I got the call on Christmas Eve in the afternoon. From a sweet voiced young woman with a Christian first name and an Indian Muslim surname. She said she was calling from the Prime Minister’s Residence to invite me to their New Year’s Day party. I tried not to burst out laughing. I tried not to drop the phone from its tenuous hold between my ear and shoulder.
It takes the whole week for me to recover from the initial shock. I mean, let’s face it. Me and Papa Patos eh no kinah friends. I mean, 2009 was the year of the professionl protestor. I’ve never made it a secret how I feel about Manning and the PNM regime. We’ve pretty much traded insults indirectly for a long time. I consider that this may be an olive branch. Or a guava whip admonishment. Or an attempt to buy my favour with rum, roti and Brian Macfarlane’s tacky designs.
I ring them back a couple days before to make sure that it was actually me the meant to invite. The nice voiced young woman reassures me that yes it’s definitely me and that PM and Madame are personally responsible for the list.
I decide to go. Curiousity always getting the better of me. I want to see what happens when I venture down the rabbit hole.
So yesterday afternoon I get dressed and take a leisurely stroll down St. Ann’s main road and in less than ten minutes I’m at La Fantaisie. And this is the first sign that I’m the biggest freak in the party. There’s no actual pedestrian entrance. So I have to go back through to the car park entrance to be searched. They don’t quite understand that I’ve walked. They keep asking me if I remember where I parked my car. The security guard asks the man ahead of me in the line if he has a weapon. Then he waves me through, without looking at his list.
Down the rabbit hole I go.
I spot the Mannings as soon as I get to the tents packed with what looks like a PNM convention. I head in the opposite direction, trying not to look too bemused. Everyone is looking at me like I just landed from another planet. I imagine that it’s because I’m wearing a pink sari and purple rubber slippers (in defiance of dress code) and to complete the hippy effect … sprigs of bougainvilla in my hair. People are whispering as I walk past. I have a smile I’ve practiced for moments like this. I wave a lot. I scan the room for other least likely to have been invited candidates. I find two and cling to them for dear life.
I sip on coconut water from my corner behind a jar of red gardenias. Where are all the other dissidents and rabble rousers? I guess they must be too Indian. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen this many well dressed black people in one place in Trinidad since, well. Never. But then again I’m not part of the accepted black elite so I don’t usually get invited to these sorts of things.
More coconut water. A few more people I recognise. I still have no idea what I’m doing here. Talk about cockroach in fowl party!
There are piles of meat everywhere. Vegetarian options are salad, curry potato and pelau. I pile some salad on a plate and hope for the best. Silly me, they also have doubles!! The line is so short I’m suspicious, but I’m also loath get doubles juice all over my hot pink sari.
I’m definitely feeling like I’m at a mad tea party.
Especially when the night’s entertainment begins and Malick Folk Performers dance around the room singing Hello! Africa…followed by some blinged out light skinned girls dancing to Jai Ho. Then they chip around the tent. Indian and African-ish dancers, an Indian belly dancer, a Chinese dog. Tassa and steel pan engage in a discordant sound clash. It is cacophonic. Still, the black elite are having spirited conversations about Carnival and of course Beyoncé tickets.
And then Divine Echoes take centre stage and as Patos sings along to the Chinese love song I am no longer holding back my giggles.
Later in the bathroom as I try to take a picture of myself, against the rules, an older Indian woman comes up to. “I love what you’re wearing,”she gushes.
“I almost wore one like that.” She doesn’t call it by its name. As if sari is a bad word. She has chosen instead the ugliest jersey material animal print contraption I have ever had the misfortune of seeing. She says in her defense, that she thought ‘one of those’ would have been too cumbersome. But I wear it so well. She says she doesn’t even know how to tie one.
I point out to her that in India some women wear saris to do just about everything and that we in the west have to get rid of this notion that ‘ethnic’ wear is somehow more difficult than skinny jeans. In truth a lot of women with ‘ethnic’ figures should never ever ever wear skinny jeans.
I somehow end up backstage. The stage that cost a few extra million.
I fight the urge to grab the mike from Wendell Constantine and start shouting ‘no smelter!’ at the crowd. I do the math and figure that the security would tackle me to the ground faster than the Pope’s Swiss Guard. The dressing rooms are nicer than the ones at Queen’s Hall. Everything is so shiny and new.
I also get a chance to maco the palace. The place is monstrous in the darkness with the still full moon now rising over the St. Ann’s hills. I am glad I came to see what is inside these walls. Being inside makes me feel even more of an outsider in this PNM black elite universe.
It’s time to go. As we beat a hasty retreat from the madness, we realise that Patos and Madame are at the exit thanking everyone for coming.
He takes my hand. I hold it. Firm and deliberate. I look him in the eye but he is looking somewhere over my right shoulder. He says thank you for coming, before moving on to the next person. To whom he says ‘oh this one I recognise!’
I feign shock and distress. ‘You don’t recognise me?!’ Come now Patos. I know I’m on a list.
Then he says ‘ah yes of course. I recognise you now.’
I laugh. He laughs. Hazel laughs.
Dimples all round.
I escape La Fantaisie. I wonder if it was real. If every skin teeth is really a smile. Or a baring of fangs.