DISCLAIMER: This was started as a 2600-worded short story written by C. J. Sahadeo as part of her freelance service in creative writing. Her in-sight as a Trinidadian helped materialize this story.
Also “James-Joseph Hemhowzer” is my pseudonym for my literary fiction works.
It was a warm evening in the city of Port-of-Spain. The green hills that usually governed the city were crisp browns and yellows. Rajesh looked out at that view from the window, seeing that the heat would not be worth the air-conditioning inside the Gale Hotel.
Although the lobby was cool, Rajesh wiped away the sweat permeating from his forehead on the back on his gloved hand and breathed noisily as he hauled up the suitcases up the seemingly never-ending stairway. He still had two hours before his shift ended.
“Boy dis place hot eh?” Sammy said. He was his fellow bellhop in the Gale Hotel, their workplace, their only hangout.
“Is the dry season,” Rajesh said, irritably. “Even de nights hot.”
“They hotter if yuh not alone!” Sammy said grinning sidelong.
Rajesh laughed. “Always. But doh let the boss-man hear yuh say that.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Sammy, “Be polite like we is white people.”
“Be polite like yuh mother teach yuh!” Rajesh rejoined in mild rebuke. Sammy just laughed. They had known each other since boyhood and always engaged in bawdy exchanges. Rajesh used to feel disgust at Sammy’s humor, but as time went on, he grew to accept it and even tried to mimic it.
Sammy looked over his shoulder. “Eh, eh, talking ‘bout white people, watch de boss-lady reach.”
Rajesh turned to see the wife of their boss walk into the hotel, back from her job as a school teacher in the Private Ansley’s Academy.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” she said as she entered.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Charles,” the employees in the lobby chorused.
Mrs. Charles’ eyes swept the lobby once. He could see that Mrs. Charles was looking quite pretty today, with her formal attire and her bundled blonde hair. She was also the same height as Rajesh, as he could tell when she walked past him.
Then, Rajesh discovered that she paused at the section he was in.
It was two months into his new job in the evening shift and while he’d seen the wife of his boss many times, he’d never actually spoken to her. This time he was coming back from bringing up a customer’s suitcase when he ran into her in the landing.
“Oh gosh, ah sorry!” he blurted, steadying the woman.
“It’s quite alright,” replied the woman as she regained her balance.
“No really,” Rajesh began but stopped short. Mrs. Charles was slim and her skin was smooth and fairer than anyone’s he’d ever seen. Her eyes were a twinkling grey and her mouth was curling into a smile that was accented by her lipstick. It took him entirely too long to realize that she was amused by him, that she’d noticed his sudden attraction. He’d blushed and made to perform a quick and strategic retreat when her hand reached out and clasped around his wrist gently.
“I don’t know you so well. Who are you?”
“Ah is,” he began and then quickly shifted his speech, considering how speaking the Trinidadian Creole was only settled for his family and peers, whereas Standard English was the acceptable form of speech inside the Gale Hotel. “I am the new bell-hop,” he said.
“Oh, I see,” she said. “Well we haven’t officially met. I am Mrs. Fara Charles.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said, still blushing and trying hard not to. “I’m…Rajesh.”
“Rajesh,” she said and the way she rolled her tongue around her mouth made heat pool in his belly.
“It is certainly nice to meet you,” she replied. She patted his cheek twice. “I’m sure we’ll meet again soon.”
This time Rajesh was sure he hadn’t imagined the answering heat in her gaze.
He’d spent the next four days convincing himself it hadn’t happened. He’d just managed to convince himself that nothing was going to happen, that he wasn’t attracted to Mrs. Charles when he’d spotted her saying goodbye to her husband as he left for an important business dinner.
She’d kissed Mr. Charles goodbye and Rajesh’s stomach had clenched, not with jealousy, but with want. It must take a man like Mr. Charles to please a woman like her. However, he was merely a bell-hop and not the owner of a hotel, so he could never find anyway to please her, nor please any of the women in his life, for they all dismissed him as soon as he showed any sign of weakness or insecurity.
