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Child of the Equator

I’ve ridden in a donkey cart, legs dangling over the side. Tumbled from a wheelbarrow in a race, rolled on the ground laughing. Caught tadpoles, placed a caterpillar on a branch in a jar, watched it turn into a butterfly, then let it go. Trapped lizards, been surrounded by hummingbirds and butterflies, let grasshoppers crawl over my hands and stared them in the eye. Tormented frogs and listened to crickets sing all day and all night for rain. 

I’ve walked on paved and gravel roads without shoes. Stung by marabunta and army ants. Bitten by bête rouge and mosquitoes. Tramped through floodwaters and experienced drowning: The spinning. The tunnel. Endured cuts, bruises, and grazes on elbows and knees. Stepped on nails, followed by the dreaded tetanus shot. Slept under a net. Hidden from cockroaches flying into the house and screamed in terror until someone killed them.

I’ve taunted bulls and cows. Felt the sear of the sun, tasted the warm salty spray of the sea. Built sand castles and ran on the ocean floor when the tide was out to play with crabs, shells and what we called ‘four eye fish,’ then dashed to the shore as the tide flowed back towards the beach. I’ve flown in a sea plane, landed on the river and taken a canoe to the dock.

I’ve seen real poverty. The kind that makes you grateful for what you have. The kind you don’t forget—dirt floors, meals cooked outside of shacks on coal grills in dented pots black from smoke. From a distance I’ve watched children have fun bathing in the rain—the only shower they knew and I wanted to be one of them. Gazed at mothers sitting on rickety steps outside dilapidated houses plaiting their daughters’ hair with crisp colorful ribbons. And wished I had braids and shiny ribbons like theirs. 

I’ve breathed in the smoke of burning buildings and cane fields, and seen sky-high flames during riots. Witnessed the hysteria of people scrambling to escape an uncontrolled situation. And the eerie silent disbelief of little coffins of friends lined up by the altar in church.    

I’ve skipped rope on the seawall, inhaled cool evening ocean breezes and stared mesmerized at the trees and store windows in town lit-up at Christmas. Ate apples bought from stalls on the sidewalks: a yearly treat. Ice apples we called them because they were from somewhere in North America and it was icy up there.   

I’ve been excited and scared at the same time of the Mother Sally parade coming down the street to booming drumbeats and barking dogs. Laid in tall grass and found shapes in clouds. Stared in awe at a star-studded sky. Experienced tropical gale winds and tremors of earthquakes. Heard the roar of torrential rain on the galvanized roof and thunder like thousands iron balls crashing while lightning blazed across the heavens. 

I’ve danced at sunrise in pajamas, dew wetting bare toes and collected eggs from chickens. Ate hibiscus flowers, plucked fruit from low-hanging branches and ate them—unwashed. Clambered over fences and gates to picnic on a desolate cricket field. Climbed a mango tree only to get stuck. Drank water from coconuts falling from way up high. Eaten sugar cane from the field and molasses, and dark, raw sticky brown sugar. Drank milk straight from a cow, ate freshly churned cream and butter on hot out of the oven bread with homemade jam. And ice cream stirred up on the back step. And custard ice-blocks. 

I’ve scraped the leftover bits from the bottom of the fudge pot. Bare feet on hot asphalt, cup in hand, chased a vendor with a dirty pushcart selling shaved ice covered in syrup. Eaten Indian sweets, bought from the side of the road on a Saturday afternoon. 

I’ve run wild and roamed free until the six o’clock cicada bees buzzed: time to go home. 

COFFEE SHOP TALK—When Did I Become Golden?

The Physical Therapist, a nice young man in his thirties likes to tell me stories about his three-year-old son while he works on my injured knee. Today, I ask about knee replacements. “No need for that conversation,” he says. “But, you are in the golden age.” And I think: Golden Age? What the F&^K. Two weeks ago a cashier asked if I was a Lady of a Certain Age. Now I’m a Golden Girl. How did that happen? I loved the television show, The Golden Girls—still do. When it first came out in the ‘80s, I was a young mother. At the time I wondered why in their sixties they were still looking for romance. I mean they were old, almost elderly. Now I’m being told I’m one of them. 

“If you needed a knee replacement which you don’t, you would get one,” the Physical Therapist continues. “If you were thirty years older, they wouldn’t give you one or if you were thirty years younger, you wouldn’t get one because they don’t last and you’d have to get another. But you are prime.” I leave the office, feeling a little antiquated. But at home, as I run up the stairs for the first time in three weeks, I think: I’m not rusty. Not rusty at all. I am golden—shining in my heyday. 

