Part of the ‘Cazique of Poyais’ story – read more here
Morning was beginning to break slowly and as it ushered the Sun slowly up from the horizon, a ray beamed into Noemi’s small cupboard of a room, with its east facing windows. Noemi was not lazy by any true stretch of the imagination and still, mornings did not suit her well and even the Sun’s early rays did not wake her completely.
It was as if, in the womb, the skill of early rising was distributed in the majority to Jose, who rose every morning before the Sun. This was a common theme when it came to their traits, such that many people question the provenance of their twinhood. Noemi and Jose ignored the naysayers as it didn’t matter. They were certainly twins. Despite all that was different, they had a bonding love and friendship that made it undeniable they spent those nine months together in their mother’s womb.
Noemi began to rise as the third and fourth rays beamed into her room and struck her across the face. Knowing her shortcoming, she had insisted on the east facing room without curtains covering to window. She enjoyed sleep more than most, but wouldn’t be caught allowing her life to slip by as she did. Besides, she knew she had to get to work on time as well.
When she woke this morning, her groggy mind was drawn towards her thoughts from the previous evening, as she sat awake waiting for her brother to come home. Jose hadn’t stumbled in. It wasn’t his style, in any event, so she hadn’t expected him to. It was one of the possibilities that went through her mind when he missed dinner. Unlikely as it was, you had to consider all the different possibilities.
As she tossed and turned in her groggy state she considered some of the other possibilities. Mr. Carston, that old bore, could have kept Jose late filing papers. That wouldn’t have been straight through the night though as even Mr. Carston had to concede that you couldn’t file papers if you couldn’t properly see them. It was quite possible that he was staring at that church again in some sort of all night contemplative meditation. Again, though, it was just so unlikely. A final idea that passed through her head was one that she feared the most and, yet, was most likely. Jose may have found a women and fallen in love at first sight. The passion may have swept him up so that he forgot the time. What then for Noemi?
The thought of it was too much to bear, so she put it out of her mind. Her brother may not have been gone when she finally nodded off to sleep last night, but she was confident that he’d be here now getting ready for work. She quickly washed her face, neck and underarms in the basin she kept in her room and then threw on some clothes.
Noemi’s first port of call was to Jose’s room, situated right next to hers. It wasn’t a surprise that he wasn’t there. It was 6am and even if he had come back very late, he would no doubt be wide awake well before Noemi. So, she continued wandering past the final bedroom, where Uncle Tito still slumbered, and into the hallway. No Jose here either. She poked her head into the small ding room and living room. Again, nothing. Now, though, she heard noises emanating from the kitchen and her heart leapt. It must be him, she thought.
When she arrived in the kitchen, there he was, making breakfast, and her heart rejoiced. Her fear had not been realised and there is often no greater feeling. Quickly her mood soured though, if not all the reasons she had played out, why had he been so late?
“Care to explain yourself brother?” Noemi said in her sternest voice.
Jose froze, wondering what it was that Noemi was angry about. He racked his brain. Finally his twin connection kicked in. The one that Noemi always assumed was at the surface and therefore often skipped and explanation or preamble when speaking to Jose.
“I was late last night, I know. I’m sorry if I worried you, but I promise that when I explain in full you will be overjoyed.”
Noemi doubted this very much. It was almost impossible to please her. She was prepared to listen though and gave Jose the slightest nod to encourage him to explain.
“A man is coming over for breakfast in an hour. He’s from Venezuela, I believe, but has business links with London. His story is quite inspiring, you see, and he wants to give some young people a leg up.”
A trick was what Noemi smelled, but as ever she would allow her imaginative brother explain in full before criticising him.
“There was a group gathered down by the tavern listening to him speak when I came across them.”
The stern look on Noemi’s face prompted Jose to respond to the unasked question, “what were you doing there on a weekday?”
“It’s not what you think. I didn’t have a drop. Not a taste or even a smell. Mr. Carston had spoken to the man earlier in the day about some shopping business and he happened to leave his coin purse behind on accident. When I discovered this, naturally, I offered to return it to him. On Mr. Carston’s advice, I happened upon the man at the tavern. This group of young people were listening to him speak of the wars and London. I couldn’t interject to give him back his coin purse, so I waited at the back of the group and listened.”
“No doubt you heard something of interest to keep you out so late.”
Missing the indirect rebuke, Jose responded gleefully, “indeed I did my dear sister! It wasn’t the act of hearing that kept me out so late though, it was trying to make full sense of it. You see, the man, Daniel Perez, offered all of us a new life -”
“- for a price,” Noemi cut him off sharply.
