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13 August 2022

An Excerpt of 'The Burke Street Chronicles' by Ingrid Persaud

Read an exclusive extract from Ingrid Persaud's 'The Burke Street Chronicles', first published in Wasafiri 110, and part of a series of sharp, funny audio short stories produced by BBC Sounds. You can read the full excerpt in Wasafiri 110, now available to download or purchase online.

Ketchup looked like he’d troubled trouble, or trouble had troubled him. Twenty years ago, when his mother was busy showing him off to the whole of Burke Street, I was the one who looked at his choonksy red face and christened him Ketchup. Bet you most people don’t even know what name is on the birth certificate. Tonight, he was red all over like a Santa Claus.

What’s the scene, Ketchup? Lucky thing I only across the road, yes. In case you ain’t realise midnight done come and gone already.

BoyBoy, I see the buck. I actually see the thing. I got up for water and it peeped out from behind the kettle then voosh it digs off. I was so frightened I nearly wet myself.

Hold up, hold up. You call me out my bed, again, for this buck dotishness? How much times I have to tell you that buck ain’t real? That’s like saying if you see a woman with a big hat and a long dress walking in the night, it bound to be a la Diablesse devil hiding a cow foot.

This ain’t no joke, BoyBoy. I saw it with my own two eyes.

Listen, talk on Burke Street is that you belong in the mad house. It’s me that telling people, nah, ease up the man. He mother ain’t passed a good six months now. But maybe it’s me that get it wrong. Where’s your father in all this confusion?

Ketchup made the sign of the cross.

I swear on Mummy’s grave. The buck was right here. The creature looked small small like a dolly. But the mouth big. If you see teeth. Hundreds. Pointy teeth, sharp sharp. And some vicious looking claws.

Pure terror beamed from Ketchup’s eyes and my heart softened. Two blinks and this boy’s gone from riding tricycle to driving motor car.

BoyBoy, imagine I was here bawling. Buck! Buck! You think Daddy bothered? The thing could’ve killed me. That’s why I pinged you.

I pulled up a chair. Ketchup was chowing down on his nails one by one.

You and your father like chalk and cheese, yes. You here with nerves and that man could sleep through a hurricane. Anyhow, let me ask you a question. Why you think this buck’s picking on you in particular?

Yes, buck thief my sou-sou money. And my gold chain gone.

But why Mr Buck didn’t hit up Pearl’s instead? Between the bar and the Internet cafe that place is minting money.

How I go know why it latch on to me? And it’s not only thiefing, eh. Last night I was lying down in my bed good good. The place quiet. Suddenly I hear a tap tap, tap tap, on the window. I looked. Nobody. I went back in my bed. I ain’t turn around twice and the tap tap started back. Again, nobody there. Third time it happened I went out in the road and I looked up and down, up and down. The street empty. You know as soon as I reached back in my bed the tap tap started back? Whole night that so-and-so buck was tapping. If I got three hours sleep I got plenty.

I wiped my sweaty forehead on my white vest. Jeez an ages, Port of Spain must be the hottest place in the world right now. Forget buck. It’s heat that’s frying Ketchup’s brains.

I thought you tell me the buck was jumping up on the galvanise roof?

When he catch a vaps he’s still do that. But tapping on the window and running away? That’s a new trick.

Ketchup, I promised your mother to always have your back. You’re worrying me. How come you and your father living here and only one body seeing buck?

I got up and checked the back door. Locked. Windows? Locked. I asked him, please come stay by me for the night. Nothing doing and oh, he doesn’t need me if I don’t believe him. Besides, he’s on buck watch. Well, horse dead and cow fat, Ketchup remained fighting up with the buck. I thought about Ketchup’s mother. Helping her one piece of child must trump everything else. And it wasn’t like I was going out of my way to trouble her church husband. I bounced him up in Pearl’s recently. It was the same day that prisoner broke out of jail and commandeered Winston’s taxi. Once the whiskey had wet my throat, I asked the man what he really thought about all this whole buck business. Who tell me ask him that? He grunted in my face,

They say you mustn’t bad talk the dead but this buck thing is my late wife’s fault. You have to bend the tree as soon as it start growing. But she didn’t do that. Look how he come out soft-ee soft-ee.

So, what we should do?

We? We?

He snorted and stood up.

I don’t know. I don’t care. And furthermore, BoyBoy, if you so worried, why you don’t take Ketchup to live by you and done the thing.

Later when I was about to make tracks Pearl she-self called me to one side and offered to post something on social media. She thought they must have plenty buck experts in Trinidad. I said whatever tormenting Ketchup it’s not a buck. It’s then Pearl turned around and explained that what she meant to say is that she had already posted it all over the Internet. Well papayo, the story hardly left Pearl’s hand and it went viral. My buck scepticism was no match for the steady traffic jam of believers who lined Burke Street offering Ketchup prayers and counselling. Whenever I peeped over the road, voices were singing hymns and reading Bible. People brought holy water, holy oil, red lavender oil, lit white candles, diyas, torches, burnt incense, burnt sage, threw salt, put down garlic, sprinkled lime water, seven spirit, and industrial strength ammonia. We even had a Californian pastor tweet his readiness to perform an exorcism via Skype, #thebuckisreal. But what every manjack was hoping for was a glimpse of, or better yet, a selfie with, a live buck.

Ingrid Persaud was born in Trinidad. Her debut novel, Love after Love, won the Costa First Novel Award 2020, Author’s Club First Novel Award 2020, and Indie Book Awards for Fiction 2021. She also won the BBC National Short Story Award in 2018 and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2017. You can read an interview with Ingrid Persaud by Lainy Malkani here, and another interview between Persaud and Andre Bagoo, on the publication of Love After Love, here.

Summer 2022
Wasafiri 110: Afterlives of Indenture

Guest edited by Andil Gosine and Nalini Mohabir, Wasafiri 110: Afterlives of Indenture explores the legacy of indentured workers across the Indo-Caribbean, and the diasporic experience. With fiction from Ingrid Persuad and Stephen Narain, a conversation between Richard Fung and Ramabai Espinet, life writing from Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, and more, Wasafiri 110 is testament to the legacy that indentureship leaves, and the ways in which affected communities process and reclaim their histories.

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