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  • I stole from Mr. Bell.

    I was about 8 years old and I took a stick of Freshen Up gum from the shelf. I had no pockets I recall, because I just kept it in my tiny fist. Mr. Bell the shopkeeper, asked about my parents' well being and strangely asked to shake my hand. I obviously declined. I left the shop and shared the gum with one of my brothers, feeling a bit unsure of myself; a mixture of guilt and accomplishment simultaneously.

    I was walking through Islington, London, this summer and happened upon this building. I had to stop because it is the same colour as the Red House in Trinidad as far as I remember; and the events from 27th July 1990 came back in an instant. I was 15 years old.

    The Jamaat al Muslimeen made an attempted coup on that Friday evening. I was at a ballet class (well so my parents thought. I was actually at a friend's house) and these people stormed the television station and we at home were confused. Many thought it was "Play of The Month" and it took a while for the reality to sink in. Even though I was 15, I did not even know what a coup was. Why should I? I lived on a paradise island with Hummingbirds and a diverse culture. It had to be explained to me. My friend's mother told me to go home straight away; so I stole away down the drain and through the bamboo patch, scaled the wall and to my home. My parents were indeed very happy to see me safely there.

    Friday evening at 6pm meant no one had done any shopping for the week and all hell broke loose. The television station was taken off air and stories of looting and fires in the capital spread. I felt the horror as the mayhem spread toward the east to my home-town and gun shots could be heard. My parents were frighteningly calm although a State of Emergency was declared, many were dead in the Red House and the Prime Minister was shot and held hostage.

    A curfew was enforced and rationing began. If you were seen outside of your house after 6pm, you could be shot. The queues for rations were impossible and our food was no more. We were also out of cooking gas because the cylinders were now empty. Nearly a month had passed.

    Everyday was becoming more bleak. One of our family friends died in one of the most horrific car accidents, trying to beat the curfew. Nothing can stop Trinidadians from partying and so there were curfew parties and prizes for who could get there in the nick of time. A stupid call. After Patrice's death, the parties were banned.

    It was time. Time to see the strength of an indigenous woman.

    My mother took me to the back garden, got a few mango branches and sticks together and showed me how to light a fire outside. She said, if we must cook outside, a milk tin is better than a pan and so we got an old Carnation tin. We had a bit of cornmeal left and some breadfruit from a neighbour, coconut milk, dasheen leaves and some pumpkin from the vine that ran at the back of the house. She made a ladle with one of the dasheen leaves and she prepared "Oil Down" in a milk tin at the back of the house. It was the best meal to date, I have ever had.

    It was time. Time to see the strength and humility of a father.

    My father hid in the cover of darkness, steering clear of the army patrols and quietly made his way along the side of the houses, across the canal, to Mr. Bell's shop. My father never asked anyone for anything and even in desperation, he offered to pay everything he had left for whatever Mr. Bell had at the back of the shop. My father had the most flawless reputation in my home town and Mr. Bell gave him groceries and told him when to return. He begged not to tell any of the other neighbours because he had been robbed so many times already.

    We survived that attempted coup.

    Shortly before I moved to the UK, I saw Mr. Bell and his wife at the shopping mall. I was 21 years old now and I stopped to say hello. He did not recognise me at first and his wife explained that he was now blind. When he heard my name, he beamed and immediately asked about my dad.

    I helped them carry their bags to the car and helped him in. I watched them drive off and I regretted never telling him I was sorry for stealing the gum. Now that I was an adult, I realised he knew all along. I don't think he ever took any money from my dad during our nation's stressful time.

    I learnt the importance of being honest, hard-working and having a wholesome reputation like my father.

    And I learnt how make a meal when you think there is nothing left.
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