‘Ode to San Fernando’ is a tribute to San Fernando city by Terrence P Honoré (January 2021) submitted by his daughter Nadiège Honoré-Wellington.
Ode to San Fernando
I walked the streets of the city as a child and learned its many secrets. The trails and thrills, all remain clear in my mind. I knew where to find the Guava patches, the best Dongs, the Banga tree, the Lay lay and Balata. I remember!
I wandered on the railway tracks, till I came to the point, where it left me for another town. I climbed the hill and saw the sugarcane fields roll away into the distance. I stood and stared out to sea, to the Gulf of Paria and sailed around, in my mind, many times.
Oh! I remember the wharf!! The dusty smells, mixed with the sounds of the old buses, rumbling, protesting… waiting to be boarded by eager, noisy, children and tired old folks; and the bull bawling for life at the nearby abattoir!
I can still hear the fishermen chatter and see them barter. I can see the fat stray cat sitting, eager to catch a morsel of fish-gut for a meal. The seagulls were plenty then, basking in the sun, gliding low over the dark green water. I can smell the salty aroma from the gentle brine of the sea that caressed the old stone wall and chased little crabs and sea ‘roaches, to their hiding places in the cracks and crevices.
San Fernando city at night
I can still see the working ladies of the night, in skimpy and gaudy dress, standing proudly on the nightclub balcony, looking down with disdain on us schoolboys. As we passed, we dare not look their way. But from somewhere a whispered heckling brought a sharp retort and we ran… the ‘cusswords’ ringing in our ears, even when we stopped to catch our breath, at the end of a race to the safety of the bus shelter.
Bay Road Street in San Fernando city
I hear the sounds of the vagrant singing to the popular songs of the day, or making music to a lover long gone away… tabanka taking flight into the night. And the heckling, children giggling in the bus aisles with mischievous ease to tease. And nearby, the two-cents hustlers begging for a ‘change’ to get a morsel for a meal.
Then there were the foreign sailors in white, walking with heads bent with intent, faces set against the wind, along the narrow walled Bay Road Street, on their way to another rendezvous, or to see a site or two.
On occasions, I was intrigued by the live goats and sheep ‘baaing’ their protests from their temporary ‘prison’ under the court house, waiting for the trial day… as evidence! Strange the ways of justice, I thought.
‘Chipping’ in time to a deafening beat
And the ‘stiff and starchy’ policeman, raising his hand to uphold the law, standing at the corner where the revellers pass, on their Monday mas. People with painted faces, ‘chipping’ in time to a deafening beat; pieces of mirror glistening in the sun, feathers fluttering in the breeze and the midday sun shimmering in the sky. I saw that too.
I remember the sweet smells coming from the roadside bakery and the tasty pastries that we got for a cent or two, the belly full and currant roll too. We didn’t know then, that those days will never return; as we headed home.
And the train, that monster of metal to a child, hissing and clanging, lurching and rocking to and fro, metallic music of wheels on rails, we made our way home. Often with ‘hungry hands’ we reached out the window and picked the pigeon peas to eat, from the trees planted on the side of the train line. Along the way, we peered out to see the passing sea and the mangrove swaying in harmony, as we moved along. Clankity, clankity clankity clank! Then all too sudden, the shrill sound of the train whistle signalled the journey’s end.
San Fernando city from the sea
Then, one day, for the first time, I saw my city from the sea. Out to catch a fish or two, I saw the coastline from a different view. I saw the greenery and hills that rose to greet the seafarer and welcomed home the tired fisherman.
I saw a cluster of hills that hugged each other, caressed by clouds and cleansed by rain… gullies and drains filled with water, eager to find a way to the sea.
On my way to school, I walked through the cemetery and saw the white tombstones, standing like silent sentinels to the stories of the past. I saw the faded names and rusted crosses, the mausoleums for those of fame and fortune; but the old Paradise estate dirt gave equal share.
The churches stood in a reverent row along the Harris Promenade, with steeples reaching for the skies and bells ringing on the hour. And the Sando hill, looking down, scarred but strong, worn by battles to keep its form and balding with time.
Hail to San Fernando city
Often, I heard the sounds of steelband music, in reverb, lingering in the air and echoing in my mind. Then the church choirs in rehearsal and the carollers at Christmas. And the old Samaan trees with coloured lights, blinked with delight as the wind played with their branches. Sando always had musical score of its own!
In my heart, I hear the city sounds… the loud din in the marketplace, the honking of horns of the taxi hustlers and the shouting of the wayside preachers, blending with the passing greetings; then the silence of our empty streets, on a less than busy day.
I have seen the city and it has seen me… we know each other very well.
I have lived and seen the changes that came upon my town, like the shroud of night, covering the land and changing the views. New buildings rose where others fell; but some from another era, stood sad and forlorn. I fretted at their loss. While other places yielded their spaces to be filled with parked cars.
I read the stories etched on the faces of people as they pass, their sweat and toil nurtured your soil and created a hopeful place for all. You make yourself known to those who pause to ponder on your legacy, embracing all who come near, sharing the hospitality of our southern air.
I know this city, my soul says… I have heard the sounds of morning and cries of mourning… and I have seen the quiet, languid sea touched by sunset at the end of a weary day.
This is the place that nurtured me… born a free man in a blessed land… I was raised to walk my path with passion for God and country.
My San Fernando… you were named after a man from another land, but we claim you as our own!
Hail to my city… the place where I was born to be, a true child of the south, of La Trinity… the only real home I will ever know… Hail to San Fernando!