The Counting-Up

INGRID PERSAUD

1. I was clearing out the wardrobe while my sister lounged on the bed drinking the last of my fresh grapefruit juice. She said being her only brother is not enough. She doesn’t clean her own house and she’s damn well not cleaning mine. Clothes, shoes, boxes all came tumbling out. Shoved right to the back was Mark’s old album.

‘Vijay, she picture in there?’

I flopped down next to her and flipped through the pages until we found what I knew was there. The first time I saw Sophie’s photo – smiling, in front an open window – Mark said that’s a college friend.

‘That dog Mark not good enough to be a rat catcher in Toco.’

My sister grabbed the album and brought it right up under her eye.

‘But, eh eh you never tell me she real hot.’

‘You know how old that picture is?’

‘Actually, now I look good, she leg skinny skinny.’

‘Yeah. And she boobs flat like a ten cent piece.’

2. When I met Mark, he was engaged. A Convent girl from up Diego Martin side. Town say I turned him. I expected that, even if it wasn’t the truth. He asked me for my cell number. He texted me. He asked me out. He. Not me. Yet my ass got the blame. But I ain’t going to lie. I didn’t play hard to get. First date we met for a drink and ended up talking for six hours.

3. The rule is, no matter what madness is happening, Sunday mornings at Las Cuevas beach are sacred. Just me, Mark and two-three Carib. Four years together and I still get hard watching his body glistening in the sun after a sea bath. More than once I couldn’t wait and we took care of business in the car.

When God were making Mark, he didn’t throw something together quick quick and done with that. He took his time. Sculpted the bones. True talk. If Mark wasn’t a lawyer he could have modelled.

4. Monday to Thursday is work, gym, home. Most Fridays the lime is a little bar in Woodbrook. Saturday is chores and lunch by my Ma. She uses the good plates and glasses from her glass cabinet as if Mark is royalty. I said nothing wrong with the normal plates but she said nah, nah, nah. Mark them is big people from Port of Spain and we home is not what he accustomed to.

I don’t mention that his family act like I am a jumbie.

5. I was hosing down the patio furniture when Mark came out with Newsday in his hand.

‘Caribbean Airlines special to New York. $299 US dollars return. Let we go nah.’

‘When?’

‘Next month.’

‘That sounding good.’

‘And let’s get married one time.’

I dropped the hose and it sprayed me down from head to toe.

In between the champagne toasts a thought occurred to me. If Caribbean Airlines didn’t have a sale, would he have proposed?

6. It was simple. My sister and his friend from Brooklyn were witnesses and we went to a nice Italian restaurant after. Every chance I got I said, my husband. Back in the Trinidad immigration line I was still bazodee, flashing my wedding band. When the officer called, next, I followed my husband. The man shouted at me, loud loud,

‘Blue shirt, you can’t read? Is only families come up together.’

On this island my husband will never be my husband.

7. My husband’s clients from Ohio wanted real Trini food and it doesn’t get better than Mala’s right on Coffee Street. I ordered curry chicken, curry duck, channa and alloo, pumpkin and both dhalpourie and bus up shot roti. Lucky thing no dog was depending on us for scraps because we lick down that food. I even showed them how to eat roti with your hands. Everybody had a good time but whole road home my husband’s face was swell up big big. I asked him what he vex for.

‘I can’t take you nowhere. Why you keep saying alloo? The word is potato. And a time and place for everything. Next time stick with the knife and fork please. People will think I picked you up from the bush.’

8. Sophie wanted to come for carnival. Two weeks grace from the Boston winter. My husband would be working in Jamaica then. I didn’t mind hosting. On the drive from the airport it was clear as tap water she had me down as a house mate. But she caught on in two twos.

‘Mark must have told you we dated in college. That was years ago, of course.’

I kept a straight face.

‘Sure.’

‘And you’re cool, right? I mean he wasn’t always gay.’

I laughed.

‘Darling, he is now.’

9. When I tell you Sophie could party hard. The only fetes we missed were the ones we didn’t know about. Within days she was singing along to Machel on the radio,

Everyday is fete, I come out tuh fete, ah

Fete, ah fete-in’ more than you!

