Rain had threatened since Friday, and now the morning hung with dark low clouds. It was hot and sticky and still in the high bush where the rig stood in a clearing. Parrots flitted noisily from creeper and orchid festooned trees, and a brightly plumed toucan peeved monotonously.
The Rig Superintendent took a last bleary-eyed look at the pump pressures and rotary table torque gauges on the drilling console where it stood front of the driller, and then turned, sore-footed, to descend the ladder from the rig floor.
He slumped across the uneven dusty gravel of the location, his shirt wet with sweat, his face showing stubble and drilling fluid smatterings of a three day stretch without sleep. He climbed the few steps to the doghouse.
“I’m going in Carl,” he said hoarsely. “Call me if we run into it again. I’ll be at the house.”
The toolpusher raised eyes from the drilling report. He was a big solid man with strong placid face as black as midnight soot. He had strong very white uneven teeth, and a badly healed scar running across his bare chest.
“Go on in Cappie. Get some sleep.” He smiled faintly.
“I’ve since Friday to catch up on.” The Rig Superintendent said. “It’s a bad son-of-a-bitch, this one. ‘Bout time something went right.”
“It’s Easter Sunday. Maybe you should try going in church,” the toolpusher smiled faintly. “It might change your luck Cappie.”
“Maybe I’ll try it,” the Rig Super said, yawning and stretching.
“Maybe you could try a whore. That works for me,” said the toolpusher smiling again. He had just taken up tour and there was still the hint of sleep in his face. “Whores work, I tell you. Or a virgin if you can find one.”
“I could do that,” the Rig Super said. “But I’ve got something better in the house, and I don’t have to pay one way or another.”
“That’s old stuff. Old stuff Cappie. It won’t change your luck.” He shook his head sadly. “You’ve got to do something different. Something you don’t normally do. This well is a blight, I tell you. Endless trouble since we started. First the casing won’t go down, then the number one pump blowing up takes Thompson out on a stretcher. Then a gas pocket, then lost circulation and a caving hole all the same time. You want to tell me that aint a blight? Time you did something Cappie. Run something. Take a whore. Take a virgin. Virgins work for me. Change the oil Cappie. It’s got to work, I tell you.”
“I’ll think about it,” the Rig Super said, kicking the dust off his boots. He stripped off his hard hat and leant back on the bunk the toolpushers used when things were going right. The Rig Super’s hair was matted silver grey-gold. There was a puffed and dead look about his face, his lips and eyes slightly swollen. He leant back on the bunk, feeling the throbbing pain in his legs. He was thinking of sleeping right there, and not facing the drive home. He pulled himself up.
“I’ll be on the radio or at the house,” he said leaving. “But watch it. There’s a mean streak down there somewhere. It could take your goat and your cake.”
He eased himself into the sun-baked car and left the belching sound of the diesels, the ground vibrating thump of downhole pumps behind. The rutted dust-topped trace curved over the brow of a hill, and momentarily, through a gap the trees allowed, he saw the tranquil blue of the sea.
Touching breaks, down again, into bamboo thickets, and creepers slapping the car, and the swishing scream of cicadas heralding rain, and then a fast-moving criss-crossed snake shot across the path, and further on a gaunt cow ambled out of his way. He stopped to come out of the trace and turn left onto a narrow pitch topped road with wooden shacks on either side through a small village. Children bathed nude at the village standpipe, and an old woman trying to fill a rusty pail squinted up at him through stone grey hard-seeing eyes as he went past.
The car shuddered on the sun-rippled pitchtop; and he took a tight comer and met a slow plodding bison pulling a loose-wheeled canecart with a whip-wielding Indian boy and two grubby children riding, and the whippet ghost of an agouti hound trotting below the cart in the shade.
And then an old man in a black bowled preacher’s hat, black flared preacher’s coat and trousers and dusty shoes, with a neatly dressed child in an Easter bonnet clutched tenderly in his arms. It had suddenly begun to rain, and heavy drops were falling at the crossroads.
“Get in father,” the Rig Super said.
“Thank you sir,” the old man said. He removed his hat and eased his precious load into the seat beside him.
“She’s a pretty little thing,” said the Rig Super, looking at the black velvet-skinned child. “It would be a shame to spoil that bonnet and dress in the rain.” The young girl turned her bright black eyes to him, sensing he was speaking of her.
“We are going to church, you see, and there at the crossroads was no place to shelter,” the old man said. He rested his preacher’s hat on his lap respectably. His hair was grey-white and he had white bushy eyebrows and large twisted veins like tree roots lacing his forehead and ending river deltas at his neck.
