Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ignorance is bliss

 John Phillip Sousa Junior High School, Bronx, NY

I switched to John Phillip Sousa Junior high school on Baychester Avenue when we moved to Pratt Avenue in the Bronx. Sousa was located across the street from Cardinal Spelman High School where my sister would graduate and become an alum - joining the likes of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer.

Sousa was only a 20 minute walk from our house. It sat next to Seton Falls Park that many whispered was haunted and filled with child snatching thugs. Needless to say, I never ventured into the park.

I attended the seventh grade at Sousa during the last half of the 1978 - 1979 school year. I still uncomfortable with the routine in the American school system.

For instance, standing with my hand over my heart, facing the flag and saying the pledge of allegiance first thing in the morning was definitely different. I took one night and memorized the entire pledge. I did not want to look out of place not knowing what seemed to be a mantra of sort.

Also, I was clueless about the hierarchy of power in junior high school. But I learned quickly during gym class compliments of Bill Perry.

On gym day, we gathered in the boy’s locker room, changed into our gym clothes, put our street clothes in metal lockers, and headed up to the gym. We often had free time to play after a series of brutal calisthenics. One game in particular was my favorite – dodge ball.  We played dodge ball on a small basketball court using a volleyball. I was a skinny and agile young kid and could dodge a speeding ball in a flash.

On this particular day, Bill and his friends had lined up on one side of the court and me and a few other boys on the other. Bill was clearly a big kid that probably got left back in school several times. He wore new sneakers and trendy clothes and was always seen sitting at lunch with a gang of guys. I never had a problem with Bill or any other student as a matter of fact. I just went about my business assuming everyone was a nice person and had my best interest at heart.

The game started with Bill running forward, throwing the volleyball whizzing through the air, and hit a boy square on the knee caps. The force of the strike sent the slim boy toppling to the ground. He lay on his back for a second and then hopped up and slowly limped to the side.  

A boy on my side picked the ball up, ran forward and hit an overweight kid who could not get out of the way fast enough. Walking back to the safety of the pack with a swagger of confidence, the boy exclaimed with a smile on his face and pointing to Bill’s team, “easy pickings!”

The game went back and forth for five minutes. Boys were dropping like flies. I hung in there until there was only me against Bill and two boys. A crowd of boys had gathered around the court excitedly cheering on.

What happened next made me understand that this was no ordinary game.

Bill had thrown the ball and missed hitting anyone. The ball hit the back wall, bounced off, and started to roll back to Bill who was standing at the mid-court line. I took the opportunity to cut the ball off but slipped a mere few feet from reaching the ball. I realized shortly thereafter that Bill was going to have the ball in his hand with me being less than six feet away on the ground.

Bill reached down for the ball as I tried to scramble to my feet. However, the dusty floor provided little traction for the bottom of my sneakers and I slipped back down. Bill had me dead to right. I expected him to just softly hit me on my legs with the ball as I lay there in complete submission. But when I looked into his eyes I saw malice and wickedness. I saw the look of a hunter who had his prey cornered and was closing in for the kill. He raised his hands and aimed the ball dead at my head and released it in a full wind-up motion.

What happened next was simply a miracle. I felt a breeze blow over my face, then the sound of the ball hitting the floor a couple of inches from my head, and then the chorus of thirty plus boys exhaling in synchrony.

He missed!

I opened my eyes and looked at Bill’s face that wore the mask of disbelief as he followed the ball with his eyes and then anger as his gaze returned back to me.

I got up, ran, and grabbed the ball that had bounced off the wall and straight to me. I turned and cocked my hand, ran forward, and flung the ball at the retreating Bill. He tried to duck out of the way but the ball had enough speed to catch him on the side of his head.

He was out!

A chorus of “oohs!” rang out from the crowd on the side line. Bill turned and walked towards me as if he wanted to inflict bodily harm. Then came the second miracle in the form of the gym teacher saying, “okay boys that’s it - head down to the locker room.”  Bill stopped and turned towards the door. He had a smirk on his face.

One boy came up to be and said, “yo man, that was dope. You hit Bill in the head.”

