A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES
Green Monkey Tales: A Sense of Place
Our plane tarries on the tarmac for an hour and a half: some light on the pilot’s console in the cockpit is lit or blinking and it shouldn’t be doing that. It’s probably the same cheap Asian solid state circuitry that buggers our household appliances. C’mon, let’s wing it north on one turbine. Ann and I have a connector to catch in Toronto; Pearson has a stupid layout and we’ll have to go through Customs and security again. My back aches and my neck is stiff. My skin is peeling and itching in places where I thought the sun never shone. I squirm in my seat and look through the Perspex window at the teeming silver rain alternating sewing needles and railway spikes. I know that the weather will change in a few minutes. We should be lounging under an umbrella on the white beach instead of being shut inside this close cabin. Even without Air Canada’s unwelcome assistance, it’s really hard to leave Barbados.
The Commonwealth nation is one of the southernmost islands of the Lesser Antilles, a late link in the chain that comprises the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea. Barbados is a tiny country, measuring just 21 miles by 14 miles. Its total area of 166 square miles is some 30 less than that of the Island of Montreal where I was born. Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province and like Barbados an island in the Atlantic Ocean, is massive in comparison, boasting a total area of 2190 square miles. Eleven days earlier as our arriving flight began its descent toward Grantley Adams International Airport I wondered irrationally if this paradise was even big enough to accommodate the length of a jet runway.
An hour after landing we are seated on a porch in Worthing, Christ Church, 110 sauntering steps from the teal Caribbean Sea. Wafting on the warm breeze from somewhere nearby are the positive vibrations of Jimmy Cliff’s Wonderful World, Beautiful People. The condensation dripping from my bottle of Banks lager dampens my package of cigarettes. I realize this holiday of ours could prove to be an ordeal. The relentless heat creates its own curious rhythms; we soon learn there is an island-wide economy of movement: a walking stride becomes a shuffle, a thumbs up greeting only reveals the tip of the digit, service people won’t make eye contact until they’re good and ready to shift themselves and road repair crews don’t seem to move at all.
Ann and I are guests of her brother Jim and his wife Shannon who live in Victoria, British Columbia. Jim is struggling with his first few months of retirement because every day is Saturday and it doesn’t get much better than a rum and Coke in Barbados. He grins as if he knows something we don’t. Shannon got her Irish up and took five weeks off from her job to share Jim’s happy place; they’ve been coming here for a decade. We are together on the ground storey of a duplex apartment. There are two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a kitchen, a dining area and a living area with a flat screen television. I’m mystified by the presence of that TV, I mean, how pathetic do you have to be to tune into the idiot box in a glorious place like this?
The bookshelf stocked by transients and travellers intrigues me. There is a hardcover by Slash mit Anthony Bozza, Die Autobiografie, der New York Times bestseller. There are paperbacks by James Patterson and Michael Connelly. My contribution is a British police procedural. The other book I’ve brought, The Surgeon’s Mate by Patrick O’Brian and which opens in 19th century Halifax, Nova Scotia will not be left behind.
Our upstairs neighbours are Russell and Margaret, long-time friends and colleagues of Jim and Shannon. Russell is West Indian, born in Trinidad and the possessor of both Barbadian and Canadian passports. Russell will be our savvy island guide. Russell’s wife Margaret is originally from Victoria. Her cheery, laissez-faire attitude cloaks a cunning and ruthless Scrabble game. Ann and I learn that Russell and Margaret live near us, just 30 minutes south of Edmonton. We’ve made new friends a thousand miles from home.
Our other neighbours include fellow tourists staying in nearby guest houses, local folk, late night karaoke singers who frequent a dive bar called Nelson’s Arms just up the dusty alley, two chickens, five or six feral cats, lizards and a black faced green monkey. While the animals are shy, everyone else is friendly. One generous fellow I met on the street offered me blow, weed and a woman. I did not ask him his prices. One American dollar is worth two Barbadian dollars (BBD) or Bajan and both currencies circulate freely. I probably could have got one hell of a deal.
(Part 1 of a series)