"Well, ma'am, that's what I wanted to explain to you outside. I invited a friend to stay over for the night," he replied.
"Do you always do this while I'm away?" she asked.
"No, ma'am, this is the first time," he replied through a sheepish grin. "Oh, ma'am, there's a whole lot a mail for you on the piano."
"I'm sorry if I sounded a bit terse; I'm so frazzled," she said. She retrieved a small box from her handbag. "Oh, here, this is for you."
Lionel opened the box with an eager smile on his face. "Ma'am, it's the watch from the magazine," he said, excited.
"Oh, it's nothing. I know I can be a bitch at times, but we go back a long time," she said.
He left the room, smiling broadly.
She riffled thought he envelopes, casting each one aside. "Bills! Business! I'm too tired for this," she lamented.
But a hand-addressed envelope caught her interest. She set down the glass and curiously opened the envelope, an intense look of concern on her face.
She sprang from the sofa, putting on her shoes with haste, and called out to Lionel.
"Open the gate right away. I have to go!" she exclaimed.
"Where are you going, ma'am?" Lionel asked.
"Just open the gate!" she shouted.
She hurried to the car, reversed it hastily onto the road, and sped away.
The windscreen wiper smudged the soft droplets of rain, leaving arches of white frost across the glass, partially impairing her vision as she negotiated the narrow silver bridge of the Ortoire River. She was mere minutes away from forty-five years. She could no longer contain her emotions as chills ran through her stomach. She felt a mixture of infallible joy and presentimental sadness. Her mind was a kaleidoscope of memories. Imbued with excitement, she accelerated. She was ready to face anything. But her optimism was short-lived. As she cleared the corner and her old home came into view, she cried, "Oh no, this must be a cruel trick! This cannot be happening."
A gush of blood rushed to her head. A dizzy feeling overwhelmed her. She was on a merry-go-round moving at an excessive speed, suddenly slowing down. She was fighting a losing battle with her dwindling consciousness.
Chapter TwoA sullen silence penetrated the rural hamlet of Bristol Village. The hot afternoon sun peered through gauzy clouds, inciting a sultry atmosphere. An occasional breeze was the only respite to the gloomy ambiance. The trickling movement of people clad in funeral attire ruffled the stillness as they made their way to the small cemetery situated on a slight prominence, overlooking the solitary roadway that connected the fishing village of Mayaro in the east and the agricultural town of Rio Claro in the west. The sylvan enclave of trees surrounded the sporadic stretch of hamlets along the road.
A stone's throw away from the cemetery, a green tarpaulin tent cantilevered from a crude wooden house, under which a funeral service was taking place. The booming voice emanating from a tall, thin figure of a balding man commanded the attention of the gathering, inducing an instantaneous silence as he recited the twenty-third psalm, as though to impose his moral authority on the naive villagers. Everything about the afternoon appeared melancholy through the eyes of these mourners, as though life was viewed through a veil of grey.
The faint, poignant strains of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus", sung in a discordant tone, wafted on the wind to the small crowd in the cemetery who chose to eschew the religious service. Some sought shelter under the small shed at the crest of the hill, among a herd of goats which were chewing their cuds, while others stood chit-chatting beneath umbrellas or propped against headstones.
Funerals were an occasion for the women to don their Sunday best and catch up on the latest gossip. The men relished the rum-shop lime—a tradition in the rural villages, almost like the commemoration of the final funeral rite. Their faces reflected impatience and affected grief as they waited on the cortège: men attired in worn suits of varying fashion eras topped with fedoras; gaudily dressed women in styles and fashions unsuited to their plump figures—some in hats, others in black or white mantillas.
The village seamstress was all too eager to tell of the disagreement between her and the women of the village. They would bring her photographs of models and movie stars decked in exquisite clothing from which to fashion their dresses. At the fittings, they would express dissatisfaction at her craftsmanship, comparing their images in the mirror to that of the photographs.
"I ain't a magician; I is just a seamstress!" she regaled with a comical lilt.
Sighting of the cortège making its way to the cemetery roused the languid crowd; they hurried up the incline and encircled the freshly dug grave. All eyes were trained on the procession as it made its solemn trek to the cemetery. The hearse, topped with colourful wreaths, travelled slowly to keep pace with the mourners who sauntered behind.
The crowd at the graveside receded to make room for the hearse, which came to an eventual stop alongside the open grave. The pallbearers retrieved the coffin from the hearse and delicately positioned it on a gurney.
The wistful cries of a village woman pierced the silence as the coffin was opened for viewing and recital of the final funeral rites. The noise attracted the attention of some grazing goats, which lifted their heads in the direction of the commotion. "Oh Gawd! Oh Gawd!" she shouted before fainting in the arms of a stout woman.
A dragging rendition of "Rock of Ages" followed the reading of the scriptures. As the singing of the final verse commenced, the pastor gestured the pallbearers to carry the coffin to the grave. The pine box was hoisted on two strands of rope, held firmly in place by four shirtless men whose burly bodies shimmered in sweat. All heads followed the coffin as it was lowered in the grave. The raspy voice of a man swayed the mourners into singing "Blest Be the Tie that Binds" against the hollow echoes of earth sounding off the pine box as mourners threw the symbolic handfuls of dirt in the grave.
Suddenly, an unanticipated turn of events shifted focus from the burial to a commotion at the bottom of the incline. Everyone abandoned the pastor as he recited, "From ashes to ashes, dust to dust ..." and turned in the direction of a tall, exquisitely attired woman who appeared exceedingly conspicuous amid the staid ambiance. That morning, Annabelle, accompanied by Joyanne, with whom she was reunited, went to Rio Claro to purchase the best clothing she could find at the store, to wear at the funeral. She chose a royal-blue, double-breasted suit and a frilly lace blouse that clearly complemented Annabelle's fair complexion. A blue felt hat and large gold earrings framed her face with its red, chubby cheeks, oblong eyes with black, runny lashes, a straight, well-defined nose, and thin lips lined with red lipstick. She gently patted her eyes with the white handkerchief and after neatening herself, she stepped gingerly toward the pastor in her high-heeled shoes.
Excerpted from CARNIVAL QUEEN by Roland P. Joseph Copyright © 2012 by Roland P. Joseph. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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