BRAG exposes the deceit of “polite society” in Wharf Stories—set in a fictional exurb of San Fernando. Hope you enjoy…
The Kidnap Miracle: A Thug and A Housewife
© 2010 Roland P. Joseph ISBN 10: 1453848169
The sound of the approaching helicopter triggered a state of extreme trepidation. Her frail hands clutched the grubby bedspread as she waited for the door to be flung open. It was, and in a split second, her limp body was once again snatched from the bed; this time her mouth was gagged tightly with a dingy towel.
When she came to, an ominous silence had replaced the whir of the helicopter. She cowered in the corner of the fetid cesspit, praying for deliverance from her ordeal. As she drifted in and out of consciousness, she heard the sound of approaching feet. She was hauled from the hole and shoved into the choked room. She awoke in a disoriented state but the crude surroundings and the cacophony of croaking frogs snapped her back to reality. She lay supine on a bed, praying for a miracle when again the door was flung open with violent force. A thin man with a bandana tied around his head threw a newspaper at her and flumped a rusty enamel cup on the earthen floor. She pretended to be asleep and prayed that he would leave. She heaved a sigh of relief when she heard the door slam and the sound of his heavy boots walking away.
The light beaming through the cracks and crevices of the shack suggested that it was sunset. She grasped the headboard and pulled herself up with all her might. Her trembling hand grabbed the newspaper in a desperate fit; she riffled through the paper, yanked out a page and held it up to the fading light. After two days and another kidnapping, she was no longer front page news; the story had shifted to page three: “Kidnap Victim Still in Hands of Abductors….” The body of the feature was torn in half. She glanced at the date of the newspaper—December 26, 2005. Must be the 27th, she reasoned. Judging from its distressed condition, it was probably yesterday’s newspaper. She sat on the bed pondering her fate. Death seemed like the only way out. This was all her doing; her husband had been adamant about the trip. The adverse travel advisory for the island…
* * *
It was December 22nd; Anastasia Khan, a petite, precocious seventeen-year-old girl with a round face and thick body, who shared more than a friendship with the depraved youth, Navin Gopaul, hugged and kissed him, “Next birthday we’ll be toasting with champagne, Navin!” “Cham-ping?” he snickered, “what is that, a wine?” “Think so,” she replied. “Everything working out as planned?” she asked excited. “Not here, someone might hear we!” he rebuked her severely. They went back inside before they aroused any curiosity. Like Navin, she too was a school dropout. They had known each other all of their lives, being from the same village and attending the same school.
* * *
Mrs Seeta Maharaj’s description of Navin Gopaul as “a handsome thug with no ambition” elicited a fit of laughter from her cronies, all except for Mrs Pearl Rampersad, whose face twisted into a coy grin. “Depends on your perception of ambition,” Mrs Paul declared. “His résumé could land him a job in my bedroom anytime!” “Ladies behave, we are supposed to be genteel, society ladies,” Mrs Maharaj replied in jest. “Ax-cuse-ah-me!” Mrs Sherry Chin Lee—a cantankerous woman whose broad, Chinese face was red from wine—shrieked. “Ladies, on a more sober note—” “Sober? Sober? Anyone here sober?” Mrs Paul, the mild-mannered, dark-skinned lady jested. “But yes, I agree it’s time to go.”
Pearl Rampersad, a well-kept, elegant woman in her early fifties, grappled with her ambivalent feelings as she drove her BMW home: Oh my gosh! They’re all looking at Navin too! She was stunned. There she was, all riddled with guilt and feeling dirty; now she felt strangely proud and enviable. Beads of perspiration emerged on her face and arms as she rehashed with a sense of conquest the first day she had laid eyes on Navin Gopaul: She had circled the drive to—she scuffed at the ringing of her cell phone which startled her back to the stark reality of her flaccid marriage.
Theirs was a cliché relationship: Deonarine Rampersad, a short, dark-skinned, dowdy businessman and politician in his seventies, and she, an attractive woman—round flat face with slim lips, a small pointed nose and slightly bulging eyes. She had met her husband only once before they were married. Her father had brought him home to see his pretty, fair-skinned, sixteen-year-old daughter. Deo was pleased with what he saw and two months later they were married under bamboo.
The union produced two children—a boy who was now a surgeon, and a daughter who was a successful corporate lawyer who resided in London with a family of her own. After the children were born, the tepid intimacy between her and Deo had waned into a casual friendship. Pearl eased the ennui of a boring marriage by spending leisurely time with her cronies—a group of women from the upscale neighbourhood of Ocean View.
