Kepper said goodbye to the boys as he approached the track which led to his house in the small village of Pinto Capitan. They paid little attention to him. They were too excited about the great plans they had boasted about in school all week. Devon and Kyle, twin brothers, and Sean, their cousin, were going with their parents to see mas in Port of Spain on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. They marched up and down the school that week, talking about their aunt who would be running a food stall around the Queen’s Park Savannah and fabulous claims that they would be staying in her house, which is situated along a street in the capital city, where they could see all the masqueraders parade and jump and dance to their hearts’ content. They showed off their dance moves to their classmates, just to add more drama to their story. Kepper rolled his eyes for what seemed like a million times that week at them. The Goodman boys were lucky he thought, but their luck didn’t mean they had to turn into gleeful, show-offy, big-shots.
Keeper had only been to Port of Spain once in his life and it was during a time he would rather not remember. He had never seen a real life Carnival masquerader. The children in his class who were not as fortunate to see the two days of revelry, costumes, colours and action up close and personal, took it in on their television sets. Unfortunately, Kepper didn’t have a TV at his home.
Even as he approached his little wooden house at the end of the track, he could hear the Goodman boys’ boisterous laughter. He sighed heavily. If only he could see the mas. If only he could dress up in a Carnival costume and play mas and chip and dance to his favourte Soca tune. If only.
When Kepper pushed the door to this house open, he instinctively knew his father was not at home. He would probably not be home until later that night, Kepper thought to himself. It was nothing unusual for the 10-year-old to be left alone by his father who spent his days trying to find work to make money and then spent his nights spending it on alcohol. Kepper dropped his book bag on the floor and walked back out the door. It made no sense to stay alone in the house by himself.
He walked over to Wappie, his neighbour’s house, where he found the man under his house lying in his hammock, reading a newspaper.
On the front page, there was the bold headline ‘Fantastic Friday Fiesta’, with pictures of crowds of people at various Carnival fetes and parties. Kepper sighed louder to get Wappie’s attention, as he sat on some bricks stacked on top one another.
“Wuh happen fadda?” asked Wappie, folding the paper and resting it on the ground. Kepper shook his head.
“You ever play mas Wappie?” the boy asked.
“Yeh, a long time ago. That’s when I used to live close to town. Boy, all now, Fantastic Friday evening, you cyah find meh. I in some bar or liming by a pardner or something.” he replied. “Then J’ouvert morning we feteing and in a band Carnival Monday and Tuesday all over town. Those were some bess days.”
Kepper was now angry with himself for asking Wappie anything in the first place. He had hoped his response was also as depressing as his current situation.
“Everybody know about mas and Carnival and I dunno nothing.” Kepper said.
“Well that’s cuz yuh young still.” Wappie said.
“Buh, Devon, Kyle and Sean young too and dey going town this weekend for Carnival!” he exclaimed.
“Lawd, dey going to stay with dey aunt Betsy ent? Boy, I dunno how she does manage to make money for Carnival nah, she food does taste bad. I buy food by she one time just out of courtesy. Not me again.”
Kepper burst out laughing when he saw the look of scorn and distaste on Wappie’s reminscing face.
“Boy, not everyone privileged to see mas til they get older. But, that don’t mean you cya enjoy yourself at home.” Wappie told the boy.
“How yuh mean? I doh have no TV to see mas on.” Kepper said.
“Fada, I doh mean TV. I mean, make yuh own mas and play yuh own Carnival.” Wappie said with a smile.
“Make meh own mas?” Kepper asked with interest.
“Yeh. Wuh de hell dey teaching allyuh in school? You mean allyuh doh make mas face and put on and have jump up in school!?” Wappie exclaimed in disbelief.
“Well no. De principal say dem ting is devil ting, so she doh let we do anything like dat.” Kepper replied sadly.
“Daz sad. Anyways, we could make a mas face for you. D ting is, I doh have any cardboard or paper to make it with.” said Wappie. “I have a scissors, some wire and I bound to have some glue in a draw somewhere.”
“We cya use the newspaper?” asked Kepper, looking down at all the colourful pictures on the daily.
“Yuh know, that could work. But we go hada use plenty layers or it will be flimsy.” said Wappie as he opened the papers and pulled out all the pages with the most colourful pictures and fonts.
