Teenaged Coup: 1990 Reflections

Otancia Noel

At first, she left for a day, then a day or two, then a week, then two weeks, and so it went. There were times when I loved the freedom of not having my mother around; sometimes, I really wanted her with me a little more. I will confess to occasionally resenting her absence. I thought it unfair to me and my brothers and sister. I also began to dislike my father and what I thought he stood for, and I acted out. I rebelled. 

I did not want to be the one everyone whispered about, “Look the gul who father them overthrow the government.”

Imagine this is the end ah the term, school over, everybody walking down the stretch, a 15-minute walk down to Point. All the sweet and not so sweet fellahs from the government vocational centre in the mix too, the lime pumping going down the stretch, and I was the one who got pelted with rotten eggs.

“Way your father and he boys, eh, call them nah.” 

The whole stretch ah school children cracking up getting they jones off ah me. You know us school children can be the wickedest spawns ah the devil when it comes to bullying and prank playing. So, now, I smelling like a dead dog what get lick down and buss open for days on the side ah the road. Man, meh head was messed up, and sometimes I did stupid things like most teenagers do when they think that is them against the world.

One Friday, after school over early, we decide we going Sando meh cousin, me and a few friends. We know school was going to over early; of course, no one thought it was in our best interest to convey such a bad message to our grandparents – and for those ah us who had them, parents. 

Instead, we had a change ah clothes beneath our school clothes ready for ‘the unfortunate early dismissal from school’ that the principal had announced at the start ah the week.

Night ketch we in Sando and we ketching we tail to find a car to Point. Me and meh cousin shaking in we boots, making up all kind’a thing to tell meh grandmother ‘bout why we now coming home from school. Well, we decided on the drama act, the play we had to practise for in school and forget to tell she ‘bout. 

Finally, we get a car that was going Point, a minivan from meh grandmother them days that the scrap yard had forget to pick up. Man is scramble to get in ‘cause is ‘bout 50 people waiting for this one transport that could hold 12, 14 max, if yuh leave out the double size woman that was ready to trample a whole herd ah elephant to get in that van. It usually take ‘bout two hours to get to Point from Sando, but in that luxurious, sleek, horse-powered vehicle it took ‘bout four hours. Well, me and meh cousin, Coo Coo, was cook for sure when we reach home ‘cause meh grandmother know that no teacher was sending we home after 10 in the night, noway hosay. Meh cousin decide we was done dead, so she went for the whole hog and gone by she boyfriend when we reach Point. I was alone going home to face the music.

Anyway, I drop off by the community centre behind we house, cut through the bush in the back, and sneak in we yard like a proper thief. Lucky for me, when I reach home, meh grandmother done gone in she bed early.

Meh sister tell me, “Ma had a headache and went upstairs since news time and drop to sleep.” I praying to every God it have thinking yes I get away, I could say I reach home ‘bout eight and meh play in school story could still stick. 

Them days according to meh mother, “You getting real outta hand.” 

To be honest, I was really doing a few things that I normally did not do. Well, that was things I did not do before the coup, anyway. For me, after the coup was freedom days. I was 16 allyuh. Oh gosh, don’t judge me.

So, Umi had bring meh uncle who was a little older than me, ‘bout 20,  to stay with me and meh siblings while she went and “play Mary the saviour for all the coup makers.”

He was supposed to “watch you and make sure you come home early and don’t play the fool on the people road liming like some jagabat.”

Well, he was really watching me; I had a scary episode that night after meh big lime. I wasn’t frightened to pass through the land at that hour since it had always been our safe space. Jumbie never bother we; soucouyant and douen did fraid we, at least that is what meh siblings and I thought ‘cause all the look we used to look for the jumbies meh grandmother used to talk ‘bout we never see them. And we always used to camp outside and climb tree at ungodly hours. Sometimes, after twelve midnight we going outside to look for zaboca that fall and going in the outside house to get yam from the storeroom to boil and eat with we zaboca.

Anyway, as I was telling allyuh my A plan was to sneak into the house and get into bed and tell meh story in the morning. What I had not bargained for was the sight ah meh uncle waiting patiently for me in meh bedroom. 

Without going into too much detail, let me just say the conversation and interaction that followed was very strange and unnatural. He was not only in meh bedroom but also in meh bed. I was so studying meh good luck that I did not notice him at first. To this day, I wonder what I would have done if… But luckily it remained at the point of “if”. I suppose we all have or know ‘bout that one uncle who is a bit iffy.

I ran away after this episode, not mainly due to this; meh mother and I had a little bacchanal the following week when she came home. I had gone out to Borough Day celebrations and did not return home until parrot start to squeak the next morning. After all, it was Borough Day in Point, the biggest party ever. I had to lime. Naturally, meh mother did not see it that way and so we fell out. Well, I get two planass, and she quarrelled. On top ah that, the gardener who meh grandmother had living in the yard to help she work the yam field see and he was one ah the village maco.

