Miami Beach is a place one shouldn’t venture at night. People often sleep in trees and military usually monitor the area packing some pretty heavy artillery. As I made my way from the beach, I noticed two men that were sitting directly in front of me. One, I had met previously - I regarded him as harmless though I was still a little distressed by the situation, as my imagination went wild. The other man was brown-skinned with blond dread-locks and his bare, weathered feet were visible beneath the ensuing darkness. After a few moments, I realized that he was 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. ‘Vagrant’ is what 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 for it! 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 my nerves were dancing like jitterbugs to the sounds of Elvis. I was hypersensitive 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 an equal attitude that 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 said with a forced smile. “Walk with me.”
The man rose, my same height, and I thought that was good at least. “Follow me,” I croaked, and I started to walk. He was 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 that 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, which gave me time to think. We pulled up a seat and with dirty hands he sat down a tattered bag and a spear gun. I handed him 30 dollars and 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 that 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’t gone 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 that, 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; sometimes things are never what they seem to be.
From British Columbia, Kelly Little is a Socio-cultural anthropology major. She is a former newspaper reporter/photographer, now turned freelance. She discovered that she was an explorer at heart and is now a traveling gypsy. She leaves no stone unturned when it comes to experiencing life. Visit Kelly's at: http://1life196countries.wordpress.com.