I've always had a soft spot for Flash. We've had our squabbles, our out-right wars, but in the end we know that we're stuck with one anudda. He's my brother-in-law. And after 15 years I think we've finally settled in to an easy, warm friendship.
And Flash has also become a steady fixture at our cottage when we spend time in Jamaica. Much to Rudy's dismay.
Although Flash lives in the family yard in Sav La Mar, he is often stationed on Negril beach, "a werk 'im a werk". Lord knows where he sleeps at night. All I know is that when I get up early in the morning to make myself some coffee, Flash is already out on our verandah, heating up a pot of water for morning tea or cleaning callaloo for our breakfast. Rudy, on the other hand, will still be asleep on a beach chair that he'd drawn up in the shade, still wearing his shoes.
They each adore Peter, the definite alpha male of the larger community of bredren. They are his foot soldjahs and, I think, silently vie for top lieutenant status. Ok, well maybe just reaching the rank of Corporal is the most they can hope for. In typical yardie fashion, each receives a verbal bashing at full volume for the slightest infraction -- not setting the fire right, not cleaning the pots thoroughly, not sweeping the verandah first thing -- the list is endless, perfection is always beyond their grasp, at least in the eyes of their commander.
Yet they each know they will be well cared for under the commander's watch -- food in their belly, the occasional fresh shirt, jeans or new shiny boots hurled at them when they least expect it or the invitation to hop in The Unit for a drive to 'town. Life is fresh and exciting when we come to visit and they don't want to miss a moment.
But they still have to "werk."
One morning, a fellow guest at the Whistling Bird was up at the bar getting coffee. Rudy overheard her complain of an itchy skin condition, whether it was from sun or bug bites, I can't quite recall. Seeing an opportunity to assist AND earn, Rudy offered to make her up a special Natural Salve to cure her ills. She gratefully accepted. Rudy hustled back to our cottage and asked Flash if he knew how to whip up some special Aloe and what-have-you concoction for the specified ailment.
Flash, after all was the real country man who knew the how-to's of bush medicine, and Rudy, well, Rudy was more of the advance man, as it were. Flash offered his own suggestions and went about collecting the appropriate bush with which to make the medicine. He whipped up the salve, in a gooey aloe base, poured it into a jar and gave it to Rudy. Flash went back to working on our breakfast while Rudy casually strolled back up to the beach front.
You can see where this is heading.
Rudy helped the woman apply "his" miracle medicine. It provided much relief and the woman graciously offered Rudy 500 jays, a little less than ten bucks. A werk 'im a werk, every dollah helps.
And Flash felt the same way. Flash is no fool, it didn't take him long to figure out that Rudy was sure to come into some cash for the miracle medicine and he wanted his cut. That's when the fireworks began. A cut of ten dollars may not seem like much to you or me, but to the hardscrabble hustle on Negril beach, that is apparently something worth fighting for.
The shouting and the cursing escalated, the "bumbaclaats" lobbed back and forth, followed by threats, insults, the usual. The melee traveled out to the beach front of the property and, unfortunately, dear Jim, the owner of the Whistling Bird, finally had to step in. He's always been gracious about accommodating the cluster of bredren that typically spend time on our doorstep throughout our stay. They, in turn try not to step on any toes or hassle the guests.
Except for that day.
And the shouting and yelling and overall carrying on was beyond the pale. When it threatened to turn violent, it frightened the other guests. And remember, this was all about splitting ten dollars. Who deserved it, the hustling salesman, without whom there would not have even been a sale? Or the knowledegable bush doctor, without whom there would not have been a cure? It's not for me to say.
I'd gladly give them each ten bucks to just be quiet and stop them from pummeling one another or drawing blood. But this was Jamaican male turf and I knew better than to stick my nose into the middle of their business.
Thankfully, in every Jamaican tragedy, there often lurks some comedy. A bit of black humor, as I saw it. Jim later told me, after sending both men on their way, unbloodied but with the issue still unresolved, "One was waving a knife, and the other was swinging a plastic soda bottle."
He sighed and shook his head, "It just wasn't a fair fight."
Soldjahs in jah's army, still Privates, first class.
4"x6" ink and watercolor on paper.Purchase a print of this painting here.