Monday, September 04, 2006

A few more stories from Bermuda

My favorite thing about Bermuda was the rasta-man scooting down the South Road, taking care to be as legal as possible. That is, he had both hands on the wheel, both feet on the footboard, and he was wearing a helmet.

Of course, it was propped up on three feet of dreads rather than his frontal lobe, but still. Law-abiding Bermudian!

Also? Bermuda? Not veddy British. Although C and I tried to combat that by becoming super-British ourselves. After a brisk 45 minutes on Bermuda's roads, we'd cry, "Capital scoot!" But it didn't help much.

My other favorite thing about Bermuda was the old man I met at the bus stop in St. George, after spending the day with C, C's mom, and her beau Michael. We missed the bus by inches. We'd run up, waving and yelling, but the old man had sat motionless and the bus had trundled on without us.

"We're going to be late," C's mom said. It was almost time for the rehearsal dinner and we were still halfway across the island.

The man, sitting on an unmarked bench like he had all the time in the world, asked me what time it was.

"3:10," I said, still pissed off.

"A little bit left to live, then," he said, and then he started to talk.

At first I couldn't make out what he was saying. He spoke in a mumble, in the changeable Bermudian accent: part Jamaica, part Jersey.

But finally, I heard him say, "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

"To get to the other side?" C asked.

"Right," he said, nodding his tired old black head. He had freckles just like mine: smallish liver spots across the tops of his cheeks, a few at his temples. One of his shoes was held together with a safety pin, but otherwise he looked tidy, clean. Not fashionable; just neat.

"So why did the baby cross the road?" He asked, still looking across the street, as if he knew I was looking at him, assessing him, and he did not care. Or maybe he liked it.

C and I looked at each other, shrugged. Meanwhile, C's mom and her beau pretended they did not know us.

"Stapled to the chicken," the man said, and started telling me about his life. He'd grown up in Bermuda, went to school in Jersey, went into New York "for shows and whores," he said.

He would have stayed there if he hadn't been in an accident. Two cars hit him, broke his leg. So he came home to recuperate. And when he did, in a cast, the first thing his father did was ask him what he was going to do for a living.

But his mother shooed him out of the room, told him her son needed time to recuperate. And that was it, for him. He became an electronics repairman, spent his whole life working all day, and every night after work, he'd get together with his mates and go to the beach and drink rum. Never married, never had children.

"I have no regrets," he said, "except I wish I'd gone back to New York. Been more ambitious, instead of working all day and drinking rum all night."

I thought about it, spending most of your life in Bermuda. Watching the sun set over the Atlantic every night with your friends, a little rum buzz on.

"That sounds like a lovely life," I said.

"Coulda done worse," he said, and nodded, and looked across the street at a tidy little turquoise house.

We waited for a moment, thinking about it. We each could have done worse, really.

"I tell that joke to every tourist I meet. It's from a Stephen King book, The Gunslinger."

"No kidding?"

"No one ever gets it. I used to bet 'em $10 they didn't know the answer. Cleaned up. But then I met someone who did. She looked right at me and said, 'Stapled to the baby.' Couldn't believe it."

"So what'd you do?" I asked.

"Told her, 'Check's in the mail,'" he said, and laughed a deep, horny-throated laugh.

I sat down next to him.

"You see that place?" He asked, pointing to the turquoise house. "That's a mortuary. I was in there this afternoon. I asked the mortician if I could try on a casket, but she wouldn't let me."

I took it in. Cancer patient? Suicide in the making? Maybe just a lonely old man.

"You know why?" He asked me, looking impish.

"No," I said. "I can't imagine why."

"She said the expensive part of dying's the casket," he said. "Best thing I can do for my sister is to be cremated. So? Burnt," he said, his stiff old fingers fluttering as if to say soon, he will all be ash. As will we all.

And then the bus rolled in, all heat and steam and large blank face. I told him it'd been a pleasure; he just smiled and nodded.

"Off with you," he said, and that was the last I saw of him. We got on the bus and swept away through the little Bermudan streets, lined with houses that are straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, the great palm trees and the stepped whitewashed roofs and the turquoise waters of the Sargasso sea.

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