PREE is pleased to republish this story by Andre Bagoo, first published in The Dreaming by Peepal Tree Press in 2022.
When I landed in London, leaves had started to fall from the trees. Our BWIA plane parked at Heathrow. I looked out the window and everything was ordinary and rundown but the terminal was huge. There was a chill. A baby on board was crying. I buttoned my new jumper. We got off the plane, mother and I.
They took me to the J2 section where they screen students coming to study. The lady at the counter had a strong Cockney accent. She shouted something at me but it took me a while until I figured out she was telling me to go through.
We got our luggage, got the shuttle to Euston, and then got a black cab to take us to Great Dover Street. The taxi driver asked if this was our first time in the UK. Mother beamed about how I had won a scholarship, was here to study law. She was just here to get me settled and make sure I had everything I needed. The taxi gave us a mini-tour of the city and my eyes were glued to all that was unfolding outside the window. In the distance, the London Eye was a giant lollipop.
We filled out paperwork, got keys and settled into the apartment. My room was at the end of the corridor. There were three other rooms, but everything was quiet. Everything looked new and untouched. I was the first and I felt alone. Mother held my hand and I was glad she was there.
We unpacked a few things. Mother took out the crockery and cutlery and a jar of classic yellow mustard. She figured mustard would be a good thing to have in case we needed to make a macaroni pie. It was odd to see her in the empty, white kitchen. But I knew she felt this was her job as a parent – to fill the new space with the colour of familiar things. We did a bit of shopping at the green grocer’s. Macaroni pie – a Trini essential that I would later learn some British people called a “pasta bake” – would be on the menu that first day. Despite my protests, she made enough to last a week.
That first night, Mother slept on my bed. I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor. I dreamt of everything I’d seen in the taxi, all the scenes that seemed like the set of a movie: the London Eye, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, Waterloo Bridge, the Southbank, the slow-moving Thames, the people everywhere – different people: different faces, different clothes, different ways of walking and smoking and talking and laughing and holding briefcases and holding hands.
Classes were on the Strand. I attended some lectures in a baroque chapel with red walls and a pipe organ. Seminars were in a tiny, cramped, brickstone building next to Somerset House. Between classes, students would hang at the library on Chancery Lane. I’d walk past the Royal Courts of Justice to get to the lane. After studying in the library, I’d walk back over Waterloo Bridge to halls. The sky would be a brilliant French blue and planes would leave contrails as though spelling out secret messages. The sun would begin to set and the city would become one with its ochre light.
Mother left. There was so much to discover I didn’t know where to begin. One night, I went to Heaven, the gay club near the university, and found I was only the second black person in the room, which made me nervous. I hit the bar, soon learned the proper name for a screwdriver was a “vodka orange”, lingered around people for a bit. The men saw through and around me. Maybe it was because I was too twinky. Maybe it was because I was mixed. Maybe it was because I was from the Caribbean and they couldn’t figure out where I was from. Walking home that night, a car pulled up and a man shouted Paki and sped away. One summer, I got on a scheme to shadow a judge at a low-level court. But as soon as he saw me, he said he was sorry this would not work out and told me to go do something else instead. I wondered if he meant a career in law would not work out or simply that my shadowing him for the day would not work out. I was a little miffed, but it didn’t bother me too much. I decided to walk around the courts to see what I could learn. I found out how trials worked that day. I was fascinated by one case in which the main witness was allowed to testify hidden behind a cloth screen, as though justice itself were a delicate piece of white fabric.
One of my roommates was gay, which could have been convenient. But Kurtz told me he wasn’t into “Asian guys” and it was clear that he was referring to me. He had blond hair and blue eyes and several piercings. He was really thin and fixated on his appearance. Whenever he dated someone he found he didn’t like, he was sure to introduce them to me as though we might make a great couple. But no one stuck around. I was looking for a true companion, someone who would walk hand in hand with me in the streets, shelter me in the rain with his umbrella.
In Trinidad I was never out. Not even Mother knew. In London, I could go to dinner parties and be free and it was fine. Or at least that was what I had thought in my head. That was what I had been led to believe, or allowed myself to believe, or wanted to believe, looking in from the outside from my island afar.
The things people said at dinner parties, though! One lady once asked me, “Are there roads in Trinidad?” I thought this was a joke but she was serious. I told her the asphalt road in front of Buckingham Palace was paved with pitch from Trinidad, so yes, we have roads too. (Though privately I grumbled to myself that many of Trinidad’s roads needed resurfacing.) At another dinner party, people introduced me to a guy from Wales, who had an accent like mine. He was cute. He looked like the fella who played Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. I imagined us frolicking together in the shires, drinking ale and having picnics on sleepy hillsides. But he was really quiet and we didn’t hit it off.
