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27 July 1990 revisited: Waiting for Godfrey

“It was a Friday, she recalled, a day just like any other Friday. Like every other Friday she could remember, they had gone to the mosque for Jumu’ah. There had not seemed to be anything special about the midday religious sermon then but, looking back at it now, she saw in her mind’s eye a certain fidgetiness in the brothers, heard a certain extra vehemence in the responses from the floor.

“But there were no arms or ammunition, no bombs or grenades, nothing of the sort, no sign of what was in the works. Most of the men got into the handful of maxis that were on the compound as usual, going as usual to the post-Jumu’ah Friday gathering in the Square.”

Otancia Noel grew up on the compound of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen and has long since grown tired of hearing that Jamaat people are completely unrepentant as regards the events of 27 July 1990, Noel offered Wired868 the following short story which has its genesis in those fateful six days:

Photo: A Muslim woman wearing a hijab waits for the chips to fall where they may.

it was that time of the day;  you could hear night fall if you cocked your ear.  Raya was listening intently but she was not expecting any call from Mother Nature. Nor did she expect to hear the watery tones of the muezzin, summoning the faithful to the evening prayer. If she was all ears, it was because she was waiting for the shrill, piercing sound of his whistle to split the surrounding silence. In a moment, she would be out of there, turning her back once and for all on all of that excess, leaving it all behind with never a backward glance.

“With no regrets,” she hissed beneath her breath, surprising herself with the violence of her affirmation, “no regrets at all! None!”

Creak, creak, creak, creak.

It was August 30 and the next day would be Independence Day, the 55th anniversary.

“Freedom day,” she said, out loud but barely audibly, “not Independence day. My Emancipation day. I gih dem 18 years, more than 18 years, ah my life arready. Deh not getting anodder day.”

She summoned a mental image of Godfrey the way he had looked that day a few months before when they had first met. He was tall, athletic, clean-shaven, smiling, handsome, “a young Keith Rowley,” she had thought, “but in uniform.” Mentally, she undressed him, exposing first his attractive six-pack abs, then what she thought of as his “front-end loader” before locating him in her mind’s eye in the middle of his bed…

Her grandparents, exhausted after their long day, were in their bed upstairs; downstairs in the spacious living room were her four siblings. She sat alone in the greyness of the porch, rocking to and fro gently in the wicker rocking chair, her thoughts her only companions. She ran her fingers slowly over each of the ten hand-painted, blood-red words that adorned the front of the white tee-shirt, which she had carefully selected to wear on this all-important day.

Photo: The Red House, where Jamaat-al-Muslimeen insurrectionists held many of the nation’s parliamentarians hostage for six days in July 1990.

“JULY 1990,” it read, “For all those who payed with their life.” A smile crossed her lips as an intriguing thought crossed her mind.

“After deh kill Salim a few years ago,” she heard herself thinking, “Scanny two years ago and now Jelani this year, if I coulda do it over, I’d woulda only put ‘July’. No ‘1990’.”

“And,” the thought continued, momentarily lightening her mood, “correct the spelling of ‘payed’!”

But the reprieve was only temporary; her thoughts immediately returned, almost in spite of her, to her current situation. As usual, Ma was in the city, taking care of the revolutionist’s needs; they didn’t do a very good job of that in the State Prison where he had been a guest for the last many years but, as far as Raya was aware, her parents were the only ones who seemed to be surprised by that.

“He shoulda keep he ass home and take care ah he chirren,” his mother, Mama, had said once exasperatedly, when Ma had complained about the treatment he was receiving at the hands of the prison officers. “But no, he have chirren to mind and he want to go and revolute, overthrow govament, shoot prime minister, all kina wrong ting…”

Ma said nothing, her face twitching as she sought to control her anger but not a sound escaping her pursed lips.

“What? He feel he in the Hilton?” Mama went on, she too genuinely angry now. “What the ass he expect? Some kina five-star hotel treatment? Ham, lamb and jam?”

Photo: The Hotel Magdalena Grand in Tobago, which in no way resembles the State Prison.
(Courtesy Booking.com)

She sucked her teeth loudly, glared at her daughter-in-law, turned her back theatrically on her and flounced out of the room, her big Bajan bottom reminding us of a burrokeet, her broad Tobagonian nose, counterbalancing it, almost touching the ceiling.

We waited for Ma to respond. In this ongoing war, she often came out on the losing end, unable to offer any logical defence for her blind loyalty to her insurrectionist husband. Second-best was where she would finish again that day.

“Allhyuh go outside and play,” was all she could find to say, lamely, limply, settling for the soft target of us children in her frustration at having no ammunition to use on the real object of her ire. “Allyuh just getting in people way.”

Creak, creak, creak, creak.

It was a Friday, she recalled, a day just like any other Friday. Like every other Friday she could remember, they had gone to the mosque for Jumu’ah. There had not seemed to be anything special about the midday religious sermon then but, looking back at it now, she saw in her mind’s eye a certain fidgetiness in the brothers, heard a certain extra vehemence in the responses from the floor.

But there were no arms or ammunition, no bombs or grenades, nothing of the sort, no sign of what was in the works. Most of the men got into the handful of maxis that were on the compound as usual, going as usual to the post-Jumu’ah Friday gathering in the Square.

But by the time the birds were beginning to find their nests and she and her siblings were settling down in front of the television to watch the usual Friday evening movie, things had changed. On the screen, Jacob was flanked by two men, one of them looking like Raoul, in army fatigues and carrying guns and looking for all the world like real soldiers.

Photo: Former NAR National Security Minister and Toco/Manzanilla MP Joseph Toney in Parliament on July 27, 1990.