I replied, “I did not mean to.” We chatted some more as the boys made their way down to the locker room. I was trying desperately to downplay what had just happened. I still had no idea that I had seriously challenged the hierarchal order.

We made it to the locker room and I got my clothes out the locker to put on. I stood slipping on my pants when out of nowhere Bill walked passed me, bumped me hard with his shoulder, and kept on walking. My friends who witnessed the assault started with their “oohs!”

“Damn, you let him do you like that.” One boy said.

“If I were you, I would go over there and punch him in his head.” Said another boy as he pointed to where Bill was standing with his lackeys.

Yet another boy said, “he played you like a punk.”

That was it. I decided I had to take a stand regardless of the consequences.  

I walked up to Bill and shoved him in the back. He fell forward and was held up by his friends. He turned and stepped to me and swung his right fist at my head. I stepped back and immediately saw the left hand coming towards my face. I ducked and quickly returned to an upright posture when I noticed Bill charging. Not being able to quickly move out the way, he tackled me in my midsection, lifted me up, and ran with me to the lockers. As he ran, I grabbed the back of his head by instinct. I really was just holding on to his head and trying to brace myself for the impending smash of the lockers on my back.

My back hit the lockers with a loud sound followed by a smaller sound of my head hitting the same metal frame. My hand had remained on the back of Bill’s head and not knowing this would serve to keep Bill’s head very straight as it rammed into the locker’s metal handle.  Bill let go of me and I crumpled to the floor. He stood over me in a daze as blood poured out the right side of his forehead. There was so much blood coming out of his head that it made me sick.

The gym teachers quickly came to the scene asking what had happened. I heard boys talking over each other saying that Bill and I were fighting. The teacher grabbed me and asked if I was hurt for which I responded no. He told me to get changed and meet him in his office. He escorted Bill to his office, opened a box, placed a bandage on Bill’s head, and walked out the locker room with Bill in tow.

One of my friends looked at me and said, “damn you are brave. Bill has a lot boys and he lives in Edenwald projects. You better not come back to school.”

Honestly, I was scared. I did not know what was going to happen to me. The gym teacher returned and told me to come along to the principal’s office. As I sat there in the principal’s office looking out the window, I saw Bill being put into an ambulance in front of the school.

The principal walked in and said, “congratulations Salandy you managed to send a child to the hospital with a severe laceration to his head. Now tell me how did that happen.”

I went on to tell the principal about the incident in the locker room and did not know how Bill’s head got cut open. I reaffirmed that I did not hit him and had not intended for anyone to get hurt. The principal said I was going to be sent home and my parents would have to come in with me the next day. I was officially suspended.

I explained what happened when my parents got home that evening. And told them I was scared of Bill and what he might do to me and it probably would be a good idea for me to transfer to another school now. My parents assured me that nothing was going to happen to me and transferring was out of the question.

They took me to school the next day at about 11am and explained to the principal that I was scared of retribution from Bill. The principal assured me and my parents that Bill will be monitored and I should not fear him.  I was told to go join my class in the cafeteria. I did not want to go because I knew I would see Bill there. I did not have a choice. The principal escorted me to the cafeteria.

The cafeteria was full of loud chattering children and clanking plates and glasses. I got in the line and picked up a tray. I got my food and headed to sit somewhere not too conspicuous. I was looking so frantically for Bill that I walked up on where he was sitting and did not even see him. He wore a white bandage that circled his entire head. His right eye was swollen and blood totally covered the sclera of that eye.

Bill shouted as he stood, “hey Salandy!” I felt like running but could not move my feet. He was going to kill me right here in front of everyone. I thought to myself self that this is a true thug. The cafeteria had gotten quiet and I looked around for teachers to intervene and prevent my death. None of them were moving. It seemed that the same ‘foot immobilitis’ condition was affecting them as well.

But death passed me by. It never came. There was a slap or punch as I expected. To my amazement, Bill extended his hand, gave me a dap and said, “good fight. You stood your ground.” 

“Yeh! good fight. You are good too.” I mumbled trying to keep it together.

And with that I walked away and found a seat close to some of my friends who began to ask me a dozen questions about yesterday and today. The noise level in the cafeteria had increased to its pre-showdown level.

