Thursday, April 12, 2007

Face Value - Chapter One

Disclaimer. Face Value is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons is coincidental.


Now I wake and see the light, Christ has kept me through the night,
keep me well, Oh Lord I pray, guard and guide me through this day, in Christ’s name, Amen.

After kneeling to perform my morning devotions, I closed my small New Testament Bible and attempted to stand. The floor of the cramped wooden shack began to spin, a sign that I had to find food before the day was over.
What’s today though? Tuesday, I think. Or maybe Thursday? Wait, it’s Wednesday. I now remember seeing those fat cat politicians going in Parliament yesterday. Now some of them could really miss a meal or two. One guy was struggling to button his jacket. Useless rasses, the bunch of them.
I tidied my bed of discarded newspapers and damp, musty smelling cardboard. I need to change these sheets, I smiled wryly, they’re dated March 21.
Hey, maybe I can get some of that soft sponge from the store on Swan Street. If I lucky, the owner might throw some water on me again, save me having to walk all the way up Bay Street for a sea bath.
I really hated sea baths. They dried out my skin and woke up all the cuts and bruises I had forgotten. But the salt water beat trying to find a standpipe in the City. The few that remained were now used by youths washing their fancy cars or overheated pitbulls. Once, I managed to find one near Suttle Street and a lady called the Police, saying I was exposing myself. Was it my fault the standpipe was next to the road? Or that the secondhand clothes I got from the Salvation Army almost dissolved when the water hit them? Besides, I was careful to keep my back to the traffic. At least the Officer was kind enough to get me some fresh clothes.
Food, food, food. I licked my cracked lips and rubbed my rumbling stomach. What I feel like eating? Chinese? Local? Fast food? So many trash cans, so many choices. And now that Bajans didn’t appreciate a chicken bone like the true delicacy it was, more meat for me! Saturdays were especially nice, plenty of children in town. And they never finished a meal.
I crawled through an opening in the abandoned shed that had been my home for the last few months. God was good. No one else had discovered it as yet. Hopefully my luck would hold for a while longer, at least until the rainy season was over. The last place I found, I was only there three days before it was invaded by a group of paros. In two twos my humble abode was littered with needles, foil and trash. And the smell! It was like living with a pack of zombies. Not even rats messed their own nests. That’s why I never touch that drug stuff. I already lost control of one part of my life, no need to lose everything else. Besides, if I had any hope of getting off the streets some day, a fried out brain was the last thing I needed.


“Mummy, mummy, look at dah man eating out de garbage!”
I turned to see a little boy, probably four or five, tugging on his mother’s pants leg and pointing in my direction. I could have fed myself for a few months on the gold jewelry both he and his mother were wearing. What do they call it these days? Bling bling? That must be the sound the cash registers make when ignorant black people make other people rich.
“Wuh happen, you want some?” I asked the child and stretched out the styrofoam container. He shrank back and started to cry.
“You’s a **ite or wuh? Watch yuh musty so-and-so from roun’ my chile!” the mother yelled, her swaying weave punctuating each word.
“Pardon me,” I mumbled, and gripping the remains of rice and chicken, I shuffled off to eat my first meal in two days.
The air seemed to become fresher as I moved away from the Careenage towards the restored buildings of Hincks Street. The area was cheerfully busy as usual, with people in and out of the bookie on the corner, heading to Mrs. Ram’s place to catch a sale or to buy fish further down at the Market. As I passed Furniture Limited’s car park, I heard a “whap, whap, whap” sound and looked up in time to see a helicopter lift off into the afternoon sunshine. I envied its passengers. They got to leave reality on the ground, if only for a while.
Now that cruise tourism had taken off, that was also the way tourists headed to the cool, fragrant duty free stores in Broad Street. I played my part and smiled and said hello when I passed them in their shorts and straw hats, sporting new tans and relaxed smiles. Many recoiled in fear at the sight of my cracked, bare feet and rotting teeth, but a few actually gave me money. Even though I had been on the streets for years, I was still reluctant to beg anyone for money, least of all tourists. My friend Simon, another veteran of the streets, laughed when I told him that most white people thought we were dirt already, so why belittle my race by begging them for anything?
“DaCosta boy, when you get hungry enough, you goin’ change your mind,” he replied.
I still didn’t beg, but nothing was wrong with accepting the generosity of strangers. I had accumulated about $50 in different currencies, which I kept in a little plastic bag tied to a string around my neck. I still hadn’t gotten around to spending it yet though, because every time my shadow darkened the door of a shop I was yelled at and chased off.
One time, a woman struck me with a mop bucket when I went to buy a cheese cutter and Frutee from her shop in Baxter’s Road. The words couldn’t come out quickly from my parched throat because I hadn’t eaten or drunk for a day and a half. She thought I was playing the fool and ordered me out of her shop. The other customers’ eyes slid off me in embarrassment as I hoarsely whispered “cheese cutter”. She thought I said “yuh mother”, and threw the bucket at me. Because I had little body fat the impact of the bucket felt like a cement block had been dropped on me.
I made it to Trevor’s Way and sat on a bench under a large flamboyant tree. The waves crashed against the piles of gray rocks packed up along the shore. I opened up my salvaged lunch and, after saying Grace, I tucked in, savouring each bite and pretending I was at a five star restaurant on the Gold Coast. I had been on the streets long enough that the sour, pulling rice didn’t bother me. Survival was all that mattered.


I had just passed Chefette on the Harbour Road, heading to visit a friend who washed cars at the Harbour Master docking area, when I saw a big, blue jeep at the entrance of a street up ahead. I was nearly blinded by the sun reflecting off its fancy spinning rims.
The eyes of the driver appeared to flicker with recognition and he paused. I instinctively lowered my head, even though I doubted anyone would recognise me under the unwashed locks, grimy beard and moustache. I had discovered long ago that grime was a perfect shield; clean, decent folks tended to be too uncomfortable around the homeless to look them in the face. As suspected, the driver turned away his gaze and accelerated.
I breathed deeply, not realising I had been holding my breath. What a tragedy it was when a man was too ashamed to face his own flesh and blood.
I had nothing to offer anyway. Even if I did, it would be too little too late.
I changed my mind about venturing to the dock. I wasn’t in the mood anymore. I made a u-turn and headed back to the City and home.

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