Something from nothing
Fiction by Barbara Jenkins
Caribbean regional winner in the 2010 Commonwealth Short Story Competition
Sunday morning, everybody kneeling in church reading prayerbook; Valentine and Boris lolling in verandah, reading newspapers.
“Boris, we win the sweepstake.”
“Put down the comics. We win sweepstake.”
“OK, if you say so. What we doing?”
“Business sorted. Now we could bring out the band. Pass the telephone directory.”
Valentine call the Guardian. “We is two grassroots boys and we win the sweepstake.” Next day, Guardian headline: “Belmont Sons Sweep Prize”, with smiling pictures and report on their plans for all that money. “We not sure yet. Maybe we might bring out a Carnival band.”
Valentine let story spread couple days; Friday he downtown, Boris in tow.
They step into Astaphan & Sons, start fingering velvet, satin, braid, discussing. Astaphan appear, pulling up pants waist over ample belly, sashaying over to our two boys who feigning focus on lush fabric.
“Valentine, my friend, I see in papers you win sweepstake. So what you planning? Forty thousand dollars a lot a money!”
“We bringing out a band; we checking around for material.”
“You can’t find better quality anywhere — only the best here.”
“We only looking now; comparing price.”
Astaphan fraid Valentine leave — plenty competition around; in he head he seeing piles-a-dollars vanishing. “Wait, man. I sure we could work something.”
“Yes. What you could do?”
“Choose what you want; then we talk.”
Valentine belying bulk, moving nimble, piling bolt upon bolt of red velvet, purple velvet, silver lamé, gold satin. Two big man agree price, then Valentine say, “The Turf Club say I getting the money next week.”
Astaphan understand — he little business was founded on trust — “That OK. We deliver everything tomorrow.” Next day, material arrive. Bernice and she girls start cutting up cloth for cape, toga, robe, in small, medium, large. Sunday night, all the material is now heaps of cut-out pieces, ready to stitch-up.
Monday, Valentine phone Guardian. “I thought I had the winning ticket, but was a mistake.” Tuesday, Guardian run story. Valentine give Astaphan two days’ grace; Thursday, he back by bigman.
“Is three-thousand-nine-hundred-and-fifty-six dollars worth of cloth you take. You bring it back?”
“It done cut-up for costume. And, is not enough. I need more cloth. When the band come out and everybody pay, I pay you; but the band can’t come out if I don’t get more cloth.”
Astaphan realise if he don’t give Valentine more cloth, is not cent shave-ice in the sun chance of getting anything back.
“In for a penny . . .” he decide. Bernice stitching-up costume day and night.
Valentine band, “Classical Empires”, win Band of the Year. See Emperor “Valentine” Nero, in midnight-blue robe, gold lamé-lined purple velvet cape, reclining on palanquin like movie star, eating grapes; Boris and three big bare-back bearers hoisting Valentine over amazed crowds — people climbing up on one another back to catch a glimpse. Valentine single-handed move the goalpost for pretty-mas spectacle; now it have drama, performance.
Boris say Valentine make something from nothing for two people — Astaphan and he-own-self. How so? Carnival, see winer girls in front the band, waving big-big banner: “Sponsored by Astaphan & Sons”; Astaphan reputation become “supporter of local culture”; he get rich, quick-quick — premier supplier of Carnival material for the whole island!
And Valentine? He long creative career just launch.
Barbara Jenkins is a Trinidadian writer. After a career as a teacher and textbook author, she began writing fiction and is now an MFA student at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine. She was recently published in Moving Right Along: Caribbean Stories in Honour of John Cropper (2010), an anthology of short fiction by participants in the Cropper Foundation Writers’ Workshop from 2000 to 2008.