If This is Monday…

It’s the usual in Coffee Shop. Muffin Man eating the top off his muffin while Hat Guy tries to engage him in a conversation. The Good Old Boys yakking about farms and fixing machinery. Job Searcher scrolling through his phone. Frank and Wife reading their newspaper, and Laptop Goddess, frowns at her computer screen. Boring stuff but nothing happens on a Monday morning. Today is no different. Until the words: “Don’t worry, you’ll never have to bring me flowers or chocolates. I’m not that kind of woman,” breaks the silence. 

I look up from my book at the man and woman sitting by the window. I don’t hear his response but she roars with laughter. They’re not young, not old either—forties, maybe. He’s a burly guy, curly brown hair to his shoulders with Harley-Davidson written on his gray shirt. She’s in jeans, slashed at the knees, skimpy top, and she has a black-booted foot on the seat of the chair beside her. If she has to tell him he doesn’t have to bring her flowers or chocolates makes me believe they’re on a first date or it’s the morning after coffee. There’s no lack of conversation between them. Lots of merriment and they’re both perky—a good sign for a first date or the morning after. 

She tells him about her job. It’s stressful—oodles of lifting. “When I first started working there, I wore a size sixteen pants.” She stands up and pulls up her top and twirls around showing off her body. “Now I wear a size two.”

All at once Coffee Shop comes alive. Hat Guy jumps out of his seat mesmerized. For the first-time Job Searcher is interested in what’s happening. Frank and Wife lower their newspapers. Farm Machinery forgotten, the Good Old Boys turn around and stare at her. And I think: If this is Monday what will Friday bring? 

COFFEE SHOP TALK—Am I a Lady of a Certain…What?

“I love your shirt,” the young man behind the counter says when I walk through the door. 

I look down to see what I’m wearing. It’s my Beatle shirt. “It’s Webber Wear. A friend of mine, Kenny Webber painted it,” I say.

“You’re lucky,” the young man says. “Does he do canvases?” 

“Yes.” 

He waves his hand in the air. “I would love a wall done just like that with the same colours.” 

And I think: Wow, he’s talking to me as if I’m a young hip-chick. “That would be sooo cool,” I say, trying to sound groovy. 

As I turn to leave he raises a fist in the air and says, “Wear that shirt proud.” 

I head down the sidewalk, with a bounce in my step, coffee cup in hand, feeling young and, as we would say, nifty. In the store two doors down I pick up two cushions and take them to the counter. The sales woman whispers, “are you a lady of a certain…” 

And I think: Is she asking me if I’m a lady of ill repute? Who asks that kind of question? And do they still have ladies of ill repute? “Sorry, I don’t think I heard your question correctly,” I say. 

 “Are you a lady of a certain age?” She almost mouths the words making it difficult to hear. “We have to be careful how we ask the ladies if they’re a senior. For the senior discount, you know.” 

And I think: A few minutes ago I was young and cool having a conversation with a millennium about art. Now I’m a lady of a certain age? How did that happen? “What’s the discount?” I ask.

She raises her eyebrows and smiles. “Seniors get a twenty-percent discount.”  

And I think: Do I tell the truth and take the discount? I mean twenty-percent is a lot. Or do I stick with the young hip-chick thing? The discount won. 

COFFEE SHOP TALK—Write This Down

“Write this down. Put it in your book,” the woman next to me says, “call me Mary or Vivienne or Roxanne. Call me what you want.” Her life story flows. Eighty years old, looks seventy, born Irish, adopted as a baby, and she loves sexy books, wants to write one. “A secret boyfriend, I have.” She flashes a smile. “He’s married but I like him…a big secret.” I take down her words; listen to a burst of notes flow from the upright bass and guitar. Across the room an artist brings an empty canvas to life. Sunrays, I think, the ocean, sea life, the colours of Barbados. 

COFFEE SHOP TALK—Blame it on the Biorhythms.

My morning coffee meeting, and my lunch plan with a friend change and I end up at two thirty in the afternoon in Coffee Shop. Not that I mind. I spend a lot of time alone but when two people cancel with me within hours of each other I can’t help but think: Is it me? Or is it my biorhythms? And what are biorhythms? What ever they are maybe mine are off today. Since I know nothing about them, I take out my phone and do research. This is what one website says—when the cycle switches from plus to minus or minus to plus it’s a critical day because you are neither up nor down, but in a state of limbo. So here I am in limbo listening to a young man educate a couple in their seventies about life. They grin at him pretending they believe what he’s saying. Finally, he taps the table and says, “Okay let’s go.” 

Except for the music, it’s quiet at the back until the two women behind me begin a conversation. “He liked me, was always nice then he stopped being nice,” one says. 

“That’s what he does,” her friend answers.  