“Where is your church?” the Rig Super asked, beating an impatient tattoo on the steering wheel with his fingers. “We are advancing correctly,” the old man said. “About two mile. About that. There is no hardship in finding it.” The Rig Super let in the clutch, and the car skidded lightly as it took the load on the wet pitch the fresh rain and dust had made slick.
“God has been good to us today,” the old man said happily to the child. He patted her small smooth thigh with long knotted fingers.
“What church do you belong to?” the Rig Super said, to make conversation and help himself stay awake.
“I am a Baptist minister,” the old man said proudly. “I must preach a sermon at this church. It is not my church, you understand. My church is in La Brea.” His face wrinkled into a smile as he thought of it.
“You have not walked all the way from La Brea, surely?”
“Oh no no no. That would be too far, and with the child. We came by route taxi, but the driver would not advance this way. The road is too bad, he told me.”
“All the roads in Trinidad are bad,” the Rig Super said, “Like everything else; the phones, the water, and the government.”
“It is too bad,” the old man said absently. “I am not of politics, just of God. He is quite enough.”
Now with the windows shut against the rain, and the vibration the car made, the Rig Superintendent fought drowsiness.
He ran his fingers through his hair and scratched his head.
The wipers slashed back and forth, back and forth in monotonous drowse-inducing syncopation.
“And to what church do you belong sir,” the preacher asked respectably.
“I don’t go,” the Rig Super said shortly and truthfully.
The old man pondered a few moments.
“You should go,” he said gently. “Every man should give of his thanks. There is still much to be grateful about.”
“Well, look at it this way father,” the Rig Super said yawning widely, navigating a deep rain-filled pothole. “There are some of us who must spend our lives preaching and praying for this world, and there are some of us who must work like hell to keep it going. That’s the two of us father.”
The old man stayed silent, looking out at the hard driving rain slanting against the windscreen.
“I had not thought of it in that way,” he said, in his old man’s voice. “Of course, there is great good in both. 1 can see you have worked without sleep.”
“Since Friday,” the Rig Super said. “That’s how it goes sometimes. “
“Friday was the day they crucified Jesus,” the small girl said in wonder.
They stopped at the wooden weathered-grey church that stood back from the road in a clump of mango and pawpaw trees, where the rusted galvanized roof ran the rain off in sheets now. The church door was open, and a pale yellow light came from inside through the darkness the heavy rain caused.
“You’re going to have to make a run for it,” he told the old man.
“The Lord shall care us. You have been most kind. I shall pray for you sir.”
“I need that. I’ll appreciate it father. Here, take this.” He reached into the back seat where he had a waterproof
“You’ve done enough.” The old man placed a frail restraining hand on his arm.
“I have others. Take it Father. Cover the girl.”
“It is most kind. Perhaps when you pass La Brea, … “
“Don’t worry about it. 1 have others.”
The Rig Superintendent watched the preacher slip the plastic over the child’s bonnet, and then spread it about her. Then the old man stooped out, to hobble through the puddles and the down pour, and then reach the pale yellow light where they were warmly consumed by his waiting congregation.
The Rig Superintendent sat, transfixed in his car, hearing the sudden swelling chords of the organ, and the silvery rising wail of island voices. Not entirely himself, he turned up his transceiver volume, and then ducked out to run through the rain. He found an empty pew at the back of the church, and slid into it.
A swarm of black faces turned to look at him, faltered in their singing, filled with smiles, and then their voices rose again, more fervent in their thanks. At the Altar, the old preacher beamed.
Halfway through the short sermon, the Rig Superintendent slumped, his mouth fell open, and he fell into sound sleep.
When the last hymn was in full stride, and the collection dish was making its rounds, he lay full stretched along the pew.
One hour later the transceiver boomed from his car. His subconscious, carefully tuned to the sound of that set, pulled him from sleep. He got up, cranky, drugged, to find the church silent and empty, and he went out into the bright sunshine.
“Go ahead rig ten,” he said into the mike.
“I rang the house and you weren’t there Cappie,” the toolpusher said. “Where did you stop at?” he laughed.
“I’m at, …. ” the Rig Super began. And then hesitated.
“All right Cappie. All right. You don’t have to say. Just wanted to let you know whatever you’ve done has worked. We’re past the bad spot and making fast hole.”
It’s Sunday, thought the Rig Superintendent, starting his car. Well it don’t hurt a man to go church once in a while. Maybe I’d ought do it more often.
first published by the BBC in 1984
Special thanks to Backpack Of Cowabunga for the photo