The Emerald LighteR
A sequel to A Cottage In The Country
by Malcolm Taylor
Some weeks ago when I wrote about my experience of buying a house at the Sanctuary Resort I mentioned, in passing, a rather eventful day trip my wife and I took to Trinidad. I’ve had several requests to elaborate, so here’s the tale.
The story really begins the when I mislaid my cigarette lighter. All of us silly (yes, I know we are!) smokers have their favourite lighter, and if it’s lost or mislaid we fret until we either find it or give up and reluctantly buy a new one. My current favourite was a cheap green plastic affair, which I’d bought on the very first day I’d arrived on the island, and it had been with me all through my happy stay, so, to me, it had become something of a lucky charm. I was just thinking where I might have left it as I drove in my hired Terios towards Buccoo, when ‘phtt’ I heard something snap and the car drifted, powerless, past Mount Irvine Bay. I managed to steer it across to the other side of the road and park it under the shade of some trees. I was mentally resigning myself to the long, uphill, walk back to Sanctuary as I stepped out of the car when I suddenly spotted my lighter on the floor by the driving seat. It had clearly slipped out of my pocket. There it was, glinting in a shaft of sunlight, as if to attract my attention. Delighted, I picked it up and locked the car. I was just about to turn on my heels and begin the walk back when I saw a jeep pulling in alongside. I couldn’t see the driver because of the sun’s dazzle, but I assumed that whoever it was had somehow felt I was in trouble and was pulling in to help. ‘How could they know I’d broken down?’ I asked myself, ‘I’ve only just got out of the car’.
Almost immediately I realized that the jeep wasn’t actually intending to stop – it was merely crawling along at a snail’s pace. The driver I noticed, as it pulled alongside, wasn’t even looking in my direction, he was observing a tractor manoeuvring on the other side of the road. ‘Excuse me’, I said, ‘Any chance of a lift?’ It transpired that Dennis Sarver, for that was the driver’s name, was an American who was supervising some new work being carried out on the Mount Irvine golf course, and it just so happened that at the very moment I broke down he was trickling along to monitor what was happening to the work in progress. ‘Some coincidence’, I thought as he kindly dropped me at my front door, ‘It’s that lucky lighter of mine. If I hadn’t found it I’d have been on the road for at least half an hour.’ As if to confirm that I was indeed on a lucky streak ‘Lay Lay’, the tiler who had been working on our terrace with his daughter Keisha, announced that their job was done – and splendidly too, I might add, and a replacement vehicle arrived. This then is the background to our trip to Trinidad, which we undertook the next morning.
Although we’d managed to buy most things we needed for the house in Tobago there were a few things we couldn’t find – pure cotton sheets, for example, a simple wall clock; humming bird feeders – ‘What?’ I can hear you exclaim, but remember we’re from dreary old London, which even the sparrows have abandoned, and we’d love to attract those wonderful birds to our terrace.
We had booked on the 8.40am flight, and as we had never been to Port Of Spain before, we had contacted a local driver, Sherwin, to meet us at the airport and guide us on our shopping expedition. We decided to take a couple of empty suitcases to accommodate our purchases. Annie, my wife, and I have totally different approaches to air travel. I always maintain that it’s best to arrive at an airport just in time to check in after the majority of passengers have done so, whereas she, sensibly mindful of possible delays in getting there, prefers to arrive before, or at the very latest at the same time as everybody else. It’s a no-win situation for both of us; if she persuades me to get there early I moan about having to queue for hours, and if I delay leaving home until the last minute she worries about us being too late to check in and missing the plane altogether. I must admit to being the cause of many a close shave but we’ve never actually missed a flight. Annie was determined that on this occasion we would do things her way, so we duly arrived at the airport so early that we were offered seats on the eight o’clock flight. Because we were being met we declined, checked in our two large, empty, suitcases and, after fruitlessly trying to get some cash from the ‘hole in the wall’ went across the road to the cafe. I was surprised to find my saviour of the previous day, Dennis Sarver, nursing a cup of coffee at a table by the front door. He was amused by my surprise. ‘It’s a small country’, he said. ‘Once you’ve met somebody here, seems like they just keep poppin’ up all of the time’. He was right, they do! Nor was I alone in failing to persuade the cash machine to cough up. ‘That’s why I came down here’, he said, ‘to get some money. I guess the machine’s up the spout again’, he continued, ‘it happens. Don’t worry, there’s plenty more in Trini.’