“The government has been overthrown,” Jacob was saying. “The country is now under the control of the revolutionary forces.”

“Ma! Ma! Ma!” she had screamed, the timbre of her voice betraying her emotion. “Ma! Come quick!”

“Please keep calm and follow the orders of the revolutionary forces,” Jacob continued, as her mother came into the living room, wiping her hands vigorously on her green apron. “I repeat, please keep calm and follow the orders of the revolutionary forces.”

Creak, creak, creak, creak.

She would never forget the look on her mother’s face. She had gone completely white, her eyes as wide as saucers, her mouth wide open,  whatever the words she had been impelled to utter frozen on her lips.

By the next day, the army had swooped down on the house, guns at the ready, meaning business. It didn’t matter that there were just two men in the entire household, one under 10, the other approaching 75, and that they had for company five women spanning three generations, ranging in age from 73 to five…

Was that a whistle she had heard? Was he there at last? She listened intently. Nothing. She heard the crackle of a branch in the distance, the chirping of a bird, perhaps a keskidee, nearby. Nature was talking to her but still no word from Godfrey. Not a peep. Not a plea. Not a prayer. Not yet anyway.

She wondered what would happen if he stood her up, if he changed his mind and never showed, if he chickened out. He had talked the talk, saying all the right words at just the right moment. He had sworn on his mother’s grave that he would do anything she wanted, even become a Muslim.

“I fell in love with a Catholic,” she had replied, chuckling and raising his chin skywards so that their eyes met… “I not sure I could love a Muslim.”

Photo: A hijab-clad Muslim young lady smiles at the world, perhaps at her own thoughts.

He had gone down on his knees and begged her to be his. Forever.

Another fleeting smile flashed across her lips. Forever? What does a teenager know about forever. Forever is tomorrow or the day after that. Only fools and priests looked beyond that. Fools and priests and adults.

Creak, creak, creak, creak.

Tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet!

That’s it! Godfrey’s here! I’m outta here!

She got slowly to her feet, suddenly completely calm. He had kept his word. He had come for her.

The rocking chair, as if tired from its evening’s exertions, never creaked once after she relieved it of the albeit small burden of her weight. She pulled the straps of her sandals up over her heels, tugged at the bottom of the tee-shirt that had gathered in creases under the buttons of her just burgeoning breasts, picked up her backpack, slung it over her shoulder and took a couple of steps in the direction of the door.

Tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet!

She blew a kiss towards the quartet of silhouettes curled up on the couch and on the floor in front of it. Her eyes fell on the framed photographs of her grandfather, in gardening gear and tall rubber boots, and of the stern-faced Imam, resplendent in white, that hung side by side on the wall above them.

Photo: Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, who heads the Jamaaat-al-Muslimeen.
(Courtesy Jyoti Communication)

Tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet!

She had lingered no more than a moment but Godfrey was getting impatient.

“Take care, y’all,” she mouthed soundlessly.

Four strides covered the distance from the door to the banister and she vaulted nimbly over it. Then, without a backward glance, with no pangs of conscience tearing at her heartstrings, with no thought of what precisely was in store for her, with nothing on her mind except the idea that she was finally going to leave it all behind to be, day after day, night after night, with the man of her dreams, she bolted with the speed and the stretched strides of the legendary Jamaican sprinter towards the towering sapodilla tree where the sound had come from and threw herself into the waiting, outstretched arms of the handsome young soldier with whom she planned to spend the rest of her days or, at least, as much time as Allah or Jesus—or the corrupt police in Central Trinidad or the mindless, resentful Jamaat hired hands who would be told she was a “traitor”—would allow them.

“Happily ever after,” she thought in the moment between the leap and the landing, “begins now.”

About Otancia Noel

Otancia Noel
Otancia Noel has a Literatures in English bachelor's degree at COSTAATT and is finishing a Masters in Fine Arts, Creative writing and Prose Fiction at UWI. She grew up on the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen compound in Mucurapo.

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6 comments

  1. I remember the late Leo Devignes one of the victims of the coup who lost his life innocently..i always remember his smile to me

  2. They feel justified by what is they did. Sent this country years behind. Unrepentant! Was never sorry!

  3. What the hell they want? Boo hoo woe is me we did not do any thing ! What about that little girl who grew up without her mother. Her mother worked at the Red House and she was killed during the six days of terror. Ms. Cabellero I think was her name. Woman grow up the Jamat Al Muslimeen wrecked our economy, destroyed our society! Are you aware that people could not work during the six days this nation was under siege and many persons lost their jobs because of the attempted coup! Allyuh need to blasted to say sorry for de death, grief, and destruction!

  4. As Mark Twain said, “That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.” But like James Fenimore Cooper’s DeerSlayer, Noel merely rambles on without purpose.

    If she tried to give a different perspective because she “has long since grown tired of hearing that Jamaat people are completely unrepentant as regards the events of 27 July 1990”, she has failed miserably. Failed too at the alternative, to explain why she escaped the Muslimeen’s compound. A case of “Love, love alone caused Noel to leave the throne”? Or disillusions with the Muslimeen lifestyle? Neither comes across clearly.

    There is a tendency for writers who study creative writing and “Arts” to meander aimlessly without purpose… Sad, because they might actually have interesting things to say… Say it!

    • Otancia Noel

      This is fiction. If you want to talk about these issues you mentioning then wait for my nonfiction. Check me out in the library today at four pm. I would be reading from Memoirs of a Jamaat Child, my nonfiction work in progress. But thanks for the critique.

      • Would be nice to say that it is fiction and not fact. Could be a mistake by the editor, leaving out that important bit. 🙂

        Keep in mind, Cooper’s work was fiction too. The point still stands, although I know editors make changes that take away from the clarity the author intends.