Jamaica Dreams.
Part Three: Escape from Paradise ©2015

The way it was… remembrances by L. E. Taylor

SLEEP CAME ON THE HEELS of exhaustion well into the third night of our Jamaican idyll. I was up and alert at sunrise, however, with one purpose: To commandeer use of the hotel telephone. Big Mamoo Hairtoes saw smouldering resolve in my demeanor and vacated the stool at her Lilliputian desk without comment. I grabbed a paper napkin and wiped off the receiver. The stool would require a bigger towel; I opted to stand.

The impossible task of securing two same-day reservations on three different airlines, plus one taxi from Negril to Kingston airport played out in a blur, and with surprising success. The cabbie arrived on time, and loaded our luggage into a regular Ford. He was congenial and spoke with an Indo-British lilt. What time was our departure, please, he asked. Three-twenty. Oh, plenty of time, sir, he sang.

The cab was remarkably clean. By U.S. standards, it was immaculate. Delores wore a summery pink flowered dress and carried a sun hat. I was in khaki slacks and a white polo shirt; I removed my navy blazer, folded it neatly, and placed it on the rattan covered seat. The cabbie wore a billed yellow cap with open wickerwork all round the crown; it sported a white badge on the side, bearing his ID number.

Reenacting our cannabis-perfumed jungle trek of only three days ago, we were glum. Without saying so aloud, we were relieved to be out alive, but disappointed. The day was sunny and mild, as we’d expected for February. In a flash, I got an idea, and spoke to the driver.

“We’ve got a couple of hours before the flight. Can you recommend a nice seafood restaurant? Away from the airport and tourists, though. I want to have a conch salad and a drink.”

“Oh, yes, sir. Know just the place,” he yodeled. “On the bay.”

We left the paved road presently, and in low-gear climbed a narrow trail cut into the tropical forest. We emerged atop at an ocean overlook. Our man steered us into a circular drive shaded by a canopy of palm leaves, and stopped at a great weathered oak door held up on iron hinges and embraced by two flickering lanterns.

“Tell them ‘Michael the Cabbie’ told you. They treat you very-good.”

“Will you come back for us in time for the plane?”

“I wait right here.”

“You will?”

He nodded and grinned. “You go on.”

“I’ll pay for your time,” I said.

“You go on, sir,” he waved.

The place was dark in contrast with the bright Caribbean afternoon. A couple of people sat at the bar. I began to mention ‘Michael,’ but before I could finish, the maître de’ was leading us through a room of empty white clad tables. Ours awaited us, as though by divine whimsy, at a broad clear window overlooking the aquamarine bay.

The captain drew out milady’s chair, she sat, and he snapped open a napkin and handed it to her. I thanked him, snapped my own blazer lapels, and allowed him to present my chair. We ordered a couple of rum tonics and the fresh seafood salads du jour.

We peered agog at the sea. We looked at each other. “What the…,”we began simultaneously. We laughed, not bothering with the last word of the shared remark. Our drinks appeared.

Tension melted away and we began our first conversation in a very long time. Below, on the clear water not a hundred yards distant, a yacht was anchored – a yawl, two-masted, spar-varnished over a natural wood finish, sails furled tight in blue sleeves. The mainmast flew a West German tri-colour. Two figures aboard. Both appeared trim and athletic, both blond and tanned. The woman in a yellow bikini, lolled on the foredeck; the man in cut-off faded dungarees fussed in the stern with rope lines and mystery-junk. My imagination took over. Had they sailed all the way from Hamburg with stops in Spain and the Canaries? Might they be wealthy Eurotrash, hopscotching from the Med through Gibraltar and Westward-Ho to the southern climes for drugs and debauchery? Or did they just fly down from Cleveland to rent a boat and had packed a flag in their luggage for a joke?

It’s been thirty years since that sliver of mindless pleasure, enjoying a conch salad and a rare moment of amusement with a sassy blond nurse from my hometown. But I still wonder sometimes about the couple on that yawl; who they were, where they came from; how they travelled. And whatever happened to them?