The idea of a younger man grew more intense after she and the ladies viewed a rerun of The Graduate on HBO. She fantasized about a Dustin Hoffman of her own. There she was, an attractive woman approaching old age with her urges and sexual fantasies unexplored. It was a bleak prospect. Imbibing wine, she described the attributes of her prospective gigolo—all physical, except for the fact that he must be respectful and discreet.
The words of Marjorie Paul reverberated in her mind. “They are all around, looking to bilk you of your money in exchange for tawdry sex.” “That’s a dangerous thing!” Mrs Maharaj replied. Pearl Rampersad silently quashed the insinuation. “Pearl, where the wine, like you drank it all?” Marjorie shouted. “Wait a minute,” Sherry Chin Lee quibbled, “how come you all so preoccupied with young men and gigolos? In the words of an aunt of mine, ‘Old age is a bitch!’” “Why you so deceitful?” Marjorie Paul quipped. “Look here, Sherry, don’t make me open my mouth ’bout you and Mister…” A bout of laughter erupted at Mrs Chin Lee’s expense. She was not amused. “While we on the topic, there’s even a better movie than The Graduate,” Seeta Maharaj, the maternal-looking, round-faced, East Indian woman added. “You all ever saw the movie with Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty? Gosh, he was so young and handsome in that movie.” “What’s the name of the movie?” Pearl enquired. “The Autumn of Mr. Stone? No, that’s not the name. Let me see. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Oh yea, The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone,” Sherry shouted in an authoritative tone. “You all don’t find we should trade in our decrepit husbands by Courts Furniture Store?” Seeta said mockingly. “I might not even get a swizzle stick for mine!” Mrs Paul replied. The statement incited a riot of laughter.
Two days earlier, while on her way home from the gym, Pearl Rampersad had glimpsed a young, toned stud lugging around a lawnmower. She slowed down and surveyed him from head to toe. A stream of excitement seeped through her body; he personified her Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty. His grubby appearance did not deter her; on the contrary, it excited her. She circled the drive until she built up the nerve to stop the car. She eased the glass down. “Excuse me, I’m looking for someone to trim my lawn,” she blurted out. “Em, yea, I does do that, but ah going to cut Miz Mahabir lawn now,” he replied in a gauche, colloquial tone. “What time will you be through?” she asked politely. “Em, what is the time now?” he enquired. “Quarter past ten,” she responded. “Ah go check yu by half eleven. Where yu does live?” he asked. She gave him her address and told him how to get there. It was twelve-twenty when he reached her home. “Madam, ah running late; ah went to the mall to eat lunch,” he explained. “Well, I should have told you that lunch was available here,” she replied. The offer surprised him. After all, she didn’t know him at all. “This lawn doh need cutting, madam,” he observed, “like it cut recently?” “Well I really need some help with the plants,” she fumbled.
At first, he was a tad uncomfortable with her overly friendly gesture and generosity, but figured that she acted that way toward everyone. When he was through, she offered him a cold drink, but he refused it. She tucked an envelope in his pocket without even asking him the cost of the job. He opened the envelope to find five hundred dollars and her name and telephone number. “Five hundred dollars for a hundred dollar job?” he let out a loud two-syllable whistle. After two weeks, Navin Gopaul was on her husband’s payroll, working every day around the house. Deo Rampersad had recently expanded his oil and gas investments and was contemplating a senate appointment. In the little time he spent at home, he had observed the glow on his wife’s face and her changed demeanor; she no longer carped and nagged him. He pretended not to know the reason. In any event, he had grown old and lethargic; his motivation was wealth and power and, to a lesser extent, his children and grandchildren.
Navin Gopaul’s profound street sense more than compensated for his illiteracy. He had run away from a drunken and abusive father when he was eleven and learned about self-survival early in life. His mother did odd jobs to support his three siblings. Navin assisted her whenever he could, but avoided the feud that ignited between himself and his father whenever they crossed paths. Navin had already sized up Mrs Rampersad, so that when she invited him to view The Graduate with her, under the guise of a much-needed break, he had already figured out her ruse. But life had taught him that he had to play and excel at the game, even when the rules were someone else’s. “Did you enjoy the movie?” Mrs Rampersad asked. “It was okay,” Navin replied nonchalantly. She gulped down her wine. “Think you’ll ever do that with an older woman?” she asked in a coy tone. There was no reply; his face remained indifferent to her bold question. She turned red with embarrassment. In a feeble attempt to rebound from her humiliation, she diverted the course of the conversation.“You didn’t touch your wine,” she said with a slur in her voice. “I is not really a drinker,” he replied with a malicious grin on his face.