Bill and I became very good friends. He was really a very cool guy. We started hanging out together. We played scully and basketball. I would hang out at his house in the projects and he at mine. He introduced me to his friends and his parents. And I also realized that boys who I did not know were ‘dapping’ me up and giving me the brother head nod.

I was now aware of the hierarchy in junior high and somehow had ended up in the top echelon.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Adjusting to life in the U.S.

         Young man Playing Scully on the sidewalk

So I had started the second chapter in my life in a new country with almost new parents. This chapter would bring both joy and pain - each one fighting for supremacy as the major player in my daily existence. It would prove to be a difficult period in my life. One that would shape who I am and what I would become.

In the very beginning, I was trying desperately to come to grips with missing my friends and relatives in Trinidad that were central in my life thus far. I cried a bunch, reminisced with my sister, and wrote letters to my grandmother.

I longed for the foods of my youth - pelau, callaloo, shark and bake, provisions, stew chicken, roti, and coconut water. Instead, I was introduced to spaghetti, twice baked potatoes, hamburgers, broccoli, lasagna, and kool-aid. There was one new food introduction that was especially good however – pizza. As with many kids today, pizza trumped any food item for me during my first few months in the U.S. Nevertheless, I felt that my history with Trinidadian food was slowly being erased. My taste pallet was being rewritten with a bent on European/American cuisine.  

We moved into a house on 219th street in the Bronx at first, which was a temporary arrangement until my parents closed on a house on 3940 Pratt Avenue close to the border of Mount Vernon.

I was trying to fit into a culture that seemed foreign at best and wildly exciting at the very least.

I attended a public junior high school when I first arrived in the U.S.

School was my first true reminder that I was not in Trinidad anymore. I was trying to find my place among the throngs of students who seemed to know exactly their position in the universe. I had a heavy accent and tried to communicate with children that seemed to speak a language I only heard on American television shows.

It was the beginning of the school year and children were dressed in new stylish jeans and Adidas sneakers. I looked way out of place with my “high-water” pants and sneakers that kids called “skips” even though it was not written anywhere on the sneakers.  I felt out of place in the American school system.

In class, I would raise my hand to answer a question posed by the teacher and would have to be asked time and time again to repeat myself. I could hear students saying, “huh? What the hell did he just say?” What I learned from that experience was to shut my mouth and try to speak properly. I felt like I was being forced to relearn a new language.

On one occasion, I got in serious trouble for not knowing the proper U.S. classroom etiquette. One day the teacher in my history class asked a question about a U.S. event. I raised my hand high with certainty that I had the correct answer, my hand waving back and forth with anticipation, my eyes wide open hoping that the teacher would make eye contact with me, and making the sound “ooh! ooh!”.  She called on me since I was the only student making this odd sound and acting as if my hand had a serious cramp. I answered and got it incorrect. I responded with a loud, “shit!”

Aghast, the class looked at me with mouths wide open. I looked at them with horror as I realized that I had committed a crime and was going to be sent back to Trinidad for my indiscretions. The look on my teacher’s face was one of disdain. My mind raced to fathom how what I said could have been so offensive. My teacher replied, “Young man, we do not use that language in class. It is not appropriate.” I replied with my eyes trailing down to my desk, “sorry.” I can’t even say shit, I thought to myself. We would always use that in Mr. Orsoco’s class if we missed an answer. He did not mind. The only consolation was that this teacher did not hit people with canes for bad behavior.

Our neighborhood was pretty cool. There were kids around riding bikes and playing scully – a sidewalk game played with bottle caps filled with clay.

I did not know how to ride a bike. I never had one in Trinidad. So my parents bought a ten-speed for me. It was made by KIA. The same company that now makes cars.

My parents always looked out for our safety and decided to put training wheels on my ten-speed to assist us in learning how to ride a bike. Now picture a grown 13 year old boy riding down the block on a ten-speed with training wheel. It did not dawn on me how utterly ridiculous I looked until I rode past a group of teenage boys who stopped their conversation, stared at me riding past, and immediate fell on the ground laughing all the while shouting, “he’s got training wheels on a ten-speed!”