The lunch was delicious and the glasses drained. Dolly read my mind: “Do you think Michael is still out front with our luggage?”

I replied, “Of course he is. He’s our angel. That’s his job.”

Our Angel Michael tossed aside his crossword puzzle and rushed around to hold the door for us. We made our flight, but takeoff was late so arrival in MIA placed me near my Delta gate to Dallas with just a half hour to spare. But Delores exited into the terminal a long sprint from her American flight to Detroit – due to depart in ten minutes. She hiked her bulging carry-on over one shoulder, clopped the straw sombrero over unruly blond wisps, accepted a hug from me, and disappeared into the milling crowd.

I was awash in regrets, sad to see her go without my help and protection, and stood there with a lump in my throat. ‘I’ll make it up to you, girl,’ I thought. ‘Someday. I hope.’

Onward.

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Jamaica Dreams.
Part Two: Fight or Flight ©2015

The way it was… remembrances by L. E. Taylor

THE DINNER OF NIGHT TWO at our no-name Caribbean hideaway outside Negril was identical to the night before. The menu items were different but the over-spiced mystery food (chicken I think, maybe driftwood) tasted exactly the same as last night’s prawns. And the wine, again, was at room temperature. If you were dining in a sauna.

The incessant racket of reggae well down the beach lent perspective to an otherwise dull night in the tropics. Delores and I had retired to our doorless suite of one room, plus half-bath and half-closet. The ceiling fan thum-thrummed, stirring heavy air, still redolent of angry curry vapors. (We were over the kitchen.) She clicked on the light bulb and flipped open a magazine.

Urgent footfalls on the outdoor stairway startled us. “Douse the light,” I said. We heard a hard padding commotion just outside on our deck; panicky huffing and wheezing, then a pounding on the louvered screen door. Adrenaline spiked my instincts. Hushed, excited mumbling of two people, now. I pulled back the curtain. In the darkness I recognized the plump white faces of the young couple form the room next door.

“We were on the beach,” he said, “walking back from the party and a guy came up and grabbed her. We got away and he ran after us. Please let us in.”

“Was he armed?” I asked.

“A knife, I think.”

“Get in here,” I said. I searched around for a weapon, a club. Nothing. I spoke to the women: “You two get back there in the dark and be quiet.” I ushered them to an alcove next to the no-shower bathroom. I rummaged around and came up with a wire coat hanger.

“You,” I said to the fat kid, “What’s your name?”

“Gil.”

“How big is this guy?”

“About your size.”

Good. I stared at the floor. “Okay… Gil,” I said, “The most important thing we have to do is keep that sonofabitch out of here.” I was uncurling the coat hanger and wrapping it around one hand. “When he comes through that door, I’ll be behind him, over there.” I wrapped the loose end of the wire hanger around my other hand. “He’ll come in and he’ll see you. I’ll grab him around the neck with this and run him out the door and over the side.” Gil stared at me in the deep-shadowed room. “Uh, Gil…? You. Stand. Right. There. Got it? Gil.?

“Yeah. Okay.”

Footfalls thundered up from the outdoor stairway and urgent mumbling. More than one guy. Damn. “Let’s go, Gil,” I said and plunged through the beaded doorway.

No one. But lots of noise down below. I looked over the rail. A white clad black man in a baseball cap looked up and shouted to me, “This way. Come down, mon. It’s safe! Come down!”

The four of us rushed onto the deck and down the rude wooden stairs. The guy in the baseball cap hustled us across a dimly lit yard and we climbed into a pre-war caramel-coloured Hillman-Minx, maybe an Austen. The engine was running. The driver, another black man, said nothing. We exited the grounds and the comical clown car raced through an inky night. In a few minutes we arrived at a lighted village square, actually a circle with a fountain in the center. We slowed to a crawl. Windows down for air, we passed a throng of loitering sullen Africans. Their eyes burned hostile and red in the half light of the village center.

