TiMarie was half-asleep when she heard Sheena bawl out.
“Yuh phone ringing!”
She jumped out of bed just as Sheena headed out the front door – facing the day before 8 a.m. The scent of Irish Spring hung in her wake.
“Oh gorm, is so you wake me and gone?” TiMarie groused, shrugging on a leopard print bathrobe. Sheena made a loud kissing sound in response and grinned, her gold tooth glinting in the sunlight. “You should be up! Laters,” she said with a wink. Sheena slid behind the wheel of her Datsun 280C and drove out to the taxi stand. This whole time, TiMarie phone vibrating all over the desk next to the sewing machine, TT Police on the caller ID. Concern furrowed her brow. She cleared her throat and answered.
“Good morning, whom am I speaking to?” the caller asked, his voice a deep baritone.
“You call me and you want to know who you call?” TiMarie responded. Before coffee, she had no patience for dotishness.
“Miss Bailey? Your last name Bailey?” the man asked.
“Yes. Who is this?” TiMarie replied.
“This is Officer Cropper at the Gattson Street Station. Your father is in custody. Please come and pick him up,” he said.
TiMarie sat down heavily.
“Yes, Miss Bailey. Ask for me when you arrive, Officer Cropper.” He hung up the phone.
TiMarie realized she never replied yes, no, dog, cat, ah coming, nothing. My father. In custody. And is me they call? Why?
She forget all who coming to pick up dresses. Instead, she hurried to make herself presentable for the police station.
She was in a haze of memories the whole drive from Carenage to downtown. Her father was Frederick Bailey, the legendary steelpan arranger known throughout the archipelago as a genius and a scoundrel with women in every port and a child anywhere there was an annual Caribbean festival. Her mother was Leslie-Ann, the voluptuous dark-skinned gyal from the gingerbread house on the corner who joined the damn steelband just to be in his orbit.
The big joke was that Fred Bailey could beat a pan and make a pussy. He was tall, with a barrel chest and a reputation for outsize appetites. TiMarie had her father’s build and gap-toothed smile. When she was little, Fred used her as a mascot for the band. They wore matching costumes on his album cover, “Goat Doh Make Sheep.” By the time she was 7, Fred stopped showing up to birthday parties. 1988, he brought a Christmas gift on Boxing Day and her mother told him about himself by the front gate. After that, his visits ceased completely.
The last time she saw him was at her mother’s funeral. He held court at the back of the church but never made it to the cemetery. Now here she was, parked by the police station, wondering why she showed up for this man who hadn’t shown up for her in years. She smoothed her linen skirt, crossed the street and trotted up the crumbling concrete stairs.
TiMarie approached the gloomy-faced policeman at the front desk.
“Hello, Officer Cropper called me?”
“What is your name, ma’am?” he asked.
“Lynette Bailey. But they call me TiMarie. I was a lil shy growing up,” she smiled as she explained the nickname her father had given her. She hid behind her mother so much he dubbed her TiMarie — the plant known as shame weed, whose leaves close at the slightest touch. As she spoke, she wondered why she was telling this policeman her business.
The dour policeman showed her to Officer Cropper’s corner, behind tall metal cabinets. He was a big-bellied desk cop whose days of running down bandit were long behind him.
“Thanks for coming on such short notice,” he said by way of greeting. “Your father has been in custody for four days. Last week he showed up at Jumbie Studios and tried to cuff down a gentleman. He shot somebody’s car, and…”
By this time TiMarie had her head in her hands. “Apparently he thought someone owed him money for a musical composition. Turns out he was looking for the man’s father, who passed away years ago. The guy won’t press charges,” he said. “His mind comes and goes. Yesterday he talk to me good good, today he forget where he is.”
“How did you find me?” TiMarie asked.
“We went through his phone,” Officer Cropper replied.
“I didn’t know he had my number,” TiMarie muttered.
Any other Trini man get lock up and is there they would stay until they could make bail. But Fred Bailey have a Chaconia Award, so he get a bligh.
“Where to drop him? Ah hear he renting somewhere in Salibya,” she said.
“Sangre Grande. The landlord already called the locksmith. He was giving trouble there too; they found bullet holes in his wall,” Officer Cropper said with a chuckle.
“What am I supposed to do, take him by me?” TiMarie asked, an incredulous note in her tone.
“Yes, ma’am. If you can’t, there’s a government facility, but–” Officer Cropper shook his head. “I wouldn’t put your father there.”
“What about a home for the elderly? They have one by the church round the Savannah,” she suggested. He shook his head again, stood, and stretched.
“That’s a paid facility, ma’am. Being with family will help him. Mikey!” he called out to a young officer. “Tell Mr. Bailey his daughter Lynette “TiMarie” Bailey is here,” he said, beaming like he was proud of himself. Same time he pointed at a pile of items. “These are his things; we’ll carry them out for you.” A leather wallet, a cell phone, a garbage bag of clothes, a big cardboard box. Besides that, a large steelpan case emblazoned with the Trinidad and Tobago flag. “He also had a loaded .45 in his possession. We took custody of that,” Officer Cropper added. TiMarie nodded gratefully. The front desk officer returned with a shuffling, disheveled old man. Faded steelpan tee-shirt, khaki shorts, rubber slippers, white afro sticking up higgeldy piggeldy. No gold chains, no barrel chest, none of the Fred Bailey trademarks. Just those round eyes and the gap tooth were the same.
These are his things…. A leather wallet, a cell phone, a garbage bag of clothes, a big cardboard box. Besides that, a large steelpan case emblazoned with the Trinidad and Tobago flag.
