News day / Hosein is the quintessential griot and artist of boundless range.. In dizzying guile he transforms a house of orphans and clergy into a facsimile of the world around us. Like it or not we too are orphans – unhinged, lonesome, pugilistic, duplicitous, repressed and vulgar.

St Asteria, the home of the protagonist, Jordan, and the rest of “actors” is our world – unmasked. Delivered with a relentless, driving cadence we are sucked into a world of devilish intrigue. From the opening salvo we are pulled into a vortex of pain. Yes, ruthless thieves and a serial batterer result in double homicide and two orphaned kids – Jordan and Rey. And we later learn that Jeannie shared the boys’ fate because her father “smashed his on the backboard” in a crash that claimed his life, [and] her mother “crawl outta the broken wreck and right into bed with a man who end up choppin her head off with a cutlass.” Just the right ingredient to capture our attention. To the assembly of broken souls Hosein adds a caring Sister Mother; a nun (called Bulldog by the orphans) that is ready at the draw to unleash violence on transgressors; and young nuns pestered by raging internal forces. Brace yourself for a narrative that simmers and eventually erupts.

Hosein never misses a beat, delivering on every page with artistic abandon.

There are spurts of adulterated crassness and profligacy.

But what more can we expect from the lips of damaged goods? At least some of the kids have bought into self-fulfilling prophecies.

Self-esteem is murdered in an orphanage. When Ti-Marie showcases her vocal talents she is store for a rude awakening. “You really think [she] good enough for them white people to listen to?” Rico cuts in. “Educate yourself Sister. No matter who Ti-Marie know …the only way she ever gon be up on stage is if she moppin it.” St Asteria offered a respite, but for a moment in the scheme of things. Jordan hits the nail on the head: “All of we were keeping reality one step behind and it was goin to stab us at some point… and the hour would come when we woulda have to wake up…The Sisters would have to let us go one day and a batch of new puppies would come in and replace us.” We read that when Rico and Quenton came to St Asteria, it “was like an asteroid hit Earth,” [and] Sister Mother wasn’t lying when she say that they suffer a double does of original sin.” Rico proves the most obdurate, combative and impervious to reason. He challenges authority on every turn, none more so than in one vividly indelible scene when he was about to be punished by Bulldog for destroying Jordan’s property.

“He hustled to unbuckle his pants, letting his trousers fall to his ankles …He then pull his drawers down to his knees, his bare bottom …for everyone to see. He didn’t have to do this – it was his way of saying f— you.” We identify with Rico’s rage and recalcitrance. His humanity and sensitivity are not really dead. They are caged by a carapace of his making. This is his way of surviving. “If you wanted to know the disastrous shambles of your past, St Asteria waited for you.” We learn. But could this home managed by nuns melt the icy-cold bosom of its inhabitants? Only two years when his parents are murdered Jordan is still void of emotion.

“They tell me that I could be repressing memories bout the day –that if you open up my brain, you will find the sorrow swimming in some knot of nerves in there…The talks and the therapy wasn’t worth jack shot either. It ain’t have no cut to heal if the knife never break the skin.” But he finds emotional shelter in Sister Maya Romany or Mouse as she is affectionately called by his peers.

A square peg in a round hole she too finds comfort in Jordan. But this healthy relationship is unceremoniously severed when Sister Romany is transferred. Jordan was gutted; his blood is put on ice. Again. “I felt like somebody had died and I didn’t get enough time with them.

There was so many things I still had to talk bout.” And in a wrenching analogy Jordan, pummelled by a school bully, compares himself to an abused dog in the neighbourhood. “I was this dog, I telling you. Its eyes big and brown, sulking in the sun, chain to a post, scrambling for shade under a thorny midden of cast-iron and bicycle parts. Ashamed of its mange, retreating from every face…” We follow the children’s path to maturity and are very present when their raging hormones carve out twisted fantasies and idiosyncrasies.

Through this tortuous passage of time we cannot help but laugh out.

The wry humour proves a bellyful.

The removal of Sister Kitty for statutory rape is no laughing matter, though. It ushers in a new chapter at St Asteria that unfortunately follows in similar vein.

One orphan jumps ship; his whereabouts unknown, another is added. And she proves a handful. When one resident says, “I ain’t gon be surprised to find out that lil jammette bring disease up in here,” we get the picture.

And when Jordan, St Asteria’s most sympathetic figure, is added to the list of runaways the intrigue deepens.

He encounters a new world, a new breed of bad in the trenches of Port-of- Spain. You lose reason and conscience in this Darwinian existence. How would Jordan fair? The future is not privy to anyone so with abated breath we wait for the curtain to fall on this burdensome journey that no one signed up for.

And like Hosein’s repenters, we are ever locked in an inexorable battle for survival in world where very little is guaranteed. In the throes of desperation our faith is tested.

Little Jordan is a believer.

“No matter how bad things get, I say God is watching over me.” Somehow, though, an earlier remark of his lingers, and lingers: “I know the people who say ‘God is good’ is the ones who God is good to, or those wishing that God was good to them.” Feedback: [email protected] or follow him on [email protected] The Repenters by Kevin Jared Hosein © 2016 Publisher: Peepal Tree, UK Available at Amazon Ratings: Essential


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