The Subway Ride

Up until five minutes ago, this had been like any other evening after work. She was riding on the subway, on her long and usually quite uneventful ride that took her from the office to a block away from her apartment building. But now, this evening had already become one that would stand out for her. Nothing had happened on the train. There had been no fight, no emergency stop, no lights shutting off. But she had heard something that had shocked her. Something that came from the woman sitting right behind her. Their backs were to each other, but she had heard her voice loud and clear. Perhaps because her voice was so, well, loud and clear.

“I wasn’t surprised at all when I heard that he was Jamaican. What do all Jamaican males do, but shoot and kill? The only thing that surprises me is that he doesn’t have any children that he wasn’t minding. Now that would make him the typical Jamaican man. And so what if he’s mad? If he wasn’t mad, he’d still be doing the same thing.”

It wasn’t that somebody was talking about the DC sniper and implying that his Jamaican heritage had something to do with his crime. Unfortunately, she had heard that sentiment several times since the story had come out. It wasn’t hearing someone talk about Jamaican men as if not one good one existed. She had heard that before as well. It was the fact that the voice was a Jamaican one.

The woman speaking was clearly from Jamaica. The accent was undeniable. She had tried to convince herself at first that maybe the woman was from some other Caribbean island, but how could she mistake the very same accent that she and all her family had? This woman, who was loudly speaking out so negatively about Jamaican men, was herself a Jamaican.

The woman didn’t stop there. “Listen, let me tell you something about Jamaica. Did you know that Jamaica has the highest murder rate in the world? Can you believe that? Ten times the murder rate of the U.S. Something like a thousand people a year get murdered there and it’s less than 3 million people. It’s ridiculous! That’s why so many people leave.”

Her friend mumbled something incoherent. “Yes! There are the same number of Jamaicans living abroad as living in Jamaica. You ever heard anything like that before? And it’s not just because of the crime. The exchange rate is 60 U.S to 1 Jamaican dollar. 60! How can people survive there with those kinds of numbers? All those politicians down there are clearly worthless. But people will kill off themselves for these same foolish politicians. You know that every time there’s national elections, people in Jamaica are killing each other over it?” It was apparent that, whatever else you wanted to say about this woman, she was one to back up her arguments with facts.

“And don’t even get me started on how backwards the people there are. Every song talking about burning batty man or chi chi man. And if not that, then it’s about sex. Why don’t they write a song about getting an education? Or about not letting the Columbians use Jamaica as their drop-off point for all their cocaine? Something that says something sensible.”

Once again, her friend mumbled incoherently. “No, it’s not just marijuana. It was bad enough when that was the only problem. But now it’s cocaine too!” The woman fell silent. Apparently at this point the woman was all talked out, or at least taking a breather.

So now she had to decide what to do. Was she going to sit by quietly and let this woman feel she was totally justified in what she was saying? Was she going to argue with this absolute stranger who would probably come away thinking nothing more than that she was crazy?

But then something clinched it for her. The woman’s incoherent friend finally spoke at a tone that was audible. “Wow,” said the obviously stunned friend, who was clearly a native of this country and not Jamaica. “I had always thought Jamaica seemed like such a cool place. I guess not.”

As a Jamaican, this woman would be viewed by others as an expert opinion, someone who knew all about the country. And she was clearly teaching others that Jamaica was a bad place to come from, and that Jamaican was a bad thing to be.

So she took a deep breath and turned her body around as much as she could in the small subway chair. “Excuse me,” she said quietly at first. As neither of the two turned around, she spoke louder and tapped the woman on her back while doing it. “Excuse me!” Both women turned around, surprised. “For the last I-don’t-know-how-long, I’ve been listening to you talk bad about my country and about your own country. And it may not be my place, but I can’t get off this subway without having my say.

“You talk about all the negative Jamaican men, like one of the snipers. But let’s not forget that the other sniper, the one apparently in charge, was not a Jamaican. And let’s consider the men from Jamaica that don’t fit your little mold. Is Colin Powell a womanizing criminal? What about Michael Lee-Chin?” She saw the woman’s eyebrows start to wrinkle. “Oh, you don’t know who that is? He’s the 19th richest man in Canada, a billionaire who made his money through mutual funds, and yes, a Jamaican.”

She turned her attention to the woman’s friend. “Have you heard of the Manley family? Norman Manley was a great politician that fought for Jamaica’s independence from Britain, and Michael was known worldwide, someone that Jimmy Carter called a true hero when he died. And I have to mention the females in that family. His daughter Rachel is an award-winning author and you just have to see the artwork that Edna Manley produced.”

Now the woman’s friend was smiling, and she could tell that she was making just as much an impression as the woman had.

“As for the music of Jamaica, your friend doesn’t seem to know about Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, Morgan Heritage, Ziggy Marley, Beres Hammond, Dennis Brown…I could go on, and if you’re interested, maybe I’ll write down some names for you.”

She turned back to the woman. “You know so much about the bad side of Jamaica, and I’m not disputing a lot of what you said, but Jamaica has a good side, a wonderful side, and I don’t know how you can deny that.” As she finished her own tirade, she realized that the subway had come to a stop, and that the stop was hers. She stood up and grabbed her bag off of the chair beside her. She had said what she had to say, and didn’t need to get into an argument. Now that she’d gotten her feelings off her chest, she felt light and suddenly unconcerned with this woman who clearly had some issues with fully loving herself.

“Miss,” called out the woman as she was stepping through the doors, somewhat crossly, somewhat contritely, “I love Jamaica too, you know.”

About the author

Nanette Stewart