“The Horror of Dracula” had come to the cinema in our little town of Siparia in South Trinidad, a long walk through a pitch-black playground (or “savannah” as we called it) to and from my home. Even the poster with Count Dracula holding a woman in white in his arms and the menacing background featuring a distant castle was scary but not enough to dissuade me from wanting to go to the movie.
The matinee or early show was always crowded so I had people around me to help me laugh off my fears during the movie, and company from the neighbourhood to walk home with me laughing and chattering to keep the vampires at bay until I fell asleep and the dreams came. However, the night show, which started at eight-thirty was a different story. The cinema was only full when an Audie Murphy western was playing or a serial like “Spy Smasher” or “Nyoka and the Tiger Men.”
I reached too late for the matinee and decided to go to the night show. It was the final time the movie was being shown in the village theatre as the film had to go on to the cinema in the next town, a place called Point Fortin.
My family did not believe that I was brave enough to go to the night show and started to ride me with “You too frighten! I bet you not going”. Of course they knew me well. I was thirteen, had a full head of hair and an even fuller mouth or, as they said to me, “You only fuller mouth”. They knew that if they pushed me hard enough my stubborn streak and vanity would make it a matter of honour.
When they saw me dressed and ready, my father made me a bet. “If you so brave, when you coming back from the theatre pick up a handful of red dirt from the cricket pitch in the savannah and I will give you back the money you pay to go.” That was too much to resist. Like the Count, I was a sucker for punishment. “You think I go ‘fraid a movie? That is not real life. The blood is ketchup. Is all fake.”
I think it is the teeth that did it. Even though the film effects at the time were rudimentary and there was none of the computer wizardry that is now standard in almost every movie, when Christopher Lee’s teeth became fangs and the blood dripped from them, ketchup or no ketchup, it was scary. If a stake was driven through the left side of my chest at the time, I would have remained alive since my heart was in my mouth during most of the movie.
Hearses, cemeteries, vaults and death battered and terrorised me into fearful submission. Nobody to grab and laugh it off, no snide remarks about what Dracula would do to the woman. Only a few brave souls and I had dared and none of the other people lived in my area.
I headed out of the cinema like a vampire bat out of Transylvania, my feet pounding almost as fast as my heart as I headed up the High Street towards the Savannah when I would do a diagonal to my doorstep, passing the cricket pitch on the way. Siparia is known as “Sand City” and the cricket pitch is the only place you can find red clay.
Over the years, there have been as many eccentrics in Trinidad as Dracula’s castle has bats and cobwebs. In the village of Carapichaima in Central Trinidad where we once lived, there was “Sweetie Jack”, a black man who played a guitar and “yodeled” Western-style “Oh Lay He” (which I thought was “Old Lady” and sang to my white-haired grandmother).
Jack drank Bay Rum and ate “dead fowl”, our name for chickens that had died from the “pip” or some other disease and was thrown in or near the garbage at the side of the one road that went through the village. One joke we were fond of as kids was, “You does eat dead fowl?” And when the person we asked the question got angry or upset, we would say, “How else you would eat the fowl? It must be dead.”
Then there was “Mahal” who was known to everyone, everywhere in Trinidad since he walked through the entire country fantasizing that he was driving a bus. He changed gears, he made the appropriate sound while doing so and sometimes would stop to pick up passengers. He slept wherever night took him and that night had arrived in Siparia and was sleeping in the roller that was used on the pitch and was right where I had to pick up my red clay to display my bravado.
In cricketing terms I had two short-legs and no cover or extra cover in the totally dark and empty savannah. I was walking as quickly as I could and as I bent to pick up my handful of clay I heard a moan and a shout coming from the roller.
I took off like a Harrier jet, first straight up in the air with a whine of astonishment and then parallel to the ground as the throttle opened up with a roar. From then on, nobody could ketchup with me. I was smart enough to let the scream die as I did the downhill slalom to my house, running past the obstacle course of small trees, bushes and drains, sliding into the driveway like Joe Morgan of the Cincinnati Reds and over the front gate like Red Rum winning the Grand National.
Somewhere along the way my handful of red clay had dissipated along with my bravado and despite my true grit, I lost the bet since I had no clay by that or any other name, not even a Mohammed Ali, to show for my troubles.
Now grey and balding I had to take some flak from a barber named Anita when I went for a haircut. I had just been to the doctor and needed some cheering up so my son George took me to a place he frequents and was sitting nearby. I joked, “You should charge me half-price. That is what George used to tell me when he was younger.”
“No,” she said, “I should charge you double because with George now I could put the scissors anywhere and find hair but with you I need a microscope.” Later on as I grumbled about my hair-loss she quipped, “Don’t worry. Whatever you lose on top you have on your ears.” We discussed the use of Grecian Formula but I insisted that since it led to bankruptcy I would stay far from it.
Later, the talk went to the remake of the old television vampire series, Dark Shadows. I had said that I don’t read any of the vampire books or watch the Twilight movies because “they suck”. I was then told, “No you should watch them. They’re good for you. It would be a hair-raising experience.”
*Tony Deyal was last seen asking, “What were the last words of the Jamaican vampire, Les Trade?” Blood clot.
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