He ignored her mocking, stern tone and continued, “of course. Nothing comes for free. The point here is that it may well be affordable.”
It was with great inner regret that Noemi admitted to herself that she was intrigued. No need to mention it though, as Jose would continue.
“What price, exactly, is the interesting part. I felt that I had to find out more from him, so when he was done with his speech. Essentially an offer for help to get passage to London and property there to start a new life, all at a significant discount, I thought that it would still be out of reach for us. Being curious as I am, though, amongst the clamouring of those who wanted to trade in their land and small wealth for the opportunity, I returned Mr. Perez’s purse and asked if I could speak to him. He was gracious enough to do so, but it had to be behind the tavern after his initial conversation so as not to rouse some sort of riot.”
“It was, at this point, beginning to get dark. So, by lantern he explained to me some details of what he could offer. Two properties that needed work. Passage to London on one of his asso=ciates ships. I saw some deeds and a plan of London, nothing else. He was unfortunate enough not to have the deeds to the properties to hand. In any event, our time ran out as did our light and he entreated that we could continue the conversation in the next day. Today, that is.”
“I’ll admit, it was all just too much to take in. I wandered the streets, making my way back to St. John’s Church and then back down to the water where I sat and pondered whether this could really be possible. As you said, everything comes at a price. We don’t have much and I said as much, but Mr. Perez still believed there was a way. He is coming here for breakfast to explain as he didn’t go into the detail about payment. He also wanted to show me the deeds.”
It was with a mix of anger and excitement that Noemi shouted at her brother, “so, you, brother of mine have agreed to a new life for me as well? What of uncle Tito – you expect him to make a voyage across the sea, do you?”
Jose opened his mouth to speak and he was quickly cut off by Noemi answering for him, “I suspect you just thought that I’d fall in line and that we would ‘find a way’ for uncle Tito. Arrogance doesn’t even start to describe your attitude. Jose. Look at me.”
Noemi stared him down with her big, caring, thoughtful yet stern eyes, “I want a new life filled with opportunity as much as you. Maybe, one day, we can find that together. In the worst case, separately. Today is not that day. There are too many obstacles here. Please tell me you understand.”
With a sad and understanding look, Jose nodded and replied, “I do. The man, Mr. Perez, is on his way though, so let’s hear what he has to say over breakfast.”
“OK. I guess an escape is sometimes worth it.”
They both prepared themselves quickly for the day and then Noemi went to wake uncle Tito. His room was modest, like the rest of the house, but was slightly bigger than the twins’ rooms, being the master bedroom. Uncle Tito had never shared his room with anyone since he acquired the property from his sister and brother in law when they died. There was a certain sensitivity to the thoughts and feelings of the twins and also a simple lack of interest from Tito. First, this was because he was busy at the very new experience of raising children and then his infirmity essentially precluded him from any romantic pursuits.
Normally, when Noemi or Jose came in to wake their uncle in the morning, he was fast asleep and needed a jolting and coaxing to actually get out of the bed. This morning, though, he was sat bolt upright on the middle of the bed, his head inclined downwards in recovery or thought. It was not clear which.
“Good morning Uncle, very nice to see you up before I had to come and drag you out. This is a sign of things to come I hope? Turning over a new page?”
Uncle Tito chuckled to himself and then began a slow cough, “you shouldn’t make me laugh, my dear Noemi. It’s not good for my lungs even though it is for my spirit.”
Noemi worried that he may have overheard Jose and her speaking. It wasn’t the easiest to do, but if he was awake, it was possible. Neither her nor Jose had kept their voices particularly low. She put it out of her mind though. No sense worrying about what you cannot control.
“We have a guest coming to breakfast, Uncle. Would you care to join us?”
“I’m sure I can muster the strength. Fetch me my clothes.”
Noemi did as directed and then waited just outside his door for him to be ready. After some small sounds of struggle he emerged from his room, slowly. As they walked towards the kitchen they heard Jose and the man, Daniel Perez, speaking about the deeds.
“Don’t mind me,” said Uncle Tito followed by a series of coughs, “I’m only really here for the breakfast.”
Daniel looked up and saw Uncle Tito being led into the dining room by Noemi. He stood up shot straight and made his way towards them both around the table to introduce himself. “Thank you for having me in your home. I know that Jose would have had little time to explain the purpose or time of my visit to you, so I thank you. My name is Daniel Perez. Venezuelan by birth and blood, but a citizen of the world in many respects. A pleasure to meet you both.”
