Trapped in Tobago!
The Brits may have banned slavery in the West Indies in 1827 but the decree seems to have eluded Trinidad and Tobago, certainly as far as my lot are concerned. See what you think.
Born and raised in Singapore, my family treated me kindly until, when I was about three years old, I began to smoke a little – not a lot but sufficient for them to worry I might soon start breaking the law and cause them to be fined. With undue haste, I thought, and with little ceremony I was soon sold off to a slave dealer and shipped to Trinidad, where apparently there is great demand for left hand drives, especially those of a silver colour (which is mine) My name by the way is Matrix Hyundai – friends call me Matt for short.
Nervously displaying my South Korean badge I stood alongside many distinguished and well-respected Japanese families assembled on the dockside that fateful day; among them – Nissan, Mazda, Lexus, Subaru, and Suzuki. Further along the line I spotted a small nippon of Toyotas, proud and polished (even though a little tarnished).
Word on the street said that some slave shipments were by container – individual tin boxes that held just one vehicle in safe, solitary luxury but we were to be denied this first class option and not so much driven as ‘rolled’ on to the vast car deck, bonnet by bumper with any old Ford, Dodge or Buick. Secured to the floor, there was little wheel room, but at least we were protected from the wind and rain.
It was a long, slow voyage – nearly six weeks in all, so I was glad I’d been parked next to a very attractive (white! – rare in these parts) and agreeable companion from the Daihatsu family. Terios – or Terrie as she likes to be called was from the same background as me – a conservative, middle-management family, so we understood each other straight away. Our main concern and the subject of many conversations was what would happen to us when we were ‘rolled off’ the boat because we’d heard that where you ended up was simply the luck of the draw as far as RORO’s were concerned. We all knew we were not to be sold as ‘carefully maintained second-hand models’ but as a cheap alternative; this, together with the uncertainty of our future, had a devastating effect on our morale. We may not admit it in public but secretly we all felt like old bangers.
We docked just as the sun disappeared. It seemed like an omen. Terrie and I hardly spoke all night we were so depressed. The ship was deserted; all the crew melted into the evening air and we were kept in the dark for the entire night. I think I lost a little oil.
Early the next morning five drivers suddenly appeared (two of them were women – it couldn’t have happened in Singapore!) and we were all rolled off to a warehouse by the side of the quay. Later in the day a short fat man with a beard, accompanied by a girl with a clipboard, who gave him my keys, sat in my driving seat & started me up. My God he was heavy! I hardly had time to flash my lights at Terrie in a last ‘goodbye’ before I found myself being driven along the quay and on to another boat, and within minutes we were off! And what acceleration this second boat possessed – it must have been at least three times faster than the one from Singapore, and in spite of being concerned for my welfare, I must confess to being exhilarated by this wonderful burst of speed. Two and a half hours later we arrived at a new port – Scarborough: in Tobago I learned later. The same fat man clambered aboard and drove me about eight kilometres west (well that’s what my dashboard calculator displayed – personally I prefer measurement in miles) to an incomplete development called (it said on the sign) ‘Heavenly Villas’ This charming but ramshackle collection of houses suddenly appeared at the top of a hill just up from a village called Pleasing Prospect. Eventually I’m parked on one of two concrete ‘runs’ in front of this house - I can see it’s called ‘Verdi’. The fat man jumps out and wobbles off towards the house yelling ‘Ruth, I’ve got the car!’ This seems to be a trigger that brings his wife (I presume) out of the house in double quick time. Now after all my worries and discomfort over the past couple of months, I must tell you it was an inordinate pleasure to be stroked by this attractive woman. Ruth literally ran her hands all over my bodywork saying things like ‘I say Peter you’ve got a winner here’ and ‘ I think she’s lovely. Well done’ I was itching to tell her that I was, in fact, a bloke not a girl but I consoled myself with the fact that once she’d given me a spin she’d know I was no sissy! I was right and within a couple of days she turned to her husband and said ‘I tell you what, this little motor gives a good firm ride. I think we’ll call him Matt!
The next month was, for me, a delight of personal pampering. I was fully serviced, including an orgiastic oil change, a bracing belt tightening and a sensational screw adjustment (to reduce my idling throttle). It was indeed an auspicious start to my new situation, and during this time I got to know my new owners well. They were very easy on my clutch and accelerator, never drove me faster than my comfort zone (40 – 50 mph), and always gave me a good wash down if I’d been splashed by mud or sand. Every week I was given a full shampoo and rinse, followed by a wax polish and a wheel clean. It quickly became apparent that I was a most welcome addition to their family for I heard things like ‘I love Matt - he will be our USP’ or ‘Matt’s a wonderful motor – we must always include him’ I didn’t realise the real implication of those words at the time, but looking back I almost freeze up just thinking about them.
