There are so many cars ahead of me, even today, Saturday, it’ll be a while before I get the green light and cross the major intersection, so I look to the left, for no reason in particular, and I see three boys walking along the side of the highway, the first in what I call cowman boots, black rubber boots, like the ones I wore as a child so that I could pretend to be the man who took care of the cows opposite our first house in the valley, the second boy taller, skinnier, in rubber slippers, his thin T-shirt billowing in the wind like a sail, the third with blue-black madras skin in torn khaki shorts and an oversized white vest, and all three powdered with fine white sand. They skin and grin, all the while staying in their single file, Indian file, one behind the other, on their side of the highway, the side with the coconut trees, the wooden huts, the razor grass, the rice grass, and everything so green except for the white mosque, crescent moon and star rising out of the water with the billboard “Islam, The Fastest Growing Religion In The World.”
On the other side of the highway is the huge milk factory. Outside its tall gates are pyramids of oranges and grapefruit, piles of mangoes and three old, rusty vans full of gutted king fish, red fish or carite, with bouquets of blue crabs tied to bamboo sticks planted in ice buckets in the vans’ trays. In the middle of the highway, lanes of cars move on either side of the embankment like snails toward or away from the sky-high traffic lights against a cloudless, empty blue sky. At this, the major intersection, this carrefour, east, west, north and south converge; trucks, tractors, men at work who are forever widening the road, digging holes, filling holes, only to dig and fill all over again. They’ve been fixing this highway since I was a child. [End Page 111]
The boys pass me, the traffic moves and I catch up to them, then they pass me again. They look so light and free, covered with layers of smells from the cars, the trucks, the factory, the fish, the oranges, the pond, and they laugh and chat as though they have pockets full of blues, one-hundred-dollar-bill-blues, silver shoes, and a view of the ocean from their mansion on the hill.
As I get closer to the lights the vendors begin to swarm. Timing the lights perfectly, they weave between the crawling cars with bags of oranges, limes, corn, pimentos; weigh paw paws and pineapples in either hand; roll bins of coconut water, Coca-Cola, bottled water or Apple-J; open black boxes of fake gold watchbands, fake gold watches, knives; haul huge sacks full of small brown paper bags of cashews, peanuts (salt and fresh) or nut cakes wrapped and stacked in huge plastic bags. Rain or shine there is always the Nut Cake Man with the bandana, hat, shades and the strong wrestler’s body, the Knife Boy, slim, sharp, six-foot-four, wearing a furry Kangol cap and selling made-in-China knives, and dozens of neatly dressed Bobo Shantis selling nuts from their cotton satchels and wearing long-sleeved shirts buttoned, tucked and belted into pleated pants, and Baptist blue, or red, gold and green Irie cloths wrapped carefully around their dreadlocks.
At the lights before this main intersection there are no vendors, only beggars with twisted arms, back-to-front elbows, limps and jagged bodies, and an elderly Indian couple who walk to the cars arm-in-arm, broken and bent, to beg together. My windows are always rolled up, air-conditioner on, radio on. I know what they look like, how they move, but as they tap on the glass I just shake my head, sometimes an irritated no, sometimes a no thanks, sometimes just a flick of the wrist, like shooing away flies. It all depends on my day.
But these boys, I’ve never seen them before. The tallest one, with the cowman boots...