Two guys from separate seminars started flirting with me but for some reason I froze whenever they did. One guy was French and showed me a photo of his cute dog. Another was from Canada and, like me, he liked books. When I told him I was from Trinidad, he said he’d read Earl Lovelace’s The Schoolmaster and I was impressed. But I didn’t quite know what to do with all of this attention. I was always either oblivious or awkward. In some ways I was still a newcomer to myself, a tourist. I was present in this new world, but not all of me was prepared for it.
When I finally decided I was ready, I started chatting with Robert, a British guy from my criminal law seminar who looked like Hugh Grant. We went to the theatre to see Glenn Close in A Streetcar Named Desire and Brian Dennehy in Death of a Salesman. We went to the Tate Modern and stared into the painting by Dorothea Tanning of the girl being raped by a flower. We attended a screening of Pedro Almodóvar’s Bad Education with Gael García Bernal. We saw Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now at a special screening and I held onto Robert’s arm when the scary lady with the red coat appeared. One night, at a party at Robert’s house, he got drunk and knelt before me and held my hand and kissed it and then got up and walked off to make out with this guy called Seamus.
I found out later they were boyfriends. They had been boyfriends all along. Seamus was also at King’s but was studying English Literature which made me jealous of them both. I decided that was that and pulled out.
Soon after, one guy from my contract law seminar started walking with me to the library on Chancery Lane. He was sexy like George Michael in the 80s. He wore tight, distressed jeans. Had a cross earring. We’d chat among the law bookshops, window shop in front the luxury shirt stores, go for coffees at the tiny Starbucks that once operated on Chancery Lane. He was from Cyprus and I think he felt kinship with me because of the island thing. After seminars one day I decided to ask him to go for a drink. We sat in a musky, wooden cubicle in The Cheshire Cat. He was telling me about how excited he was that Cyprus was going to join the EU when I put my hand on his hand and he recoiled. He looked at me with shock and disgust. He spat out that he wasn’t gay. Then he got up and left. I headed to Heaven and got wasted.
The next morning I had my first hangover on British soil. It was worse than any hangovers I’d had in Trinidad. At least in Trinidad it was always warm. Here the sky was a grey vault and I was sinking like an anchor into the cold waters of an icy river. This was the day, of all days, that I had to go to Forest Hill.
I was looking to bolster my CV so had volunteered to be a mentor in a school along with several students. According to the university, the programme involved reaching out to “inner city” kids, encouraging them to feel that it was possible to pursue a career in law. I didn’t even know if I really wanted to be a lawyer or whether I’d come to London because I was gay and felt this was my chance to seek refuge from Trinidad.
The school at Forest Hill was warm and inviting. To me, the students all seemed so polite, the teachers so friendly. In the classrooms there were posters on all sorts of different things. One teacher was teaching the class about all of the religions of the world, with posters about the Bhagavad Gita, the Quran, and the Bible side by side. Suddenly I felt at ease; I felt this could be a classroom anywhere in Trinidad. I enjoyed my chat with Peter, my mentee, who was way too tall for his age. He had a huge head of curly hair and said he wanted to be a novelist or a filmmaker when he grew up. I smiled. I think I finally saw myself.
Walking out the school, someone called out my name.
A car drove up beside me. It was Robert. I’d forgotten he would be here. He offered a lift. I hesitated. We hadn’t spoken since the night of his party. But I was tired. A lift wouldn’t hurt.
The awkward silence was painful. Before, we used to have such an easy way of talking with one another. Now that comforting camaraderie was gone. I began to regret accepting his lift.
Then, Robert broke the silence.
And by the time we got back to the centre of the city I felt better once more, hopeful once more. I could hear my heart beating. I could hear Robert’s breathing. I could hear the whole city’s noise as we sat there in the dark of the car on the street waiting for me to say goodnight and go inside.
Everything was wrong. I woke that morning with a sense of dread. The sun rose and it was my own fear rising. I knew something bad was about to happen.
Father was moody once more. He ate breakfast at the table silently. The night before there had been a quarrel about the bank again. Mother said something, then Father said something, then the silence said something, a silence that fell on the house like a blanket of vexness. It covered everything, was louder than them both and extended its tendrils deep into the night as we all exhaled, my sisters and I, on our cool beds.