To make matters worse, as I turned to look at them rolling on the ground, I hit a patch of uneven pavement, lost control, and fell off the bike. The bike toppled and landed on me. And as I looked up, the first thing that came into focus were those damn training wheels sticking up in the air spinning as if taunting me to no end. Of course, that made the boys laughs even louder. Pointing and jeering they continued their onslaught of insults. I rose to my feet, picked my bike up, and with my head bowed I walked around the block to my house. I walked inside and found my father’s tool bag, grabbed a screw driver and went outside. In five minutes those training wheels were off the bike and sitting next to the garbage can.

I still believe that somewhere out there when any one of those boys wants a good chuckle they think back to the day that the boy on the ten-speed with training wheels took a dive in the Bronx.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My parents return to Trinidad for good.

Top of the World by the Carpenters

We were told one day, in the latter part of 1975, that our parents were returning back to Trinidad to live for good. We would be reunited as a family not in the U.S. but in Trinidad – home of our birth. We were elated.

I was in my last year at Rosary Boys RC School and looking forward to my next academic challenge. I took my common entrance exam which determined where I would conduct my secondary school education. Most boys wanted to be placed at Queens Royal College (QRC) or some other top level school. QRC was at that time the best school on the island.

Unfortunately or fortunately as it turned out that my test scores got me placed in Saint James Secondary and I was to start the same time my parents would arrive in Trinidad. Saint James Secondary was a good school located in the town of Saint James on the Northwestern part of the island and I thrived there. It was coed and was the first time in my life I went to school with girls. My father’s brother Wayne was the science teacher and I often would go see him to talk.

The summer my parents arrived caused tremendous upheaval in our lives in ways that we could not have anticipated. The decision was made to take us from my grandmother and place us with our Aunt Helen and her husband Benji in Santa Cruz – a town east of the Capitol. My Aunt Helen lived with us in Maraval before she got married so we were already very familiar with her.

Nevertheless, I did not understand this move. It made no sense to me and furthermore no one discussed it with my sister and me. One day we were living with our Grandmother and the next day with our Aunt. Later I learned that the rationale was that my Aunt Helen had more room in her house to accommodate my returning parents, my sister, and me for a short period.

Uncertainty and confusion can be routine in the life of a barrel child especially when adults fail to discuss important decisions that affect the child’s adjustment.

My parents arrived a few weeks after we started living with my Aunt. They stayed with Aunt Helen for a few weeks until they rented an apartment on Belmont Road next to a steel pan yard. It was on the second floor of a two-story building that had a veranda that overlooked Belmont road. Belmont road was busy with plenty of cars and foot traffic and sat on the outskirts of Port of Spain – the capitol. The apartment had two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living and dining room. It had indoor plumbing and was considered a big step up from our Maraval home.

My parents purchased a grocery store on Belmont road just a block or two from our apartment. I worked there after school often ringing people’s purchases, stocking shelves, and cleaning up. I even caught a man trying to steal one time. I was so happy when my father looked at me and said “good job son!”

Traffic stopped and men tried to clear away taxis, vans, and buses the day a eighteen-wheeler truck rolled through Belmont and brought my parent’s belongings from the U.S. to our home in Belmont. Furniture, household items, and even the electric organ came along with all other kinds of stuff stacked high on the truck. However, transport was rough because those who packed the truck did not account for the low hanging wires in Belmont. Traffic was backed up all the way to Port of Spain General Hospital about a ¼ mile away. Eventually, everything was moved into the house including the four of us.

The Salandy family was finally all together after 8 years of being separated. We ate dinner together at the table on evenings and had discussions about the day’s events and our school work. My father tutored me in my lessons. I started doing well in school placing third in my class at St. James Secondary. We went on trips to the beach as a family and visited relatives. We played music on the record player. I fell in love with the Carpenters – I played their 1971 and 1972 albums over and over. Top of the world became my favorite song and anthem to our reunification as a family. It was truly a happy period in my life. I did not care that we were in Trinidad and not NYC. I cared most that my family was together.

But the happiness would not last. We would be together for one more year when I would go through my second painful family separation that would change me forever.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My first visit to the U.S.

