Still rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I walk through the busy Downtown streets and into the bus park. It’s early, and the air doesn’t quite yet smell of garbage, but the day is hot already and I know the ripe smell will soon follow.
Drivers in their freshly pressed blue button downs lazily shout their destinations from the comfort of their plastic lawn chairs under the shade of the shop awnings. It’s 7 o’clock on a Thursday morning, and it seems that few people need fi go ah country.
I turn my head, eyes scanning for a stall with breakfast ready. Bingo – the blue one next to the one called Jah Jah has a small queue forming. I don’t let the faded paint deter me. With an old school coal stove and big dutch pots atop a small camping stove, this cook’s simple set up is far from rudimentary.
“Yeah, gimme nuff veg, suh, but mi nuh want nuh bwile banana, zeen?”
The cook hands me a box of ackee and saltfish, heavy with yam and boiled dumpling, plus a styrafoam cup of hot coffee. I hand him my $350J, a little less than $3USD.
I grab a seat on the bus going north. I got lucky this morning, I think to myself, there was actually a front seat open. I open my box of breakfast, sip my coffee, and I wait. And wait some more. That morning, I would wait nearly three hours before my bus was full enough to leave.
As I sit in my front window seat, vendors of all walks of life come and try to sell me their wares.
“Wipes, wipes mi ‘ave! Who deh need wipes?” “Donuts, pretty lady? Nice an’ sof donuts! Doan fuhgit Chrissy and Donté at ‘ome, Chrissy an’ Donté need fi dem donuts!”
I hear a rumble and booming bass off in the distance. It gets louder as a ‘music man’ wheels his speaker box nearer, blasting gospel and selling CDs, $100J a piece.
Carts piled high with chargers for any electronic device you could dream of, women balancing strings of snacks on all ten of their fingers, young men sporting packing tape-covered boxes full of cold sodas and juice. Today, I am only tempted by a rasta man with peanut brikkle (brittle), $10J a pop. I buy three to make my wait a little sweeter.
As passengers slowly trickle in, we form silent bonds over our mutual impatience to reach our destination. The woman next to me shifts in her seat, adjusts her wig and says (to no one in particular), “Mi ah bun up inna di sun, dis yah nuh right.” I feel you, sister. I’m ready too.
Pushcart drivers load up the back floorboards of our bus with sacks of young coconuts and scallion on their way to the markets in the north. The bus air fills with the smells of fresh produce and earth.
At long last, the driver rises from his plastic throne in the shade, removes the cardboard from the windshield, and starts up the engine.
He shouts a half-hearted, “Whoa-chi!” in an effort to get another passenger or two to cram themselves into the back, and then starts to back out.
As we pull out of the bus park, I gaze out my window at the ghettos of West Kingston and Dunham Town as they pass by.
Back ah country wi go.