I went outside. I cleaned the kennels and walked up the back steps. Longdenville sprawled before me, a collage of rusty roofs and asphalt roads, mottled with green treetops. From these steps, on good days, I felt the world was in front of me. Everything was ahead and all of this Trinidadian landscape was part of some runway leading to another future. Today, though, the sun climbed high in the sky like a curse.
Mom made tea and I packed my sandwich for school then went to have a shower. The bathroom tiles felt cold, the water was colder. When I finished, I walked past my father in the corridor. He looked at me as though looking at a stranger walking through his house. I shut my bedroom door. Then it happened.
What struck me most about the way Father called me into the living room was how ordinary his voice was. There were no hysterics. No cursing. No smashing of plates against the wall. No threats or recriminations. He just came out and said it:
Why do you wear your towel on your chest like a woman?
Don’t you ever do that again, Finn.
Bring me the wooden spoon.
I wondered what he wanted to do with a wooden spoon, since I’d never seen Father cook. And I wondered what all the fuss was about with the towel. I wore my towel the way my older sisters did. It was too long to drape around my waist, wouldn’t it drag against the floor?
When he hit me with the wooden spoon I thought of Shirley, our dog, in the kennel outside. I thought of the way she had licked me earlier that day, as though licking some wound that was to come.
I came straight from the airport. When we turned off the road, the taxi drove through a thicket of almond trees. It was nighttime and the taxi’s lights cast shadows that made the trees multiply. Soon, I could see the house at the edge of the cliff. And already, what had been a memory came roaring back at me. The sea: booming, murmuring, overwhelming. Fresh sea breeze blew into the car.
I had come back to live on the island. My family was expecting me at Longdenville (this was before I moved to Woodbrook), but first I would stay here for a few days. A welcome home gift to myself.
Trevor, for that was the name on the card he gave me, parked the taxi at the front of the beach house. I asked him to wait while I opened up. I had keys. We had picked them up from the housekeeper along the way. I had stayed at this house before. I had told the housekeeper there was no need for him to come with me at this hour of the night. He said the house was aired and there were a few basics in the fridge. I noticed the outside light, which worked with a timer, was not on. As I fumbled in the carport for the switch, I noticed the foul stench. I flipped the switch but the bulb did not light. I stumbled over something heavy. I ran back into the open yard where there was moonlight.
Trevor brought a torch. I suddenly saw how attractive he was.
We followed the beam of light back into the carport. The dead dog revealed itself. Its throat was slit. Blood had caked into molasses and oozed out of the wound. Little rice grains, maggots, crawled from its mouth. Its blood dyed a burlap bag revealing its tightly woven threads. There was a trail of blood. Someone had dragged the dead dog here from the front yard over the pale gravel. I followed this trail but it vanished in the direction of the neighbour’s house where I knew a few kids lived.
Trevor started the car and I thought he was leaving but he was really turning the car around to direct its beams onto the garage.
It seemed like an ominous sign. It didn’t match with anything I was feeling inside. I had been longing to return for so long. On mornings in London, I would wake up in my dreary, cramped lodging at Crouch End, and imagine the sweet aroma of a tropical sun-ripened mango. Not the garbage they had in Sainsbury’s. I would hear the wind rustling through the trees in our yard in Longdenville. I missed our mango tree, our coconut tree, our sour cherry tree, the pommecythere, the neighbour’s cashew tree, the ten-pound zabocas that would hang and sway like mute, green church bells. For many months, I would ring Enrico – who would always pick up the phone during his shifts at Wendy’s – and cry into the receiver. It didn’t help that things hadn’t worked out with Robert. Nor did they work out with Roger. Nor Hanson. Nor Charlie. Even online hookups were tough, a sea of rejection: No Asians, No Blacks, No Femmes, No Fats, No offence but not into Arabs (?). At bars I was chronically shy and people would ignore me when I mustered the courage to make conversation. Those people I did manage to bed consumed me only because they felt I was rare and exotic in some way. They could see no further than that. I had believed that leaving Trinidad would set me free. Instead, I became invisible. When Enrico sent the job vacancy he saw for a firm near him in Woodbrook, it was a simple decision. I wanted Trinidad. I had to come back.
But now, looking at this dead dog, I wondered.
I wanted Trinidad but did Trinidad want me? I suddenly felt incredibly tired and jet lagged.
Trevor said he’d come with me inside the house with the torchlight. There was no power. If someone had been here recently, I could not tell. Nothing was disturbed. No air had entered for months. There was a musty, dank smell. There were thick chunky candles and matches in a kitchen drawer that I lit, revealing dust and cobwebs and I wondered if Miss Havisham lived here. A pile of old magazines was strewn on the coffee table. Twigs and clove-like droppings indicated bats. I opened a window. I opened the doors to the veranda overlooking the cliff. Sea breeze rushed in, beastly and magnificent. Trevor stood next to me looking out at the vastness. The full moon lit a white, sparkling path leading to some place beyond the night.
