The descent to the beach filled me with the same anticipation I felt as a child, scurrying down the stairs on Christmas morning. My arrival there did not go unnoticed, even before I was halfway down, my presence caused a bit of a stir out on the jetty. I saw before me, fat golden lions, basking in the opulent sunshine. Some stirred gently, some to observe the small gathering of the ever present hyaenas, and what aroused their attention. They slid down off the rocks of the jetty, shuffled along the waters edge, eager for my appearance. Perhaps I, a newcomer, will have a morsel to share before finding my place among the luxuriating mass.
They were always there, moving from one end of the beach to the other, usually in a loosely woven group, finding a suitable perch, an observation post which allowed them to monitor the comings and goings of each and every creature who cared to partake in the sun worshiping ritual. Always tuned into the opportunity for personal gain. The jetty seemed the most appealing to them, not far from their marks, and from out at the end, a better view of the thoroughfare leading down to the water. They’d set themselves, scattered among the rocks, appearing disassociated from the beach activity, yet constantly, artfully discreet, surveying the surrounding site. Their eyesight and awareness was incredible, often using sign language to communicate with a crony up on the rise.
When approached, one would tend to hesitate, instantly become cautious, because they would usually come on as a pack, one…two, then immediately another and then again maybe another… one you weren’t even aware, was even there. They could easily disarm and intimidate you, but if you stopped to listen and look, it was obvious that they were harmless. All they desired was anything you were willing to give up, and as much as you were willing to give. Their pitch bordered more on begging than actual salesmanship. It was as if they considered it your obligation to trade with them, to give them what they wanted in exchange for what they were offering. They were most friendly, and extremely anxious the show off their wares. There were handfuls of beaded necklaces, bracelets, wood carvings of various degrees of quality and intricacy, shells and items which seemed to appear and just as quickly disappear, with just a mien of disapproval. From what appeared to be a snarled tangle of beads, a single string could be extracted in seconds with the nimbleness and dexterity of a heart surgeon. They would accept rejection with dignity, and not be shy about approaching again later.
With your eyes shut, back to the water, you knew if the beach pack was approaching, especially if they were upwind. Their presence was always earmarked by a certain odor, not at all an offensive one, but sort of like a pungent incense, or some type of sweet smelling burning herb. It brought back a smell from my youth, a smell that (back then) I hoped that my parents wouldn’t recognize. It was similar to advertising via the olfactory method, like strolling past a busy steakhouse on a Saturday evening.
Always, in the comforting shade, would be a pair of uniformed overseers, ready to step in and assure the wary that a controlling factor was not far away. Occasionally, they would stroll towards the pack, and ask them to move along, There would be good natured banter between them, rattling of handcuffs, prodding with a baton, and responses of outstretched arms accompanied with pleading looks of innocence. It was never determined where the uniformed patrol acquired their authority, but their job appeared to be that of mediator, security, and the slightest look of desperation would bring them to your side, refereeing, and coaching the adversary back to his corner. At times, they would amble over, within earshot, and if the conversation did not sound menacing or intrusive, they chose to keep their distance. I wasn’t always sure that their job was only to keep the venders at bay, but perhaps, to also discourage anything that may not be exactly kosher.
It was one of the most interesting yet unique forms of entertainment I have ever encountered. I was held in total fascination with being a part of this saga. Some chose to abruptly retreat to the safety of the inner compound, never to return, some would apprehensively attempt to rejoin the herd, and there were those who totally ignored the goings on, and still others would jump right in and find their part in the play.