So, I know everybody was going to hear ‘bout how, “She does be playing fresh and look she mother planass she tail.”

After that, I came up with my ingenious runaway plan. Yes, the one that almost every teenager comes up with, some ah we carry out this plan, some just dream ‘bout the day we could get away from parents and adults who “always feel they know everything.”

I left a note for meh mother saying, “I feel unwanted and nobody care ‘bout me or ‘bout what I want.” By the next day, I was back home with some made-up story about where I was. Of course, meh mother found out where I was and did not tell me until much later.

I had found meh way to a friend’s house – I rather not call his name. I can’t remember how or why he got left behind, but he was not involved in the coup. He took me to his cousin’s house in Cocorite to spend the night while he was out with friends.

He insisted that I “was not ready for the matters of the adult world,” euphemistically speaking. The more important factor might be that he was afraid ah what meh father and the others would say if he allowed me to err. So off he went, leaving a very sour teenaged me and his cousin to ensure I stay put.

The next day, he packed me off back to Point with his crooked smile and a warning: “Behave yourself eh, and don’t let no man spoil yuh.” 

Is he serious? I asking mehself. Meh father and them in jail, and you’re still studying them? In hindsight I see that even though this said young man and some others had their faults, they were some ah the best men I have ever known. 

Regarding my brief misguided flight to freedom, I had no regrets. I had so much pent-up anger, almost hatred, for meh parents. Meh only misgiving was ‘bout meh brothers and sisters and what I had put them through. Now, when I look back, I feel sorry for having caused meh mother so much grief. She is meh mother and would never deliberately do anything that would hurt her children. Sometimes parents do make mistakes; they are humans, not God. As an adult and a parent now myself, I have come to recognize this.

*

After this episode meh mother decided that a visit to meh father was long overdue. For a visit to Sageek, the name by which meh sister and I now referred to our father, and the other 103 jailed Jamaat members, we travelled from South to Chaguaramas. I genuinely missed a lot of them, the younger ones, since they were like meh own brothers. But I was also happy for the freedom their absence in meh life allowed and meh absence from the compound that we lived on before the coup allowed me to enjoy. It was also nice to know the different worlds of South and North Trinidad. Some ah the children from South who was in meh age group had never even left the area. Most ah those who did would have required an adult chaperone, and some mostly only ever went to Sando. 

Some ah them looked at me as “a town gul” but little did they know that I had never really explored the town life. My life on the compound was an insulation from the other life outside. 

In Chaguaramas, the arrival ah the bus bringing the Jamaat prisoners to the visiting room was a high-point ah excitement. They were usually chanting and in high spirits, happy to see their loved ones. Sometimes, we would drive down to the barracks where most were kept to wave and call out to them. Two years after they had been set free on the order ah the Appeal Court, some told me they still had meh letters and books, and how our simple acts ah visiting them and driving to the buildings to wave and call their names had sustained and kept them going. A lot ah them received letters and cards from me, me being the budding writer that I was back then. Sometimes, to be honest it was just on the request ah meh mother or father that I wrote, made cards, and sent books to them. 

The day the detained men were released from prison was a very happy time for the Jamaat members, “having our menfolk at home again.” 

But not all had made it back home. Tony, one ah the youngest ah the insurgents, had been lost during the coup when he was trapped and burnt to death at the headquarters of Trinidad and Tobago Television after the army launched a rocket. He was also one ah meh best friends during compound days; he was ‘bout three years older than I was back then.

I was happy for some ah them, the younger ones, it is true, but I was also unhappy. Acquittal meant that meh father would be free to disapprove ah meh new-found attitudes and lifestyle. More importantly, with his return, I also knew that our life was about to change, again. 

I was glad that some ah them boys who I thought just caught up in the coup nonsense would have another opportunity to enjoy freedom, but I was not looking forward to getting back into the swing ah things at the Jamaat. But then, I was just a rebellious teenager. What did I know about what was good for me? Surely the adults knew better.

Otancia Noel is a Trinidadian-born teacher and writer who holds an MFA in creative writing from The University of The West Indies Trinidad. The recipient of the Vincent Cooper Literary Prize for Caribbean Vernacular 2021 and Hodder and Hachette UK Contemporary Caribbean Short Story Prize 2021, she was also longlisted twice for the Johnson and Amoy Achong Prize in both fiction and non-fiction. She has several stories in The Caribbean Writer US, Solar Punk Magazine US, the Hodder and Hachette Contemporary Caribbean Classic Anthology, as well as in BarBar Literary Magazine.

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