The police station was nothing more than a mobile home on legs, like a contractor’s hut. In the darkness, we climbed three or four steps, pulled open the steel door and entered a grim sanctuary lit green by overhead fluorescent tubes.

The narrow room was barren except for two items: an antique oaken standup desk with a massive domes-day book splayed open upon it, and a gleaming ebony giant of a man resplendent in a crisp, British colonial constable’s uniform. Indifferent to us, he stood at his post, carefully writing entries on the mouldy pages of the old log-book.

The starched white jacket sported gold buttons up the front to a closed high collar. The Sam Brown belt that crossed the man’s impressive chest was of black leather and its holster housed an oversized .45 mm automatic. His black Bermuda-length shorts had a broad red stripe on each side, and just below the knees, white stockings traveled down to a pair of thick-soled patent leather size-twenty brogans. The shiny black bill of an officer’s scarlet cap shaded this imposing creature’s eyes. He stood intent upon his task. I wondered how far back into the mists of history the book’s entries went… Blackbeard? Fourteen-ninety-two?

The man was apparently the entire Police Department of Negril, Jamaica. Okay by me. They could do worse.

The cola-nut cop spoke not a word, but continued his report or whatever he was inscribing. Abruptly, he whispered to the driver who had whisked us away from our paradise. I took the driver to be some sort of auxiliary security bloke.

Finally, the policeman’s attention turned to his American guests. We were addressed individually for our names, please, and asked to recount our description of the incident. The place was an oven. The ebony Mounty seemed cool, impervious to the heat. The rest of us glistened a sickly green in the factory light.

It all took about twenty minutes, give or take five hours, then we shuffled out.

Back at the oasis, we were met at the car by a second white-shirted black rent-a-cop. He spoke in whispers to our driver. I asked, “Did they catch the guy?” The second security guy melted into the night.

“He’s no problem anymore,” replied the driver.

“Did they arrest him?”

“No problem anymore.” He turned and walked to the dwarf car. As he got in, I noticed a pistol grip protruding from his back waistband. Delores and I glanced at each other. The fellow pulled the car door closed. He started the engine, backed a few feet toward us and stopped. His elbow rested on the open window and he flashed us a quick look. “No problem anymore.”
Onward.

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[To be continued...]

Next, Part Two: Fight or Flight.

Jamaica Dreams.
Part One: Culture Shock ©2015

The way it was… remembrances by L. E. Taylor

WHEN I FLY, I GIVE MYSELF over to the existential envelope of the moment. Four hours across the continent to SFO or LAX – it’s all of a piece to me for the duration of a flight. The whole episode is an extended nano-fragment, like a dream, improbable, unnatural.

Illogically, I’m hurtling in near silence through the sky in a silver tube. So I take a hike to Planet Larry.

The flight from Miami to Jamaica one day, however, was more like the puddle-jump from Detroit to Chicago – barely worth the angst. A bus ride. Yet there was something niggling at me. All in my mind, of course. The sky was clear, the sea below a sensual aquamarine, like the Mediterranean, the Adriatic…our own Great Lakes.

This trip was supposed to be an exotic escape. Delores and I had been together now for a couple of years, each of us dealing with the distracting residue of earlier lives. This would be a departure into a bubble.

As soon as we were airborne, I was restive. Was it guilt for leaving my responsibilities en route to a self-indulgent retreat? Doubt about this unsettled relationship? Annoyance at the brainless rowdiness among our fellow passengers? What?

The customs bureaucracy in Jamaica provided no comfort. We were herded into an open processing pen. Hot and humid, noisy and crude, the dump seemed a cliché for third-world-banana-republic-spy flicks. All I needed was a rumpled linen suit and a crushed Panama hat.

They took our passports, stamped them and kept them.

We made our way through the wilting Caribbean heat to a “taxi” stand. Our destination was the far end of the island, a village called Negril. My Michigan travel agent, a liberal who mistook me for a vagabond writer-artist type, had selected this off-grid venue to suit what she assumed to be my bohemian tastes.

