The ArtsEtc NIFCA winning Words Anthology 2015/2016

“Best eulogy I ever heard,” I heard over and again as I mingled with mourners at the entrance to the church. His family was excessive in their praise. “Excellent eulogy, you knew him so well,” sad faces repeatedly said. “Better than even some of his family,” a few added. Only Curtis Brown, one of our old schoolmates, said, “I almost didn’t recognize the character you were speaking about. That wasn’t the Peezoff that I knew.”


The messages had come quickly, one after the other. “Peezoff is dead,” they all said, interspersed with phone calls. “Have you heard?” I called his mother. In-between sighs and tears, she told me she was pleased to hear me as she was just about to call me. “You know that he considered you his only true friend. We want you to do his eulogy” were her final words. 

“But of course,” I said. It was a wish I couldn’t possibly deny. I considered it a duty, an obligation, in fact. 

I hung up, and memories and thoughts flashed through my mind, memories of my youth and memories of Carl Grant. I thought of death and the rationalization of death, of the complexities of life and how death makes philosophers of us all. 

I met Carlisle Thomas Grant on my first day at secondary school in Bridgetown. He, a Bridgetown boy, and I, along with my friend Albert, from the same little primary school in a small rural community—a place that that precocious, street-smart city man-child immediately deemed as being “behind God’s back.” This geographic positioning apparently gave him license to tease us “country bumpkins” at every opportunity. “Did you need passports to come to town? Did you take a ferry to school?” It was good-natured ribbing but nevertheless tiring after a while. 

He wore a watch, I didn’t. Not many boys wore watches to school in those years. His watch was distinctive, more interesting than any worn by those other boys from better off families. He revealed that it was a gift from his merchant seaman brother, bought in some far-off port city. He liked to show it off. The markers on the face were phosphorescent, a feature he described as having “dark night crystals.” He wore the watch with its back resting against the pulse on his right wrist, face-in to his body, and would from time to time pull at the spring-loaded gold-coloured strap and quickly release it to slap against his wrist. His belts and shoes were also brought in by his seaman brother. Out of school, he wore long pants long before us. In later years, I would invariably think of him whenever I heard the word swagger. By the age of twelve, he had been to the cinema more times than I would by the time I was twenty. And he liked to talk about the movies. Monday mornings were the time for him to regale us with the exploits of his favourite stars. I’d never met anyone who talked that much, and his liberal use of profanities jarred my young churched mind. He was a conspiracy buff who always had an alternative explanation of events, the “real story.” He knew who really killed President Kennedy and where they filmed the moon landing.  I had never met anyone quite like him. 

He wasn’t called Peezoff when we first met. He would earn that nickname one memorable bank holiday when we were 15-year-olds on a picnic at Bath Beach in St John. It was a nickname which he made us swear not to tell anyone about, and we in turn did likewise to everyone we told. 

One of his sister’s school friends, a sixth-form colleague, was hosting a French exchange student. She was a pretty little Martiniquan girl, not the one that The Mighty Sparrow sang about. We were all taken with her, but none of us had Carl’s courage or confidence. There was this picnic at Bath, and his sister’s friend had invited a group of her friends. Every time Carl looked at the pretty little Martiniquan girl, he showed his religious side. “Lord have mercy,” he beseeched the Supreme Being over and over, raising his eyebrows to the sky. We all shared his feelings, but of course he had an advantage as she was staying with a close family friend. And he wanted to impress the boys. He engaged in some Frenglish, which had her giggling much of the time, and soon they were off for a stroll away from the group, headed toward the beach. The boys kept an eye on them. From our discreet distance, things seemed to be going well. The couple was sitting on the sand, talking and laughing. We were intrigued because her English wasn’t all that good, but it was better than his French. He put an arm around her shoulder and she moved it, delicately. He looked around quickly, perhaps suspecting we might be spying on him. He didn’t see us, and that arm went back up only to be more forcefully removed this time. We couldn’t hear their conversation, and he never told us what he had said, but suddenly she jumped up, erupted was more like it, and yelled out as she hurried away from him, “Peezoff! Peezoff!” She raced back to his sister and her friend and broke into French, too fast for any of us to understand her words. But we didn’t need to understand her words to understand what she was saying. His sister was mad with him. We fell about laughing and calling out, tauntingly, “Peezoff, Peezoff.” That memory always produced laughs. 

I reflected on that entire day and the life of the man I would now write about as I sat at my keyboard. I knew what I did not want to write about. I did not want to speak about the alcoholism that destroyed him. He had taken to drink in his teens, perhaps to emphasize his ascent into manhood before the rest of us. I would not speak about his warped views, his conviction that it was OK to lie and cheat to “get through” in life. I would talk instead about his talent, his love of life, his wit, some memories of our school days and, of course, what he meant to me. 

