It was a lazy afternoon in Barbados after a morning of filming kite-surfing at Brian Talma’s Surf Club in Silver Sands on the South Coast. A few rum punch at Miami Beach in Oistin’s seemed a fitting way to end the day. Foam and surf were licking the shore line with mellow reverence as I enjoyed the company of some friends from Europe who would be leaving the country soon. They were merely on a vacation unlike my stay-cation, and they were sad to go. The afternoon sky turned to amber and we said our goodbyes, echoed by the mournfulcoo of doves that skittered under our picnic table searching for scraps of fish cakes. Waving farewell and standing to stretch my legs I realized the rum truly did pack a punch!
Dusk settled over the park as feathery branches of the Cassarina trees seemed to whisper caution, but I was drunk and sweaty and wanted to freshen up before the walk home. As so easily happens when one is in a place of pleasure, time slips away on the waves, along with the exotic sounds, smells and common sense. By the time I realized how long I took to ‘freshen-up’, full fledged darkness had consumed the park, shadows were nil, the dark blacker than black and I still needed to walk home.
Miami Beach is a place one shouldn’t venture at night. People sleep in trees and military usually monitor the area packing some pretty heavy artillery. As I made my way from the beach, sitting directly in front of me were two men. One, I had met previous, I regarded him as harmless though I was still a little distressed by the situation and my imagination. The other man was brown skinned with blond dread-locks and bare, weathered feet; a spear fisherman. His blond locks tell-tale of the profession. Time spent underwater and the hair becomes laden with salt, easily bleached by the low lying sun. He was agitated, his eyes locked on mine and the other guy scurried away in a half-shuffle leaving me alone with a street person, vagrants the locals call his type, who exuded nothing but anger.
He started to ramble Bajan dialect thinking I didn’t understand. The Bajan tongue can enunciate words faster than a feral cat can lick up milk. It is sing-song and I love it. But I didn’t love what he was saying. He was complaining, well raging really, that earlier on in the day I had polluted his air-space with my cigarette smoke and I was some kind of bitch! Apparently, unbeknownst to myself, he had been napping under a table behind us. So he knew me, and he waited to see if this moment would arise.
By this time nerves were dancing like jitterbugs to Elvis. I was hyper sensitive and my brain kicked out of panic mode into survival mode. I took a step forward, leaned down to his eye level, pointed an accusing finger in his face and spat out, “Excuse me asshole! I’m pretty fuckin’ sure I breathed in your dope smoke so I think we’re even!” I suppose I figured if I adopted attitude it would (proverbially) either kill me or cure him. The words came forth without forethought and I was merely guessing he smoked pot. I held my breath, he made no move but his chin dropped a little in surprise. I grabbed his hand and gave it a firm shake, “Truce?” I say with a forced smile. “Walk with me.” The man rose, my same height and I thought that good at least. “Follow me,” I croak, and I start to walk. He is now a few steps behind, probably not good. But I’d confused him for the moment, seems I had temporarily rendered him harmless out of curiosity. My mind was reeling with scenarios on how this was going to end. I turned so abruptly he bumped into me and I asked if he would like to share a bottle of rum and some Marlin; I don’t know where that thought came from but I know it saved me grief.
With suspicion now in his eyes he agreed and we headed off to Oistin’s Fish Market, to civilization I was thinking. We pulled up a seat, with dirty hands he set down a tattered bag and a spear gun. I handed him thirty dollars, told him it is all I had and can he get us some rum, coke and some food with that amount? He scurried away like a ghost crab and I wondered for a split second if he had truly even been there. But the shiny tip of his spear reminded me he, and the situation were very real.
As is the norm, eyes are always on you in Barbados. I particularly stand out as I have some large and unique tattoos. As I waited I could hear a rumble of conversation behind me. Men were betting over something. I ignored them until I felt a hand on my shoulder and a voice whisper in my ear, “Baby girl, you know that man you carry here? He ain gine come back, hear?” ”He will,” I determined. And he did. Just as I began to think I was wrong he returned with everything I had asked for, and my change. We ate out of the same container, each drawing forkfuls from the single-serving portion of food that we had subconsciously divided by an invisible line. We polished off the rum and we talked. The food in his belly dispelled his anger and he became pleasant. He then leaned in to me and disclosed he had had intentions of mugging me earlier as he was hungry, and he apologized. He explained he sometimes gets tired of tourists on his island. Many flaunt their wealth while the locals work for a local dollar but have to pay out a tourist dollar to eat. How many won’t even say hello when they pass vagrants on the street but simply turn up their noses.
We gained respect for each other that night and any time I saw him after, I would ask him how he was and buy him a chocolate bar and a coke. At Christmas, while shopping at a local market I ran into him at the checkout and paid for his chicken dinner; which he accepted with tears in his eyes. If ever I needed anything he became my go-to man and my caretaker. It was no longer dangerous for me to be at Miami beach at night. We had both learned a hard fast lesson. A little food, a lot of love and even more respect shared among strangers, goes a long, long way; because things are never what they seem to be. Food for thought.