I first realised that something odd was going on when Peter and Ruth departed suddenly one day. An ancient black London taxi with its traditional ‘For Hire’ sign just above the windscreen (I’d seen a similar model in Singapore) appeared out of the blue and pulled up outside the house. It was pretty bedraggled and rather rusty. Its front bumper was slightly bent so it looked as if it had a rather shifty smile. Its driver got out, went to the door of the house, knocked, and was admitted. A few seconds later he emerged carrying two heavy suitcases which he put into the front luggage space of his cab. Peter and Ruth quickly followed carrying lighter luggage and got in the back. Just before they all drove off I managed to ask the old Austin what was going on. ‘I think we’re bound for the airport, me old china’ he muttered in a broad cockney accent as he pulled away. Now I knew from previous taxi friends that when they took passengers to board a flight accompanied by a good deal of luggage it usually meant they would be away for a long time; the smaller their cases, and certainly if they only took briefcases, the shorter their absence would be. As soon as I heard the word ‘airport’ I knew straightaway that I’d been dumped by my new owners; just as I was relaxing; just as I was coming to terms with my new environment. Life was a bitch.
I sat baking in the sun all day; my paint felt dry and scratchy. I’d not really missed the shade of my old garage before, but now I was unhappily alone every little niggle rose to the surface in my confused mind and festered. I didn’t move for five days. Though I’ve never been one for a great deal of exercise, I’ve always enjoyed a nice gentle daily run, but
after five days of immobility I could almost feel my transmission seizing up; certainly my tyres had lost their firmness and my wipers felt flabby.
On the sixth day Marvin, who I’d seen before doing odd jobs about the place sat in the driver’s seat and turned me over. What a relief! He seemed pleased that I’d started first time and gave me a bit of throttle. He then proceeded to wash, then hose me down, finishing with a firm dry and polish which made me feel almost well sprung again.
This feeling was sadly short-lived, for within an hour the old Austin drove in again and dropped off five adults and two teenage children, plus all their luggage. ‘Who are this lot?’ I asked him. ’You should know’, he replied. ’You should know, I mean you’re the one who lives here aintcha?.’ ‘I’m sorry’, I said, ‘But I haven’t been here very long……..oh dear….you must think me very rude, let me introduce myself, I’m Matt, and ….’ ‘Don’t worry, me old mate’ he interrupted, ‘my name’s Austin, but most people call me ‘Dodger’ on account of ‘the Artful’, know what I mean?’ He could clearly see I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about so to ease my embarrassment he quickly said ‘Nice to meet you’, ‘And me’ I replied. By this time Dodger’s occupants had all trooped into the house and the driver was unloading their luggage. ‘If you ask me, I’d say that troupe were tourists’, volunteered my taxi friend. ‘What are they’, I asked. ‘Good heavens mate, you’re not very clued up are yer? Tourists are folk as don’t live ‘ere normally, but come and stay for a bit. They call it an ‘oliday but we call it a nightmare cos they often leave us feeling sick.’ ‘In what way?’ I asked ‘Well, quite literally half the time – you know …being icky dicky all over us after they’ve ‘ad too many rum and cokes or slamming our doors, ripping our upholstery, or pulling our ‘andles off. You name it they do it!’ ‘Oh dear’, I said lamely. ‘Oh dear indeed matey’ continued Dodger, cocking his one good headlamp in my direction. ‘Mind you, it’s far worse for the rental brigade – the tourists actually get to sit behind their wheels, and you can imagine what damage they can do….’ He stopped talking abruptly. ‘Oh God’, he said, ‘You don’t think your owners have thrown you in with the rental of their house, do you?’ ‘I sincerely hope not’, I replied. Just as I was about to continue there was a whoop of excitement from inside ‘Verdi’ before the front door was thrown open and all its seven occupants literally poured out and clambered aboard me. Yes all seven of them – and I was only built to carry a maximum of five! The taxi driver was now back in his cab and had started Dodger up. ‘I’m so sorry pal’ he shouted sympathetically as he drove off. ‘You’ll just have to grit your tyres and pray that you don’t get abused.’ My driver turned me over, jerked me into gear, and putting his foot hard down on my accelerator sped off, to the raucous amusement of his two teenage tearaways. This then was to be a taste of things to come. I had been sold into slavery; my new life was just beginning………
To be continued
© Malcolm Taylor 2011
I hope you enjoy my other articles -
Cottage In The Country,
The Coconut Season and
The Emerald Lighter and Murder In Tobago.