The Sweet Sop

The longest day have an end.’
At the door I turned around for one last look. Not that he look overjoyed to see me when I reach. ‘Everybody wearing bracelet like this.  
After one time is another and from that day Reggie went down fast fast. Reggie didn’t like nothing better than when was only me and he. King size.’   After a few weeks he say he easing back on the sugar so he only want Bournville Dark Chocolate. We don’t know for sure if organic better and besides he going to dead soon. I am not a man to take more than two-three little drink but you see that woman. He was asking me to make a jail for murder. ‘I go dead and then bam, get up from this bed and live out my days cool as anything.’
The doctor came to house a few times. Somebody should have talked some sense in them because they were too young. ‘So when you coming back to see me?’
I moved the bag with the sweet bread from one hand to the next. I said I heard he not doing any more treatment. Reggie gave a little, mocking laugh. He was still crying when I followed myself back into the bedroom. Waiting. I took his hand and looked him straight in the eye. A lil’ chocolate is all I begging for.’
What to do? That is the truth.’
He chomped on a block of chocolate but just because his mouth was full didn’t stop him from running it. Since then he never wanted for work. Moms found Reggie with the neighbour’s daughter and threw him out then and there. La la la la la.’
I joined in. But he said they should never have married. I go be waiting.’
If Kim wasn’t right there I think I would have let go two bad words in he tail. ‘Have some Nutella.’
He shook his head. When you young that sounds cool instead of telling people my father ups and gone he way. Shame on he.’
 
It was my Auntie’s mouth that opened and made the story jump out. He begged to know if death itself, when you are actually about to die, if that was more pain. Man, let’s give Jack his jacket. Reggie looked at the wall opposite then back at me. She looked a good bit younger than Reggie. Ingrid Persaud’s ‘The Sweet Sop’   is the winning entry from the Caribbean. Kim is some kind of manager there. I watched as I mashed up every painkiller I could find with a rolling pin.  
From the time Reggie refused the Lindt Excellence Extra Creamy chocolate bar I knew he was ready to close his eyes for good. Kim always left something on the stove – a little stew chicken or she nice corn soup. According to Reggie, his family had brains in it except the brains run zig zag. To stop me and Moms getting all up in each other’s business, I turned the garage into a studio apartment as soon as I started working. He dying but he not dead and I didn’t know how long this dying thing could stretch out for. But your mother was always broadcasting we business to the marish and the parish.  
If is chocolate you looking for, and I talking real cheap, then you can’t beat Golden MegaMart Variety & Wholesale Ltd in Marabella. After a while he ignored me completely and put on the sports channel. Whole day, whole night he was restless and crying. He was not budging. He said for years he felt like he lost his soul. He waiting. You should have followed my example and don’t have nothing to do with he. They used to stop at Dairy Queen for ice cream – vanilla for her, chocolate for him. If they were selling it, I bought it, but not one of them made Reggie even give a smile. And don’t play like you giving me anything else. You know how many times I wished I could tell people my father dead? Here you can still get locked up for being with a man. ‘Eh, Slim Man, we get a nice chocolate. The first time he said it I wasn’t sure what he wanted. ‘I was dreaming about carnival.’
‘You were playing mas?’
‘Nah. A hand taking an invisible cup to his lips meant bring water now. Is not time yet for Mahadeo Funeral Home. I know the other part. I is a dying man.’
‘You go see me.’
‘Make sure. I want a boil egg and a piece of bread. ‘Daddy, is what you asked for.’
His eyes opened wide wide and I felt his hand squeeze mine. I have my own toilet and bath and a small kitchen with a fridge. Half a big bar was gone before he stopped to breathe. ‘I don’t care what she cook. Growing up I could count the number of times I saw him on one hand. ‘In them days it didn’t have no Tinder hook-up business like what all you young people does do.’
He laughed at my shock. No more.’
 
