“Gimme a dollar,” he pleaded ardently. I turned around and, without looking at his face, took in the unkempt appearance of the wretch before me. His right hand was outstretched expectantly, while his left held up his trousers to prevent them from falling off his gaunt frame. Reaching into my back pocket, I looked at his face for the first time and was shocked. It was more than a physical thing; my mind lurched like something tossed about in a strong wind as my past rushed headlong and uncontrolled into my present. Even with his mop of unruly hair tinged with gray, unshaved, sunken cheeks, bloodshot eyes, and wild demeanor, I recognized this destitute creature as Claude—a childhood friend.
Long before my parents left New Village for the unfamiliar and unexciting Chase Gardens community, where my brother had purchased a plot of land, Claude had already disappeared from the scene. His older brother, Horace, had emigrated to the greener pastures of Trinidad; that we knew, but nobody knew of Claude’s whereabouts. Claude had been something of a loner. He didn’t mingle easily and often stayed close to the general area where he lived with his family. I cannot recall a single instance when Claude had joined the other boys to pitch marbles, go kite-flying, spend some time in the river, or participate in our crazy, heart-stopping adventures guaranteed to bring the wrath of our parents down on our heads.
Claude lived with his mother, Miss Tazi, and three siblings in a small, wooden house―not too far from the road―that one reached by descending some narrow concrete steps. His uncontrollable stuttering may have had something to do with his lack of interest in the other boys and their activities. Whatever the reason or reasons, he kept to himself—until the day when, surprisingly, he joined my older brother, Marquis, Samuel, and me near the roadside garbage dump.
He joined us many times after that. I don’t remember him being loud or talkative as small boys usually are. Claude would stand there with his big, gentle eyes taking in everything we said and, occasionally, stuttering his input. Samuel, who was the oldest, usually dominated the conversations, while we kept watch for the appearance of his mother, Miss Berita. Miss Berita was a regular fire-breather who didn’t allow Samuel out on the street too often. As a result, he would break out whenever his mother went to town. Fortunately for him, she had poor eyesight, and once she appeared at the far end of the road, Samuel would dash up the track leading to Miss Gideon’s house, then down a short incline past Mister Durance’s house to the safety of his home. Miss Berita never once suspected a thing.
One day, while Marquis and I stood near the garbage dump waiting for some of the boys to come along, we saw Claude come out of Mister Samuel’s house. Mister Samuel was a cobbler who lived in a small, wooden house close to the roadside and within hailing distance of Nurse Doris, who lived on the opposite side of the road in a house built on concrete pillars, which she rented from Mister Cooper. There was an air of authority surrounding Mister Samuel. A good-looking man in his early sixties, he was big and tall, and when he spoke in his deep, booming voice, people paid attention. Mister Samuel sounded like an educated and traveled man. His rendering of the English Language to recount stories of people, places, and things was flawless, as was his diction. There was also an air of mystery, suspicion, and fear surrounding Mister Samuel.
Author’s note: The preceding is an excerpt from the story, “The psychological conversion of Claude Charles”, from the novella, “New Village”, now on Amazon kindle.