Peezoff had been very popular at school. He was an outstanding track athlete. I can still see him flashing across the hundred-yard finish line arms outstretched like a plane about to take off. He was slightly built for a sprinter, but he was fast. Had he the support of modern athletes, the diet, the training, the coaching, he could have been a world-class athlete or even a soccer player. He was a clever footballer, his playing yet another outlet for showing off his personality. I remembered the joy on his face when he nutmegged, or ran past a bewildered defender. But he was a selfish player who held on to the ball until defenders forced it from him. He played for enjoyment, his enjoyment and that of the spectators. He didn’t score goals often, but when he did, they were beauties. The team could have scored more had he played more of a team game. Sometimes he would beat an opponent with fancy footwork and, instead of continuing toward goal or looking to pass to a better positioned teammate, he would turn around and do it again. The crowd loved him, and he loved the crowd loving him. 

I learned things from him. He taught me how to have a cheap cinema date. “You buy her popcorn and a cold Ju-c, and when that cold drink hit she stomach, the popcorn going swell and she can’t eat for another six hours.” But most of all he taught me that people are complex, that there could be good and bad in any of us. 

We remained friendly throughout school. He was a great flirt. Street-smart, he knew how to “get through,” as he would say. He would stow away at dances while we paid at the door. We used to go to a particular take-away restaurant after the pictures. He would chat up the female server, and when we got into his father’s car and opened up his box, there would be an extra chicken leg in there. He drove long before he had a driver’s license and had good knowledge of motor cars. He was always talking about some get-rich-quick scheme. He was bright but not studious, barely passing exams but without much visible effort. He was good company, a teller of tall tales, a natural skeptic, and the first conspiracy theorist I ever knew. He belittled anything of note I ever did at school. “Man, you brother do that for you,” he would call out if I got a good mark in class. “That butt up pon you bat, man,” he would yell if I played a good shot at cricket. It was his idea of a joke, but I didn’t like it. 

After school, he went to work for a Bridgetown pharmacy and became our go-to guy for cheap condoms and other supplies. He didn’t save a penny of his earnings and took a second job to supplement his lifestyle of partying. We found out about his second job when one of our friends caught sight of him one Saturday morning at the airport peering out from behind a newspaper. He approached Peezoff, who shooed him away. “I am working, man.” He later claimed he was moonlighting as a private detective for his cousin’s agency and our friend didn’t believe him. So he told our friend stories about a politician and a businesswoman who were having an affair. Within six months, they were exposed nationally. 

He lost his job at the pharmacy then went to work as a salesman. He lost that job, too, all because of his drinking. I tried to get him to AA, but he eluded me every time I thought we had a firm arrangement. I went to his house, he was still living at his parents’, and I cursed him out loudly. 

“You can’t come in to my parents’ house and talk like that, man,” he yelled, trying to shift the conversation away from his problem. But I wasn’t giving up. I don’t remember ever being angrier. Eventually, he relented and agreed to commence treatment for his alcoholism. I apologized to his parents for my language. His mother thanked me. 

Things seemed to be going well. He became employed again and fell in love with a colleague in sales, Angela. They got married. I was happy for him, but within a year Angela called and asked to meet me. He had started coming home late and smelling of alcohol, and she discovered bottles secreted here and there in the house. He had stopped working. She wanted me to talk to him. “Of course I will try, but you know it will be even more difficult this time around.” 

And it was so much more difficult, he was to be pitied. I was so sad. He never worked again. He left Angela, returned to his parents’ home and became a fixture in the neighbourhood rum-shops, surviving through the generosity of drinking buddies. I made a point of visiting him from time to time. He had grown thin and weakly. We reminisced about old times, talked current affairs and sports. Remarkably, his memory was good, particularly of old times. In time, I concluded that he was beyond help. 


Now he was gone, and I had to tell his life story. I changed my mind about not mentioning his alcoholism. But I would choose my words carefully; I would focus on what he could have achieved and hope that any young person listening would understand and benefit from a life not well lived.

     His sister called. “Will you do the eulogy at his service?” she asked. 

     “Your mum already called,” I told her. 

     They knew I wouldn’t say no; even though they knew the truth, that I was so mad at Peezoff for wasting his talent. But I owed him a debt that could never be repaid. That day at Bath, that memorable bank holiday when he earned his nickname, I went for a swim late in the afternoon. I struggled against a riptide that was taking me out until I felt those sinewy arms of his, turning me. He kept telling me, “Leh we go with the tide, man, leh we go with the tide.” We went with the tide; it took us out and then brought us back in, further along. I was still spluttering and catching my breath when we came in. How could I ever forget that day? He had saved my life. Now it was my turn to make him live forever. I hit the keys. 

EDISON T. WILLIAMS (Gold, 2015), winner of the 2015 George Lamming Award, is the author of Facing North: Tales from Bathsheba and the forthcoming novel Prickett’s Well, a Bajan murder mystery.