I got up. That is part of the truth. Mind you, whatever went on between she and Reggie didn’t last. He even forgot to fight me. I could not tell you when last he even walked outside the house. He said he couldn’t talk to Kim because she was still hoping he would live to enjoy Christmas and the parang season. This was a Lindt moment. When she start up with she stupidness I does want to take a rum straight from the bottle. ‘Rest. Why you don’t eat a good chocolate nah man instead of this chocolate in a bottle?’
‘I good.’
‘Is Cadbury I talking about. ‘Alright Victor, don’t listen. It was not tiredness. I done with all that hospital thing. Just last week you should hear them. He sure I get what he miss out. The young lady in question is none other than the woman with the bakery on Mucurapo Street. Poor thing. You only home eating this bread and chocolate morning, noon and night. He was eyeing me good. You should be helping me.’
‘Then let me carry you to the hospital.’
 
We had that same talk so many times I lost track. Ah lord. I understood that this was a moment to come out strong. If I didn’t go he would get Kim to call and ask me to come over. ‘Oh lord this thing freezing cold. I tried to ask him how he was doing and if there was anything I could help with. I stayed and watched TV with him for a good hour then I told them I have to make tracks before it get too dark. I brought him Crunchie. Is the middle of the night.’
He began to cry softly. I tried Smarties, Milky Way, Aero Bar, Rolo, Charles Chocoloco, Twin and some others I can’t even remember the name of now. I never knew where I should be. Plus something else happened. I was by the front door before Reggie turned off the TV and looked up.  
A Mars Bar (super size) helped Reggie’s take his mind off the reality that he was living full time in the bedroom now. ‘Thank you son.’
Reggie blinked and more tears spilled down his cheeks. Would my soul rest peacefully? Is always the same tune. Should I lie so the man could rest his soul in peace? It seems the man sick bad and wanted to see me. He told me about meeting Moms – a story she never told me. A favourite of his was to ask for a glass of water and no matter how much water was in the glass he would complain and make me take it back.  
He was always behind me to help him pass quickly. Rocky Mallow Road. Back in the day, Moms was working as a receptionist in an office he was rewiring. Moms spot Reggie by the gate first. And hurry up. Like water lock off?’
 
But you had to feel sorry for the man. It was bad mind stopping him. Keep up this madness and you go be using a plot in Paradise Cemetery before me. Try one nah. But what is as true as Lara can play cricket is that I am getting fat. Somehow he used to know when big things were happening and show up. ‘Well you must tell she hello from me.’
I nodded again. I take that treatment and I could end up seeing more trouble.’
 
Kim was nice. Gopaul luck is not Seepaul luck. I kept wondering how long he would drag this out and why I was such a jackass to let myself get dragged in. ‘Is a good thing I get out from under that woman and all she foolishness.’
I took out my phone and started checking emails. You should have seen how he licked down that chocolate. ‘How your mother?’
I nodded and made a noise to confirm she was fine.  
For a whole six months Reggie carried on with his army general thing barking orders at me even though he weakie weakie. Half hour later, when I was leaving, he still seemed lost. All I did was lean forward to check out The Guardian newspaper and he started carrying on. I have enough poison in my body.’
‘But it could make you better.’
‘How you know that? If this heaven and hell thing is correct, then he going where no amount of air conditioning will keep him from burning up. But Major Reggie wasn’t backing down. She is in the house proper but this way me and Moms don’t have to bounce up every day. He. ‘How you know that? In partnership with the   Commonwealth Writers, Granta is publishing the regional winners of the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. I might be checking Facebook on my phone and suddenly feel a bony finger jab my leg. I wanted him to tell me again how he has only one picture of me – a bald baby in a sailor outfit. You know what it is to hear a big man bawling all the time? Once you could say that, you go be a happy man.’
 
