On starting her job at Roses Advertising, the proprietress, Angelica Diaz, tells Ata - “But you brave, girl – to come and live here on your own. Trinidad rough, it only looking so fancy and nice.”
All Decent Animals by Oonya Kempadoo seems to be a peak into the idea of transcending the mundane (the roughness that can be associated with it) through music, represented by carnival festivities, and sexual love which is reflected in the relationship between Ata and Pierre.
In the midst of the resonance of The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight, Ata and Pierre meet. The casual mention of the book of erotic literature sets the tone for “a good Trini opinion – dominated chatter and commotion of food and drinks” at Fraser Goodman’s house.
Ata arrives before Pierre and while she is not physically described, we are told of her self-consciousness. In comparing her with Marriette, who will later turn out to be a beauty rival, she cringes in her “makeshift outfit, a piece of saffron sari fabric, wrapped and tied into a halter getup.” Next to Marriette, her style “feels cheap and overdone.” So, she moves away from the “Greek Goddess” to indulge in more grounded matters of “office conversation”.
Pierre, “a latecomer”, arrives when there is a lull in the conversation because of the effort it takes to speak over the music. He looks “absolutely delighted to be invited”. He is a foreigner among the locals and everyone is aware of this. He captures the sensuality in the air and he takes notice of the people around him his “eyes lighting on [Ata’s], raking her body.” He is described as a “stealthy wolf”, contrasting to Ata’s sheepishness, “tall, skinny, and hunched but good-looking in a Gypsy way.”
His movements are animalistic. Calmly requesting an introduction to Ata he “pads to where she stands alone now, trapped.” He is interested not in what she does for a living but in “her collar bone and sharp bare shoulders” areas of one of the most vulnerable parts of an anatomy where the carotid arteries lay exposed. Her reaction to his overt attraction – “heart like a bird in a cage, she stutters and mumbles about graphics, design” and he “nudges in closer to her”.
The pursuit begins. Sensing that she is not thwarting his advances and instead seems overcome by them, he moves forward. SC, Ata’s friend, is very perceptive when leaving Fraser’s. She tells him to “keep that one (Pierre) in check, he hungry, man.” The next day, Ata receives a bunch of roses. He leaves nothing to the imagination. He writes an open invitation to her - “Can I see you tonight? Dinner? Yours, Pierre”.
SC is ecstatic. She compares the action of the “Frenchie” with local men and finds the latter wanting. “That is what I call a hunter. Count them, I sure is a dozen. A local guy would’a send a bouquet. Or a single rose a fake one at that.” This fanciness and niceness in the chase is acceptable to SC because, recognizing Ata’s unease about the request for dinner that night no less, she is not confused. “Is easy, of course. You shouldn’t refuse. For what?”
In response to Ata’s question on whether she should respond to Pierre’s advances, Fraser encourages her to have fun. Assuring her that he knew Pierre “a while now and he’s a decent soul really, as far as frogs go.” The allusion to the frog/prince suggesting a romantic notion that Pierre may transform into an ideal partner.
The first night together after the first dinner, they move face to face with their animal counterparts. Seeing him she realizes that he was “a Gypsy wolf, braced up against the wall, breathing in and out of a big deep chest.” She asks herself “which animal lets a wolf into their home? This close? Greedy and charming, disarming with a laugh and ease, Pierre lay on his back, vulnerable. Waiting for her.”
She already accepts that she was privileged to have him, she could not help herself. Trapping and smothering her “skittering deer-heart”, she “crawled tiger-tense over him, testing her weight and pinned him, tasting more of this strange creature. Her back arched, she bit. And didn’t know she was tasting. Couldn’t care. Just for that night. Every drop of his saliva, every piece of his strangeness – she wanted. Wanted to mount and stroke and rest her head on his big rib cage, under his heavy warm paw.”
What was it that motivated her? Just for that night she allowed her desire to overwhelm her to enter a dance that drew them out of their bodies and comfort zone to desire “something else”.
From then on the relationship moves rapidly. When we meet her next after that night she and Pierre had decided to live together but we do not enter a world of lovers bliss because it is four years hence. They live in a suburb of the city and she has her own business of sorts.
In the face of Fraser’s illness, the niceness and fancy façade that had been their life thus far in the picturesque idyllic scene seems to crumble. On seeing Fraser in the hospital dying, in the face of this roughness, Pierre had “crumpled in on himself”. For Ata, his “hunching, worried form, was a nuisance to her.” He was appalled when she applies lotion to Fraser’s skin.
Part of the fanciness and niceness of her world is her home. She relishes in the fact that the “hustle and knivery, the fumes and ugliness of the town – all of it is hidden from this wonderful open house and garden. A blessing. Luck. That she and Pierre had found it when they decided to live together.” Her home is genteel and an escape from the “terror and violence” the “hustle and knivery” that lies below the hill. The very hills though are a source of danger. Thieves break-in the house and the source of entrance and escape is the very hills that shut out the world and coddle her.
Pierre’s sense of correctness about how to treat Fraser given his attitude about not speaking about his illness threatens to pull the couple apart. Given his impotency in the situation, Pierre is reduced to simplistic sentiments “the vacillation, the lack of responsibility, he thinks is the problem with these people in the first place. It is simple.” His love for Ata is described as “complex” and it “puzzled him and his logical, straightforward heart.”
Not able to find solace in her surroundings or in her companion who is emotionally absent, in the midst of it all Ata is unwinding. She can feel “the virus nesting in spaces she had kept clean and locked but she can’t stop it.”
The ease with which they lose each other seems to mirror the ease with which they came together. During one of their visits to the north coast of the island, Ata “felt a big, important thing had gone missing” but could not name. Their separateness by race, culture and class, the realities of the world had caught up with them outside the fancy, nice life. His lack of empathy for her leaves her feeling disconnected and unsure of the future and unwilling to fight for them.
The losses at the end of the novel emphasizes that life is rough and “fancy and nice” is “perfumed strutting”, something Ata did not trust when she first came to Trinidad. At the end, life is revealed to be a “sit down affair” to be purposely created every day and Ata settles in and sits down to write.