40 Dollars a Head

40 Dollars a Head

“Please fasten your seatbelts and place your trays in a upright position, we are preparing to land in Port-o’-Spain, capital of the beautiful republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Thank you for flying BWIA and enjoy your holiday in the sun.” I finished my Molson and fastened my belt, below I could see the blue water and beaches. The long Alberta winter seemed to be a millenium away. My thoughts were filled with warm sandy beaches, sultry brown bodies everywhere, good rum and five days of peace.

After clearing customs, I grabbed a cab to the hotel, The Imperial Palms. The travel agent told me that it was one of the most comfortable small hotels, excellent seafood and nightclub, but not as flashy as the resorts on the strand. The cabbie noticed my bulky winter clothes, and said “Canadian, eh? You’ll like Trinidad, nice weather, nice, not too hot, never too cold, what hotel, sir?” I replied, “Imperial Palms.” He said, “Sit back enjoy the ride,” as he pulled away from the curb. I dozed off as the old Austin tooled through the narrow city streets and out into the countryside. The cab radio was playing steel band music, yes the sweet pans.

The driver said, “Wake up sir, we’re here, let me get you bags for you”. I opened the door and gave him $20.00 US. He smiled and said, “Thankyou, sir.” I was very impressed by the subdued grandeur of the lobby. The building harkened back to a colonial period, hardly “Club Med”. The hotel was probably built in the 1920’s when the British ruled the islands. The desk was a genuine antique, as was the clerk behind it.

“Yes sir, may I help you?”

I replied,”You have a reservation for Dr. Cusson for 5 days?”

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After shuffling some papers, he said, “Why yes sir, a single room with bath. We can give you a room in the courtyard if you would like?”

“That will be fine, thank you. I trust that the travel agent took care of everything”.

“Yes, sir. You will find the meal schedule in your room and call me if everything is not in order.” He motioned to the bell hop and said, “Room 101, Christian”.

The room was small, but had a door to the courtyard/garden. This was truly a tropical paradise. After giving Christian a $2.00 tip, he said the maid will be along to help you with anything you need, her name is Jan. I started unpacking and getting ready for a long-awaited bath. I could hear the soft calypso music coming from the bar in the garden below. As I was drawing the bath I noticed that I was missing towels, I opened the door and walked a few doors down the hall. A very pretty young woman in a maid’s uniform came down the hall, and asked in that lilting Trinidadian dialect, “Can I help you sir? Me name is Jan, I’m the maid on this floor.”

“Yes, Dr. Cusson, room 101. I need towels,” I said.

“No problem, sir,” she said as she handed me a stack. Jan was a very dark brown Afro-Indian girl about 18 or so. Her face had very fine features and a mass of thick wavy jet black hair loosely pinned in a bun. She was a truly classic West Indian beauty, mixing the best most striking features of both races. She said, “You going to beach, today, Sir?, the ocean is very warm this time of year.” I smiled and told her that I was just going to relax by the pool in the hotel: after the 5 hour flight, I just wanted to curl up in the sun with a rum and coke and a good book. She told me that she lived in the hotel just across the hall. She said, “All the girls who work here live in the hotel”. I said to her, “Why that’s convenient for you” while I thought to myself, how convenient for me.

After changing into my bathing suit and robe, I adjourned to the pool for some long-awaited tropical sunshine and a good nap. I found a chaise longue, went over to the poolside bar and ordered a tall rum and coke. The strong dark rum that made the island famous soon took its toll. Before I finished my drink I had drifted off into a long tropical slumber. The waiter woke me after about an hour or so, and warned me about the danger of being in the Trinidad sun without sun screen. I noticed that my chest and arms were already starting to burn. I returned to my room to get my lotion and planned on returning immediately, before anyone grabbed my chaise longue.

As I opened my door, I heard the sound of animated conversation from across the hall. The door was open and I heard two women haggling over something. Then I glanced in the room through the mirror in my room. I was mesmerized by what I was hearing and seeing. There were two older women standing in front of Jan who was sitting in front of the mirror. The woman were brushing her long black hair which fell three feet down her back. One woman who seemed to be doing most of the haggling was carefully examining Jan’s hair. She turned and said loudly, “40 dollars and dats me last offer.” The other woman sighed and said, “Well, if dats all you pay then I take it.”

My eyes were riveted to the face in the mirror. “O.K. cut it” said the woman who had just accepted the offer. With that the other woman tied Jan’s mane into a long ponytail, while the first held Jan fast in the chair. As I stared into the mirror I could see Jan’s brown face grimace.

Then the room came alive with a loud click followed by a buzz. The woman who was holding the ponytail pressed the clipper to her brown forehead and gradually moved it toward the center of her head, then she proceeded to clip all around the sides and back of her head. Jan sat motionless with her eyes clenched shut. She knew that resistence was futile as the clippers slowly removed her locks. After about ten minutes of slow clipping the whole head of hair was freed from Jan’s brown scalp. Then with a few concluding strokes she removed the uneven stubble from her scalp, making pass after pass until Jan’s scalp was shaven bald by the clippers. The woman barber put the entire head of black hair into a plastic bag, folded over a few bills and handed them to the other woman and said, “It was a pleasure doing business with you” as she admired her handiwork. As she packed up her tools, she said to Jan, “I see you in about five years, this will grow out real pretty,” and rubbed her hand over Jan’s naked scalp. I could see her face in the mirror as tears flowed down her brown cheeks, she ran her trembling hand over her bald scalp.

I could not believe what I had just witnessed. Just then I heard the door close. I heard the soft sound of Jan crying. The sounds of Dayo could be heard in the background as the calypso band began playing at the poolside bar.


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