Is sweat, I come out tuh sweat, ah wet, ah

I get why my husband used to date her. If she lived here the three of us would lime together. The house felt hollow when she left.

10. My husband didn’t make it from Jamaica in time for Ma’s funeral. He arrived the day after. I couldn’t look him in the eye because I might’ve cuffed him down. He let me face that by myself. And Ma loved him like she own. I was this close to flinging the blasted wedding band in his face.

At least the funeral passed without anybody cussing, fighting, getting drunk or my sister bussing a faint at the graveside – which she did when our father died. Church was standing room only. Plenty bawling. Ma went to sleep one night and that was that. Seventy-five is no age these days. You want to tell me a hypochondriac, friendly with every doctor between Sangre Grande and Mayaro, had heart disease and not one of them knew about it? I bet them bandits was taking the old lady money and sending she home with two Panadol.

Gees and ages, I’m not ready for this orphan thing.

11. From the time Sophie heard about Ma’s passing she began checking on me every day. And when I say every day, I mean seven days a week. WhatsApp mainly. Some days she was the only person I talked to. She lost her dad at nineteen. Mark has both parents. Three months on he doesn’t understand why I’m not up for a Friday night lime.

12. I go through the motions of work, gym, home but with a slight change. When I wake up I send Sophie a WhatsApp message. Just good morning. Before I take off the lights I WhatsApp good night. During the day if I get a message from her it literally warms me up. Don’t know why I feel cold all the time. Meanwhile people complaining how the place making hot.

The postman dropped a small package postmarked Boston. A pair of grey wool bed socks, soft soft like a baby’s bam bam. I didn’t mention it to Mark. Besides, is none of his business.

13. Sophie went shoe shopping yesterday and nearly bought the ugliest shoes because Rihanna was rocking them on a magazine cover. Luckily I checked my WhatsApp in time to stop her. She said gay men have the best taste. Strange how Sophie’s in Boston and I’m in Trinidad but she is the one I run to when I’m barely making it through the day.

Don’t get me wrong. Pussy is not my thing. If I was born straight? Yeah, I might’ve tried a thing with her. Even so, I don’t like to think of Mark fucking her.

14. Her WhatsApp came after my usual good morning. I read it and got an instant headache. My heart dropped into my stomach and my stomach began spinning like a clothes dryer. It was a long message – more like a letter. She didn’t use the word love, but as sure as God make Moses, that is what she meant. And then she apologised. She said she knows I’m gay and I’m in a relationship but the vibe from the letter was that she catch feelings for me.

I showed my husband.

‘Look Vijay, I don’t know how you got in this hot mess but you’d better shut this down before she goes all psycho on you. Trust me. I’ve known her a lot longer than you.’

‘What to say?’

‘Nothing. Leave it alone. She’ll get the message.’

‘I can’t just ignore the girl.’

‘Why not? You don’t owe her anything. Even if you replied, what are you going to say?’

That night my husband fucked me for the first time in I don’t know how long. And it wasn’t no wham-bam thing. Some serious passion, like the early days. Her name flashed in my mind as I was coming. Her name.

I didn’t WhatsApp her good night.

15. It’s been a month and I’ve been holding back from going near the WhatsApp. Habit has me automatically looking at the phone as soon as my eye open. Then I remember. She’s not messaging me either. I have a constant dull pain in my chest. Does Sophie even know what she wants from me? Whatever. I can’t give it.

My husband’s client is selling her waterfront apartment and he thinks this is the right time for us to buy our own place. I’m easy. More to the point, it’s his money and I don’t have the energy to argue.

16. Sophie sent a WhatsApp today. She said she’s sorry for everything and, in the spirit of Christmas forgiveness, can we please go back to how things were before. My husband was surprised.

‘She playing dotish?’

Before going to sleep I messaged back one word: no.

My husband said block her one time and done the story. I agreed. Tomorrow. I’ll block her tomorrow.

17. Beach House pre-Carnival fete was going sweet. My husband was trying to persuade friends to jump with us in Blue Devils’ j’ouvert band. I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. It was her. She wasn’t in Boston. She was right in front of me. I have never been more stunned in my whole life. My husband greeted his friend with a hug.

‘Jesus Christ, it must be ten years since I last saw you. How you Sophie? What you doing here?’

