THAT book

“You know… I don’t actually like reading…”

Kwasi told me… and upon seeing my eyes widen and eyebrows touch my hairline (probably), he was quick to expand the statement “unless it the books you give me.”

So we started to talk.

Why doesn’t Kwasi like to read books?

They don’t get him excited, he’s not interested, most of the reading he does, is reading for schoolwork. He’d rather sit down with his brother and play on the xbox or laptop. The usual things you’d expect to hear from a teenage boy who is justifying why he doesn’t make the time to read for pleasure.

The biggest reason though, Kwasi can’t find a book that he feels is for him.

He hadn’t had that book yet.

The book that made him excited to read.

I remember back in the early 2000s when my brother borrowed that very first copy of Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak from the school library. Omari wasn’t a reader like I was, so it was really weird for our parents to see the boy who’d rather be biking on the street or watching Dragon Ball Z curled up with a book in his hand all of the sudden.

It set off a chain reaction in him.

He didn’t want to borrow from the school anymore, he wanted a copy that was his alone (seriously, he would not share, when I wanted to read them, I had to buy my own copies when I wanted to read it). And then, every time he saw a new addition had been released, he’d head down to the local WH Smith with mum and a tenner to get his fix.

After encountering this book, my brother actively started looking for books to read, first, books by Darren Shan, after all, he devoured the Saga of Darren Shan, why wouldn’t he also enjoy the Demonata series or The Thin Executioner? After literally exhausting his complete Darren Shan collection, my brother went on to Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider, and Justin Somper’s Vampirates (absolute banger of a book series tbh).

(To tell you how much my brother and I appreciate Darren Shan’s horror writing; there is a small bookshelf in our upstairs hallway stocked with a near complete list of Darren Shan’s bibliography… and we both got hyped at our big university ages when we found out that Darren Shan had been releasing instalments of Zom-B.)

Omari had found his book.

It’s harder when the book recipient has particular tastes. Kwasi’s not big into magic, so fantasy is out of the question (which as a devotee to SFF, dissertation on High Fantasy writer, broke my heart). A lot of the books I read at Kwasi’s age had female protagonists, great for me, but I he’d wasn’t interested in Georgia Nicholson’s confessional diary and similar titles. It takes time, patience and experimentation to help a kid find that book.

But I found that book.

Malorie Blackman’s Boys Don’t Cry.

I actually got a text from Kwasi thanking me for finding that book for him, and if I could get him some more Malorie Blackman books. Since then I have been, mostly books that I’ve read and loved myself. I know his mum takes him and his siblings to the library as often as she can, and I give him names of books I remember reading, or authors I think he’d enjoy. For his fourteenth birthday, he got an entire book series (Gone by Michael Grant) and he’s currently working his way through those.

Seeing him carry around a copy of these books with the cracked spine and doggy eared pages doesn’t inspire anger in me it might some other book lovers- after all, the books are his now, I should just be glad he’s finally found joy in reading.

Through the screen, face to face

Hey Everyone.

I’m currently in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago again.

First and foremost- Trinidad and Tobago are below the belt… I think, so I am safe even though this particular hurricane season has been disastrous for so many other Caribbean islands.

I’m here for the reason I thought I was here last year. My cousin Latoya’s wedding. She has been married for one week! But there’s some new and exciting things that happened this year around. I met mi tia y prima from Venezuela! For the very first time! (my grandpa sowed wild oats aplenty in his youth, okay,).

I have also spent time in the house that I used to spend every summer in (my paternal grandparents’ house) for the first time since the both of them have died, and it was a little emotional to see the little changes like room layouts, and I almost cried to see my grandma’s sewing room is still the same, even though no one is a professional seamstress in the family anymore. My cousins are growing, their kids are growing. I am still Aunty Fifi.

But I’m also Fayolita now, and my grandpa is so happy to see his daughters and grand-daughters meet face to face and not speak through a google-translated mess through a screen.

At Latoya’s wedding reception, there were a set of speeches. Ones from the wedding party (Maid of Honour and Best Man) but also from the immediate family (Mother of the Groom, Father of the Bride) before the floor was opened up for guests to give some well wishes. My Aunty Fran said that I should go up… but it was so short notice and I didn’t know what to say, also a bit shy to speak to a room full of people who were now my family that I didn’t know.

All through the night (when I wasn’t dancing), I was thinking about what I’d say, If I’d had the guts to go up to the podium and give a few words. These aren’t those exact words that my brain was working on, but it is the sentiment and all the emotion behind those words.

Despite all the advances in technology that connect us worldwide, sometimes watching someone grow and evolve through a screen- whether a video or phone call, pictures shared on social media and private messaging- made me feel still disconnected. This had a lot to do with time differences, distances in miles and work schedules disrupting what could be daily catch ups. In preparation for Latoya’s wedding, I didn’t feel any of that. I was there with my mum in the wholesale store every weekend looking for that perfect white lace for the wedding gown, I was updated with pictures of the wedding party’s looks evolve from concept to creation.

