Massive rain clouds had assembled in the last two hours. After the traffic and heat of Maraval, there was the traffic and hustle of St. James in early afternoon: people walking, liming, people on bicycles, released and delighted school children, street vendors galore, the jumble of commercial signs and lights – all of it a haphazard, open-air souk. The old Rover’s AC had cooled me by then.
An old man, his belongings in a cardboard box danced sadly across the street, his burlap attire, which included costume-like wings, trembling. The clouds were low and bloated over the Gulf, with many gangrenous-dark areas; a few strands of mist curled out of them, down and down, tentacles seeking, but not reaching the sea.
I was wondering if the rain would fall, and thinking too about what I would tell the visiting scholars. A knock on the front passenger window: the vagrant was pointing at me, flinging his body forward and back, forward and back, his grey-bearded apoplectic face lunging at the window. “You! You!” he screamed. “Yes you! You CIA, FBI muddah –!”
My heart thudded against my ribs.
Then the professor called again: “Are you there yet?”
“Nearly, just dodging a vagrant angel. So many around these days.”
“Ah. In Victory Jones and his thugs are on their way to the island. Goodbye to Lena and Heyst’s paradise! Farewell humble Chinese caretaker. Did the scholars call?”
The vagrant angel bounded away towards the west, muttering at the sky, his burlap wings aflutter.
“Yes, the man. He sounded, well, very keen, almost desperate. I think they wanted you, you know, I’m not much of a guide.”
“Not to worry. Tell them about the Morris furniture – it’s the real thing! The windowpanes in the bedrooms upstairs are too. Pretend you are schooled in fenestration history!”
“Thanks for the tip. You really think they’re going to want to hear all that?”
“Of course! The rest you just make up as you go along. You love Shiva Naipaul’s work, blab about that. And well, there’s so much more you know. But whatever you do, don’t say anything about you-know-what.”
And he was gone. The professor was back into Victory, and for a few long moments I remembered Heyst and Lena on the island, oblivious of Jones and his men heading their way.
That’s the way things are, I thought.
I turned onto Nizam Street, took a left on Hyderabad, then another first left on Nepaul Street and went north. The clouds over the Maraval hills looked biblical. I parked in front of the gate of Biswas House. The time was minutes to two – still no rain.
I looked at the house. There was nothing grand about it, yet it had a certain practical style and order I liked and was easily the most attractive building in St. James. The house displayed promise: its bright red and white paint gave a vibrant, earnest look. I liked that I’d taught fiction workshops there. I liked the history of the house, the scattered leaves of the perfume scented ylang-ylang tree on the red-bricked driveway, and the smart, dull-gold plaque on the front modestly stating who’d lived there and when. I liked the fence, the white wrought-iron visitor gate, and the little garden.