Navin’s street sense had kicked into overdrive. He analyzed the situation carefully, applying his own sense of logic. He guzzled down the wine and pretended to be drunk, just as she had intended. “About your question, madam, yea ah go do it if the lady look good and she had plenty money like you.” The seductiveness in his eyes more than answered her question. “Where de bathroom?” he asked. He groped her leg as he lifted himself from the sofa.
Pearl Rampersad squeezed a generous mound of skin cream into her hand and massaged her smooth legs and body before gulping down three more glasses of wine. She slipped into a pair of lace panties and matching bra and threw herself into the oversized bed. She retrieved a bottle of perfume from the dresser and sprayed under her arms and neck and smudged some on her cleavage. The opening of the door caused her to twitch. She was propped against a pillow when Navin Gopaul entered the room, stark naked. His firm arms and tight stomach were the epitome of youthful virility. He was better endowed than she had imagined he’d be. As he approached her, she noticed for the first time how thuggishly handsome he was—sprouts of soft virgin hairs framed his long, slim face. His straight nose with slightly flared nostrils twitched with passion. An emerging moustache contoured his thin shimmering lips, and strands of hair emerged from his strong chin. A charge of sensual ripples rushed through her quivering body. She felt like a young girl about to relive a fantasy which she had repressed for all of her life. She was riddled with guilt, excitement, and fear. This was the first time she had done something this bold. It felt strangely adventurous and dangerous. Here she was, fifty-two, and he—seventeen? He could be her grandson, she thought. What if her children found out? But it was too late to ponder those moral issues; he had climbed into bed.
Over the weeks that followed, the trysts had become routine, and Pearl had grown immune to the guilt. Tongues wagged behind her back, but as far as she was concerned, no one could prove a thing. For once, she was enjoying life! On the other hand, Deo Rampersad did not become a millionaire by being naïve. He had his hunch, but once he felt sure that no one else knew, he remained indifferent. But his temper flared when he could not explain a debit of fifty thousand dollars from the company’s account. He confronted his wife. “There was no money in the savings account and I needed the money!” she replied. “Well, what was it for?” he enquired. “A family emergency,” she shouted. “Okay, I’m sending the accountant to you for an explanation, you fool!” he snapped. The subtle indifference between husband and wife had exploded into an overt slinging of words. He accused her of infidelity, and she blamed him for neglect.
It was approaching Christmas; she trudged around the house nervously with Navin treading closely behind. “I want the house to look perfect when Vashti arrives!” she insisted. “But where’s the picture? It was here yesterday!” Mrs Rampersad carped. “Doh worry nah, yu go find it,” Navin responded half-heartedly. Her daughter was coming home for Christmas with her family, and Mrs Rampersad wanted everything to be perfect. She had framed and displayed the picture of her daughter and her grandchild which FedEx had earlier delivered. “Navin, did you look everywhere?” she asked. “Yes!”he said in a peeved tone.
Vashti Rampersad was nineteen when she left Trinidad for London to study law. She had returned home sporadically over the years, and three years ago, Pearl had attended her wedding in London. She had married the son of Deo Rampersad’s long-time friend—a successful businessman, now deceased. Pearl was saddled with guilt. Although they never complained, she felt that she had not been exactly the best mother to her children. So when Vashti told her she was coming home for Christmas, she jumped at the opportunity to rekindle their somewhat strained relationship. Getting rid of Navin for the holidays was costly, but she couldn’t risk having him around the house with her daughter there. He had become irascible and abusive. Marjorie Paul’s words, “They are all around, looking to bilk you of all your money,” haunted her. Before leaving, he reprimanded her like an errant child: “Give me a million, and you’d never see me again, you ole whore!” he said in a strident tone; his hands morphed into threatening gestures. “I’d rather die than give you my husband’s hard-earned money!” she retorted. The ominous look in his eyes caused her to flinch. Her eyes brimmed with tears. She had vowed there and then that she would deal with him! But this would have to wait until her daughter returned to London. For now, she would have to muster up all the courage and strength she could to mask her desolate frame of mind.
