Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Our playhouse


           The Family

My sister and I were awoken from our deep slumber in the bed we shared by a loud and frightening scream. It seemed to last for minutes. The undulating yells for help continued as we pulled the covers from on top of us and knelt on the bed to gaze out the window. Something had gone terribly wrong.

Earlier that day, Allana (my sister) and I decided we would build a playhouse. It was to be a place we could hide from the world. Create our own U.S. in Trinidad. I do not know what the impetus for this grand scheme was. I imagine it was some impulsive act that most children do when they are bored. Why not build a playhouse?

We did not know exactly how to build a playhouse. Months before, we did watch with great intensity the building of a small pig pen in the back yard. We knew that you needed string, stakes, a hammer, a shovel, a wheel barrow, and wood. That was the extent of our supply list.

We then considered the location. We walked in the back yard and instantly decided that this was not ideal. Too many chickens running around, the pig pen close by, and the outhouse and outdoor shower made the space congested. No, we needed space, we thought.

So we went to the front of the house where there was an open field. However, the left of the field was waist high grass. And we rarely went into that area since my cousin Greta got bitten by a snake chasing a ball that I kicked over there. Her leg blew up like a water filled balloon. Every pore in the skin of her leg looked like it was stretched to it’s limit. No, that area was going to remain the territory of what became to be known as the balloon leg snake.

We saw another area to the right close to the path that led from the road to the house. We eye ball measured half way between the house and the road and planted a stick right to the side of the path. This is where the front door to our house will be. We will be able to step right into the house from the path. Brilliant!

So we got busy gathering sticks that served as stakes, yarn that substituted as string, a shovel from the back of the yard, a hammer from the shed, and a wheel barrow from the side of the house. We concluded that we will have to get the wood and concrete later.

My grandmother, curious, called out to us asking what we were doing as we pulled the wheel barrow around the front of the house. We replied, “Building a house” with the enthusiasm of a band of kids setting out on an Indiana Jones like adventure. She said, “mind you hit your finger with that hammer” as she returned to what she was doing inside the house.

We agreed that the house should be big enough for three people. “Mama may want to join us for tea”, I remember my sister saying. So we began to stake out what looked like a 15’ x 15’ square. We hammered the sticks right into the ground alternating turns holding the stick and pounding with the hammer. It was a hot morning and the sun was getting high in the sky. “It would be time to stop for lunch soon”, I said as sweat dripped down my face and the initial sounds of rumbling sounded from my stomach.

We decided to tie the yarn from pole to pole. Not really knowing why. We figured it must be an important part in building because we always saw it being done. So we wrapped the yarn around each stakes three times to secure it, stretched to the other stake, and repeated the wrapping. Finished, we stood and skipped to the house. At last, we had accomplished our first goal. Now for lunch.

After lunch we rested and then resumed building around late afternoon. The sun had maneuvered from high in the sky to just atop the trees low in the western horizon. We had to dig a trench running the length of the string so that cement could be poured. Our plan was to convince our uncle to make some cement, pour it in the trench, and place some wood in the cement before it dried. In the end, we would have some sticks sitting upright in the cement. Okay folks we were kids! We were contractors in the making.

We started digging. We loaded the wheelbarrow with dirt and emptied it close to the street. After about eleven trips, a lot of digging, and serious sweat, we were done with the first phase of the project. In front of eyes laid the fruits of our labor – a 15’ staked square that had yarn tied around the perimeter on stakes and a trench running around the entire length of each side of the square. We were finished for the day or so we thought.

That night as we knelt on the bed listening to a woman’s painful screams, watching as my grandmother and great aunt rush outside with flashlights to see who was making all that commotion, the thought of our fledgling house and the way we left it haunted us. We viewed as our mama and her sister walked half way up the path and came to a dead stop. In fact, they stopped precisely where that awful screaming was emanating.

Their lights flashed on what looked like a woman tangled in yarn, laying in a trench, on her back.

“Oh no!” my sister said.

The woman had obviously walked down the path and did not see our glorious project. She obviously fell in the trench and her leg wrapped around the yarn and snap.

My great aunt and Mama helped the woman up to her feet. She could not walk on her own so they helped her to the house, up the stairs, and into the front room. She kept on screaming.

We raced to hear what was being said peeping through the curtain that separated the front room from the bedroom.

The lady was sitting on the couch in a flowery dress moaning something like “I think I broke it!” I was not a doctor but I knew that a leg doesn’t look twisted like the ways hers looked. She certainly was hurt and in serious pain. She also kept asking, “what the hell was that out there?” “My grandchildren are building a playhouse.” Mama replied. The lady frowned and said in a frustrated voice, “I have to go to the hospital. I will miss my plane tomorrow.” We could tell she was not pleased.

The lady was one of mama’s friends who had come by that night to say good bye. She was going to the U.S. to live with her son and daughter. And she was leaving on a flight in the morning. “I guess she will be missing that flight”, I said to Allana who was now making her way back to bed. I followed her sensing that being asleep will be better than being awake when mama came back to bed. So we laid there in the bed and willed ourselves to sleep knowing full well that the next morning we would pay for our playhouse in skin.

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