The beat-up old VW van was crammed with twenty-something guys and one girl, in addition to Delores and me. We wound our way up the narrow road to a lookout over the bay. Pretty. But I’ve seen bays and water before. We stopped. Outside the vehicle, the driver had a few private words with the college bums, and we continued on our way. Almost immediately, we were in a jungle. A few minutes on the road, and unaccountably, the driver brought us to a stop at a roadside dive. Most of the riders got out and went inside.

Hot breezes blew, birds cawed. Delores looked sideways at me. I was staring straight ahead. I only know this because she told me later.

The temperature was ninety-plus, the humidity about the same. Bugs buzzed. Our jitney-mates were having a Red Stripe in the jungle. I was having an out-of-body experience. My heartrate was down to about 58.

The rest of that drive was like my cross-continent flights. Dreamlike. I remember shacks and naked Negroes with babies, and an interminable ordeal of winding one-lane auto-pathways carved into a drab rainforest.

Then we were… there.

The grim little clearing on the sea may have had a name; if so, it has long since been expunged from my psyche. Santo Anus would be apt.

Our “suite,” actually one room on the second floor of a paint-peeling clapboard house accessed by way of stairs up its sides to an outdoor deck, was almost as nice as the British prisoners’ quarters in Bridge on the River Kwai. But with worse management.

The mountainous woman (I think) who ran the joint was straight out of central casting – mumu-clad, with a silky black moustache, and barefoot with coarse wires sprouting from both big toes.

Delores and I climbed the outdoor stairs to our nest. There was no key because there was no door. Only a louvered screen and within, a curtain of beads to keep out the scorpions and mosquitoes. (And snakes?) The view of the emerald waters was lovely.

I yanked on my Speedo, and we went to the beach. I dove in, swam around, and was unceremoniously stung by a jellyfish.

Madame Hairtoes said, no big deal; Here. Take this shot of rum and rub it in. See you at dinner. Seven o’clock.

I drank the rum, washed off the ocean salt at the property’s only working shower (beachside), and Delores and I went up to our cell to dress for dinner.

Dinner was in an outdoor lanai. A tropical rain came straight down. Delores was in a colorful sundress, blond hair nicely up; I wore a blazer and a silk tie. Everyone else wore the same filthy togs they’d arrived in from the airport. Humidity soaked into our clothing. The fare was prawns, rice, a green vegetable (seaweed, I think), and lukewarm white wine. Everything tasted exactly the same – peppery-hot and vaguely curry-ish.

The morning brought fried plantains, thick french toast, and harsh black coffee. Delores settled down on the beach with a book while I took off on a run through the soft tepid surf. Immediately, a native girl accosted me. “You want aloe massage?” she smiled. I demurred. “What is-a-you wife-name?” she pressed. Stupidly, I replied, “Dolly. Wh.. ?) She was gone before I could think, and I continued along the shoreline. I came to a village, probably Negril, and a sort of market on the beach.

Tie-dye tee shirts, Red Stripe beer, tourist junk. One puzzlement: I had no idea why they would be selling mushrooms on a beach.

When I got back to Delores, she said these dread-locked girls kept coming by. ‘Hello, Do-ley,’ they would say. ‘You want aloe massage?’ She said, “How did they know my name?” I told her. I asked, what did you say? Delores replied, “I told them no and to get the hell off our beach.”

Glistening with Coppertone and sweat, we reclined on beach towels and squinted at a blue-green sea under a cloudless sky. “Beautiful,” I said.

Delores glanced at me. “Almost as nice as…”

“Yep,” I mumbled, “… a day on Lake Michigan.” We watched the ragged parade of natives crisscross between us and the ocean-sea. “But more crowded.”

Still, the tropical paradise wasn’t through with us.
Onward.

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[To be continued...]

Next, Part Two: Fight or Flight.