* * *
It was Christmas Eve. The festoons of lights and Christmas trees were surprisingly turned off at the Rampersad’s mansion. The house was void of life except for two cars and a police vehicle parked along the curb. Thirty minutes ago, Pearl had been laying the table for a special Christmas Eve dinner. Her daughter, along with her son-in-law and grandson, had gone to visit family and friends. She glanced at the clock again; it was seven-twenty-five; they were supposed to have returned an hour ago. The ringing of the phone startled her. “I’ll get it,” Deo shouted from inside. She waited for a response, but there was none. The silence was menacing. “Oh gosh, not a vehicular accident!” she whispered to herself as she walked slowly to the living room where she encountered Deo slouched in the sofa, a callous look on his face and a notepad in his hand. “What’s wrong?” she asked expecting the worst. He stretched out his arm and offered her the notepad. She nervously retrieved it and perused the content. She froze. Tears rolled down her cheeks. It all seemed surreal.
“What time did you receive the call?” the officer asked for the third time. “He’s in shock, he can’t hear you!” the doctor replied. “I told you, around seven-thirty!” Pearl said emphatically. The officer looked at the note again: one million—yellow bin on promenade opposite school… Deo Rampersad ignored the advice of the police and ordered the bank manager to package half a million. Pearl eventually broke down and named Navin Gopaul as the prime suspect. “He is our prime suspect, but he was at home in bed,” the officer confirmed. “But he’s being questioned; he’s still in custody,” the police officer said.
The Christmas edition of one newspaper reported: “A former lover of a close relative is being interrogated in the kidnapping of south millionaire’s visiting daughter, Vashti Rampersad-Singh…” Pearl was devastated. The detective had told her that all information would be treated in the strictest confidence. She later accused him of soliciting a bribe from the media. Vashti’s husband came out of unconsciousness but the gash on his head was still oozing blood. In response to the family’s request, he was denied access to television, newspapers, and visitors. The toddler was in good health and had been released to his grandparents.
Vashti remained in the hands of her abductors. Deo had followed all of the instructions outlined by the kidnappers and was hoping and praying for his daughter’s safe return. But the poignant newspaper photograph of the last kidnap victim, stabbed to death, mitigated his optimism. A Hindu prayer was in progress when a taxi pulled up in front of the Rampersad’s home. Against doctor’s orders, a peeved-looking Anand Singh carried his son and rushed his wife out of the house and into a waiting taxi. The flight to London was scheduled to depart in under an hour. A few hours earlier, Vashti had been dropped off at the nearby mall in a disheveled state. While the doctor examined her, Anand was on the phone to the airline.
Try as they might, the police could find no tangible evidence to indict Navin Gopaul in the kidnapping and were forced by law and a human-rights lawyer to release him. He was asked not to leave Trinidad, as he was still needed to assist with the investigations. The weekly newspaper had a field day with Mrs Rampersad’s alleged incestuous fling with her youthful gardener—and hinted that she might be linked to the kidnapping. Behind closed doors, Deo reprimanded his wife for his daughter’s ordeal and promised that she would never be forgiven.
Overcome with shame and scandal, she fled Trinidad. Deo fired back at the media with lawsuits in a feeble attempt to salvage some dignity. A week had passed, and the police were still unable to make any headway in the Vashti Rampersad-Singh kidnapping case.
Anastasia Khan, still in shock over the incident, confronted Navin Gopaul at his shack. “You didn’t tell me about this!” she screamed. “You said you were going to blackmail the lady for money. I doh know what to think now!” Her eyes turned red with affront. “Listen, it jes happened that way, okay!” he shouted. “She say she not giving me a cent. What you wanted me to do? Eh! Eh!” He walked over to her and attempted to hold her hand. She flinched. His temper flared. He launched himself at her, causing her to fall on the bed. “Yu ungrateful bitch!” he yelped. “All this was for you! We had plans! This fricking shit! If you rat on me ah go kill yu tail!” He kicked the rickety door wide open and bolted outside. She could hear the sound of hurled objects falling to the ground.
Later in the night, Anastasia was awakened by a loud scuffle outside the shack. It was pitch-black; she eased herself quietly off the bed, tiptoed to the door, and peered through a crack. A flambeau illuminated the faces of four enraged men shouting threats and obscenities at Navin, who was propped against the trunk of a tree. One of the men was brandishing a sinister-looking knife. “We go kill yu ass boy! Where de hell yu hide the money!” Navin choked as he spoke. “Ah tell all yu that is all the money!” he pleaded. “Dude, yu think we damn stupid or something! Is five hundred grand! We want a hundred grand a man!” the gruff man demanded. He moved toward Navin and placed the shiny knife to his throat and bellowed, “Yu dead tonight dread!” Anastasia’s loud shriek echoed through the deathly silence. “What the hell is that?” one of the men asked. In an instant, all heads turned in the direction of the shack. The men converged on the front door and listened attentively before kicking the door wide open. They found Anastasia in a fetal position, trembling profusely. Navin looked on helplessly as two of the men pulled her out of the shack and disappeared in the blackness of the night, shouting repeatedly, “If we ent get the money, she dead! We go be in the old hut by the river.”