I was home eating left over macaroni pie and baked chicken when Kim called. ‘Victor, I am dying. I having to eat bread that the Devil he-self knead.  
Instead, the memory of chocolate made the man crazy to see me. He took one look and decided that it was a ladies’ band. In fact, most of the people I work for operating the same way rather than in an office set up.   I don’t want it. ‘I can’t take this no more. Now look at you. You could boil egg? Me? Give me a glass with half of that.’
Or I might get:
‘Well I never see more. Another time he reached by the house after I got confirmed in the Cathedral of Our Lady Of Perpetual Help. And now the Lord calling him home he want to spend time with you? I should bring something organic. ‘Wash your foot and jump in if you want,’ she said. Is only after Reggie passed away that things got real dread. I tried giving him Nestle Butterfinger but he refused it. ‘Victor, it don’t matter if you does sweep the road or if you is prime minister.  
The same Auntie who buss the mark is the one who tell me not to mind Moms and go see Reggie on he sick bed. What go on in a man house should stay in a man house. Reggie said if anybody wanted him to leave 30B Hibiscus Drive they would have to wait till he in a coffin. I ain’t lying. Instead he talked about long time. Same thing. Reggie didn’t have the heart to say that this year she making black cake, sorrel and punch de crème by she-self. Why your mother never married again boy?’
I shrugged. ‘Why you never once call me Dada or Daddy or something so?’
I felt like someone had pelted a cricket ball straight at my head and knocked me out. Everything changed when my old man Reggie died. Lord Jesus, don’t get me started. In a cup I mixed the white powder with Nutella. ‘Anytime they call, I have to crawl, like a old football, I rolling straight to my Tobago gyal.’
I squeezed his hand. I am enormous. Now the only thing I eat is sliced bread with Nutella. So, if people call you a dotish monkey, take it.  
The only slight problem with the levelling out business was that Reggie decided he was going to take his own cool time to pass. I begging you. One hundred dollars. Even if nobody ever find out I had to ask myself who I was doing this for. She shouted out for me to go and see what my father want but don’t let that stinking man put a foot in this house. I might be going mad. But they always trying. The truth about what happened the night Reggie died is something I taking with me to the grave. I lied as best I could. Victor, this bread and chocolate thing is your father fault, god rest he soul. Who he fooling? I am not that brave or that stupid. But then I remembered that he is on his way out. I tell them I have my reasons and that is what I want. In them sinning moments Reggie softened, forgot his constant pain and forgot to fight the big C. Tell me again how that picture never leave his mash-up wallet for the past twenty-four years. Like when I did Common Entrance, he reached in the school and gave me a blue note. ‘I might pass next week.’
‘Don’t give me a six for a nine. Then loud loud he was saying, ‘But eh, eh, Victor, how you don’t recognise your own father?’
I remember that because the whole class must be hear him and know all my business. He leave when you was three months. He must have been an army general in a past life.  
Then one Saturday he asked me to go buy him a chocolate. They does treat people real good. I remember a day he was watching a test match – Pakistan v West Indies – and I was sitting on a chair to the side. But he not dead. ‘You know, I wanted to ask you something.  
