Bishop’s girls don’t cry | Last word

At the end of a love affair, Attillah Springer wonders whether Bishop’s girls can really have tabanca. Blame it on her alma mater . . .

  • Illustration by James Hackett

At the end of the love affair, I did what was expected of me. I made a misery playlist for my iPod, and ate appropriately obscene amounts of dark chocolate. I was, for about a day, having what seemed to me to be a tabanca.

Tabanca: that well known Trinbagonian lost-love syndrome that so often takes a fatal turn. The sickness has identifiable stages. Tabanca: the fresh hurt of lost love. Tabanctruck: begging for a second chance and possible stalking. Froufoulou: weight loss or gain, depending on your penchant for George X doubles. And then the final stage: counting lampposts, which speaks for itself, sadly.

But I realised one day, soon after I’d eaten the last of the chocolate, that I didn’t really have the heart to run the whole course of the illness. So I did what no other right-thinking woman should do: I blamed it on my alma mater.

I went to a high school in the middle of Port of Spain, hidden behind a moderately high grey wall similarly severe to the one that surrounds the Royal Gaol on Frederick Street nearby. Behind these walls there is some sort of education going on that surpasses the typical high school subjects. This education creates a peculiar and highly complex organism called the Bishop’s Girl.

Within the hierarchy of Trinidad’s church-run “prestige” schools, competition is a fierce and not-so-pleasant leave-over from colonial days. But this school, from its founding by an Anglican Bishop called Anstey, was really for the growing number of black middle-class Protestant girls who did not necessarily find a best-fit in the nun-run convent schools.

By the time I entered those hallowed halls, I wanted to follow the trail blazed by those outsiders who had gone on to own the world. In the chapel there was a dashiki-wearing mosaic Jesus with an afro, and a priest with a funky beard who gave the kinds of sermons that even the anti-church feminist girls wanted to hear.

But no Bishop’s Girl can tell the moment or the class or the day on which she first learned the lesson that Bishop’s Girls were really put on earth to rule the world. Upon release, the Bishop’s Girl mutates into several other species, including but not limited to: the Bishop’s mafia; the CEO; and the angry black woman who is not just satisfied with complaining loudly. She is also prone to decisive action.

No Bishop’s Girl can really recall the moment when she realised she really was better than everyone else.

But in the pursuit of this sisterhood of success, nobody warned us that men and other less enlightened women might have a problem with that.

“You think you own yourselves,” says my classic Caribbean man friend, giving his analysis of The Problem With Bishop’s Girls.

A heated argument ensues, and I am inclined to agree with him that we think we own ourselves, which to us is not a problem. But given the fragile nature of sexual politics in the Caribbean, it’s the kind of situation a lot of men find rather disconcerting.

Of course, it’s not just Caribbean men who don’t quite get it. I find myself wondering if perhaps I should have explained to the mild-mannered European ex-BF who had no clue about the Bishop’s Girl phenomenon that it really wasn’t my fault I was haughty, dismissive, and wholly unmanageable. Which is not to say that I didn’t love him, in a Bishop’s Girl kind of way; that is, on my terms, which I have a right to change as it suits me.

And if the Bishop’s Girl in me dictated how I am in a relationship, it certainly has an influence on how I deal with its demise. Do we get sad or do we get even? Do we use that biting wit to make big men who might have been convinced by the Convent girls that they’re the cat’s pyjamas understand that, really, they’re not.

I mean, is it appropriate behaviour for me to be trying to figure out what I did wrong when clearly the man is the one with the flaws?

But another Bishop’s Girl explained that, in truth, Bishop’s Girls do get tabancas, because we have to settle for, as described by a past principal, two-by-four men. And it is because we know they are unworthy of us that we are prone to hurt.

So until such time as the advent of a Bishop’s Boy who understands high standards and the inherent need to be haughty, Bishop’s Girls are doomed to lives of settling for less-than-perfect men, and the disappointments that come with knowing that no one is really worthy.

Maybe I should just buy myself a lifetime supply of dark chocolate.


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