When I returned from the counter with our cups Dennis had left. The coffee was welcome and delicious, particularly as I hadn’t had time to have one earlier, having been hustled and chivvied out of the house by an over anxious Annie – ‘Hurry up, or we’ll be late, and we don’t want to miss the flight; William will be waiting for us at the other end.’ Oh God, was it worth it. Sod the bird feeders and who needs sheets anyway? We’d been sat there for half an hour. Just time for another cup I thought. I was beginning to ‘thaw’ into the day as the coffee did its trick. We heard various announcements from the P.A. system; none of which seemed to be about our flight. Annie looked at her watch. It was 8.20. ‘Are you sure that wasn’t our flight they just called?" She asked. ‘Absolutely’, I said, ‘but if it will make you any happier we’ll mosey across’. I drained my cup, and we strolled over to the security entrance. The two men and the woman on duty were relaxed and pleasant. ‘Ping’ went the alarm, as I walked through. It was, of course, my lighter, which I reluctantly had to hand over. We followed another couple in to the almost deserted lounge, I’d obviously misheard the call, but pretended it was the announcer’s diction, for the plane was clearly boarding. ‘Just time for a quick pee’, I said disappearing into the Gents. ‘You shouldn’t have drunk all that coffee’, Annie reproved. ‘Hurry up, or we’ll miss it’. When I emerged she was waiting for me by the embarkation door. She didn’t look pleased. I hurried towards her. ‘Stand back. Security’, ordered an officer in a skirt as the plate-glass door slid-slammed shut in our faces. We watched, speechless with anger (Annie) and helpless with guilt (me) as the Tobago Express taxied to the runway and took off without us. ‘What about our cases?’ demanded Annie, turning to me in panic and fury. ‘But there’s nothing in them’, I replied, nonchalantly, hoping this would placate her. ‘I know that, of course I know that, but we need them the other end to bring things back in, don’t we? And what about whatsisname who’ll be expecting us to arrive any minute?’ She had a point – well … two actually - so we made our way back to the check-in desk to see what could be done. The young man on duty was most helpful and took us across to the office where we were able to phone Sherwin, relate our tale, and tell him we’d be an hour late. ‘Go to the Tobago Express office when you land’, the young man told us ‘they’ll have your luggage there. It will be quite safe.’ After all those shenanigans I needed a cigarette. I was groping in my pocket for the lighter when I suddenly remembered it had been confiscated at Security. As I wasn’t about to board a plane for the next hour I thought I’d ask for it back, so I did. ‘If you hadn’t confiscated my lucky lighter, we’d be in Trinidad now,’ I joked. We laughed and I lit up. An hour later, as once more we passed through the checkpoint, the same officer smiled, raised an eyebrow, and held his hand out. ‘Now you look after this’, I whispered earnestly, ‘it might look like a green plastic lighter to you, but it’s actually the fabulous Emerald of Tobago! I’m entrusting this to you for safekeeping because I don’t want it nicked while I’m on the high seas, but one day I .. will .. return’. He nodded, conspiratorially, and we boarded the plane.
I knew my luck was still in as soon as we landed, for not only was my wife speaking to me again (albeit occasionally) but there, on the stationary carousel in the Arrivals hall were our two suitcases, sitting like patient gun dogs waiting for their master to call them to heel. We led them off and quickly met up with Sherwin who whisked off to town. I don’t know what we expected of Port of Spain, but it wasn’t the modern, bustling city we found. We were impressed by the large open spaces and general air of prosperity surrounding the shopping malls and residential areas. We wished we’d arranged a longer stay because there was only just enough time to catch glimpses of the city from the car as we were driven from shop to shop in search of our various ‘goodies’ by the ever patient Sherwin. Sadly, in spite of visiting every likely shop, we didn’t manage to find many pure cotton sheets – poly-cotton seems to have completely taken over which, though it’s an easy non-iron option, isn’t as comfortable in such a hot climate. We were, however, fortunate to find Pantin’s Pet Supplies in Picton Street, which sold a large range of various bird feeders. But the highlight of the day was undoubtedly our purchase of a large, hand-woven reed carpet (I was going to call it a ‘mat’, but the word is insufficient to describe its artistry). We were on our way back to the airport via a mountain road - Sherwin had just told us to get our cameras at the ready to photograph a magnificent view of the city - when the heavens suddenly opened, and torrential rain reduced visibility to about ten yards. In the ensuing gloom we spotted a small shack by the roadside with just two reed carpets hanging outside. We bought the largest for a remarkably small sum for such a beautiful object, without first considering how we would get it back. When rolled up it stood over six feet high, and we were very grateful to the airline staff who, with a nod and a wink, checked it in along with our, now burgeoning, suitcases.
Annie seemed quite exhilarated by the whole ‘shopping experience’ as we stepped off the plane on our arrival back in Tobago; personally I was absolutely knackered. Shopping is one thing but a six-hour stint – dragging myself in her wake around, what seemed to me, every mall in Port of Spain – without a lunch break, is quite another. No wonder I needed a cigarette as soon as we’d cleared the building! No wonder (I suddenly remembered) I couldn’t find my lighter! But the final wonder is that it was still there, green and glinting in Security!
Now that I’ve got The Emerald back I can’t risk losing my luck again. Clearly I shall have to leave the talisman in Tobago. When I’m next over I shall mount it in a gold case, and leave it behind the bar at the Indigo for safekeeping. That way, at least I’ll know it’s keeping an eye out for me!
Article first published in Tobago News in October 2003