I told my friend J. that two worrying things had happened recently and I was a little low. Instead of offering comfort that my run of dumb luck was over she looked wistfully into the middle distance.
‘You know bad things does happen in three’s. You have another thing coming.’
Having confirmed my fate was sealed she turned her attention back to her Caesar salad. I pushed my lunch away.
‘Three bad things?’
‘Yup,’ she nodded, her mouth still full of lettuce. ‘I sure as God make Moses one more thing going happen.’
Perhaps my crumbling face made her take pity and she squeezed my hand.
‘Don’t worry. Is just one more nasty slap and boops you done.’
From that moment on I was constantly on the look out for situations of impending doom. I barely slept and woke anxious that each new morn might be when The Third Bad Thing occurred. It’s been a week of this unremitting dread. Mainly I dread something rotten happening to my immediate posse. Will First or Second Born have a sailing accident? Will the next time I wave goodbye to The Husband at the airport be the last as his plane crashes? Will Jack or Rosie escape Beacon House and be run over by a speeding car? Other times the angst is more selfish. Will my hard drive suddenly crash before I have time to back up? Will I ever find an agent for my novel?
While these fears have been whirling around something odd has also been happening. Every time things don’t go too wrong I am grateful. When a driver tried unsuccessfully to sideswipe my car by Norman Niles roundabout I was grateful not to have had an accident. My usual response would have been to cuss the offending driver starting with his materfamilias and working my way through his entire clan. When First and Second Born came to blows over ownership of a t-shirt showing Bob inhaling a huge spliff I was grateful it ended without actual blood shed. Besides you can hardly see the rip if a boy tucks the t-shirt into his jeans. And as another rejection popped up on my Gmail (Dear Author, We are not sufficiently enthusiastic about your manuscript to offer representation…) I didn’t shed a tear. It wasn’t personal – hell they hadn’t even taken the time to know my name. With gratitude filling my life I was convinced that J. was wrong. I had dodged The Third Bad Thing.
But fate can only ever be postponed. If town say bad things going happen in three’s you better resign yourself and take your licks. So to round off the week not one, not two but three centipedes attempted to take up residence with us. (And FYI the proper small rock pronunciation is sen-tee-pee – the ‘d’ has been dispensed with). Some of you from foreign may not fully appreciate the gravity of this situation. Bimshire is, as its name suggests, an island of tranquil bliss. We trample through the countryside safe in the knowledge that we are free of poisonous snakes. And when we venture off terra firma into azure waters we have no fear of sharks having our limbs for lunch.
Yet even in paradise we must be reminded of how lucky we are and that role falls to the centipede. It is a disgusting, frightening, worm–like creature that slithers at some pace. It doesn’t actually have a hundred feet – our lot usually have about fifteen to twenty gruesome pairs. If you get bitten there will be pain and swelling, maybe fever and possibly shock. Buddhists warn that if you enjoy frightening others you will be reincarnated as none other than a centipede.
The first one – about 20 cm – crawled into The Husband’s office perhaps intending to study economics and finance at his feet. He claims he fearlessly decapitated the creature but I know better. He’s a vegetarian who has trouble killing mosquitoes. Our housekeeper confirmed its poisonous front claws had been crushed and the horrible creature thrown in the bush.
Jack’s incessant barking a few days later alerted us to the second centipede. The creepy, dark red creature – even longer than the first – was rushing around under the dining table. M., an Englishman with a properly stiff upper lip, instructed me to stop screaming and get him a broom. In one action he swept the centipede out from the darkness and then used the broom handle to whack the flattened body into three parts. My terror was quickly replaced by gratitude and I knew in that instant that I would be willing to share my last dhal-pouri roti and curry channa with him.
By the time I shook the third centipede out from between some cushions on the front porch I was not quite the same shaking, bawling person I had been during the previous incident. I simply went inside, locking the door behind me and called an emergency service
‘You have a what?’ asked the first responder.
‘I have a centipede in the porch.’
‘You expect us to come catch a centipede? Is how much centipede you have?’
‘Just the one. But it’s big and poisonous. I could die if it bites me.’
‘Lady, unless you bite the thing first I don’t think nothing going happen to you.’
He hung up.
But it wasn’t my time to go just yet. The housekeeper answered her phone and was more sympathetic. She came, severed head from body of the thick, long beast and threw it into the deep gully that straddles our land.
It’s over. The third unpleasant thing has happened and it did so three times. I’m due a bit of good luck any day now.
Today I gave a young woman and her brand new baby boy a ride into town. They were waiting for the bus in the hot sun as I sped past in air-conditioned comfort. It didn’t seem right or fair. But life’s not right or fair. Within a minute of settling into the car she asked if I knew of anyone hiring. She has two kids under three and was heading to the welfare office. Computer literate, able and willing to work, but no job offers. I had a vague recollection of a call centre opening up on island and promised to send the advert to her.
