Tante Merle did use to promenade through Brooklyn, striding down Nostrand Avenue Atlantic Avenue, out of Bedford Stuyvesant, through Crown Heights, Park Slope, give a nod to Fort Greene Clinton Hill, until finally she turn around when she reach the river. Then she coming back around -- Atlantic Avenue Nostrand Avenue, and finally reach Macon Street, where she did live.
All of we did use to ask she, "Tante Merle! You come to United State since nineteen fifty six, own five apartment building, manage six. Why you did never buy yourself a car?"
And Tante Merle just puff she big breast so, like fighting cock, swing she hips round, hand on hip, arms akimbo, looking at you in the eye.
"Well, my dear," she say. "I ain't have a car like I ain't have a man. If is ain't me own wheels I turning I not interested!"
And she walk off again.
Now Tante Merle is one a them aunties you ain't seeing too often.
You used to see she at holidays and holy days.
Used to see she at big family fête, like when Boboy get christened. Used to see she at Trinidad and Tobago Benevolent Association Annual Dinner and Dance, but it seem somehow, since she have them eleven apartment building she have to be taking care of, you ain't seeing Tante Merle so much.
Now you know since Trinidadian can't call before they does drop by somebody house like American do to warn you that they is coming by, every Sunday when my parents take us on family rounds, we can't find Tante Merle when we reach. When I ask my mother why it is we can't call Tante Merle, must instead brave five hours New York Sunday afternoon traffic in vain,
she only stchupsing saying, "Why you must call if is you family?"
Now I was a miserable child, yes? Always wanting to know somebody business. So next I see Tante Merle at Carnival on Eastern Parkway, I only asking she, why she never home when we reach?
Tante Merle only smile small small smile, saying, "Child, I have business to take care of,
can't be sitting round the house all day drinking rum like you Auntie Marjorie you know!"
Tante Merle was at that ripe old age when the women in my family does start to blossom, seem round sixty-two when the men does start to drop off. Tante Merle always dress fine, fine, fine. Auntie Marjorie say she think she fancy, dress like parrot. She did have a set of jewelry red orange and purple she find at corner pharmacy and full dresses my father say made by Omar the Tentmaker. So she looking full and bright like flamboyan.
One summer, I come home from temporary job, my mother say, "Child, Tante Merle catch sick, girl. Tante Merle have walking pneumonia. Tante Merle can't leave the house for six weeks have she home health aide name Hazel. If you please go look for she I make up some stew chicken and rice some dahl and salt fish for you know home health aide can't make food proper."
So I heave a inner sigh (keep it in my belly for I not too old to have ears box) and my mother pack up a box with cast iron pot and tupperware she buy from Auntie Cathy. I catch the bus to the subway. I catch the train to a next train, a next train to a next train, and a next train to a next train, and finally I heave up the steps smelling like piss onto Nostrand Avenue bound for Macon Street. Walking up the road to Tante Merle house with this big set a food in my hand, sweating, boy, sweating, cause it hot, yes?
So when I reach Tante Merle house you know I vex.
Stand in front a big brownstone where Tante Merle living, go to parlor gate ring the bell bell ring through the foyer like a dark voice. I wait for it always take fifteen-twenty minutes for someone at Tante Merle house to open the door. A little rumpfle-up brown face woman hobble out open the gate.
I say, "I Tante Merle grand niece, come to look for she, Errol daughter." Woman nod silent like and let me in.
In the house now, Tante Merle have bottom floor parlor fix up like a bedroom. Tante Merle have dark red cloth like blood across the window. Tante Merle have Seven Powers candle burning on dresser echoing light onto mirror. Tante Merle ain't have one window open boy, so you know it hot!
Tante Merle looking shrivel up on the bed.
I clear my throat, say, "Tante Merle, is I, Errol daughter."
Tante Merle face crack open.
"Oh yes, my dear, come here let these old eye have a look at you! You look pretty pretty! Your hair grown out nice nice, it so fine! You know you great-grandmother was a coolie? Pull up a chair, let me talk to you a minute, nuh?"
I pull up a old chair, upholstered, green it does have the sunken space of Tante Merle backside groove into it, so the spring jooking me in my backside I wiggling in the chair.
