It was now a week since me and my two sons have arrived in Jamaica and so the three barrels that I had shipped prior to leaving Toronto were ready for clearance at the Custom. It’s always a tantalizing challenge to get to the Wharf and then have them cleared not only within reasonable time, which is to mean the entire antagonizing day, but not ending up paying charges far in excess of the total cost of the merchandises, let alone not tipping every jack- man that set hands on the bill of lading or the barrels. It was in that regard of time consumption and cost savings that I prompted my brother to ask his friend, who is a Custom Officer at the Wharf, to assist in its clearance. I was overjoyed to be told the fellow had agreed to the request.
In a jiffy, I was ready and on my way, armed with all the instructions of where and how to locate the Custom Officer, the bill of lading and couple thousand Jamaican dollars. As I reached my gate, a minivan was passing. A man standing on its step with his shirt tail floating in the mornings’ breeze and whom I presumed to be the conductor, hollered, “Three Miles! Marcus Drive and Down Town Parade!” while pointing his fingers, (monetary bills folded between) in an eastern direction towards Kingston. The van’s appearance confirmed my suspicion that Old Harbour Road, though so early, was already congested with traffic and so the drivers that knew the area well, detoured through Mc Vickers Lane as a bypass of Spanish Town and onto the Mandela High Way.
The Wharf is located off Marcus Garvey Drive. So, for me, this was ideal. There was no need for me to take the trek to the main road to get transportation and so I yelled to the conductor, “Yush! ole dung dey sah.” (Though I can reel off sentences in a row in Standard English without tripping over my tongue, the usage of colloquial expressions has always appealled to me as being patriotic to my heritage. So, I utilized it with frequency, while at the same time, it served to me as a clever disguise of not allowing others to readily detect that I am from abroad.) A perceived safety measure against a perceived possible hold-up as well as not to become a constant alms-giver, yet, on many occasions’ people unknown to me would hail me up as, “Wha y’u a say foreignah!?” How do they know? To this day, I have yet to find out.
Boarding the minivan while it’s in motion, a skill I had acquired from my Kingston College days hopping Big Red (a bus that then plied the route) came in handy. Inside, I was uncomfortably seated next to a woman, who seemed rather oversized, was asleep and snoring. She was dressed in a lily white gown with a black cord tied around her waist, while her hair was rapped with a red cloth with two unsharpened pencils stuck in its loop. My first inclination was that she was a Revivalist, a (Mada-woman). For fear of having her casting a spell upon me, I had to resist the temptation of thinking anything bad about her. Now I shall likewise write not a single word to de-bunk this superstition. Around her neck was a large chain where a crucifix is affix to it. Her big bag that was nestled in her lap and a part of her rump and hip over-hanged on my portion of the seat. Nonetheless, she possessed an attractively spiritual face that complimented and adorned her obese structure. She was of jet black smooth skin tone with a funny odour perfume. (Memba hoe, Noh say me say, but dat smell lakka obeah hile fe real ayah.)
The radio was on. Allan Magnus and Dorian Samuels were hosting the RJR Morning Ride. The two was so hilarious and full of glee, providing an “irie” feeling as they chatted and jived between music, commercials, news, weather and traffic reports.
On one occasion, Allan read an e-mail he’d received from a Jamaican Soldier serving in a battalion of the USA Army-led invasion of Iraq, in which the soldier expresses his delight as well as that of his other fellow Jamaican comrades in arms, in listening to the show every morning from the internet. He stated that it gave them a level vibes and that he, in particular, was homesick and that he was destined to leave the army and return for good to his birthplace in Craig Head, Manchester, Jamaica where his parents still resides.
Allan’s response in true Jamaican dialect was, “Masah, may Gad protect y’u, tan put, an duck wen y’u hear gun a fire and boom a blast, mecase cum ome back to y’u people dem, to hell with Uncle Sam.”
To that, Dorian added her two cents which created an outburst of spontaneous laughter among the passengers, “Yes Soildjie, hurry an cum back a y’u yard yah… an memba carry lickle hile fe mama and some sweet soap.” (Iraq is one of the world’s most leaders in oil production.)
The journey seemed eternity; the seconds seemed like minutes and the minutes, hours as the driver presses gas and brakes to avoid pot holes and accidents. This was reminiscent of a bumper car ride my sons and I had the day before at Hope Gardens. Only this time, the minivan driver was far more skillful than I had no collisions. Along the Mandela Highway with cane fields and pastures on both sides, the place looked lush as the sun beamed its shine upon the land. Birds pecking ticks and other parasites from the backs of grazing cows, horses galloping around and workers tending to crops provided my eyes with a picturesque view to the Blue Mountain backdrop. Nature was all around and the smokes from the vehicles’ engines mingled with the fresh morning air as street vendors traded their wares for cash with commuters from the slow moving motorcade. Along the route, the driver took up and dropped off passengers and finally, it was my time to get off. The numbness in my back-side was nugatory to the strength of my will, and so I rise with astute alertness upon seeing the sign “Custom Blvd,” and shouted to the driver, “Let me aff yah so bossman,” at which the van came to a virtual halt and I existed.
Custom Boulevard was well-paved and cleaned, just like all the other streets I had come across, planted with trees and flowers creating a magnificent decorative sight. It was buzzing with traffic and people and some stray goats. The Boulevard was full of Industrial Buildings and Shipping Customs on both sides and each establishment wall bore the advertisement logo and information of the business conducted inside. Outside the gates of several of those buildings were shacks serving as cook shops to the labor force, one had the mural of Celine Dion; a French Canadian Idol in the world of Pop Music along with various other foreign musical artists. Identifying the Custom Office where my brother’s friend works, was easy, likewise getting a hold of him and no sooner we both were on our way traveling in his company’s van to collect the barrels. He would also arrange for them to be transported to my Spanish Town destination. I was assured that the wait would only take about fifteen minutes which really surprised me for I was thinking of about an hour at least. I waited outside where several people were already seated on a bench awaiting the call of their names to go inside and emptied their cargo for inspection after which a custom agent would make claims for the levy on the necessary forms. This was the final duties that must be paid before the cargo was released.
The sun was now in its full glory, blazing a heat wave of air as the smell from the docks ripened a foul scent. Faces that once bore the looks of tolerance, calm and cheerfulness slowly disintegrated into frustration, impatience and anger with sweat pouring through their pores. A man next to me was cursing and directing his attention to any listening ears stated that he was there from 6 o’clock this morning, all the way from St. Elizabeth. It was now noon and his name hadn’t yet been called. Almost everyone had their story to tell of their long impending wait and they did so gazing at me with suspicion of a foregone conclusion that I had connections. So, even though I just arrived, I’d soon be on my way. This was the ultimate sin but should I be able to ask my brother’s friend to assist the very person whom had just spurned me, I’d be ever praised as not only the “Good Sumertant” but the very best.
Jamaica has always been a dog eat dog world and on that day, it was no different. The very same person whom would have rent you to pieces a few moments aback would now praise you with the tributes and accolades that are best reserved for a hero at the end of an illustrious career.
True to his words in about fifteen minutes time, I was beckoned to approach the gate leading to where the inspection was being done. I emptied two of my barrels and when I was mid way the third and final one, the inspector, realizing that it was all bags of rice remaining inside, gave me the ok to re-load. I paid the charges and I was on my way to a relief of which I was eternally grateful slipping away like a falling star from the galaxy.