After Mr. Charles had driven off, Fara had turned her head and given him a sly smile that made his toes curl. That gesture made him realize that she knew he was watching her.
Stumbling to save face as soon as she came close to him, Rajesh asked “Do you need any further assistance, Mrs. Charles?”
“No,” Fara said. “Thank you.”
To save his sanity, he had thrown himself into his work by carrying loads of luggage. But no plan survives first contact. The next time Mrs. Charles caught Rajesh alone without work in the evening shift, he would have to tell her that he will not participate in whatever she’s planning.
Yuh cah get into them thing. Yuh need this job and if the boss-man fine out yuh screwing he woman, yuh going an get fired.
During late shifts, when the guests had headed off to bed, Rajesh’s job basically became non-existent. Usually, he’d have to find some way to pass the time. In this instance, he wanted work to outweigh his feelings for Mrs. Charles. It was clear to him that her love is something he could never have, or could not have, money-wise or emotionally.
He was once more returning from bringing up a customer’s lost bag when he saw Mrs. Charles in the empty corridor. She smiled when she saw him and Rajesh found himself moving toward her without thought.
“Rajesh, isn’t it?” she’d practically purred.
“Mrs. Charles,” he’d replied, his own voice dropping into a deeper register instinctively.
“Oh, don’t be so formal,” she chided gently. “Called me Fara.”
He’d rolled the name in his mouth like she’d done his and had been pleased to see her mouth tip into a smile.
“Was there something I could help you with Fara?” he’d asked.
“Oh definitely,” she’d said. “But I’m afraid it’d take a long time.”
“Well,” he’d said, inching onto her space. “Ah pretty sure I have de time for you.” He’d smirked, letting his gaze tip down and back up. “Ah very long time.”
“I need you to pull away from your job for a little bit,” she’d said, leaning into him.
“I does do what the boss say,” he said, shrugging. “Since he not here, I guess you is the boss.”
She’d laughed then, tipping back her head and exposing her throat. Then her gaze was locked into his fiercely and she’d said, “Kiss me.”
The moment his lips had touched hers, he was lost.
Soon after Fara had swept through the lobby the last influx of guests came in and Rajesh and Sammy were busy settling them into their rooms. One of the guests, a woman who was an American tourist, was particularly picky and spent a good ten minutes quarreling with Rajesh for spilling something inside her suitcase, when Rajesh was pretty sure it had been spilled before he’d even touched the suitcase.
Rajesh was just thinking that the woman was finally winding down and he’d be able to escape when a voice interrupted.
“What is this?”
It was Mr. Charles.
“Nothing, sir,” said Rajesh quickly. “Just a little mishap.”
“Mishap?!” the lady shrieked. “This was no mishap!” and then she went to customer service, shrieking like the cats making love on Rajesh’s roof at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Mr. Charles rushed towards her and managed to soothe her feelings. Rajesh apologized for what felt like the hundredth time that night before the lady finally went into her room. No sooner than she had though, that Mr. Charles had spun and looked at Rajesh.
“I didn’t move it from its position!” Rajesh protested.
Mr. Charles quickly lifted his finger for silence. He told Rajesh calmly “Do you like this job?”
“Yes, Mr. Charles,” Rajesh said.
“Yes, sir,” Mr. Charles corrected. “Don’t speak to me like I’m your equal, boy. I can fire you whenever I deem fit.”
“Yes sir,” Rajesh said.
“Do you know why I hired you?”
In reality, Sammy had helped ease Rajesh into this job by convincing the employment office of how loyal Rajesh can be. Evidently, there was a lot that Rajesh was loyal towards in this hotel, especially when it involved a woman. A woman who was married to the boss-man.
Rajesh replied “No, sir.”
“I hired you because you appear dedicated and loyal.”
