Guerrillas

Source: V.S. Naipaul, Guerrillas (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976 orig. pub. André Deutsch, 1975), pp. 35-37

Text: It was just after eight. Half an hour before the evening cinema shows began, half an hour before the street grew quieter, that precious last half-hour of the evening when, with the relaxed groups on the pavements, the coconut carts doing brisk business, the cafés and the rum-shops, the food-stalls and the oyster-stalls below the shop-eaves, even a little religious meeting going, with the neon lights, the flambeaux smoking in stone bottles, the acetylene lamps like Christmas sparklers, so many pleasures seemed possible. But Bryant was wise now; he was no longer a child; he knew that these moments were cheating. He had money, he had to spend it; it was like a wish to be rid of his money, and it went with the knowledge that it was all waste, that the day would end as it had begun.

[…]

He thought of the cinema. He had seen most of the films; in these country cinemas certain films were shown over and over. When he was younger he used to go to the interracial-sex films with the Negro men as star-boys; they were exciting to see but depressing afterwards, and it was Stephens who had told him that films like that were wicked and could break up a man. He chose the Sidney Poitier double. He went into the shuttered little cinema-house with the noisy electric fans and was along again, the evening almost over.

In the first film Poitier was a man with a gun. Bryant always enjoyed it, but he knew it was made-up and he didn’t allow himself to believe in it. The second film was For the Love of Ivy [sic]. It was Bryant’s favourite; it made him cry but it also made him laugh a lot, and it was his favourite. Soon he had surrendered: seeing in the Poitier of that film a version of himself that no one – but no one, and that was the terrible part – would ever get to know: the man who had died within the body Bryant carried, shown in that film in all his truth, the man Bryant knew himself to be, without the edginess and the anger and the pretend ugliness, the laughing man, the tender joker. Watching the film, he began to grieve for what was denied him: that future in which he became what he truly was, not a man with a gun, a big profession or big talk, but himself, and as himself was loved and readmitted to the house and to the people in the house. He began to sob; and other people were sobbing with him.

The cinema boy scrambled about, turning off the electric fans, creating a kind of silence, opening the exit doors and pulling curtains to shut out the street lights. It was quiet outside; traffic had died down. Bryant was already afraid of the emptiness, the end of the day. He had already come to the end of his money and was as poor as he had been in the morning. The cafés would be closed when the film finished and he went outside; the rum-shops would be closed; there would only be a coconut cart, more full of husks than coconuts, a few people sleeping below the shop eaves, drunks, disordered people, and an old woman in a straw hat selling peeled oranges by the light of a flambeau. There would remain the journey back, the taxi, the walk in the night along roads that would barely glimmer between walls of forest and bush. So even before the film ended he was sad, thinking of the blight that came unfairly on a man, ruining his whole life. A whole life.

Comments: Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (born 1932) is a British/Trinidadian author, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. His 1975 novel Guerrillas is concerned with social and political conflict on a unnamed Caribbean island, presumably based on Trinidad, where Naipaul was born. The disaffected young black Bryant is a minor character in the novel, though pivotal to its violent climax. For Love of Ivy (USA 1968 d. Daniel Mann) is a romantic comedy starring Sidney Poitier and Abbey Lincoln, about an African-American maid whose employers engineer a romance with the Poitier character in the hope of persuading her not to leave them. It is notable in film history for being one of the first Hollywood mainstream pictures to feature a romance between two black leads.

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