Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I Heard It Through The SeaGrape Vine

"Yuh lookin fi Peter, right?"

I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at him. His face looked familiar but how could it be, really? I'd been to Jamaica just once before, a month earlier, and didn't recall meeting him. He was tall and thickly built, his skin an inky black, and his sun-bleached dreads gathered high up at the back of his head. I had no idea who he was. But he knew me.

I nodded, yes, I was hoping to find Peter.

"Yuh jess miss him, gwan and check pon di beach, check fi him at Club Kokua."

I stared at him. He smiled slowly and said, "Yuh nah remembah mi?" Nope. But there was something kind and gentle in his face, I knew he was just trying to help me out. I thanked him, and walked out of Xtabi on the cliffs, and hailed a taxi back to the beach. I was mystified.

I'd spent only one week in Jamaica on my first visit and let Peter know I was coming back, we planned to link up. I wasn't sure where I would be staying and so counted on the small-town nature of Negril to make sure our paths crossed. These were the days before every Negrilian carried a cell phone in their pocket, these were the days when nobody needed a phone to get a message out or to find a friend. And these were the days when everybody knew everybody's business -- or at least thought they did.

It was many years later, after Peter and I were married, our eldest daughter was two years old and we were expecting our second child, that I re-told this story to Cleveland. We'd become good friends over the years and he always spent time with us when we returned to the island. He smiled and nodded, yes, he remembered seeing me step onto the terrace at Xtabi and searching the crowd. He remembered me and knew Peter was looking for me, too.

That day was one of many that made me realize what a small town Negril could be and how closely people pay attention to who you are and how you move and how very tough it can be to slink below the radar.

Cleveland motioned me to follow him as he stepped off the verandah, away from the crowd that always gathered at our cottage. He walked slowly across the grass and stopped, pulling his wallet out from his back pocket. He pulled two, slightly worn color photographs from deep within it's folds and handed them to me. One was of a dark-haired, smiling girl with coffe-color skin. She looked to be about 4 or 5, and the other was a very young baby, clearly the other's sister, with a shock of black hair on a tiny wizened face.

"These are my dawtas," smiled Cleveland. I was stunned.

"What?? I had NO idea you had kids, Cleveland. They are beautiful. Peter never told me you had kids."

Cleveland kissed his teeth -- "He nu know 'bout dem." Stunned again. Peter, one of his closest friends, didn't know Cleveland had kids? How could that be?

"Their mom live in the States, mi know her lang time, he know she. But mi no tell everybody 'bout mi bizness." He then permitted me to share the pictures with everyone else and happily soaked up the delighted responses and smiles they elicited from the group.

So, I wondered, why tell me? And why now? He'd sure manged to guard that secret for a long time and from a lot of people. The SeaGrapevine never picked up that scrap of news.

I think because we were so happily returning to Jamaica with our daughter, who brought such joy and laughter wherever we went, and with a second child on the way, it gave Cleveland pause.

He'd mastered the art of subverting Negril's CIA-like informers, the SeagGrapevine that carried everybody's stories up and down the beach. But at what cost? Thankfully, he'd paid the price long enough and finally found the pleasure of sharing his secrets.

Well, maybe at least one of them.........

I Heard It Through The Sea Grape Vine
Ink and watercolor on paper
Print available here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lovely story to capture more of a fine illustrated portrait! Beautiful. I'm drawn :-)
Love Debra x