TiMarie reached out. When her father hugged her, nothing about him was familiar, not his scent, his lean body, the hot tears pressed into her neck during his embrace, nothing. He clung to her like he hadn’t since she was a child. Big hardback thirtysomething TiMarie felt her eyes prickle in response and realized is cry she about to cry right there in the police station. Quickly she thanked Officer Cropper, then the younger cop picked up her father’s belongings and followed them out.
Fred winced as the cop carelessly dumped his steelpan case in TiMarie’s trunk. “Miss Bailey, you are in trust of a national treasure,” Officer Cropper declared. “Mr. Bailey, don’t give your daughter trouble,” he chuckled. “It was an honor to meet you, sir. God bless.” He shook Fred’s hand and patted the hood of the car before walking away.
For the first time since childhood, TiMarie was alone with her father.
They drove in silence, zig-zagging through neighborhoods to avoid traffic. After a time, Fred cleared his throat.
“Your mother was a great flag woman,” he mumbled. TiMarie shook her head.
“She wasn’t no flag woman,” she replied. “My mother was Leslie-Ann. She played in your band the first year allyuh won Panorama.”
“After Scrunter write about Annie Lopez, many others wanted to be a woman on the bass too,” he chuckled. For a moment he sounded like the musical expert whose voice she would’ve heard on the radio in mammy’s car before she changed the station.
“She loved that tune, but she used to beat a tenor pan,” TiMarie said.
“Ah yes, lovely Leslie-Ann from the gingerbread house on the corner. How she going?”
“She died 6 years ago. Ovarian cancer. The funeral was at St. Theresa’s. You don’t remember?”
“I don’t. Ah kinda fed up of everybody asking what I remember,” he said. He scowled like a petulant child. TiMarie sucked her teeth loud and hard.
“I supposed to feel sorry for you because you old? You just tell me who Scrunter write a tune for, but don’t remember my mother. She never mattered to you.”
After a timing he muttered, “sorry.” TiMarie didn’t say boo for the rest of the drive. Around a corner, they caught a glimpse of the sea crashing on rocks. Fred looked confused. “Where you carry me? I live in Sangre Grande and…”
“You shoot up the place and they don’t want you back. I have your things in the trunk. Remember?” He looked at her blankly. TiMarie sighed. “You staying with me for now, we in Carenage,” she said. They pulled up to her beaten concrete home. He let himself out as she opened her trunk to retrieve his things. “You real lucky, you know.”
She set him at the table and got him a glass of water. He guzzled it like he hadn’t drank in days. She filled a pitcher with ice water and placed it before him. TiMarie heated up some pelau from the leftovers in the fridge. Fred shoveled it into his mouth so quickly, she worried he would choke.
“You have pepper sauce?” he asked, his mouth bulging.
“Is a Trini house you in,” she replied, fetching homemade scotch-bonnet sauce from the fridge.
When he finished, he belched hard, closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair.
“No problem,” TiMarie said, clearing his plate. She felt like she was playing waitress.
After the meal, Fred wanted to lie down. There were two choices – the futon in her sewing room, or the bed she shared with Sheena. TiMarie wasn’t giving that up. The futon was covered with half-finished garments for clients whose calls she had ignored all day.
“Let me clear up,” she sighed.
She piled bolts of cloth in a corner, hung clothing over the back of her chair, pushed the futon flat and dusted off a rainbow of thread snippets. She returned to find Fred sitting at the table half-asleep, snores coming from the back of his throat. “Fred!” He didn’t wake. She touched his shoulder.
“Fred! Fred Bailey!” Finally, he stirred. Confusion in his eyes gave way to recognition. “Ah fix up for you.” She guided him to her sewing room.
TiMarie realized his clothes were stained with pepper sauce from lunch. She found a t-shirt, shorts, and a bottle of Limacol amongst his belongings and set them on the futon.
“Do me a favor?” he asked, beseechingly.
“What you need?”
“You could set up my steelpan? If you see how rough the policeman heft it in the trunk,” he said.
Like he forget it was her trunk he was talking about. TiMarie moved the fan closer to the bed. She set up the metal stand, gently placing the gleaming instrument on top. When she turned around Fred was lying down, his eyes closed. She tiptoed out and shut the door.
TiMarie got weed and papers from Sheena’s drawer and a cold Carib from the fridge, then headed to the front porch to twist a spliff. She sparked it while scrolling through the names in her father’s phone. Ansyl. Bassman. Braffie. Carlton. Daphne. Daughter 1, Daughter 2, Daughter 3. And then her number – Daughter 4. TiMarie snorted in disbelief. I’m Daughter 4. So what about daughters 1, 2 and 3? she wondered as she scrolled, smoked, sipped.
Darkness had just fallen when she saw headlights. Sheena stepped out of her taxi and kissed TiMarie, tasting smoke and lager on her lips.
“Like you start happy hour without me,” Sheena teased, smiling.
“I needed to. Ah have a story for you,” TiMarie said. Just so, pan music started drifting out the window. The whisper of a melody, becoming louder, more confident. Woman on the Bass he start to play.
Trinidadian-born writer Patrice Grell Yursik lives in downtown Chicago. She is a graduate of the University of Miami where she earned undergraduate degrees in film scriptwriting and creative writing and went on to complete the MFA in Creative Writing (fiction). In 2006, she created Afrobella.com to celebrate women all shades of beautiful. Currently she is working on a collection of short stories inspired by life in Trinidad and Tobago. She is the winner of the 2021 BCLF Elizabeth Nunez Caribbean-American Writers’ Prize – judged by Barbara Jenkins and Faizal Deen – for this story, which is published in conjunction with the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival.