Ahhhh yes, mid marning Sunday on the island. No hustling to get to work, no traffic, no loud chatter of people, no loud music. Yes man, it is a good time to take a walk. Watch the small fishing boats bob in the water, sit on the edge of the side walk and dangle your feet into the clear ocean, watch the fish glitter in the morning sunlight, listen to the church bells chime in the city, watch a group of children diving off the concrete jetty, here the stevedores sing as they begin to load the banana boat. Sit there and daydream about the destination of the great ship until its lunch time. Walk up the cobble stones alley back to your house, past the Catholic church and hear the haunting melody of hymns. Stop at the bottom of the concrete steps and smell the food. Close your eyes and take a mental picture of the Sunday morning scenery you just left.
It is early morning, like 2am, I had just came back from the local rumshop, not drunk, just tired from running around. I opened the door and walked into the living room. I did not turn the light on for fear of waking Mommy Charles up. I was breaking one of her rules, never come in after midnight. I struggled ti take my shoes off in the dark, hopping around making more noise than I wanted to. I stumped my foot on the centre table, hissed a little, my toes throbbing with pain. I shushed myself and listened, no Mommy Charles. I tiptoed towards the kitchen, got to the door and stopped, took a deep breath. Looks like mommy Charles had gone into the garden in the back yard and picked some fresh bananas. I closed my eyes and inhaled. I loved the smell of fresh, ripe bananas, reminded me of going up to the countryside to visit family. Ahhh that smell permeated the village.Standing there in the dark, it felt like i was standing in the middle of a plantation, a slight breeze sweeping through it, the banana leaves whistling a little, goats bleated somewhere in the dark, an own hooted in the nearby mango tree. I stood there, hypnotized by my imagination and the scent of the bananas. Suddenly it was bright. i opened my eyes and looked down at the bowl of bananas. I felt as if someone was looking at me. I slowly turned around and I came face to face with an angry Mommy Charles. I should have gone straight to bed and not get emtranced by the scent of those bloody bananas.
Ohh me brudda, somewhere on the island someone is eating some real ital. Oh yes, i can smell it now, peas, plantains, yams, avocados, salfish, green bananas, dumplings, sweet potatoes. Oh lord, me belly rumbling now. Nothing like an island meal that taste exquisite and fills you up at the same time
This me friends would be a most excellent supper. What with the sweet potatoes, green figs (bananas), okros, (okras), maybe some eddoes, dumplings and whatever meat you like, simmered down in some coconut milk with just a taste of pepper to tickle the pallets. You can sit on your porch as the sun sets and 2atch the village drunk stumble into his girlfriends house, listen to the reggae music playing in the club on the other side of the hill. Ahhh yes, nothing was ever better than a hot plate of oil down, chased down with a tall glass of passion fruit while you watch the golden day turn into a silver moon lit night.
Oh here we go, I guess I should start swinging from tree to tree, eat a banana, scratch me bum, jumping up and down barking just to entertain all yuh eh? Well how bout dis nah? How bout I turn round and shake me bum at yuh eh? Yuh can come as close as yuh want, I dare yuh, stand under de tree, yeah right dey, yuh face go be de bulls eye. Oh how bout I throw de banana at yuh, yuh could eat it, after all, all yuh humans and dem act more like wild monkeys dan I do. How would yuh like to get wet, eh? A little monkey rain would be good for yuh. Jus consider it a gifr from all me monkey friends and dem. Now go away, leave me alone, even monkeys need we privacy yuh know.
Down by the river
Where the water trickles through the shiny rocks
I heard them singing
They voices echoing through the Nutmeg plantation
Floated with the wind
Up the hillside
And through the banana cove
I heard the melody
Now enhanced by a loud slapping noise
The wind became still
And I hear the river.
Rushing through the rocks
I followed the sound
Through the rows of banana plants
Parting the sea of big green leaves
Down the mud path
Slipping and sliding on the loose dirt
Out of the forest
On the river bank
Women and children
labouring our mounds of wet cloths
Slapping them against the rock
The rhythm like an old time spiritual
Some of the women were humming
One woman singing
A verse of hard living
In the forest where the clouds hang over the mountain
And parrots fly colourful against the grey
And the Spicer Monkeys swing from tree to tree
The stream sparkle as the sun fights through, just for a second
And the rain drenched mud sticks to your feet
And the early morning dew lands on your face
Cold against your warm skin
The scent of nutmeg, cinnamon and bananas fills the air
And you close your eyes so all you do is feel and smell
At that moment, for the first time, you truly feel like part of this universe
Round mid afternoon I took a long cold shower, got dressed and went out to the small shed at the side of me house opened the wooden door and went inside. Covered under a large tarpaulin was my Yamaha bike, I pulled the cover off and dust flew into the air causing sneeze, the metallic black body glittered as the sun came through the doorway and bounced off of it, man, I loved this bike I spent many of days straddled on the leather seat riding round the island. I climbed onto the soft seat pushed down on the crank and maneuvered the machine to the front yard rode through the gate stopping as two cars drove by, damn drivers acted like they did not see me. Carefully I pulled in behind them and rode down the graveled road small stones popping out from under the wheels as I sped up.
There were lots of cars on the road as workers rushed to get home, Saturday meant they only had to work half day and people wanted to get home to start the weekend partying. Despite the narrow streets, the large potholes and the pedestrians, the drivers were extremely patient honking their horns to greet each other. Most cars on the island back then were British made. Morrises and those bloody annoying mini cars would zoom by like mice running from a cat. Calypso music blared from the mini busses as they competed to pick up as many passengers as they could.