My mind wanders back to my biorhythms and I try to find out how to fix them. Every once in a while I am interrupted by the women’s loud voices.
“I told her to elope, it’s her second wedding for heaven sakes, but no she wants a big wedding, now we have to plan a wedding.”

“That’s how they are,” says the other. Her voice rises and bounces off the glass windows when she says, “At least you see her. I rarely see my children. I know they’re busy but they could come once a week or even once a month.” Now she’s getting louder. “Is that too much to ask? Am I asking too much?” 

Shut up, I say, too quiet for them to hear over the music and their yelling about who’s paying for coffee next time. They put on their coats and walk to the front. Just as I think it can’t get any worse a man and woman come to the back and sit down. It’s just the three of us now and it’s obvious the woman has set up the date to tell the man he’s a cheapskate. He has lots of money but too cheap to spend it. Apparently, the other night when they were out with a group of friends he kept phoning for cabs. He should have hired a car and driver for the day. He can afford it. I feel sorry him. He can’t get a word in edge wise. Then she starts about his apartment, his furniture, his clothes—a man with his income should have better clothes and furniture. 

And I think: What is with today? Is this March coming in like a lion? 

 “But I have a ten thousand dollar stereo system,” he says.

“No one gives a shit about a stereo system,” she says. 

“I do,” he says. “It’s important to me.”

And I think: I’d like to hear my tunes on that stereo. 

The conversation continues with her telling him she’s done, finished, can’t do it anymore and he’ll never meet a nice woman. He shrugs. And I think: His biorhythms must be off and I’m not in limbo, I’m in hell. Time to go home, sit on the couch and listen to the sounds of silence. 

COFFEE SHOP TALK

Cheating on my mind

I cheated. I’m blaming my hubby. He encouraged me. Told me if I wasn’t satisfied, I should go elsewhere. Glad to know he thinks that way. So, with cheating on my mind I parked my car way, way over on the other side of the parking lot. You know, just in case someone recognized me. I thought the experience would be exciting like Christmas, Santa Claus, and peppermint candy canes. Images of sugarplums would dance in my head. It wasn’t. It left me cold, uninspired and bored—a big let down. It’s for the ambitious who, are into solving math problems. And as I made the trek through the pouring icy rain back to my car, I couldn’t help but think: Was the guilt of having an eggnog latte in Other Place worth it? I love Coffee Shop, been in a relationship with it for over seven years. Then there’re the women behind the counter who know my name. Who welcome me every morning, worry about me when I miss a day or two. How can I face them, look them in the eyes? Would they smell eggnog and nutmeg on me? Notice the drop of foam on my sleeve? I don’t want to cheat on Coffee Shop but this is the time of year when my thoughts turn to eggnog lattes. So, here’s my big question:  am I cheating if I get it to go?

Coffee Shop Talk

It’s as if everyone who spent yesterday outside in the sunshine is inside today. While raindrops spatter on the glass then slide to the sidewalk, the man by the window tries to sell insurance to a couple. They stare at him perplexed when he says I don’t want to hear…I don’t want to have that conversation. And I think: let’s have that conversation. He suddenly packs up his briefcase and says I have to go, leaving the couple stunned. Across the room, two men, one wearing a Fidel Castro kind of hat, are chatting and laughing, the way it should be in a coffee shop. For the man, four tables over it’s a gloomy day. He’s bored, has nothing to do but scroll up and down his phone, hoping something will change. Two young women at the table next to his are taking pictures of their food. And I think: make him happy email the photos to him. A woman smiles at me. She can’t decide where to sit. She walks there…here…there again…back to here. She asks if she can have the seat next to me. I say yes. She sits and dials a number on her phone and has a conversation on speaker. And I think: should have said no. A girl walks in and glances at me. And I think: noisy eater, no, hmmm…could be…might be…maybe. She chooses the leather sofa chair, takes a bite of her bagel and chews. I hear her—noisy eater from a week ago. Then there it is: In the middle of the chatter, chewing and racquet of the coffee grinder. In the middle of unknown songs and lyrics on the sound system, comes Spencer Davis Group’s, “I’m A Man.”

 

Sugar, Sugar

 

“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies brings back memories of being in my early 20s and summers in the ‘70s: My first serious boyfriend, drive-ins, shorts, and bare feet on the dashboard, popcorn, Billy Jack, and Chato’s Land movies. Two years later, the meaning changed to freedom, dating, the sun high in the sky, cut off jean shorts, halter tops, car window rolled down. The car stereo turned up loud, and my friend Diane and I singing as we drove to Wasaga Beach. Bikinis, sand, boy watching. Then out of the quiet, in the distance from someone’s car radio: Sugar…ah honey, honey. No matter what life handed us in the future, we would always have those summers and Sugar, Sugar.