Although Rajesh was not well-educated, he understood how that subtle statement harkened back to what little Trinidadian history he could remember learning about. Most definitely, had Rajesh existed as his African slave ancestor or his Indian menial worker ancestor, he would have appeared dedicated and loyal; because he would’ve had no choice to begin with.
He shooduh say you is uh coolie!
He continued “You merely exist here to serve them. Understood?”
“Good,” said Mr. Charles and then stalked off.
Rajesh watched him leave with a feeling of burning fury. If only he could get rid of him, for he was the only thing keeping him and Fara apart. They would be free to be themselves.
He fought down his fury and walked to the next customer.
When Rajesh came to an end he picked up his bag and said goodbye to his fellow workers and left out the front door. When he was sure that no one was watching, he quickly went around to the side of the building and re-entered through a little side door.
He slipped up the stairs fast enough and made it to the owner’s suite at the top without meeting anyone. He tapped the door lightly and in a few seconds the door opened. Fara stared at him and then said:
“He’s going to be here the entire afternoon.”
“He downstairs now. You know he go be at least an hour there,” Rajesh said.
“Well…” She drew out the word and then smiled slyly. “It isn’t the first risk we’ve taken isn’t it, love?”
“I go take wust for you,” he said and she smiled and pulled him inside.
When they were breathing harshly in the darkening room, Rajesh rolled over and brushed her hair back from her head. She smiled and kissed his fingers.
“I wish we could be together,” he said. It wasn’t the first time he’d brought up the topic but as before Fara deflected.
“What’s wrong with us now?” she asked.
“Nothing!” he said. “But I love you more than he. I love you better than he.”
“Rajesh,” she said sighing. “You know we can’t.”
“Is it because I’se ah Indian and you is white?” he asked, lacing their fingers together. “I doh care what people say.”
“I don’t either,” she said with a flick of her hands. “What do I care what those ignorant creoles and coolies say?”
Rajesh felt a little pang in his chest at her words. Wasn’t he like those other people? He wasn’t educated beyond secondary school. Still he soldiered on, determined to get somewhere tonight.
“Then why?” he pleaded. “Why you doh leave him?”
“It’s complicated,” she said sitting up as well.
“How is it complicated?” he asked, almost shaking with rage. “You say you love me! You told me yuh didn’t love him anymore!”
“If I leave him and he finds out then he’ll fire you and your family needs the money.”
“I go get a new job!” he said.
“My husband is a very influential man,” she said. “He would spread the word for you not to be hired. You’d never get a job that pays this well. Besides your family would never let you marry me. And what would happen to me when my employers find out that I was with someone like you? They would fire me for being a bad influence on their children because then their daughters might think of marrying Indians and Negros.”
Rajesh fell silent but then rallied. “We go find a way.”
“Rajesh!” She was clearly annoyed. This was the first time that she’d sounded like that but combined with the constant deflections from the topic, a seed of doubt sprung up.
“You want to leave him right?”
“Of course,” she said, running a hand down his chest. But Rajesh had been her lover long enough to know that she always looked away when she lied.
“Yuh don’t want to leave him!” he accused.
She sputtered, “No.”
“Yuh still love him.”
“I don’t.” She looked away again.
Rajesh sat up and stared at her. “You do!” he said disbelievingly “Doh lie t’meh!”
“You have no idea what it’s like being married to that condescending prick!”
“But yuh no wuhk fuh dat condescendin’ prick, do ya?!”
“He’s always looking down at me.”
“Just like how you look down at me?”
Rajesh dished out all of the times Mr. Charles threatened to fire him, either implying it or flat out telling it to him.
“I still love you!”
“Yuh lying,” he snapped. “You is a lyuh like every othuh ooman!”
“Don’t compare me to your Indian whores!” she snapped back.
His head snapped over to her. “What?!” he said. “You think yuh better than we Indian?!”
“I taught enough little coolies to know how unruly you all are!” she snapped back.
