Each story in Four Taxis Facing North gives us characters (particularly female ones) who are so fully fleshed out--complete with childhood and adult angst, relationships with husbands, partners, children, family members, friends, enemies, place . . . the full range of their humanity . . . women whose actions you could identify and empathize with for the most part--you feel you know them.
Walcott-Hackshaw uses language and descriptions that are precise and clear, and in addition to the engaging lives of recognizable characters they present, the stories paint a picture of the complexities of modern day Trinidad--a Trinidad where crime makes everyone suspicious of each other, where there is spaciousness and plenty for some, and where others live in tight, impoverished places.
Almost two years ago, I spent some time discussing the first story in the collection where many of the social and economic tensions (mentioned above) are dramatized in the female protagonist's journey to the airport with her four-year-old daughter.
Here's an excerpt from "Pine Hill," where the tensions are again wrought together in a way that is very characteristic of the stories, and make the collection a great read from start to finish:
Suddenly, male voices came from the track below. Heather froze, not knowing whether she should call out to Simon or not. The voices kept getting closer. She cowered behind one of the tree trunks, waiting, trying to breathe slowly, trying very hard not to scream . . . She felt foolish to have wondered so far away from Simon.
Everyday there were reports of another murder, another robbery, a rumour of a rape, and Simon's daily reminders of how dangerous it was, living on this 'piece of rock,' full of illiterate bandits who want what we have without the hard work". Simon thought they should get guns like his Jamaican business partners and "shoot their ass" when they broke into their homes.
Then she heard that voice that never left her head . . . 'What the hell are you doing? Where did you go? Christ! How many times do I have to tell you what could happen to you? You'll understand when you end up like Mary, with a set of nasty bandits spreading crap all over you after they've buggered you a thousand times.' . . . The yelling only stopped when they got to an open field where a few cows and goats were grazing.
Simon was right; Heather knew she shouldn't have come. She asked him, he never asked her. She was even surprised when he agreed. And her motives were not purely charitable. Yes, she wanted to show support, but she also wanted to see whether all those weekend rides were real or whether she was being fooled like her mother, who only found out about her father's affair while clearing away old papers in her father's study . . . He held her around her waist. It was the first time he had held her in months. They slipped and skidded until they made it to the bottom of the hill . . .
Suddenly she heard the voices again. Simon moved closer to her. They looked up and saw three tall black shadows at the top of Pine Hill. The teenage boys were laughing and taunting each other until one of the boys, goaded on by the other two, began to make his wobbly descent . . . as he began to pick up speed, he swerved just slightly to avoid a trunk but he lost control of his bike, flew over the handlebar and landed with a hard thump in the shallow riverbed near to where Heather was sitting . . . The two boys at the top of the hill who were jeering at first were now silent, rooted to the spot, stunned by the quick comic-strip fall. Then all at once they dropped their bikes and skated down the hill on their bottoms to get to their friend. Heather stood up and was about to go to the boy as well when Simon grabbed her arm and dragged her back down. As they were shielded by the tall blades of razor grass, the boys could have heard them but without seeing exactly where they were.
'We should help them and take the boy to the hospital or something. He looks really bad.' She pulled her arm away from Simon's grip.
Shit! Keep bloody quiet or they'll hear us. We have to go now. I don't like how they look...It could be some ploy to rob us or something.'
'What ploy? The boy fell.'
'Shut up' ...
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Four Taxis Facing North, by Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw (Flambard Press, 2007, 224 pp).