‘You look great Mark. Because of Vijay I’ve got the Carnival bug. I think this is now an annual thing for me.’

‘Wow. We must see you before you leave. Where’re you staying?’

They exchanged numbers and she was gone. We bumped into each other a couple more times that night but we didn’t talk.

Driving home I asked my husband if we were meeting up with her. He said don’t worry. He would take her for lunch in the week and that would be the end of that.

18. I didn’t ask and he didn’t mention her. For the whole Carnival I dreaded bouncing into her. Ma must be protecting me from up there because Carnival came and went and praise Jesus I never saw her again.

The purchase went through and work has started on the apartment. It’s going to be amazing when it’s finished. We’re putting in a new kitchen, new bathrooms and new floors. Every time I go to check on Trinidad’s slowest workmen, it’s the views over the Gulf of Paria that excite me. A cup of coffee on the balcony looking out to Venezuela – that is bliss.

19. We are hoping to move in next month, September. I was telling my husband tonight how I had to cuss the tiler. He came last week, put down half the kitchen floor then ups and gone. I finally tracked him down today and asked him if he expected me to only use half the kitchen. Oh, he car break down. He mother have pressure and one set of foolishness. I’m sure he was finishing somebody else kitchen floor that he had also left half done.

I was midway through complaining how the sink in the bathroom needs to move when my husband burst into tears. I’ve seen tears before but not bawling like this. He kept saying sorry and sobbing his heart out.

‘Mark, what happen?’

‘You’re going to hate me.’

‘Don’t be stupid. What happen?’

He kept sobbing. I hugged him tight.

‘Whatever it is Mark, we will get through.’

‘We can’t. We can’t. You’ll hate me. I deserve it.’

He wiped his face on his shirt sleeve and looked at me.

‘She’s pregnant.’

I knew exactly who she was but I wanted to hear him say it.

‘Sophie’s pregnant. It’s mine.’

I got up and started looking for my car keys.

‘Don’t go.’

I wanted to say something but the words were choking me.

‘It was only once.’

The blasted keys weren’t in the drawer. I went to the bedroom. Mark followed me.

‘The baby’s due in November. She’ll have it in Boston. They’ll move here later.’

The keys weren’t in my jeans either.

‘I can’t find my keys.’

I looked on the bedside table.

‘Give me your keys.’

‘You can’t drive in this state. Please, we have to talk.’

I shoved him and he fell backwards onto the bed.

‘Give me the fucking keys or I will smash your fucking head.’

He handed over keys that were in his pocket. I slammed the front door so hard I thought I might have broken a hinge. Not that I give a shit.

20. Mark left with whatever fit in that one suitcase. I heard they’ve moved into the apartment. By Christmas this place must be rid of everything that is not mine. My sister said to put his stuff in a skip. As much as I hate all two of them I can’t. And I’m nearly done. Just this last wardrobe to finish clearing out.


Born in Trinidad, Ingrid Persaud has had lives as a legal academic, a trained visual artist and a project manager. Although she came to writing later in life, she has always been preoccupied with the power of words, both in her academic work and her exploration of text as art. Persaud is the 2017 winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. If I Never Went Home, published in 2014, was Persaud’s first novel and she is currently working on her second. Her physical homes are Barbados and London which she shares with ‘The Husband, teenaged twin boys, a feral chicken and two rescue dogs.’


Image Credit: Photo of Matthew McCarthy mural in Kingston. Source: ap

One thought on “The Counting-Up

  1. […] ‘The Counting-Up’ by Ingrid Persaud employs fluid colloquial voices to tell a story about sexuality, gender, ethnic and class difference in human relations – raising questions about what constitutes family. Family mythologies inevitably intersect with national and cultural mythologies and Sharon Millar’s ‘Curry Duck’ skillfully dissects race and ethnicity via culinary rivalry: the central character unsuccessfully teaches her daughter how to manage white skin in the tropics and tries to preserve French Creole tradition by passing on recipes for ‘complicated soufflés and cheese sauces that had come down unchanged and un-creolised from her original French ancestors . . . Curry is not going to go with everything else. The flavour is too strong,’ she warns her daughter, who represents the end of the family’s bloodline of undiluted European ancestry. […]

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