Babylon by Bus: In Closing the Trip Home(REVISITED)

The strange sound of the Abeng horn was echoing through the town as Sergio and I lay in bed and just stared across the room at each other with wide grins. This was our last morning in Jamaica, and Marshall, in his own way, was letting everyone know that his new friends were leaving today. Sergio and I took turns using the outdoor privy and the zinc shower enclosure as we prepared to pack for our return trip. We were not leaving for the airport until around noon as our flight was scheduled to leave about 5:00pm and the ride over the mountains takes less than three hours.

Once packed, Sergio and I went down the road into town to say goodbye to the new friends we had made in such a short time. We had brought ten disposable cameras with us on the trip but had four cameras remaining unused so we passed them out when we arrived. We now went around collecting them so we could process the film for the people and mail back the pictures. We encouraged them to take pictures of their children, houses and sights they were most proud of and we showed them and their children how to use the cameras. We had such an enthusiastic response, that I now take several on every trip!

Colonel Rowe was waving to us from up the road so Sergio and I excused ourselves and walked up to meet him. He asked us to please have breakfast with him and his family and we graciously accepted. While waiting for breakfast to be served, Colonel Rowe pulled out a scrapbook/photo album and began to tell us about all the articles and pictures it contained. I hate to have people put me throughout this agony at home but this was something special as some of the articles dated to the late 1920’s. The pictures came from around the same time when Colonel Rowe’s father began the collection. The most prized photograph was one with Colonel Rowe’s father and the late Marcus Garvey taken in New York as the “Back To Africa” movement was being planned. We had a wonderful breakfast of johnny cakes, ackee and salt fish and fried plantains while we talked about the Maroon Culture and the area where Sergio and I lived in the United States. We thanked the Colonel and his family for all their hospitality as the Colonel stamped and signed our passports and then we bid them all a fond farewell. Sergio and I continued our walk around the community as we stopped and paid our respects to all the wonderful people we had met. We went to E.G.’s store and hung out with her and her family. She brewed us a cup of Milo and we had a spirited game of dominoes until Marshall and Orel, our driver, drove up and came over to the table.

Marshall suggested we start out a little early so he could show us some places on the way to Montego Bay. We agreed, grabbed our bags, and got into Orel’s car for the trip. Marshall asked if we would mind going to Quick Step first as he needed to see a cousin who was a furniture maker and we said that of course we would not. Marshall went on to explain that he worked cutting hardwoods like mahogany and blue mahoe for his cousin to convert into chairs, tables and headboards to sell in a Kingston furniture store. We drove up the narrow, rutted road to Quick Step where maybe forty or so people live in a small community rarely visited by outsiders. Marshall told Orel to park next to a large pile of sawdust coming down a chute from a building where we heard the whirl of machinery. We entered the building where Marshall’s cousin had engineered a ripsaw to cut rough lumber from the logs Marshall supplied. Beside the saw was a crude planer to surface the sides and flat surfaces of the rough cut planks. A lathe was busily spinning with a four-by-four post that would soon become a leg for the ornate bed frame he was constructing. Marshall introduced Sergio and me to his cousin. His cousin took us into a small storeroom where he showed us several bed frames and tables he was finishing for shipment to customers in the United States and Canada.

Now I learned the reason for Marshall wanting to stop as we loaded two tables on to the roof of Orel’s car to take to Montego Bay to ship for him. I always admired how people pulled together to help each other make a living in such a difficult economy and the Maroons do just that! What a sight we were in a lime-green Toyota with two dining room tables on the roof! We left the secondary road and headed out on the main road toward Montego Bay. As we crested the top of a hill, Marshall asked Orel to pull over as he bid us to get out of the car for a moment. Upon exiting, Sergio and I saw why we stopped as Marshall pointed to the canyons and hills in the distance and a wedge of blue Caribbean between the two most distant peaks.

Marshall said that what we were seeing was a beach area in Trelawney about 20 miles away. We got back into the car and proceeded towards Montego Bay passing through Jericho, Mount Horeb and other towns with biblical sounding names as we began the slow, winding descent into civilization. I looked back at Marshall and Sergio in the back seat each looking out their respective rolled down windows. I thought about how I had become so close to each of them in such a short time. That made me smile. We entered Montego Bay on the west end out by the shipping pier and started heading into town. I was glad when Orel needed to stop downtown to see a gal he knew as this was where the story began.

I now looked at all the hustle and bustle in a completely different way. I actually invited the intimate contact that these higglers provided. I realized I was already getting homesick and did not want to go. We wound our way along the “Hip Strip” and watched the tourists and wondered if they were having a good time too. We wanted everyone to have the time we were having! We pulled into Sangster Airport and Orel popped the bonnet so we could grab our packs. This was the moment I dreaded the most, saying goodbye to a good friend. Marshall reached out and hugged us both and invited us back to stay with him anytime we were on the island and we promised. We paid Orel for the trip and he shook our hands and offered his car anytime we needed it as well and we thanked him very much.

Sergio and I hefted our packs onto our backs and turned around to wave a final goodbye. We walked towards the electronic doors that held back the cool air conditioning that we no longer wanted or needed, when someone yelled, “Bill and Sergio!” There was Derrick Byron from Port Antonio leaning against the building with the 3′ Rasta carving I had so admired in his shop. I had promised to buy it for $90 US if he brought it to the airport and there he was! He rose from the sidewalk and shook our hands. He had wrapped the carving in a protective piece of brown paper and plastic that had my name scrawled on the outside. I had a $100 US bill that I carry in case of emergency and I gave it to Derrick. He said he could get change at the taxi area but I caught his arm and said “No problem, mon!” He grinned broadly and thanked us both very much and bid us a safe trip. We took our packs and the carving and passed through the doors into a different world. Yes, it was Jamaica, mon! No Problem!!

Respect Bill Evans

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