I’ll help you, he said.
We each took a corner of the bag and dragged it. The dog felt unyielding, as though a powerful magnet was pulling it deep into the earth. Had it been someone’s pet? It looked like one of those feral country dogs that roamed the streets. We took it far away to a part of the cliff where the soil was soft, but not too soft, under some coconut trees. The breeze here was powerful, but the stench remained. We had a fork and spade from the garage and took turns digging. We turned to the sea now and then and took in big gulps of air. In the moonlight, Trevor took off his shirt and suddenly, through this close proximity, the shock of our shared labour, I got a real sense of him: how he moved, how tall he was, how broad his shoulders were, the shapeliness of his limbs. We put the dog in the pit and started to cover it with soil. I took my shirt off too. Our bodies glistened with sweat. I could hear the engine of the surf hissing as though it was powered by hot steam. Eventually, the task was done. Strangely, in burying something, I felt something else had been unearthed.
I have rum in my carry-on, I said.
Good, I need a drink real bad, he said.
I remembered there was an outdoor shower at the back of the house. I found some blue soap. I let him go first. In the murk, I could see him take off all of his clothes as though he had done so in front of me several times before. The pipe sputtered then exploded when he turned on the tap. As the water hit him, he moaned. Then he beckoned me to come.
The pressure real good, he said.
The water was cool, cold almost, and the pressure of the jet from the nozzle was sharp and bruising, firing thousands of hard pearls at my flesh. I gasped. He laughed. And then he soaped me, casually, easily, as though we had done this some time before and were used to it. His casualness emboldened me. I held him. He kissed me. And it was as though I was swallowing the night sky with its diamond stars, the black ocean with its orange welts of oil rigs in the distance, the spidery coconut trees dancing their shadow ballet against the moon, the sea foam and the sea spray, the memory of the dead dog, of death, my desire to come home – it was as though it was all filling me. I drank in his salty taste. I held his dick in my hand, and felt I was holding some heavy fruit, some memory, some dream.
We never opened the rum.
The housekeeper knocked on the door. I jumped up in bed, startled. I was alone in the small bedroom. I was naked among a creased sea of crumpled sheets. I found my trousers and, inspecting myself in the mottled mirror, tried to look unsexed.
Sorry about the power, the housekeeper said when I got outside. I fixed the problem.
I saw Trevor’s taxi was not in the yard. A wave of sadness crashed on the rocks inside me. I dug into my trouser pockets. I found the card he had given me. With my hand still in my pocket, I held onto the card as though holding a memory. I continued the conversation with the housekeeper, telling him about the dog.
It was that miserable child next door, he said without hesitation. He’s been killing things all week. I’ll speak with the mother again. Kids these days, yes, they watching all that Harry Potter sorcery stupidness.
When the housekeeper left, when I was finally alone, the world around me settled into something unreal. Memories of the night before came back: how we had kissed; how I had trailed my tongue from his lips to his ears to his neck and then down to his left nipple, down along his chest; how I had knelt before him and swallowed the entirety of his wet cock; how we had somehow made it to the bedroom, dusting off the bed; how I lay on my back as he parted my legs then lifted them up towards my head; how I could hear waves crashing as he pounded me until I came; how we lay arm in arm before falling asleep. For a moment, these memories mixed with my elation at being home. But then disappointment overcame me because what had happened, the whole ordeal with the dog, the way the entire encounter had seemingly brought us together, had ended so easily with the sunrise. Trevor had told me he lived in Carenage with his sister and his mom. Would I ever see him again? There was a number on the card. I told myself I would ring him later (my phone had died in the night).
The house appeared oddly clean, cleaner than it had been last night, as though someone had removed a heavy filter from an image and allowed us to see what was there all along. The place was organ-warm, pulsing. Pure sunlight, sunlight as clear as white wine, burst through the windows, through the veranda doors, through the little holes left for wind to enter. A breeze was blowing. Birds sang. I had no idea what time it was. I went into the yard.
I saw it.
The taxi hadn’t gone as I had thought. He’d gotten up early, parked it discreetly at the side of the house.
I walked down the worn, rocky steps, pieces of which had been interchanged over the years like some kind of Frankenstein construction. They led to the small bay beneath the house. All in front of me, the aquamarine waves beckoned, their alternating allegro and adagio speaking of some happiness to come.
And there he was, on the sand, walking towards me.