It was a long and arduous journey from Kingston to my home town, I wound down my window to take in the cool breeze of the early evening, only to be greeted by the unpleasant bouquet from the Palisedoes shore line. Even still the view remained breath-taking. The sea crashed against the rocks, leaving behind a white foam as the waves rolled backwards, sea stones gently rocked from the force of the surf but the wind against my face blanketed the sounds of the sea’s watery melody. I sucked in my breath, childishly blowing my cheeks into mounds, allowing the sea breeze to air-condition my body and blow dry my hair as it lay fixed to my scalp with perspiration.
We soon approached Down Town Kingston, it was a mismatch of old and new buildings interspersed between one another. It had always been a bane in my mind, it should have remained dominated by older buildings in keeping with history. It seemed some ‘Worldlians’ landed upon our shores and indoctrinated their ideals upon the less knowledgeable leading to its ruination. I never liked driving through the area, I cringed when the vehicle came to a traffic stop. Its appearance made me feel closed in under the heights of some the surrounding buildings and the roads seamed to narrow under their darkness. I felt weary, my watery eyes battled with my eyelids, I yawned several times over, jet lag championed as my eyes slowly succumbed to sleep.
I later stirred, inhaling, as the smell of fried fish and the sweet smoky aromas from jerk pans scattered along the road sides, enveloped my nostrils. We were in the town of Old Harbour. I looked at my watch, it was five forty-five in the evening, traffic stood still, there were momentary creeps of no more than a snail’s pace at a time. The drive through the town of Old Harbour around this hour always proved treacherous. There were pedestrians weaving carelessly in and out of lines of traffic, loaded hand carts appearing from every avenue, mini buses coasting along with conductors jumping in front of oncoming vehicles touting for fares. The taxi stands were crowded by a mix of weary workers and school children clad in uniform, waiting to make their homeward journey, drivers flashed their hands fanned with Jamaican dollars, seeking custom with empty taxis being rushed upon with fervour. From the corner of my eye I could see taxis being entered even before the existing passengers alighted or the moving vehicle came to a halt. I smiled, as I thought of my favourite ‘go to’ nibble, sardines in a can, when I glimpsed four seat passenger vehicles escorting a party of six or more passengers. At least sardines had oils to ease their burden. The overrun taxis extremities looked as if they would chafe under the heavy overload of passengers, in addition to car boots full of wares. There were scatterings of vendors yet to close their stalls, beckoning to prospective customers as they passed through, awaiting the last sales of the evening. The streets were heavily sprinkled with discarded objects, left behind by pedestrians, the earlier market and road side traders. Though I disliked the drive through Old Harbour I was mesmerised by the urban thoroughfare of the town, as it bustled into the darkness of the evening.
Finally traffic eased bringing us to the outskirts of the town of Sandy Bay, in the Parish of Clarendon. I often wondered why it was named as such then it hit home that there must have been some kind of beach or sea near by but I never felt keen enough to question it. Clarendon was a dry parish, the Jamaican Sahara, it reminded me of a deserted town in the Wild West, with mini tornadoes of dry sand like soil blowing every where. The Parish seemed to have been lost in a drought with the loss of the Jamaica Railway Corporation some years earlier. Apart from the makeshift honey and molasses stalls that strung the roadways and stray dogs with protruding rib cages, dotting our course, there was hardly anyone around. As we drove by I spotted a slender woman, bronzed as the evening’s sun pelted down on her skin, her red-brown hair tinged with white dust from the billows of dust clouds that moved around her. Clarendon appeared to be a cultural desert, maybe the hour meant most people had retired to the comfort of their homes. My mouth felt dry, I rolled my tongue to awaken my saliva. I was thirsty.
“Can we stop to get something to drink?” I enquired. The driver replied “Yeah Man! But Of course Miss, we can stop when we reach a Porus.”
Porus was in the Parish of my home-town, Manchester, so named because of the porous soil. I grew up believing the story that the name Porus was somehow related to the newly freed slave lamentations of ‘ Poor us!’ spurred on by the poor conditions freedom had brought them. The town had narrow winding roads and deep corners, if you were not careful you could get stuck behind drivers of heavily loaded articulated lorries. It was rare for you to come across a lorry driver who would kindly wave you past or one that kept left, they firmly held their ground, menacing you into a slow crawl behind them. Porus was a fruitful town. Fresh produce stalls edged the streets, bags of oranges and grey tarnished grapefruit, star apples of purple and green neatly tied into bunches, the yellow flesh of ackees with their distinctive oval black seeds popped out of their red coats, hands of plantains and bananas summoned and green spiky jack fruits hung in huge abundance. Once sliced a jack fruit’s pungent smell could turn you off one of the sweetest fruits, the yellow flesh of the fruit housed seeds which could serve as an additional meal when boiled or roasted. Fruity purples, yellows, greens and orange hues popped out at you from nearly every corner, a truly refreshing sight.
We slowed to stop at a tiny road side bar. I hopped out of the car, rubbed my aching knees, then headed arm in arm with my grandmother, into a small, dark but quaint little bar. The barmaid beamed at the sight of us, I drank in every little sight within. My eyes darted over the triangular-shaped display with dark brown bottles of Dragon Stout neatly lined beside the slightly darker shaded bottles of Guinness, on the shelf below sat the fat stocky orangey-brown bottles of Red Stripe Beer with their distinct red and white labels and beside them, the one that stood out from the crowd, the green and white of the long-necked Heineken bottle. There was an empty glass and a half empty bottle of J Wray and Nephew White Over-proof Rum perched on the counter, signs of an earlier evening tipple. Our driver brought over a couple of wooden stools, I perched one bottom cheek upon one of the stools and outstretched my other foot for balance. I hadn’t been in a bar with my Grandmother since I was little. I used to walk with her to Miss Mavis’s Bar, not far from our home to buy the odd packet of cigarettes. She hadn’t smoked since her younger sister died from cancer a few years back. It showed on her, she had replaced her ten or so a day smoking habit to mint balls which increased her waist line and cleavage. I was handed an ice-cold bottle of D & G Cola Champagne Soda, Nan had remembered, it was one of my favourites. I gulped my first authentic taste of the island after three years, my Jamaican drought was finally over, as it’s bubbles played with my tongue and saturated my throat. Life was good.
© 2015 ANL