It was the first time I flew alone to Trinidad. I had always flown with someone, my brother or my parents. In line for customs (with my Trini passport) I see Latoya, on her last day before her holiday for wedding prep waiting for me and the two of us burst into the biggest set of grins and jokes that lasted from the line, to duty free, to KFC (if you haven’t had KFC in Trinidad, you’re missing out) until my Uncle Derrick picked me up. I was so happy to spend this time with her.

For those of you that don’t know, living as far from your family as I do, means that a lot of the time, the reunions are at extremely sad events such as funerals.

In 2014, the year I graduated from MMUC, my family lost three extremely important elders and these were people who have been caring for my mum, and for her children since birth. Aunty Neslin the day after I finished my exams, Aunty Wilagnita three months later and Uncle Raymond two months later, around Christmas. It was a very painful year for us all, as every time we were coming to terms with the loss of a loved one, death visited us again.

The Maid of honour said something extremely beautiful, that years from now the bride and groom would look back at their wedding day as the day that they loved each other the least- meaning that their love would grow stronger everyday. And I feel as though this is something my family is trying to make work for us.

We’ve been visiting each other more frequently since then. No longer are we saying “we have to stop meeting like this” at wakes, because we are. And watching Latoya get married, and seeing everyone so together, for a moment of togetherness of joy rather than grief. I only hope my family gets to enjoy moments like these (weddings, engagements, birth announcements, christenings etc. etc.) more than funerals where our togetherness was bittersweet with the tragedy of death pulling us to each other.

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Wishing years of happiness to you both!

Very short Update!

I am a graduate!

I graduated today!

12 months are validated as I dressed up, walked across the stage, got my handshake and collected written proof that I had completed my degree in front of my family, my friends and their families and friends.

This is one of the better pictures my mum took (she has problems focusing for some reason).

Thank you to Kingston University, all my lecturers and all the friends I’d made along the way to reaching this goal!

EDIT: 27/01/2017!

ANOTHER ONE! Travelled all the way down to Brighton. My brother is also a graduate!2017-01-27 13.29.57

 

Standing in the Sun

I’ve forgotten how to deal with UK weather.

I spent three weeks after my dissertation hand-in in Trinidad and Tobago. It was the first time I had been back since I went with my dad to bury my grandma. It had been seven years- for perspective: at my grandma’s funeral, my cousin Dominique was five or six month pregnant- two weeks ago, I was getting called “Aunty Fifi” by several new (second) cousins under the age of six.

It was a moment of celebration. When I graduated my BA, my dad took me to Malta for a fortnight and we enjoyed a little bit of European sunshine while we could. MA completion got a level-up for vacation, and timing was perfect. My mum’s birthday was in October and she wanted to spend it with her family, we also wanted to travel somewhere and see family without the sad knowledge that we were also there to say goodbye to someone who had only been a collection of pixels on our screen as we face-timed or a voice on the phone that sometimes cut out due to connectivity issues.

My grandpa was in the family home my mother grew up in. He was planting all sorts of fruits and vegetables that would make their way to our table, and he was also taming a wild squirrel who know has their own dining plate on the mango tree overlooking the football field. Every morning I had omelettes or hard dough bread with butter and cheese, or just whole avocados sprinkled with salt and fresh lime from the tree in grandpa’s growing garden. The whole time we were there it was changing, air conditioning, building plans proposed, rooms becoming fully furnished, I got to see my mum project her vision on what a true family house could be for everyone who stepped into the house escaping from the cold countries that they’d all migrated towards for opportunity.

Every day, I spent at hours in the sun. Reading, walking, talking, sitting, playing.

And I was wearing bug repellant because those damned mosquitoes followed me around singing “fresh blood! fresh blood!” in my ears morning, noon and night, while leaving my cousins the locals alone for the time being. Everything tasted like the sunshine, the coconut bake, the coconut, the fruit, the cakes and sweets that my grandpa would call me over to taste with a smile wide on his face. When I looked into the mirror I could see the proof that the Caribbean sun was cooking me to the perfect shade of a rich brown that I was supposed to be as dictated by my genetic make-up and erasing the sickly yellow-looking tone that I’d gotten from too many years under overcast skies.

Then, three weeks later. After a slew of birthdays, weddings, cousin introductions and a mini-vacation to Tobago… I had to say goodbye. Again.

The day we left, my Aunty Yvonne joked “I don’t know why you’re spending time inside. Shouldn’t you be outside soaking up the sun?” She was right.

Even now I regret that I didn’t spend more time soaking up the sunlight, basking like a lizard in the driveway with maybe a sorrel shandy or a bowl of mango chow.

Things are darker quicker. The sun feels so weak in comparison, even when magnified through the glass of my bedroom window. The wind isn’t a comfort when it passes and sets the cold back into me. The sky is grey, even when it’s not “overcast” in comparison to the blues and pinks and oranges I used to see from the front porch at my mother’s side. The food doesn’t taste as delicious.

It is winter, and Christmas is approaching.

I’ve been working two temp jobs that require me to be indoors for most of the time that I’m awake. I only see the sun when I’m coming home mid-morning from my night shift and in the early afternoon as I get ready for a full shift at my other job. The brown shade I acquired is fading, though I’m still not as pale as I once was.

Most of all, I miss standing in the sun and the connective feeling it inspired deep down in my being to the land that my parents affectionately call “home” all these decades after leaving.