By Irma Rambaran

Cecil lived in the slums south of the highway leading into Port of Spain. Sometimes he went to school, sometimes he didn’t. It all depended on whether there was food in the house since his mother said she didn’t like to send her children to school “on empty stomach”.

On those school-free days Cecil drifted into Port of Spain asking strangers for 25 cents or a dollar depending on the person’s dress or the amount of sympathy he got. On weekends he picked up bottles at the side of the road which he sold to a man who lived not too far away from him. The man paid him 20 cents for each bottle and on a good day he could make ten dollars. With this money he helped his mother buy food and went to school.

But there was one time of the year when Cecil was guaranteed a good living from picking up bottles. That was at Carnival. From the weekend before Carnival there were so many bottles at the side of the road he often called on his friend Edwin, to help him. Edwin’s mother also believed in “no food-no school”.

So far this year the Carnival had been good for bottles. On Carnival Friday night when thousands of people came out to hear the old time steelbands it seemed everyone had placed a bottle or two at the side of the road. There was competition from other boys of course, but Cecil and Edwin had a good system – keep an eye out for the guzzlers – those who drank quickly – and keep fairly close to them while picking up the empties from the more cautious drinkers.

Between Friday night and Monday evening, Cecil and Edwin had earned enough money to ensure school for a while. By the end of Carnival they would be very rich, young men, maybe even rich enough to but new shoes.

And so it was with high expectations that Cecil called on Edwin early Carnival Tuesday and set out for Port of Spain. Already the highway was teeming with traffic. Cars with gold and silver standards sticking out of car windows, their fringes blowing in the breeze, swizzed along carrying the masqueraders who were going to meet their bands. Big trucks carrying larger costumes, which would lead the bands on to the savannah stage, pressed for room to pass on the crowded highway and scores of people dressed in smaller costumes hurried along the sidewalk. As the boys strolled along, Cecil felt the hurried, happy air reach inside and touch him and he wished that he too could be a part of Carnival.

On entering Port of Spain proper, they deliberately moved as close as they could to the costumes they met, mingling with the prancing adults, then giggling and pointing to each other as the glitter rubbed off on their bodies.

“Mas, Mas, I know yuh face.” Cecil giggled and pointed at Edwin’s face which was speckled with green, gold and red glitter.  Edwin in turn looked at Cecil in awe. ‘Cecil boy, you could pass for a real Mas. Yuh ears have gold on both sides. You could even make the Savannah.”

Cecil passed his hand over his ears and looked pleased at the gold dust he saw. He became serious for a second and said, “Yuh think we could ever play a real Mas?”

“How you mean? Like how?” asked Edwin.

“Like a big costume like that one,” he said pointing to a man striding confidently down the road on his way to meet his band. The man’s costume was green and gold with huge gold and silver wings. “I want to play a Mas like that.”

Edwin replied, “You mad or what? Where yuh getting the money?”

That ended the discussion and they went about picking up bottles and putting them in the crocus bags they’d bought along with them. It was about two in the afternoon when Cecil and Edwin, having filled several bags and dragged them off to their buyer decided they would try they luck by the Savannah.

The road around the Savannah was a bewildering sight. There were thousands of people in all kinds of costumes. Everywhere he looked, Cecil saw so many pretty colours he wondered how anyone could tell which costume was the prettiest. Some of the costumes were so big he had to tilt his head all the way back to get a good look. And there were thousands of other people too. They were dancing and jumping, laughing and talking, drinking and eating – everything was happening at the same time. There were sno cone vendors and soft drink vendors. Corn soup ladies and nuts men. There were bigger boys pushing carts filled with oranges and men with wooden racks of cotton candy. Even the lottery vendors were out. And above all the chatting and laughing there was the music of the steelpan and the brass bands and the DJs and they all seemed to be playing all the music in the world at the same time.

The sight of the costumes and the sound of the music made Cecil forget the bottles until Edwin tugged at him and he began picking them up. When his bag was full Cecil paused for a break and watched the band that was passing. It was a huge band and Cecil thought, “It must have hundreds and thousands and millions of people in there alone.”

The first section was white and silver. Then there was a red section with gold and orange standards. Then he saw a band of Dragons coming up the road. The Dragons’ headpieces were fearsome in green and gold and brown. The masqueraders wore green and gold with huge gold and silver wings, the same as the one he had seen the man wearing earlier in the day. And as the sunlight blazed on the wings of the costumes, reflecting light that sometimes hurt his eyes, Cecil wished more than ever that he too could play a pretty Mas.

The section slowed down because another band coming from a side street had caused the band to stop. Cecil stood and watched the people dancing in their lovely costumes. There was one woman who seemed to be having a really good time. She was doing what Edwin would call “real wining” but whenever she raised her hands the huge wings seemed to be bothering her. He heard Edwin’s voice shouting at him, “You going to stand up there whole day!”

“I just looking at a little Mas.”  Cecil replied turning to help Edwin with his bag. “Look at that lady over there.”

Cecil raised his hand to point to the woman and stopped. The lady was dancing with even great frenzy – but her arms were waving straight up in the air because, to Cecil’s horror, she no longer had her wings. Did she lose them? Maybe someone had stolen them from her. Maybe she had thrown them away. That was worse. What could possess someone to throw away such beautiful wings? Right now they were probably being trampled on by someone who did not care about things like pretty gold and silver wings.

Edwin said, “ She doh really know how to play Mas. She ent even have a proper costume. Let we carry this batch before it get too heavy.”

Cecil moved to pick up his sack saying as he did, “Maybe the wings was humbugging she.” Just then, his eyes caught the glitter of silver and gold – not on a back of a masquerader, but lying at the side of the road. Cecil dropped the bag saying as he did, “Watch the bag, I coming back now.”

He flew to the spot where the wind was about to blow the pretty wings into a canal, but as he reached the wings, another gust of wind, as if in anticipation of Cecil’s arrival, blew the wings up and towards him. Cecil caught the wings. They were twice his height and even up close they looked like something out of a magic story. In no time at all he found the straps by which the wings fitted over the shoulders and put them on. They were now his wings. He sauntered up to Edwin who looked at him in awe. “Boy you look like a real Mas. The gold on yuh ears looking like somebody paint it. Yuh is a real Mas Cecil, a real Mas!”

Cecil could not contain himself. He started to dance to the music and then, suddenly, he had an idea. He said, “You take the bottles, I going on stage.”

The last Edwin saw of Cecil was the sight of a slim brown body smeared with many different colours of glitter walking confidently into the band and merging with the masqueraders.

And that evening people who were sitting in front of their television heard the announcer say, “And what a handsome young mascot. He’s really enjoying himself.” For there, for everyone to see was Cecil, dancing his dance, moving his wings, playing a real Mas.

About the Author

Irma Rambaran is a Trinidadian writer of short fiction, stage and television scripts. She has been published in several magazines including Caribbean Beat, Trinidad and Tobago Review, New Voices and Prometheus (UWI publication).

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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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