I first came to the U.S. on a visit in 1975. My sister and I traveled unaccompanied from Port of Spain, Trinidad to New York City on American Airlines. We were to meet our parents at JFK airport. Our excitement bubbled over during the entire trip. We received our wings from the flight attendant as we stepped onto the plane. Although I had flown before on my trip to St. Lucia, my sister was a virgin flier. Thus, I received a first flight pin when I did not respond after the attendant asked me if it was my first flight. She just assumed it was. Those plastic wings seemed like gold to me and I wanted one.

Unaccompanied kids on flights are often well treated. We sat in first class before I even knew what first class was or old enough to take advantage of the open bar. I always think about this fact when I board planes as an adult. Because, before I even get to my seat in coach, first class passengers are throwing back rum and coke looking at me as if to say “keep on walking to your cramped up space in the back. There is nothing for you up here”. As a child in first class, my alcoholic fix was candy and chocolate.

We arrived in New York’s JFK Airport where our parents swiftly wrapped their arms around us and my mother planted wet kisses on our cheeks. We had not seen my mother in nearly a year and a half and my father in six months. But this was the first time seeing them in their natural habitat – New York City, U.S.A.

My father drove a souped-up Chevy that made so much noise it seemed out of place in an urban environment. We got in the car and my father and mother’s first question was how was your flight? Why is that always the first question when people greet you upon arrival? I appreciate small talk like anyone else. But the “how was your flight” question should be retired.

Just once I would like to respond, “I had a rotten flight! I got mugged half way through the flight by the guy sitting next to me. He stole my money and promised to kill me if I revealed his crime to the flight attendant. Not only that. A baby threw up on my head as his mother took him to the bathroom. Not only that. The airline lost my luggage and said that it accidentally got put on a plane to Nigeria. Not only that. Someone’s luggage fell out of the overhead compartment during our very turbulent nonstop six-hour flight and hit me one the head. According to the flight attendant, I was out for 3 minutes and may have a concussion. Oh and the bag of pretzels and water I was served were excellent!” Just once I would like to respond the way I really felt about the flight. But on that day, we responded to our parent’s inquiries as most people do to the ‘how was your flight’ question – it was okay!

New York City unfolded in front of us like the vibrant colors of the costumes worn by the characters of the play ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. Traveling on the Van Wyck Expressway on the way to the Bronx was breathtaking. The modern cars, wide highways, and beautiful houses that whizzed by at 70 MPH were all things that we were seeing for the first time. Our eyes were pressed against the glass of the car – opened wide and fixed on the amazing landscape as we tried to capture as much as possible before it exited our view.

We traveled to the Bronx and the scene became a bit more dismal. The houses were a bit drab, things were a bit greyer and run down, and the houses seemed stacked on top of each other. There were lots of people milling around in the streets and hanging on corners. We stopped in front of a two family house off Gun Hill Road. My parents rented a two-bedroom apartment in a three family house. It was a small place and did not have the yard space as we had at my Grandmother’s home in Trinidad. As was expected, we were pampered and tucked in for the night.

Parents often over compensate during periods of reunification with a child that had been separated from them for some time. We were asked at least ten times each day if we wanted something to eat. My parents certainly exhibited the trait of guilt for having lived apart from their precious children or they just really cared about their children.

They showed us this electric organ that they had purchased because my Grandmother communicated to them that I had liked music. I learned later that it was bought for another reason. My father was especially interested in my academic achievements. I didn’t want to venture anywhere near that topic so I skirted the issue since I was did not really want to describe how my bottom periodically found the shaft of Mr. Orosco cane.

Our journey into Manhattan the next day was awe inspiring. We took the subway for the first time and were slightly scared and excited at the same time. The rocking back and forth, the conductor’s garbled voice over the speakers, and the people rushing in and out seeming to be on a deliberate trek to a purposeful destination all added to the rich experience. Our verdict was in – the subway was a thrill!

My impression of the subway would change later in life to the point where I dreaded the thought of going underground. But in between those two periods in time, I would have many adventures riding the IRT and BMT lines.

We stayed at home with our parents in the Bronx for the week and a half we were there – venturing out frequently to see the sites.  We visited the Empire State Building and the Statue of liberty – the beacons of New York City. We walked down Time Square and were amazed by all the flashing neon lights and the huge billboards. I also noticed all the nicely dressed young ladies standing around on 42nd street. I would learn the word prostitutes later on in life.