The traffic thinned out as I got further into the county side, the roads narrowed out even more making it impossible for two cars to go by at the same time, sharp turns made it seem like I had turned round and was going back the way I came. I had ridden this road many of times when I visited me grandmother, she had moved back to the plantation after me Grandfather died to live the rest of she life in peace on the land she family owned. There were always something spiritual bout these country roads, I mean; the air was filled with the scent of bananas, spices, sugar cane and tropical mud, I slowed down and began to appreciate the scenery round me.
On the left side of the road I looked down on a mountainside of banana trees rustling in the wind, despite the sharp decline they stood in perfect rows like soldiers on parade day, the space between the trees left enough room for the farmers to go through and pick the large bunches of bananas, man, I tell you what, me mouth started to water right away just thinking bout them ripe bananas. There was a break in the uniformity as the wind swept through the hillside causing the big green leaves to whip round. I saw small drains in the muddy surface a result of the heavy rains earlier in the month. Some of the trees sagged to the side and the farmer used sticks to prop them up, voices of the farm workers echoed in the valley as they made their way through the field cutting down the bananas.
On the other side of the road Nutmeg and Cocoa trees went up the hillside as far as the eyes could see the spicy aromor lingered in the air leaving a sweet taste in me mouth. The Cocoa pods that hung off the trees made me think of me mother, she grew up on great Grandmother’s plantation and always had stories bout helping work in the fields, she used to try to get me to work there on the weekends but manual labour and I was no friend. There was some mist at the top of the hill creating a bluish tint against the green leaves, the cool late afternoon breeze brushed off me face causing me shirt to flutter like a homemade kite in an Easter wind.
I heard a vehicle backfire so I turned me attention back to the road, I got as close to the edge of the asphalt as I could, but that still did not prepare me for the police land rover that came round the corner, them bastards must have been going bout eighty miles an hour or something because the five or so policemen inside were hanging on for they lives. The rover was not in the best shape at all, I mean, the bloody thing was tilted to the right and the wheels were so askew I could tell the driver was having a hard time controlling the deathtrap. They must have seen the look on me face because I heard them laugh as the heap of metal went round the corner behind me, ignorant Bobbies, somebody should arrest them fools. I pulled onto the road and even though I was shaking a little continued on.
I came up on some houses so I slowed down, there were some boys playing cricket in the middle of the road they had stopped the game and were arguing over a bad call, one of the boys holding the bat and another one was trying to take it away from him. They were so engrossed in their argument they did not hear the roar of me bike as it came up on them, I was about three feet from them before they scampered out of the way and onto the embankment at the side of the road. They shouted at me as I went by, bloody little hooligans, good thing they were not me pupils because I would have given them a good lashing. I looked over me shoulder and saw that they had resumed they argument, the two boys were now rolling round on the road each clinching to the bat screaming at each other in that country boy slang, the other boys were trying their best to get them apart.
I turned me attention back to the street just in time to see a shadow in front of me, I squeezed hard on the breaks me back wheel dancing wildly on the uneven road and it took all me skills to get the machine under control. I came to an abrupt stop almost falling over the damn handlebar, an old man sat majestically on he donkey like a Victorian king on he favorite mare, he shirt and pants were stained with the juices from the bananas he worked with all day, he stared at me no expression on he wrinkled face at all. Neither of us said a word, we just sat there looking at each other he eyes squinted, it was a stalemate and by the expression on he face I knew he was not about to give ground.
“Do you know where Alison live?” I asked not that I thought he would know but mainly to break the uneasy silence. He shook he head from side to side puzzled at me question. The hum of the bike echoed through the valley, a flock of birds swooped down off the mountain and flew over we head. He glanced up to the hills then looked back at me then he lifted a mud caked hand and used it to block the sun. He weather beaten face was still expressionless, but yet, you could see the years of experience running through every line on he face. I knew a lot of men like him, well seasoned with hard work life a constant struggle to keep the family farm running, poor fella, the slow but eminent economic change was destroying he livelihood. He raised he hand and pointed, I did not say anything I just maneuvered me bike round him and rode off.
The potholes in the road were the biggest I had ever seen in me whole damn life, bloody government, would it have killed them to fix the stinking roads? The bike bounced round as I tried me best to maneuver through the maze.
I rode for bout five miles passing small wooden houses on the way, they all had concrete steps leading to colourful doors they verandas almost as big as the houses themselves. On most of them, men sat in Bamboo chairs round tables playing dominoes or drinking sugar cane rum, arguments would erupt over whose turn it was next, they voices carrying through the hills and across the rolling plantations.
The road abruptly changed into a mud path and I almost lost control of the damn bike. The sun disappeared behind the large mango trees that lined the path, damn it, now I had to ride through large holes filled with water and me shoes was now soaked down to me frigging socks. The late afternoon sun was turning into a dull yellow orange causing visibility to be almost impossible, soon darkness engulfed the path as the trees and bushes became thicker and I had to turn on me headlight. Dogs barked up ahead and I was concerned because I was afraid of them infernal animals.
As I rounded a corner and came upon three houses that sat on a hillside they formed a perfect triangle against the dark green backdrop. The sun seeped through the trees giving me better lighting, the two houses higher up on the hill were painted in conservative colours of gray with red and green roofs. There were no fences round them, but they boundaries were distinct where grass gave way to shrubbery at the edge of the yards, yard fowls clucked as they fought for scraps of food, pigs squealed as they moved round in they pens. I turned off the bike and sat there looking at the houses the silence was real eerie man, where the hell was all the people?
If I had it to do all over, I may have stayed on the island, live in a small village, eat tropical fruit in the early morning, swim in the crystal blue ocean at mid day, watch the sun set in late afternoon, get lost in the full moon, fall asleep to the rain hitting the tin roof, fall in love and stay in love, run barefoot through the banana plantations, dance to the sound of Obeah drums, if i could do it all again, if i could do it all again