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.”
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.’