He reeled from the sudden shock of hearing her say something like that after she’d insisted for so long it had never meant anything to her. He’d never really thought…but of course. What would a woman so far above his social class want with him?
“You really think I want to leave my husband for you?!” she continued viciously. “A poor, uneducated coolie like you will never be able to give me what I want!”
Rajesh slid of the bed and stood fists balled. “So, it was all a lie?”
Fara slid of the bed and stood on the other side. “We could have had a good time. But you just keep asking for me to leave the life I’d built for myself. I can’t do that for you.”
“Would you have done it wid a white man?” Rajesh said.
Fara froze for a second and then her jaw clenched and she lifted her chin. Her answer was clear.
“Look, Rajesh,” she said, in an attempt to calm down the situation. “We’re just not compatible for a long-term relationship. It would harm us both.”
“Yuh mean your reputation,” Rajesh scoffed. “Yuh still love Mr. Charles.”
There was a pause and then she nodded. “I do,” she said. “I don’t want to leave him.”
There was another pause while Rajesh reeled inside from the blow but he shored up himself and said, “Den we done. Good day Mrs. Charles.”
He tugged on his clothes and left.
His first impulse when he’d cooled down some was to apologize. Though, he couldn’t expect her to abandon her comforts, her job, and the life she’d worked so hard to gain. Of course she was his comfort; and what about the job and the life he worked so hard to gain?
His second impulse was to ask her to forgive him for being too pushy, too hasty.
His third impulse was that he was and had been an idiot. She’d played him. She hadn’t cared about him at all, she’d just pretended to, to keep him with her. She’d had no right to look down at him, the way her husband had. Though her husband only had control over his job, not his heart. She’d no right to make him believe that she’d loved him, that she’d wanted to leave with him when she hadn’t ever planned to.
He sat down on the edge of the road, legs hanging into a deep drain and put his head in his hands. He’d been stupid. He’d truly loved her and all along she’d never cared.
His fourth impulse was anger. He held onto it.
When he showed up for work the next day, it wasn’t long before Fara cornered him.
“Rajesh,” she said, running a hand down his face. “I just want to apologize. I think we both said things we didn’t mean yesterday.”
“Actually,” said Rajesh, pushing away her hand. “I think I meant everything I said, Mrs. Charles.”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Ah mean we done,” he said. “I not going back with you and I not gwaan apologize fuh anything I say to you.”
Her face contorted with anger. “So that’s it?” she said. “Do you really think I risked ruin for you to just decide to walk out of this?”
“Yes,” Rajesh said flatly. “Because I not going an stay here fuh this. I deserve better than second place to yuh husband. I deserve better than yuh condescension. I’m a poor, uneducated boy? Well I going and change that. But not fuh you. I going and change that fuh me. And when I make it big I going an walk straight pass yuh.”
She laughed, a beautiful trilling laugh that had thrilled him in more ways than one.
“Do you really think that someone like you could ever make it?” she laughed.
“Yes,” he said flatly and watched her eyes register shock. “You know what? All that time I spent with you? That is wasted time. I nuh going and do that again. I gwaan and pass and write books and get rich and I gwaan an fuhgit about you.”
She flinched back, something in her face turning ugly. “Get out!” she snapped. “You’re fired!”
The words should have caused him alarm but it didn’t.
“Good,” he said. “I need time to study!”
With that he marched out to the lobby, took up his things and walked out of the hotel.
He kept walking all the way until he reached the wharf and then stopped and breathed in the cool, salty air.
He looked out across the glittering Caribbean Sea, across the expanse of water that his Indian ancestors had crossed to find a way to a better life.
Rajesh began to think about how he would be able to pay for his tuition now that he doesn’t have a job anymore.
Then, a familiar, mahogany hand clapped around Rajesh’s shoulder. He looked up to see Sammy wearing a warm but soft smile, one that he usually had whenever Rajesh wasn’t faring very well.