This secret chocolate handover was our special sin. Then he had worries about the ingredients.  
After that it was nearly six years I had to wait to hear from him. Restless and in pain, Reggie would be walking up and down from the living room to the kitchen and outside patio. And Moms, being from Tobago, is not like she had much family to help her out. His parents thought he was a joker with no brains and he believed them. I became Reggie’s dealer. You is one big booboloops. He enjoyed having me waiting on him like he was the king of Trinidad. ‘Boy Victor.’
I bent close. The doctor had left having told Reggie that he should be in hospital or he would die quickly and in real pain. One minute is love like dove but, before you could turn around twice, we was ready to kill one another.’
I got up and asked if he wanted some water to wash down the Mars Bar but he was far away. I think he was hoping I would become a big shot lawyer or doctor. They ain’t even sure it would help me now. ‘What I going to do that for? She ever learn to cook?’
It was best to keep my mouth shut. Anything salty and I in that. His legs thin like two pencils and his face hollow. ‘Like you want to drown me? I ended up having to go Saturday after Saturday. ‘You want me to tell you what really went on between your mother and me?’
I looked up slightly. Reggie made sucking noises as he tried to clear the bits of dried fruit stuck between his teeth. ‘Two bo-rat can’t live in one hole. People say she does make nice Hops bread and she currants-roll sweet too bad. It looked like he was trying not to cry. And when I tell she anything she would start up one set of quarrelling.’
I swallowed hard and looked down at my sneakers. As soon as I reach they know I want at least thirty jars of Nutella chocolate spread. I would rather starve than put my big toe in there. Three months. Mr Army General was still there. I could see myself going to the kitchen, like I was following my body. Even his wilfulness would melt with this fancy Swiss chocolate. ‘You could call me Dad you know.’
I breathed in hard. What about me? ‘You mother didn’t understand that when you married you can’t keep running by this one and that one. He wasn’t talking much.  
In a way Moms have a point. ‘Victor, that was a case of sweet in goat mouth but sour in the bam bam.  
In his final days I was practically living in their small house, sleeping on the couch. I could hear water falling in the background and then his voice hissing, ‘Snickers. ‘I didn’t know you is a batty man.’
I bit my lips and stayed cool. Is the fashion.’
‘Well monkey see, monkey do.’
I good with that. Kim was sobbing and begging me to speak with him. ‘Look I tell you already. He was lying down on the couch. Think of a Costco boil down small small but choke up with goods from top to bottom. What you think?’
He gave a feeble smile. She claimed she was always telling Reggie to invite me home by them. ‘Victor, bring juice.’
I would bring the juice. ‘Water?’
He shook his head then whispered. He would point his bony finger in my face and say all you will have to wait. Kim gave me sweet bread straight from the oven to carry home. She say tell your mother is Kim sent it because the two of we don’t have no quarrel. He left strong pain tablets while still telling Reggie to go into hospital. As for Reggie, he married to one good-looking lady name Kim. ‘Reggie, I heading out now.’
He looked up, his hollow face creased up with pain. Things have a way of levelling out. Don’t make the egg hard, hard.’
 
