“Don’t you touch that windscreen!” bellowed my friend Carl, as the skinny youngster with the spray bottle and the squeegee approached the BMW 330i, late 2007 model, salivating at the prospect of a hundred dollar bill. But it was already too late; the mystery liquid was already sprayed all over the windscreen. Carl was explosive.

“Jesuschristman! I am so tired of them and their damn begging at this intersection!” The penetrating glare and the outstretched palm outside my tinted window was too much for me to bear. I discreetly reached down in the bag lying at my feet and fumbled around for some change, but could not find any local currency less than a thousand.
“Don’t give him nutten; I told him not to touch it,” Carl was becoming more and more agitated.

“It’s okay, Carl, I found one dollar US. Oh God, poor thing, let me just slip it through…”

“You mad?” He was incredulous. “Next thing him go mark my car and think I have US money, and set me up?”

The light changed to green, so off we sped, thankfully. We were en route to Irish Town, located in salubrious climes approximately 3,100 feet above sea level on the way to the Blue Mountain Peak. I thought I knew the way well, having conquered the peak a week after completing A’ Levels, when our Camera Club organized a weekend. To this day, I still cannot imagine what possessed my mother to consent to the expedition, since it involved boys, and the A Level results were not even published yet. I guess she thought: What the hell, what could go wrong with so many chaperones?

Such thoughts would be absolutely reckless in today’s Jamaica. She would now think that blood-thirsty predators would get us long before the boys could unravel their confused testosterone-driven thoughts. I broke from my reverie. Those halcyon days were ancient history. Carl and I were on our way to visit our friends Brian and Tina, on this day celebrating their eighth year of wedded bliss. We stopped briefly in Hope Pastures to step into a vehicle “more suited for the terrain”, according to Carl, and to pick up an igloo with bottled water.

The house in Irish Town was charming and decidedly informal, exterior walls painted egg-shell, sash windows framed in sage-green, eaves adorned with delicate fretwork, and a never-ending wrap-around verandah. A profusion of surprise and fuchsia-coloured bougainvillea tumbled over the length of the picket fence. At first sight, I felt I could live there forever.

Our hosts greeted us warmly, thrust glasses of our favourite drinks into our waiting hands (thank God I was no longer on Voltaren), and led us to the orchid garden where groups of our friends sat around, lost in light-hearted conversation amid the soothing strains of Yanni. We joined them.

The smoked salmon was superb, and the sirloin served garnished with buttered sautéed mushrooms and a Bearnaise sauce, sublime. Later I eschewed the ever-popular tiramisu in favour of the coconut crème brûlée, the finest I had savoured in more than five years, complemented by an impeccable Doisy-Vedrines Sauterne (2001). Were it not for my unforgivable allergy to shellfish, I might have indulged myself in the orgiastic feast of lobster thermidor, shrimp in a citrus papaya salsa and sautéed King crab legs in wine and garlic. “No man, let the police do them job and cut them down. Line them up and cut them down…”

Sprawled across an elegant plantation teak daybed, with nary a hint of remorse for my epicurean over-indulgence, I listened in a daze to the voices in the garden, engaged in a fevered political discussion, disturbing the serenity that Yanni had bestowed upon the gathering. I recognized Carl’s rumbling baritone: “No man, let the police do them job and cut them down. Line them up and cut them down,” he reiterated, his voice one decibel higher. “If a spend one more dollar on security, ah wi’ have to lock it down!”

“But Carl, it can’t be right when eye-witness reports contradict the police claims!” That was conscience speaking for sure, I reflected. It was Donald who spoke. He had flown in from Seattle for this week of fun in the sun.

“Is put you want to put me out a business? Listen man, you don’t have a clue what happening down here; you been in Seattle too long – look at them boys at the traffic light, you know what they need?”

“They probably need to be in school, or if of age, gainfully employed,” said the voice of reason from Seattle. “Why don’t you help to set up something for them, Carl?”

As I contemplated the lavender-and-white Cattleyas, queen of orchids, my vision blurred, the voices became distant and I drifted into sleep…

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