Tante Merle looking at me, she eyes laughing laughing.
"Tante Merle," I say. "I bring you a set a food my mother send it."
"Thank you, my dear," she say extending she hand. I take it. It wrinkle like parchment, delicate like butterfly wing.
"So," she say. "How is you friend?"
Is now I a little unsettle.
You see, my father pass not so long ago and my head so wrap and knock up at the time, I feeling so low, I bring my lady friend with me to the funeral not caring what nobody would think for my heart felt like it was about to fall apart. And I know the way she say friend that is this friend about whom she did inquire.
So I say, "Fine."
Tante Merle laugh. The laugh start not from she mouth, not from she throat, not from she extra large chest, but the laugh start from she toes -- I swear the bottom of the bed begin to shake and rattle -- the laugh pass through she legs, through she hips, it start to roll, I feeling it, she lungs rattling bad, man, bad but Tante Merle laughing, start to cough and stop.
"Girl, you know, let me tell you something, eh? Not so long ago, before your time when I was living in Arima was a fruit vendor I used to sell coconut, mango and fig by the savannah. I used to pass she every day in jitney bus on my way downtown to work in the office where I was bookkeeper. Every morning I buy a fresh sweet julienne mango from the fruit vendor.
"Fruit vendor was like coconut milk and cinnamon was like sage on she breath. Fruit vendor look at me everyday, look at me like she seeing me, like no one ever see me before. Is the first time I feel like duppy watching at me, strong duppy. I see a bundle a herb handing above the bit a stick she had tie together to make a shelter and is then I knew that fruit vendor was powerful obeah woman to have she bundle tie up in the air like that for all to see.
"Each time I pass, she ain't never say a word. I ask for two fresh julienne mango she take a machete and slice the stem cut round the center open expose seed slice back and forth till she make a patchwork quilt a mango cube.
"Each morning I pass, begin to leave early, so as to savor julienne mango standing by the savannah in front of fruit vendor.
"I come home, ask my sister what she know about fruit vendor.
"Sister say, fruit vendor man leave. Sister say, fruit vendor man make revolution in rasta camp in the bush. But everyone does know that fruit vendor woman does only take up with woman.
"Is then I interested!
"One day I come by fruit vendor woman. My paper just come through immigration, my sister sponsor me come live in United State take care of she miserable Yankee children.
"'Well,' I say. 'This the last morning I coming here, for tomorrow I leaving on big ship to New York City go live with my sister.'
"Fruit vendor woman look up at me she eyes burning. She take me in, she breathe me out, she drink me like coconut water. She speak first time.
"'You know,' she say, 'it hard to be fruit vendor these days. They does have all kind of new shop downtown; and each shop does have it own particular fruit; and each fruit does have it own particular seed; and each seed does have it own particular need; and each need does find it own particular root. Each soil, rootless, does have it own particular sorrow. It hard to be fruit vendor on the savannah.'
"She take me mango, slice it as ever still wind blowing slow, slow, slow. Sweat starting to crowd me brow. She bangles tinkle in the wind as she cut with machete slicing through to the seed.
"How I savor that mango that day, yes?"
Tante Merle stop. Tante Merle eyes looking past me, past me. Looking far into the past and the distance. Tante Merle feeling hummingbird wing beat on she face. Smelling orchid growing in front yard. Not hearing rain pounding down on Brooklyn street.
"Is good, girl, you," she say. "It hard to be fruit vendor."
She eyes drop off, close. She snort. She start to snore back in she throat like she always do, for Tante Merle one of them aunties that does fall asleep anywhere, anyhow, anytime.
But you know? I feeling alright. Butterflies gone. Iron pit in stomach like it melt. Knowing Tante Merle, who did like to promenade down Nostrand Avenue, two shopping bag hung in the crook of she elbow, proud and round and brown eyes, settle somewhere on a savannah, all the way through Brooklyn, through Bed Stuy Clinton Hill Fort Greene Park Slope Brooklyn Height, all the way back to she place on Macon Street, managing she eleven building, never buy car, never want car, did savor sweet mango from coconut cinnamon fruit vendor woman, she breath like sage.