Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The day before my father's first visit

I can only remember my parents visiting from the U.S. on two occasions. My mother visited once and my father another. These memories are vivid because on both occasions I was deathly ill.

My father visited one year and I was so excited. Not because he was my father, but because I was finally going to get to see the person I only knew from pictures as my father.

My grandmother told me a week before he arrived that he was coming for a visit. I felt elated. How should I act, I thought, as the reality of finally meeting him came over me. I must prepare.

Anyone coming to Trinidad from the U.S. was a big deal back then. It meant presents, lots of food, friends would come over, and adults would talk well into the night. Drinking rum and reminiscing about the old days. I would be in the middle of this celebration for certain.

That week was spent daydreaming. I would think about New York and if he was going to take us back with him. I planned on telling him about all my friends, how good I was at football and cricket, and how I wanted to be the next Pele. I would explain to him my love for the guitar and being an altar boy. I would show him the scar on my elbow where I was cut by the metal edge of my book bag. I considered it a badge of honor. I bled so much that day. I swore that I was a goner for sure. I would tell him how I loved all the gifts that he and mom sent. I would tell him about Mr. Orosco and his cane. I found out later Mr. Orosco was my father’s good friend. It certain did not stop the whippings. So many ideas were running through my head. My father was coming to visit, finally.

As the date drew near, my sister and I took to playing in the yard more than ever. My grandmother would point outside and plead with us to go and burn up some of that nervous energy.

It was the day before he arrived and as our grandmother had suggested, we ran outside to kick the football around. It was an exercise we performed many times before with only one incident – that being my cousin getting bitten by the balloon leg snake.

It was a sunny afternoon. A mild breeze blew that aided in cooling us off a bit. Back and forth we kicked the white football. I was Pele, the magnificent footballer from Brazil.

We loved playing in front of the house. But, we were very careful not to kick the ball to the left where waist high bush devoured the ball and made it difficult to find. Plus there were the snakes.

My sister and I talked about the impending visit from our father. We were laughing and smiling like two children fishing in a Mark Twain’s story. With one kick from my sister, the ball flew past me, rolled, and settled under a guava tree filled with low hanging branches and lots of broad green leaves.

I turned and chased the ball. The ball was visible as it nestled at the base of the tree. As I reached the edges of the branches, I ducked to avoid hitting the leaves. Stooping as I moved closer to the ball. Slowly, I bent my waist a bit more, reached my hands out, picked up the ball, and tucked it under my right arm. Mission accomplished, I moved quickly with boyish exuberance.

As I turned and made my way back out from under the branches for an instant I thought I saw a critical mass of Jack Spaniard wasp nests on the back of a leaf right in front of me. Too late! It was what I thought it was.

My face hit the wasp’s nest with force. Instantly cracking open the wasp’s paper thin abode. And then came the pain and the ball dropped from my arm.

Jack Spaniard wasps are ferociously territorial. They will engage in an all out assault if their nest is disturbed. And I had just disturbed their nest. I can honestly say, I thought I heard the word “Charge!”

The wasp stuck to my face as I ran screaming out from under the tree. I felt stings on my face, chest and legs. They continued to follow me as I ran, eyes closed, yelling “Jack Spaniards, get them off me!” I could hear my sister screaming for my grandmother to come.

I ripped at my clothes and brushed my hands over my body to get the wasps off me. Intermittently, I swung wildly, arms flailing to hit the wasps in mid-air. They still were stinging me.

My grandmother came running out of the house holding a sheet paying no attention to the fly armada.  She wrapped it around me and pulled me inside. I was still experiencing the wasp’s pulsating stingers in my flesh. It hurt so badly. But worst, I felt very ill.

The look on my sister’s face spoke volumes about the grave situation I was facing. Her eyes teary and bugged and mouth agape, she looked like she was looking at death and death was staring back. What she was looking at was her brother covered in stings from head to toe – forty-eight red welts in total.

I had stings on my scalp, face, ears, neck, chest, back, groin, knee, and legs. Why would a wasp want to sting me in my groin is beyond me? I imagine it flew up my shorts and said “here is for messing up my house!”  Sting.

I was lying there feeling like my world had come to an end. The light was fading. I thought to myself I need to stay awake. But the pain!

My father!

In all the confusion, I had forgotten all about my father’s visit. Here I am about to die the day before my father arrived, I thought to myself. At best, I would be a red polka-dotted boy in agony. “Would daddy be angry?” I asked by grandmother as she placed calamine lotion over the red bumps?

My sister had taken to pulling the stingers out of my skin as she continued the mantra of “everything is going to be okay.” She was very caring and her closeness brought me comfort.

After being triaged on the couch, my grandmother and sister helped me to the bedroom. And for the next few hours, my grandmother and sister looked over me as mothers would look at their newborn child. Their eyes were full of love and concern. This was my family. These were the two people that were the closest to me on earth as I fell off to sleep.

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