My First Encounter With Cars
The night after my grandma told me she’s taking me to the nearest town, Bassin-Blue, to see cars for the first time I didn’t sleep for five days. I was seven years old.
When she made the announcement, we were all in the small kitchen eating supper. I nearly dropped my bowl of beans and sweet potatoes and yams.
At the time Haut-Moustique was just the few humped-back houses made of coconut and palm branches, connected by a series of narrow paths made by the villagers. So remote, in fact, cars never made it into this part of the land. There wasn’t anything extraordinary about it except farms: mangoes, avocado, sugar cane field, beans, and corn. A quiet river ran among the gardens and formed basins every quarter mile where fish rippled the crystal water every now and then.
The only thing interesting about Haut-Moustique – if one could call it that – was the occasional passing of the priest’s crème wagon – even that I would have to walk five miles to go and see it. It was believed the priest came once a month for communion in the Catholic Church, maybe the first Saturday or the second Saturday of the month. The accounts of his exact visitation were at the time contradictory, depends on whom you asked. In the end I had no way of knowing which day, even if I were daring enough to take the trip. And what business does a seven-year-old boy have to wander five miles away from home? The thought of a whooping was so frightening that I immediately abandoned the thought.
I heard many young kids took the trips to go see the car. Some, for the first time; others went for a second time, and a few were regulars. These accounts could have been rumours as far as I’m concerned. For instance, Zany reported that the car didn’t come when he went. The twins, Felipe & Phil, said they were too late when they arrived, and that someone had told them the car carrying the priest had already passed by. Banter caught only it taillights, which he said looked like red fire, and covered in a blanket of dust at the curve near the dispensary. But confessed he didn’t see the whole thing.
Later on, more stories about cars would come from elders and passers-by who would stop by our house for water or whatever grandma is cooking and began recounting travelling stories about merchants, sellers, venders, lovers and nerds too. From their outrageous tales of small moving home on wheels I became fascinated with cars and questioned the mechanic of them.
Every month my grandma traveled to Basin-Bleu, the nearest town – which by the way was fifty miles away – to sell beans and corn and buy goods from unknown world, such as: cinnamon, oil, soaps, kerosene, vanilla, and candies and occasionally – when harvest allowed it, toothpaste. I always hurried to unpack and unwrap the goods from the newspapers just so I could see pictures of the modern world, especially cars, which we seldom found. When we did, we would carefully cut them from the newspaper altogether so we could look at them while we were in the field taking care of our family’s life stocks.
The night before my big day Grandma told me to go to bed early because the trip was long and could sometime be tiresome. But the racing of my heart in anticipation of cars made sleeping impossible.
I awoke at daybreak, on the first cock crowed. In the wee hours of the Saturday morning I was given the task to ready the horse and the mule: grandpa’s precious means of transportation. After we loaded both beasts, I humped on the horse and headed to Basin-Blue.
The pale moonlight of the morning shined like day over the valley. By then, the dawn mist had lifted, and the morning air was filled with swallows, darting so low over the river bank that their wings sometimes brushed the water, then spiralling and pirouetting upward again. In four hours travelling time, I would discoverer cars. How exciting! I thought.
Other travelers from adjacent villages joined us along the road. Although I’ve never met those people before they knew me. They even knew my name. They commented on how fast I grew up, and how handsome I’d become and my heart swelled with pride. Grandma told them I was going to see cars, and camions for the first time. Immediately, the group began to discus differences between cars and camions. The cars were the small one, carrying between two to six people. The camions on the other hands were the masse transportation, which could carry up to fifty people.
The best description I’ve heard about cars came from a young traveller my age; he looked thin and old, despise his youth. Surely malnutrition. He said that the cars rolled on a black circle called tires. The small cars have four tires; the big ones – some have six and up to ten tires, which I found amazing. “Whole thing rolling togeda.” He said with a broad smile.
“No body fell off?” I said. Eyes wide opened.
“No body fell off. Some hold to anything: wood, rope, a sac of beans…anything to hold yeah steady.” He said. He waited for my laughter. I did. “The chauffa seating inside, guide the whole thing. Just like we guide our horse lef n righ.” He laughed in amazement at his own knowledge about technology.
By the time we reached Trois-Rivières, right before we entered the city, the sun had already risen behind the chain of mountains. The gravel road had become larger and prettier. It took me five minutes to clean my under-arms and wash my face with the last remaining piece of soap grandma had carried, and I put on my city assemblage, which were my church garments. They were properly folded into a plastic bag.
The general entrance of Bassin-Bleu was wide, unlike the paths I’m used to. Both side of the main street populated with general stores, then the cathedral; the tallest things I’ve ever seen. There were so many voices talking at the same time that it become difficult to concentrate on one conversation as if everyone was yelling at each other.
As we walked alongside our transportation, my grandma pointed ahead of us and said; “look, there’s a camion.” I tilted my head in the direction and saw a small, uneven house, with an opened roof, standing almost in the middle of the gravel road. The closer I got, the clearer the pictures I used to see in newspapers, until I stopped short next to that thing and quickly peaked inside. To my surprise, a human being was sitting on what seemed to be soft pillows. I lost my breath.
By mid day, Grandma had already sold everything. She gave me fifty cents and left me in the good care of the young, experienced traveller to show me around. We ducked behind the stores where we had stationed ourselves and I made the discovery of ice cones. We took our colourful ice cones, which were like fire in our mouths, and went by the main road to contemplate each passing cars, and camions. They came in a variety of colors, and shape and sizes.
The fresh scent of burning kerosene filled the market place. When the cars stopped, a pair of bright red lights flickered at the back. Then passengers got off with carrying bags. They smelled good, and wore nice outfit.
After that episode, something awoke in me; I knew that. I was never the same. I came back home with a longing, a curiosity, that there was more behind the tranquil valley of Haut-Moustique. To my surprise, the following month my father sent for me. People in the village said it was a miracle. But for me, it was more cars to discover.
Ezechias Domexa recently completed his creative writing program at the Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. He is currently working on his debut novel, Seat of Truth. May 7th release date.