I had developed some sort of atrophy in my neck at the end of two days of sightseeing primarily due to looking up at the tall buildings. Even to this day, one could easily pick out tourists in NYC by seeing more of their Adam’s apple and up their noses than their faces. Pointing up in the air also is a dead giveaway.

Soon it was time to return to Trinidad. Our parents dropped us off at JFK and I remember crying uncontrollably not knowing why we were going back to Trinidad and not staying in NYC. I did not want to leave. I loved NYC. I loved having indoor plumbing and not having to use a chamber pot at night. I loved the lights and definitely was sold on the glitz and glamour. I longed to be together with my parents and did not understand why we were being sent back.

“Why can’t I stay?” I remember saying over and over again to no avail. We were put on the plane and promptly seated in coach next to an elderly White woman who talked our ears off the entire flight. She must have thought we were invalids because she tried to do everything for us. The final straw was when she grabbed my sister’s bread and started buttering it. I firmly told her that my sister could butter her own bread and that she should not put her hands all over my sister’s food. My vociferous repudiation of her behavior cut short the pleasantries and resulted in a moratorium on communication between the woman and us.

We returned to Trinidad where our Grandmother met us at the airport. We were so excited to see her. However, my glee was tempered with the fact that my parents where in the U.S. and we were in Trinidad. In fact, apart from my boisterous outburst at the elderly woman, I had cried the entire flight. That was probably what made our neighbor on the flight act as a motherly figure to us. More than once she asked me why I was crying. I never replied. And in my opinion, unless she had some amazing power to turn the plane around, it was not any of her business why water was flowing from my eyes.

That night, my sister sat with my Grandmother and great aunt recounting our travels in NYC. I heard her laugh and seem enthusiastic about her description of the Statute of Liberty and the trip to the crown and all the other sites. She talked about our parents and how well we were treated. I did not want to be around anyone the night we got back. I lay on my bed in the dark, cried, and wondered how it was so easy for my sister to be happy and at the same moment in time my heart throbbed with a piercing and numbing pain.  

Monday, August 2, 2010

Kite fights in the savannah, Trinidad

Kite flying in the savannah, Trinidad

I loved designing, building, and flying kites. My kites were not just any ordinary kites. They were fighter kites and I was a damn good fighter kite flyer. My kites ruled the skies over the savannah – the oldest recreation grounds in the West Indies. Boys trembled with fear and their hands shook as I walked onto the field of battle. I left many a nemesis sprinting after their kites as it drifted off captured by the wind shortly after being slashed by my kite’s bladed tail. With my fingers blistered and a smile on my face, I would haul in my prized kite at the end of the day and walk to catch a taxi back home anxious to resume the battle next week on the plains of the savannah.

My first kite was a “chookie chong”. It was a diamond shape kite made from paper I ripped from my school notebook. It had a two-foot white paper tail taped to the end. A piece of string from my grandmother’s sewing kit was attached to guide the kite while in flight. I would run with that kite as a young boy mimicking my older counterparts who mastered the grand kites of the day. The “chookie chong” would bob up and down rising with the speed increases of my gait. These were glorious moments in my childhood.

I made larger kites as I grew older. However, none were fighter kites. One day my uncle asked me why I did not have a fighter kite. I told him that I did not know how to make one. My uncle quickly fixed that problem. He assisted me one day to produce the most beautiful yet wicked kite I had ever laid eyes on.

We went into the mountains and chopped and stripped some flexible wood into pieces that measured ¼ inch in diameter and 14 inches in length. When we got back home, I cut some paper we purchased from Griffith general store on the corner of Morn Coco and Seau Deau Road. I snuck some string and a piece of cloth from my Grandmother dresser-drawer and we constructed the kite. But my uncle said we were not finished. He said it was not a fighter kite yet!