Of course the egg was always too soft or too hard. I don’t understand what happen to you. My dad was licking chocolate off the spoon bringing ease for him and, in time, for me. Like you is a doctor now?’
He had to stop and take deep breaths. A voice on the phone would whisper, ‘Two Kit Kat,’ and hang up. Kim go be real vex if she know you feeding me chocolate.’
No joke, some days I wished he would hurry up and die. But remember, you only know chapter. Watch me. Mind you, she does still go to church every Sunday?’
‘Yeah.’
‘It have plenty randy old timers that does go church and they not going to praise the Lord.’
 
By now I was helping Reggie bathe or cutting up his food and bribing him with the chocolate. Church not my thing but Moms say while I living under she roof I will learn some righteousness. ‘You see me, as far as that man concern, I will never forgive his whore mongering and I will never ever forget what he do. You don’t go out. That kind of bad mind was not Christian but I wasn’t saying boo. More than once, after I put it on a plate, he would push it aside claiming he was too tired to eat. Then she bawl out that if he ask for me tell him to haul his ass. Moms let out one long steups when she find out he get in touch. That is how strong she is. He gave me two hundred dollars and asked me how my studies going. ‘Eat some chocolate nah.’
He didn’t move. All I got back were gruff grunts and yes or no answers. She ended up with Mr Louchoo and that is how she get bakery. ‘Take that with you when you going. That is a question for the doctor them to decide. Go by Kenny Khan Bookstore and Variety Shop – is downstairs the big, green building in Cross Crossing. ‘Your mother ain’t easy, yes.  
Computer work like I have mean you don’t need to leave the house. She was either working or looking after him without a free five minutes. They don’t have much help so Kim needed me. When I told him the organic chocolate was real money he said forget that. He would be eating a Bounty Bar or Hershey’s Kisses, and just so he would start giving me the lowdown on growing up in the countryside and leaving school with only a couple subjects. But an uncle took him in and got him a place at the technical school in San Fernando. ‘Go catch a sleep on the couch, Victor. Seeing Reggie slipping away slow slow, and in so much pain, made me feel sick too. He didn’t understand computers and coding – not that he let that stop him. ‘I feel I go be the next Lazarus. ‘Sweet sweet sweet like a butterball.  
Yet, in those hard, final days, chocolate Reggie sometimes slipped back in the groove. You put water in this glass? While he nibbled on a Twix I told him about what I did and how I liked being my own boss. Reggie said that was a debt he could never fully repay. There were no more stories about life in Cedros and running away from school to dip in the sea. Two days later he begging me please bring a Galaxy Caramel Bar. What was I supposed to say? A pat of the mattress meant he was fed up on that side and I better turn him. Reggie must have heard her because he stayed on the road.  
The few times he did speak it was only about dying.  
One night I was taking a sleep on the chair next to his bed when Reggie started jabbing my leg. ‘Reggie, you don’t know what you missing.’
He shut his eyes tight. I broke up a bar of Oh Henry to see if he would eat even a little piece but nothing doing.  
You have to understand that I didn’t know Reggie much at all until the year before he passed. Reggie was never a big man but now you could see all his bones jooking out. You eh see how I suffering here? I don’t think so. Please. Reggie’s response had been to throw two cuss words at the doctor. He had on shades and I didn’t make him out. If I don’t go, and the man dead, I might end up regretting that we didn’t talk. The bathroom was a favourite hiding place. You don’t know the book.’
He scrunched up the purple chocolate wrapper and handed it to me. His brains clearly not working good or else he would have known not to be sending Moms no hello. That is what you go bring for me?’
Two minutes later he would be hungry. Or the time he get licks for taking his father bicycle and going to a party when he should have been home sleeping. But the man still had fight in his spirit. Everybody know that a little secret-sinning sweet too bad. On the house.’
‘Look don’t hurt me head with no foolishness. Moms think I am going mad. Reggie would take a chance and hold her hand or play footsie under the table. It just come out. He was feeling for a Fruit and Nut bar. You forget how to reach the gym? That did not stop him letting me know if he wanted something. When me and Moms had that holiday in Miami by her brother we were always in Costco. To him I was always in the wrong place. Let me go in peace.’
‘You will go in peace.’
Tears started dripping down his cheeks. Believe what you want. What woman does see in old man I don’t know. If is anything, give me a pack of peanuts or green mango with salt and pepper. Your heart can’t carry this size. You hear that? But life is life. One minute you was a good looking, normal, young man and then that worthless devil sit on your head. Reggie was right there watching me but he didn’t say much. Chocolate and bread, bread and chocolate, chocolate and bread. I asked him to tell me again how he was caught thiefing Julie mango from a neighbour’s tree. If you don’t agree I know you lying through your teeth. They say the Leukaemia take him. I knew Kim didn’t keep anything like sweet biscuits or chocolates in the house. ‘You didn’t think I know what does go on these days?’
 
Reggie used to wait at the bus stand when Moms finished work 4 o’clock. Don’t ask me what have him so busy for all that time. ‘It’s probably too late for she now. Man have taxi waiting.’
 
I never used to eat chocolate all the time so. Once you could say, yes, I doing my best. ‘You want some more painkillers Reggie?’
‘I want you to mash up all and give me with some water.’
‘You can’t swallow?’
‘No monkey.’
‘I can’t give you more than the dose.’
‘Why? ‘I know your father is not a glass maker so move from in front the TV.’
 
Another time his bad temper was for a bracelet I had on. I was hearing a Mighty Sparrow calypso.’
‘Which one?’
He started to hum, ‘All them Tobago gyal …’
He coughed. But till they open a Costco in Trinidad go by Golden MegaMart. Now this was a man with stage four of the big C, plus high pressure and even higher sugar. He can’t take the bitter taste.