She isn’t alone. The Husband’s face is well known and he says every time he goes for a walk random strangers stop him to ask if he knows of any jobs going. People are desperate. It’s not only the poor who are getting poorer. The once thriving middle classes are feeling the pinch. Cruise along the so-called Platinum west coast and it seems every other house has a “For Sale” sign. Used car lots with decent vehicles are springing up everywhere. Classified ads are filled with people trying to off load their old furniture, old bicycles and old electrical goods – anything to generate cash.
True crime statistics are hard to come by but the newspapers have more reports than usual of opportunistic robberies and muggings. The goal appears to be relieving victims of their gold jewellery – often at gunpoint. Take the gold into Bridgetown and it can be exchanged for cash with no questions asked.
This is not the Bimshire I moved to six years ago. Back then there were anecdotal reports that certain Bajans kept guns for protection against potential insurrection by the unruly masses. But there was no gun culture. The problem is still one we could control if we had leadership who put resources into fixing the problem rather than denying its existence.
Reports of trouble in paradise used to be managed and massaged but they can no longer be kept from the prying eyes of sun bathing tourists. Not any more. And where are our leaders? Maybe I missed the memo but where is the thoughtful strategy from either party for tackling the problems we as a society face?
But all is no lost. In paradise one industry at least is thriving. Next time you are out count the number of makeshift, tented churches springing up on empty plots. Apparently the most successful interpretation of this business model is by a gentleman who calls himself Elector. Maybe he has the answers.
As we prepared for Easter by ensuring everyone had sufficient chocolate eggs, I casually mentioned to Diane, our helper, that we were thinking of spending Good Friday at the beach.
‘I can’t believe you want to go beach pon a Good Friday,’ she said amazed. ‘Is where you grow up?’
I explained that in Trinidad a public holiday was a reason to go to the beach. On Good Friday you might hang a bobolee (an effigy of Judas) which people took turns to beat with a stick. But once that was over it would be off to the beach.
‘Well you get lucky so far but that no reason to push your luck. People does say that if you go in the sea pon a Good Friday you go drown.’
‘If you ain’t have no choice but to go in the water remember to never, ever turn your back to the sea. That is asking to get drown.’
With such strict instructions we dared not venture down to Pebbles Beach. Apparently Bajans are not alone in this fear of the sea on Good Friday. In Belize if you go for a sea bath on this particular day you will turn into a mermaid.
Before I could take time off for Easter I had a meeting at the Barbados Community College (BCC) and overheard that the Big Band class that was about to start had a guest teacher. From scattered bits I gathered this guest teacher had been in Barbados for the past six months exploring his links with the island having traced a cousin or two to our shores. Barbados was pivotal to the development of the sugar trade and exported both slave labour and planter expertise to the Americas. It is not surprising that a significant minority of our tourists journey here to explore possible bonds with this small rock.
This particular visitor, being a keen musician, had also found his way to the dilapidated building housing the music school and now regularly gave, for no fee, his time and expertise to the BCC students. Berkeley graduates teach at BCC so there is no shortage of excellence in the music department and I didn’t pay much attention to who this guest might be.
If I had not stuck around it would have been a horrible regret. The guest teacher turned out to be Marcus Belgrave. The Marcus Belgrave. Here was the legendary trumpeter and only surviving member of the Ray Charles band who started touring with them from the age of twenty-one. This is the man who at fifteen played with Dizzy Gillespie. Belgrave has performed with all the greats in jazz – Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr. and Gene Krupa. He’s been given every award there is to give a jazz musician and here he was, settling down in our modest, open performance space to conduct a class.
We pulled a bench under a tree and sat outside the hall watching in as the master went to work. He is clearly a gifted teacher, gentling coaxing and constantly praising his band. Belgrave is not a well man. He is in his late seventies, tubes inserted in his nostrils and attached to a machine that trailed behind him. But the second the music began those tubes and machinery seemed to disappear. He makes no concession to his health and the master jammed with his trumpet for ninety minutes.
This unexpected, mid-week concert was a surreal experience. To be lucky enough to hear him play would normally involve a journey to the home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra where he is Jazz Creative Director or the Lincoln Center where he is a member of their original Jazz Orchestra. Instead we enjoyed a free Marcus Belgrave performance while sitting under a Samaan tree with the sky a bright orange and red backdrop. It doesn’t get any better.
With Easter behind us, and no reports of Good Friday drownings, BCC invited school kids to a concert by the BCC band with Belgrave and his wife, the gifted vocalist, Joan Belgrave. I watched from the back and saw normally restless teenagers inhaling the music. When the concert officially ended no one moved. The jamming continued for another twenty minutes and when they finally called time Belgrave was immediately swamped by the next generation of musicians eager to talk to the master.
This small rock might only be 21 by 18 miles but it constantly surprises. After the concert I looked around there was the world famous composer, Howard Shore, quietly shaking Marcus Belgrave’s hand and reminding him that they had met thirty-five years earlier on the set of Saturday Night Live. This is one cool rock.
If you’re on island Marcus and Joan Belgrave are performing with the BBC band this Friday at the EBCCI. Book now because it’s going to be a sell out.