The boatyard in Trinidad is divided into sections. The office, laundry, guest rooms, showers and restaurant are by the water. The first storage yard is immediately behind. Short term boats are kept here as well boats that are being worked on. Overall, it’s a dusty place. Stunningly hot to walk through the middle of the day. During breaks, staff are often found sheltering under boats. Often they are so quiet I find myself almost bumping into them before I notice they’re there. People – including us – use raised catamarans as handy shady parking spots. To shelter from the sun, we all thread our way through the bottom of boats to get anywhere – the showers, laundry, the office, like mice avoiding birds of prey.
At the front of the boatyard, the dust ends and the gardens begin. Lawns, flower beds. A big, bold amaryllis bulb rises from the ground. The striped petals looked hand-painted. My aunt Ela loves amaryllis and I think of her straight away. She can only grow her amaryllis inside her west London house. Here it seems to smile at me in the outside. You’ll often find Miss Ena here too by the laundry room – ‘Like Miss Tina,’ Delphine helpfully points out, ‘without the T.’ Miss Ena, who has obviously spent some significant time sweeping the pathways and folding laundry. Salt and pepper hair tied into a neat bun and shorter than Delphine.
‘Hey Miss Ena,’ we say when we see her. Her eyes spark and twinkle in reply.
‘We dress Miss Ena up as an elf at Christmas time,’ Daniella said, passing us. Miss Ena just smiled enigmatically while our mouths popped open like drawers.
But not all is perfectly well in the boatyard. Falco the mechanic arrived from the adjoining boat yard to shut down Quest’s engine; changing the oil and running coolant through the system to stop any corrosion. One of his team is missing.
‘Shot in the face,’ Falco told Jack. ‘He was in his house when another guy snuck in to shelter from a gang. The gang found him and shot both of them.’ And another man, a boat sprayer is dead too from the other boatyard. He was shot in the back on the streets of Trinidad.
All the boat mechanics we’ve met have a certain sense of unflappable coolness. From Cocoa T in Grenada Marine to Falco. But Falco now was holding heavy. It turned out that his best friend has just died over the weekend, his car plunging over one of Trinidad’s north coast cliffs. Falco pulled out his phone and showed Jack the footage. Someone had filmed his friend in the front seat dying.
‘What was it like?’ I asked Jack as we put Quest back together afterwards.
Jack pulled his head out of the floor and paused. ‘He was all cut up and doing the death rattle. It made me shiver.’
Trinidad’s north coast road is precariously winding and narrow. We’d driven it too a few days before in our rental car. Drove an hour north to Las Cuevas beach with brown sand and green water. Trinidad’s beaches have no feeling of pretension; not with so many local Trinis lolling clumsily in the surf zone, laughing as they came out, their hair stringy and covered in sand. And despite the Trini heat, the water is cold – markedly colder than Barbados. This is despite the fact it’s closer to the Equator. Afterwards, by the outside showers in the car park, we rinsed the brown sand off with other shyly grinning Trinis.
We stopped for bake’n’shark on the way home. Like a Trini manifesto; you have to. It’s a sandwich unlike any other. Bread rolls but deep fried like a doughnut. Inside battered fish or shrimp or even just potato. You line up for a buffet salad to put on top; cucumber, tomato, lettuce, pineapple. Then different sauces to choose from and blend if you wish; mango, chilli, coriander and a dark-red, tangy tamarind. The sandwich needs to be tackled like a football: hands and a fork and several pieces of tissue paper.
We were just about to tuck in. Parked car alarms were going off all around us from vehicles whizzing past. Then a wedding party came in. A wedding party!? We stared openly at them line up in the buffet queue – purple taffeta and jewel-encrusted hair clips. Was their meal before or after the wedding we wondered?
‘Why on Earth would you have your wedding meal here?’ Lulu asked derisively.
Jack and I looked at each other. We were slightly scared to answer. Straight away, it had seemed obvious to us that it was the perfect place for a wedding meal. No fuss, no worries about lack of food or quality. That’s the point about Trinidad. Violence is always somewhere in the background. Or it comes close to you. Our mechanic Falco had just lost both his friend and colleagues. Then the wedding party comes to the bake’n’shark shack. It’s hard to put it into words. Trinidad just always surprises.