Culture | Lifestyle | Travel Don’t buy shoes Kerri Gilligan takes romantic advice from her boyfriend’s formidable Tantie — then finds she has some explaining to do By Kerri Gilligan | Issue 73 (May/June 2005) 1 Comment Illustration by James Hackett I’d never been to Trinidad before. I was born and bred in London, and everything I knew about Trinidad came from Frankie, my Trini boyfriend. We were coming to visit his Tantie, the lady he’d grown up with. I couldn’t wait to see the endless beaches, the wild fetes with all those intricate bottom-to-crotch dance moves. First impression, though, was that Port of Spain was a lot more like Miami than a tropical beach resort — and what’s with the traffic jams? Add some rain, and I could still be on the M25. Thankfully, surprises were something our relationship was full of — up till now, all on the good side of the fence. Another good shock was pepper. When we got to Tantie’s house and I first opened the kitchen cupboard, there was pepper everywhere, in small bottles, big bottles, little decanters, medium-size saucers. There were bird peppers brewing in jars, scotch bonnets in the fridge, aging pepper sauce in the larder. The problem is, I don’t like pepper at all. My stomach always says no — nicely at first, but with a whole lot of embarrassing flatulence if the warning’s not heeded. Frankie, on the other hand, eats peppers raw, spreads the sauce on crackers and bread, or just bursts whole ones into his stew. Thankfully, love does funny things to people, and he found ways to live without pepper. Then there was Tantie herself — a matriarch of the old school, witty yet stern, loving yet bossy, funny but serious. “Girl, you will love my Tantie,” Frankie had told me. “She go show you how tings done in Trini.” Not one to rain on my man’s parade, and pleased to make a good impression, I bonded with Tants like peas in a pod, or maybe more like rice and callaloo — because she soon began to smother me. After days spent teaching me to cook crab, make that dreaded pepper sauce, and darn Frankie’s socks, Tantie asked me what I’d like to do next. I was born with the gift of shopping, so when all else fails I know where to turn. And if it ain’t on the sale rack, well, it might as well be, because I’ll take it anyway! So we left Frankie at home and went to the mall. I felt this was my chance to impress Tantie with a few presents for her beloved nephew. First stop — the suit shop. I knew Frankie needed a leather belt, and there was the perfect one. “Tants, what do you think of this?” “Miss lady,” replied my aunt-to-be, “you buy a belt for a man and he will cut your tail.” “Oh,” I said, mouth falling open. I saw some baggy pants. “Hey, Tantie, Frankie will look great in these, don’t you think?” “Like my boy have real big stones,” she screamed, turning every head in the shop. I turned the bright red only true Englishwomen can. What about new shoes, I thought — surely those are safe. I picked up a lovely pair in Frankie’s size. “Tantie, I’m going to buy these for Frankie — he needs a new pair for work.” “Girl, what dey feeding you up there in sno-land?” she asked sternly. “You doh know you never buy a man a new pair of shoes? He will just walk out on you.” I fast realised my impressive shopping skills were being trumped by Tantie’s even more impressive one-liners. I thought I’d give it one more try, and reached for an impressive wallet by the counter. I couldn’t go wrong with a wallet, could I? “How you could give him an empty wallet? It have no picture inside, no money. The no money is real bad luck, so change dat! And get a picture to put inside it. It’s an old spell to make a man yours. You girls today doh know nothing.” Scolded, and worried I might never buy anything again, I thought my only hope was to throw myself on her mercy. “Tants,” I whispered, “what’s the right thing to buy?” “Buy him some jockey shorts. Make sure he wear dem, and den nail them to a tree. He will never leave you den.” So, officer, that’s why I’m here in the Savannah in the middle of the night with these underpants and a hammer. Honestly. That’s how it happened. I haven’t hurt anyone. Frankie is safe at home with Tants.