He pulled a small bag from his carrying pouch and opened it. It was filled with very coarse sand that glittered in the sunlight. The sand felt like it had small pieces of glass in it as I picked up a handful and let it drain through my fingers back into the bag. He also pulled out a container filled with a white paste and placed on the ground. He grabbed a paper bag we had from Griffiths and laid it on the ground as well. He mixed the paste and sand together and rubbed the mixture all over the kite string. He suggested I let it dry for a while before rolling it up in the spool. He then pulled out a few razor blades and broke them in half and tied the blades onto the cloth tail of the kite in 12” increments. The blades on the tail totaled 6 at end count. Within an hour my fighter kite was ready for its maiden voyage. My uncle said to give it a name. So I named it Sparrow for the Mighty Sparrow – the great Calypsonian from Trinidad and Tobago.

I flew that kite in the front yard of the house in Maraval for weeks. I perfected my craft. I learned how to maneuver the kite to the left, right, up, down, and how to dip it straight down and at the last second have it climb to the heavens. In a steady breeze, I would sit my kite to ride the breeze in the sky as if it was a seagull levitating on a jet stream.

But the ultimate arena for kite fighting was the savannah. There were numerous stories of boys coming from all over Trinidad to fly their fighter kites in the savannah. I wanted some of the action.

My anxiety to engage in the savannah kite fighting sessions welled-up inside me and on a breezy Saturday afternoon the well head broke. I grabbed my bag, my kite, walked down to the taxi cab junction, and boarded a taxi en route to Port of Spain. I was dropped off by the Savannah and there before me, with my back towards Jerningham Avenue, were scores of boys flying their kites in the skies over Trinidad.

I quickly sprinted on the grass and found an adequate space in between two boys who were in the mid teens and looked like they had a good four years on me. I placed my kite on the ground and stepped back about 25 meters as I unraveled my string. I was ready. I tugged on the string and with that my red kite was up in the air rising steadily through the blustery wind.

It ascended with the boldness of a Kudu bull standing its ground to the lions on the Serengeti.  I turned it left and right so my opponents could not help but notice my kite’s shimmering razor blade laced tail that forecasted doom to any string that ventured in its path. I was ready for battle.

Each boy on either side of me started moving closer. They had sensed I was ready to engage my kite with theirs. However, I had my kite to low in the sky and had to quickly climb to their height or risk being cut but the tail of their kites.

I quickly released string. I allowed the string to slide through my thumb and index finger as fast as possible. The scotch tape I had placed on both fingers definitely saved my fingers from the coarseness of the string. The wind was in my favor as a gust quickly rose off the plains of the Savannah and swept my kite higher and higher. In continued to release and pull release and pull to draw my kite higher. The kite tugged on my string to let her fly like a thoroughbred yearning to run.

I gleaned from my periphery that the boy on my left was inching closer to make a move on my kite. His green kite was now positioned slightly below my kite and at the 7 o’clock position. I had noticed that he was positioning himself to go for the string cut.

At an instance, I conducted a move that I had practiced many times before. I pulled my string straight across my body to my left, then pulled it straight down to my lower left and then back up to my right. My kite veered left and rose. Then it dropped quickly - nose driving as its lethal tail tried to catch up. The kite then jerked a hard right cutting across the blue sky its tail making a swooping trail. As it made the quick turn to go right its tail swept across the string of the kite on my left and cut it in an instant.

It was a beautiful move that provided the anticipated result. The string the boy on my right was holding went limp as the rest of it meandered slowly to the ground. His eyes followed his kite as it drifted father away dancing drunkenly in the wind. After a few seconds of realizing what had happened, he ran after his kite hoping to get there in time before another boy snatched it.

A smile rose across my face and as I looked at the other boy to my right, he had already started moving away from me. I was the alpha male in this patch of Savannah.

Other boys had witnessed the occurrence and saw me as a worthy opponent. Not that I was asking for other challengers. I was quite comfortable ruling my 50 meters of land. But others came. I was challenged a few times on that day and won until a boy with an orange kite entered the arena. His kite was twice the size of mine and it was fast. It also did moves I had never seen before. It was like looking at a prima ballerina floating in air. The kite’s tail moved like a serpent trying to hypnotize its prey before pouncing for the kill. For the first time that day, I was nervous.

The battle we would have that day would be one in a series of epic battles our two kites would have. Little did I know that our kites would become mortal enemies in the sky but on the ground the boy and I would become best friends.