A cool breeze suddenly blew over the hills of Wakota and over the valley in which the men sat playing. It made Bubu Fiel even more dreamy, but it gave Janchi Pau a gratifying feeling of peace and clarity. For a moment he forgot Manchi, the conversation, and the whole domino table in fact, and thought just about himself and Solema. It was true. He’d changed, and she’d done it. There was something new in him. A desire for action, which he’d never had before. In the space of a few weeks he felt a different man. But had he changed? No. He was thirty-five and at that age a man doesn’t change any more, he felt. No, he was the same man he’d always been. But with something extra: Solema. So, because he loved her, did he suddenly care more about this country, did the course of events leave him less cold than before? Then the analysis he’d just given was wrong. Then, from a logical point of view, there was no other way of seeing it. It wasn’t education that this country needed, but love! This feeling that he had. Because with this feeling you could do things. You could keep animals with it and you could make plants grow with it. You could finish a house with it. Because you could do that, you could build several houses with it. Lots of wabi-wood tables. And then you should also be able to train teachers with it and heaven knows what else. He formulated it slowly to himself: We need love. We’ve got to start loving this country more and our women too. Yes, that last point was so sensible that he almost said it aloud.
But he said nothing. A remark like that – that we had to love our women more – would just sound banal here. Hadn’t he just denied that he was still a woman-chaser? What was the difference between being a woman-chaser and loving a woman, or even loving women? There was a difference, but he wouldn’t be able to explain it to them. Because he felt unsure of himself in this area of love and tenderness, which was still so new to him, he quickly returned to an area that he could cope with better. ‘Just look at Cuba,’ he said in a somewhat calmer tone, ‘just look at Castro. There too they thought that the people would take it for ever, but you can’t neglect and exploit people for ever and ever. Just look at the blacks in America. One day you’ll get what’s coming to you. All it needs is for one person to stand up …’
But he had the feeling that he couldn’t formulate what he felt to be the truth. And consequently he was glad that Bubu Fiel interrupted him.
The latter was still looking for the atmosphere of friendly jokes; the atmosphere of a good story; the atmosphere of small talk, of games which usually prevailed at their domino table, while they slammed down their pieces as hard as they could; the atmosphere which made a person realise that Sunday is such a wonderful, uncomplicated day, a day without the problems of the other six days. With the rum, cool and everything. Goddamn, he played this game for his pleasure. And so: the serious tone in which Janchi was talking about the revolution in Cuba and Castro, for heaven’s sake! This wasn’t the tone for a game of dominoes between friends, on the east side of your house on a Sunday afternoon – the only day which you really had off, which you took off (because you worked for yourself, after all). Perhaps this wasn’t even a subject for Curaçao, where things always went according to a different pattern than elsewhere, more orderly than elsewhere, more disciplined and more decent, wasn’t that so? None of that blood and violence, all those revolutions and such like… They might be normal in Cuba and other countries, but here … What’s more, why should they bring up that word Communism on this afternoon of all afternoons? He couldn’t have a capitalist mentality for the simple reason that he didn’t know exactly what it meant, but he abhorred that word Communism because every association with it suggested there might be a regime in power which would forbid him to drive around this godless, arid island in his brand-new 200H, large and light blue, well polished and wide-winged, in the direction that he wanted, with an incalculable number of possibilities for the most varied, unexpected adventures. Like yesterday’s! When he went to the camp over here and found that woman … What was her name again? Oh yes. Micha. So when he came across Micha who was having a birthday. Just like that. Can anyone under a Communist regime, or even a Socialist one, if there’s any difference between the two, have such a stroke of luck? No, no! Impossible! In Cuba they’d even officially abolished prostitution. They made whores drive buses. Buses! Just imagine: whores on great big tour coaches! For that reason, he said, ‘Communism will never come here. We Curaçaoans don’t want that. We’re individualists. We like doing as we please. Under Communism everyone has to do the same, no one has a life of his own any more.’ Sanantonio nodded at his partner in complete agreement.
‘That’s not the point,’ said Janchi fiercely. ‘We simply don’t want to see things. Because if we see things, then we have to fight them. And we don’t want to do that. Not because we’re afraid, but because fighting takes effort. We let them mess around with us because we like our pleasure too much. Not me,’ he corrected himself hastily.
‘We don’t like our pleasure,’ said Bubu. ‘We don’t like our pleasure.’ He repeated his sentence in order to suppress a feeling of shame about his venture in the camp which suddenly came over him. ‘We like our freedom,’ he said triumphantly. ‘Better one good day and one bad day. Better “entre medio” but in the meantime to be free to do what you like, than something like Communism. At least for me.’
Without saying anything, Janchi played the five-three. He decided it was better to devote his attention entirely to the game again, because he was getting angry, not so much at Bubu but at Manchi. But that was mainly of course because he had been angry with Manchi for a long time.
Pleased that Janchi’s move didn’t prevent him from playing his double one, Bubu said, ‘But I agree with you, friend Janchi. I too have the feeling that a few things will have to change on this island. Life is getting too expensive like this. Perhaps a new party should be created, perhaps there should be two new parties, perhaps we should’ – and it was an odd, desperate position for a nationalist, or at least a member of the NVP like him to adopt – ‘become part of Venezuela or something. Venezuela, America, the Dominican Republic, for all I care? Perhaps these islands really are too small to do anything with.’ The thought gave him hope and he went on, ‘Yes, part of America. Like Puerto Rico. They themselves opt to stay part of America…’
But when this provoked not the reaction he expected, but an obviously sarcastic look from Janchi Pau, he suddenly said, ‘Or the young people must rebel! Better education or something.’ He paused. Casting an appraising eye at the veranda of Manchi’s house, he said, ‘We lack the spirit of enterprise!’ He smiled at the others, but with a hint of ‘I’m a fine one to talk’ in his attitude. He knew at least that he lacked the spirit of enterprise, especially at this table this afternoon. ‘The spirit of enterprise,’ he repeated pensively. ‘We’re dreamers,’ he added in a melancholy tone. ‘We enjoy life too much…’ He put out his left hand and gave Janchi Pau a friendly pat on the shoulder. ‘Perhaps too much. We like a good conversation, a drink, a woman. And the sun and the shade both tire us out.’ He thought for a moment. The sun robs us of the energy to do anything, and a wonderful wind and cool shade make us nod off to sleep. Ah, this is a beautiful damn island! Like a beautiful whore, who stops us keeping to our good intentions. He quickly took hold of himself so as not to show his listlessness and said, summing up, ‘We’re dreamers, we’re dreamers on this damn island!’
From Double Play (1998)
By Frank Martinus Arion
Translated by Paul Vincent
First published in The Low Countries, 1999