He shook both of their hands in a most friendly manner before retaking his position next to Jose on the opposite side of the table. They all sat and grabbed small plates of food. It was far from anything special, but satisfying to them all. They spoke niceties while eating. What nice weather it was this day. How satisfying the food was. Nothing would have told an outsider viewing the seen that these four hadn’t known each other forever.
Then in a flash, it snapped back to an extreme business like interaction as Daniel reproduced the plan of London and the two deeds plus papers that would assign these over to whomsoever he wished.
“I have here the deeds to the properties I mentioned yesterday,” he said, directed only at Jose, “you will find everything in order. As mentioned, they are both leaseholds.”
“Lease?” Questioned Uncle Tito. No one had expected him to input into this conversation at all, but Jose was happy for his interjection. It was a question that lingered in his head without being asked for fear of being found to be lacking in knowledge.
“Yes, indeed. It’s how they do many of the properties in London. It’s a product of an archaic system, you see. There is nothing to worry about though. The leases are good for a very long time. 100 years in the case of the Parson’s Green property and 25 in the case of the Fox Lane property. While the second is much less, there is plenty of time to renegotiate an extension on the lease. Often a formality in the case of these properties.”
The Mercordas all sat an contemplated this while Daniel began to feel the heat ever so slightly. He thought to himself whether he had pushed it too far. Would these people be fooled? Would they look at the documents so close that it would blow his scheme open? For the time being, he maintained his composure.
“This all looks fantastic to me,” began Jose, “but how exactly do we pay you for all of this? I still need to fully discuss with my sister and even more so with my uncle here, but if we did want to take you up on your offer, what would we pay you with?”
“Here’s the thing. As I know you heard, but I’ll repeat for the benefit of your family, I want to help. I have no family of my own. What I do have is wealth and connections. Neither are unlimited. So, in order to help people here, to help the youth and our South American family to thrive out in the world, to make their mark, I am providing the tools at a significant discount. I will not say that it will be easy or even that it will work in the end. That is up to those who take up my offer.”
“So what exactly do you want from us then,” asked a frustrated Noemi, who could see a man weaving stories without any real commitment or answers.
“A woman who wants to get straight the point. I can appreciate that. Well, what would I need. This house, since you will not be living here. Whatever cash you have saved. Any other assets that might be of use. I do mean anything as well. Some people have given me pieces of rare hardwood that they had stashed away, old paintings. That sort of thing.”
Noemi was about to speak out in outrage, when Jose interjected, “I know it sounds like it’s everything. It is. In return we also get some bonds in his associates’ company which will provide us with a small fortune to start ourselves up on the land that we will get. Is that not so, Mr. Perez?”
Anger was bubbling under the surface for Noemi at hearing this and then being talked over by her own brother. She could not believe it and did not like it one bit. Since she did not want to yell at her brother in front of others, she decided to keep her calm and get ready to go to work. So, she stood up as Daniel Perez responded, “Yes, indeed my young friend. The bonds will be a great starting capital for your new life in London. Are you off, Ms. Mercorda?”
“I am. For us unlucky group who do not have so much wealth that we need to seek ways to transfer it at a discount, work beckons. Should you not be on your way as well Jose?”
Jose looked at the clock they had in the dining room and his face turned dismayed. Quickly, he concluded the conversation by noting, “I hope that this can be enough. Uncle Tito will be able to tell you what we have in terms of other assets. Cash will not be much as we live mostly week to week, but I’m sure there will be some small bits. As my dear sister says, we must be away to our work, lest we get docked wages and make this whole enterprise even more difficult than it is. Will you be OK to see yourself out?”
“Of course. A pleasure to see you both. There is time yet to finalise all the details here, I promise you that.”
With that, both Noemi and Jose hurried out of the house and down into Belize Town for work, leaving Daniel Perez with their Uncle Tito.
Uncle Tito and Daniel Perez surveyed each other, now without the young people about. No words needed to be said at first, just an examination to consider the position of each other. The room felt empty without Jose and Noemi and the mood ever so slightly more cold yet relaxed.
“You’re sick then,” Daniel offered, “how bad is it?”
Uncle Tito gave a small series of coughs whilst bending over. When he caught his breath and controlled the cough, he took a drink of water and then looked up at Daniel.
“We should talk properly, Daniel Perez. I think this is something these two will want very much and I intend to ensure they get it. It is the least I can do. My starting point is this: what do you know about lumber in these parts?”