* * *
Anastasia’s father’s worry turned to panic when his daughter did not return home for the entire day. He knew that she had visited Navin against his severe warnings, but she had never before stayed away for more than a few hours. The following day, he accompanied police officers to Navin’s shack, where they found Navin tied to a tree bruised and weak.
The police held a media conference to appease the politicians. They gloated that astute investigations by the police in the Vashti RampersadSingh kidnapping had unearthed valuable information and that arrests were imminent. Government ministers and senators rebuffed claims by the opposition that the government was incapable of dealing with the escalating crime situation in Trinidad and Tobago. The unfolding story—due to the alarming rise in kidnappings and murders—was carried on the CNN and BBC news networks.
Upon his release from the hospital, Navin Gopaul was arraigned on kidnapping and attempted murder charges. He led the police to the hut in the forest where Anastasia Khan was held captive. The twelve o’clock news broke the story: “Three men who allegedly abducted teenager Anastasia Khan were fatally shot in a confrontation with police. Police are on the trail of another two assailants who were shot and wounded…” Navin Gopaul was incarcerated and subsequently sentenced to eleven years hard labour.
Anastasia Khan gave birth prematurely to a son. When her son was seven months old, her father arranged for her to marry a distant relative. After weeks of confrontation, she moved out of her father’s home and returned to Navin’s shack. Friends and neighbours lent a hand to restore the place to a livable condition. She sought welfare from the government and did odd jobs to care for her son, whom she had named Richard Paul. A friend lured her to the nearby Pentecostal church where she became a member of the flock.
Life was laborious. She swore on her mother’s grave that she would provide a better life for her son. Although the pastor prayed with her for deliverance from her ordeal, the nightmares continued. The roof started to leak; the outhouse crumbled and crashed to the ground during a rainstorm. Anastasia looked at her toddler and cried. She cursed God and swore that she would never again set foot in a church. The pastor beseeched her to come back to church. He recited scriptures about persecution and promised that she would soon be delivered from her predicament. But it was in vain. After weeks of torment and temptation, her father showed up one rainy Saturday morning with a crew of workmen and proceeded to repair the shack.
The Sunday morning sun peered through the blanket of clouds as Anastasia negotiated the muddy track to the latrine. As she sat in the incomplete structure, she observed the top of a crocus bag in the mound of mud. She retrieved a shovel and spent most of the morning digging around the bag until it became loose. “My God, what if it’s a dead person or something disgusting?” she muttered. Armed with a piece of wood she hit the soggy bag as hard as she could. Feels like cardboard or clothes or something, she thought. After cutting through the rope that tied the bag, she turned around and surveyed the area to ensure that no one was around to implicate her if the bag contained something illegal, like drugs.
A stream of anxiety trickled through her body as she opened the bag and discovered hundreds of small packages wrapped in brown paper. “Shit, cocaine!” She flinched. But curiosity got the better of her. She surveyed the area once again before timidly reaching for one of the packages. She took it inside and opened it. Her heart raced; her knees became weak. Strewn across the floor were wads of hundred-dollar bills. After recovering from the shock, she spent the better part of the afternoon toting the packages inside and counting the money, hoping that no one would come by. She had counted two hundred and fifty grand before she stopped. She taxed her brain trying to figure out where she could conceal that large sum of money; the workmen were due very early in the morning. It was two-fifteen when she threw a bedspread on Richard Paul’s newly made bed. She lifted him from the floor and placed him on the firm mattress.
* * *
At church on the following Sunday, the pastor’s sermon was about miracles. Anastasia had packaged fifty thousand dollars and placed it on the pastor’s doorstep like a thief in the night. A note read: For the poor children. Do not make this public. If you get it, preach about miracles. Take ten grand for yourself; no one will ever know. She hoped and prayed that the pastor would not report or investigate the donation. Did he suspect her? Was it a stupid idea? After all, he knew about Navin and the kidnapping! She fidgeted.
That night, little Richard Paul drank his milk from a store-bought glass bottle and hugged a teddy bear he had christened Boo-Boo. She lay in bed contemplating her next step. She had to move to a place where no one would suspect her and where Navin Gopaul would never find her. But she must not worry about that now; she had ten years to think about that. But whom was she fooling? There was no escaping Navin Gopaul; all she had to do was to look at little Nav. She smiled endearingly each time she did. She went to bed holding little Nav against her breast.
Her mind preoccupied with MIRACLES!
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