OYA ~ The Suderman Spirit

“Just call the f***ing number.” Insisted my sunken eyebrowed friend. “Yeah, yeah, I will.” I replied. “Nah, man, really…” the weight of his concern concentrated itself on a tiny area just below my right shoulder. He removed his hand. “…call him.” It was late July 2012. My good friend, Ermiase, and I were perched on a pair of stools outside Spirits Bar in Cologne. We sat there sipping a couple of Old Fashioned’s — his, with a Japanese rye whiskey, and mine, with an aged Caroni rum.

The mid-summer evening air was busy doing something it rarely did here this time of year — nothing. Absolutely nothing. No chill, no wicked candle flickers, no sticky humidity, no impending rain or drizzle, not even a breeze. Room temperature all around. Traffic had quieted to a distant murmur and the bar windows glowed warm and glistened in our periphery an ecstasy of amber rubies. Inside, Chico (Dominique Simon) and Felix (Engels) were engaged in an intricately synchronized choreography, full of twists and shakes, spins, bobs and weaves — like shadow boxers ascending rhythmically into a deep trance absorbing all whose elbows rested on the varnished oak bar before them. Transfixed, we gazed at the spectacle for a moment. Then, after a while, I turned back to him. “Just let me finish my drink.”

An hour or so later, I sat melting away in a poorly ventilated, excessively lit telephone booth inside a shady internet call shop. I unwrapped the piece of paper stashed in my front pocket. Tattooed on it was a number I’d found online a couple years prior right after learning about my possible family. I dialed it now for the second time, having done so unsuccessfully back then. I was afraid; afraid of not only the possibility of rejection or the occasional loss and mourning that inevitably comes with any large family, but the thought of having to endure the pain of hearing about all that I’d missed and should’ve been there for. And who I’d missed. That was unbearable at the time.

The phone rang twice. The tone switched over. Nervous, I wiped dry my ear and the receiver. Sweat, profuse, was dripping all over the mic. Three rings now. Hang up, I thought. Halfway into that idea, a new sound, metallic — an octave below silence — followed by the scratching of fabric and the swallowing of breath. “Hello, Shirley speaking.” A round, sweetening, elderly voice unrolled itself on the other line, smoothed itself out down my ear canal, flow from jawline to bloodline, into my heart. I told her my story. She had questions. And when it was clear who I was, she told me who she was. I felt that red carpet of all smiles continue to unroll and unfurl until it reached the Atlantic where it furrowed in with the waves curling off the coast only to submerge then resurface on another coast. At last, our connection shown through the telephone and erupted on our faces. From a height, we, grandmother and grandson could be seen embracing each other as if there were no distance, time or space, between us.

Some years on after many trips to Trinidad, I was back in Cologne. Felix had been in Paris for a year honing his tapster talents, and had recently returned to open a cutting-edge cocktail bar with Chico. Ermiase and I sat outside of the early Suderman, just as we had years before at Spirits. Since then, our friendship had flourished, and I had a vast, extended family and a home, a history and a purpose. It was a midsummer evening again and dude was going on and on about how excited he was for his upcoming trip to the Ethiopian countryside. He was born in Addis Ababa, but had left at quite a young age — so, the Highlands were deeply ingrained, unwavering fantasies. He couldn’t resist giving me every single detail of the preparations. I’d been listening, nodding, with the attention of a squirrel ever since two shapely glasses spirited miraculously out of the leather coasters in front of us.

Somewhere not too far away, another similar phenomenon was taking place. Only, at this particular table, all three participants were too busy tapping their phones at one another to notice a single hand slide from beneath their devices, then retreat into a denim apron. We lowered our eyes to an amber, ruby red surface wafting and reflecting into our nostrils, glaring our visions. A not so unfamiliar aromatic hue loomed above my palate. The cocoa I’d brought back from the island. Between memories, I sniffed, and in one motion, slipped into a chocolate liqueured reverie. A rush of blood rippled through my head, expanding, taking familiar, spirited forms — Tanti Becca, Saga George, Pa Bennet, Aunty Lucille, Eileen Ma Daisy, Pop and Grandma as children, all dancing cocoa in my hammocked, cocoa house hut. Looking over the low rainforest canopy, cousins and friends joined us, sipping away a chocolate day’s work. A sailor’s delight eased in — a tropical dusk cloud, lilac-laced rills — a cocktail graced with a citrus lining. We sat there liming, silently bobbing our heads, surprised at our own expressions.


Originally published at benitonka.com