He got up from the hammock and went into a small room. He brought out a small folding plastic table and opened it out in front of Kepper. He then went upstairs to find the scissors, wire and glue.
As Kepper arranged the newspaper pages, he looked closely at the pictures of some of the Carnival costumes. Most of them, even the ones worn by men, had feathers in them. Wappie had not spoken about feathers and he wondered if they could be used. When Wappie came back downstairs with the scissors and an old tube of glue, Kepper asked him if he could put feathers in the mas face?
“Yeh, it would look even prettier with the feathers.” said Wappie as he struggled to take the cap off the glue tube.
“I feel this glue geh hard. Wey yuh go get feathers?” he asked Kepper.
“I’ll go pull a few off meh fadder rooster.” he said smiling.
“Bunty go skin yuh alive if you interfere with he chicken.” Wappie said, still struggling with the glue cap.
“Is ok. He ent go even realise.” said Kepper.
“OK.” replied Wappie. “I going by d shop to see if they have glue. Doh stay long getting the feather. It getting dark already. Remember, yuh doh really need it.”
Kepper walked back to his house, as Wappie threw on a jersey and set off for the nearby shop.
When the boy walked around to the back of the house to the chicken coop, where his father Bunty, enslaved a few scrawny chickens, he did not see the rooster.
He fetched a small bucket of corn seeds from under the house and threw the contents into the coop. The chickens scampered over each other to pick at the measly grains.
Kepper sighed at the sight and was about to walk back to Wappie’s when he heard a strange whistle. It came from inside the overgrown forested area, which bordered the village of Pinto Capitan and which served as the backyard of his house.
Kepper, familiar with the forested area around his house, followed the sound of the whistle, which was high, clear and sweet. It was cheerful to his ear and he imagined what great bird made the strange call. It was unlike anything he had ever heard before from the various species of bird he had seen in the forest.
As he made his way cautiously through the trees, being very careful of where he stepped, he spotted a figure walking ahead of him. He stopped dead in his tracks. His fear of the jumbies of the forest suddenly gripped him. The figure turned and faced him. It was an old bearded man, cloaked in a tattered and torn piece of cloth. He carried a bag over his left shoulder and in his right hand were a multitude of feathers, of varying shapes, lengths and colours. Kepper became especially spell-bound by one particularly long, scarlet red feather. It was similar to the ones he had seen in the newspaper pictures, but this one was radiant and perfect.
A million things ran through Kepper’s mind. Chief among them was ‘why was he the only thing not running?’ The old man walked toward him. Just then, they both heard the whistle. The old man looked up at the trees and his eyes searched this way and that for the bird which made the call. He then whistled to it. The bird whistled back.
Kepper looked on in amazement as the man and the unseen bird communicated with each other. The next thing he heard, was the rustle of leaves and a flutter of wings and a beautiful brown bird flew down from the trees and landed on the old man’s shoulder.
Kepper was as dumbstruck as the times his teacher called upon him to recite his multiplication tables. The man greeted the bird in a soft whistle, then turned back his attention to Kepper.
“Do you like the feathers?” he asked in a slow, raspy, yet kind voice.
Kepper nodded. He could find no words. They had ran off with the other things in his mind.
“Well, why don’t you take the one you like the most.” the man offered, extending his arm with the feathers.
Kepper hesistated, but he knew he wanted the scarlet red feather. It would defintely make his mas face look genuinely real. He really wanted to experience a little part of Carnival and be joyful like the people in the pictures he saw.
Never, taking his eyes of the man, he reached out and gently pulled the feather out of the man’s grasp.
“Ahh, a nice selection. A feather from the Scarlet Ibis. Very special. Very beautiful.” said the man with a smile and a nod. “I found it in the mangrove swamp this morning, as the birds left for their feeding grounds.”
Kepper had no idea what a mangrove swamp was. He too was capitvated by the radiance of the feather, but managed to say ‘Thank You’ to the stranger.
The bird on the man’s shoulder started whistling again, drawing Kepper out of his stupor. The man whistled softly to it and it flew up into the trees.
Kepper looked at it flying away high above the leaves and branches until it disappeared. When he looked back down, the old man was gone. There was no sign of him.
To be continued…