Life on the Rock, Wrecked on the Reef

                           Life on the Rock, Wrecked on the Reef 
                                          J. Suazo
The clouds move fast overhead, blocking and revealing the sun repeatedly as I walk.  Although a foreigner, I walk as a denizen of this drunken strip of Paradise in its capital city of Hamilton.  Front Street is on the harbor, during peak season corny American tourists flow off the star-liners and crowd our bars and restaurants. It’s now early spring, so only locals and residents like me are around. As I walk along Bermuda’s harbourside ‘boulevard’ I turn into one of its parking lots.  I find my bike[1] exactly where I left it the night before, and my helmet still in the same bush where I threw it.  I grab the helmet, find a cigarette under my bike seat, and sit on the mounted bike as I stare into the harbour.  I stare out into the horizon thinking about what I can’t see, another world, and what it holds besides this sunny paradise.

  I close my eyes, and see the orange glow of the sun beyond my eyelids. Orange warmth, this is the only way you could keep your eyes aimed at the sun without its mighty rays destroying your vision. You can still see that orange glow, but mostly feel it. It feels so good it makes you want to open your eyes, and see it for yourself, even though you know it’ll blind you. Too tempted, I open my eyes widely at the light, almost knocking myself over. I wrestle myself back onto the bike and collapse over its handlebars, squeezing my eyes shut and shutting my face with my hands. But I still see that pure, white light. When it’s gone I take a drag, and toss my cigarette butt into the harbour.

I find 25 Dollars in my wallet. Half of it Bermudian and colourful, while the other half gray and American like me. During the offseason, someone like me stood out. Not Bermudian, plus out of high school with no job, and no degree. I’m trying to get a fast buck in paradise while my folks still have a life here. Expatriate families are stuck on the Rock until their fragile work permits expire. Odd jobs paid under-the-table but didn’t pay enough. Still, as long as you knew some wanker with money, you can get cash to do fuck-all. Cut hedges, watch the kids or dog, wash the car, or the windows, with their thick layer of salty gunk from the high winds and ocean brine. All these menial physical tasks for a little extra gray, blue, pink or green bills.[2] Whatever color or colours the cash was didn’t matter to me, because I had twenty-five bucks and time to kill, and I was in the perfect place to kill it slow.

Back in the states, I could have had a bit of a ball, but Bermy[3] is axxspanssiff! The sun beat down on me as I walked down Front Street’s sidewalk; old brick-lined squares of fresh concrete that pass its signature pastel-colored stores. No matter how colourful, most are half, or completely empty at this time of day and season. I reviewed my financial situation before turning the corner towards my usual store, and decided I was good for a snack, a pack of smokes, and some Burr. So I walked into the liquor store and made my purchases: a Ziploc bag of salty yeast-infested popcorn (Orgazmocorn or The King of Pop?), a pack of reds and a couple Elephants[4]; with a few bucks left for a sunnier trip back for more beer. Of course the hooch came with the small brown paper bags without request. He knows I’m going around the corner, and I’ll be back in a half an hour. No questions asked as long as I give him the proper legal tender. As simple and beautiful as that; Only God can judge Me sort of mentality. So I give him a smile, take my change and head out to my spot in the park around the corner to soak up the sun.

 I leave, take the next turn off Front St, and pass the fancy boutique on the corner into a long corridor embanked by ancient, three-story limestone walls.  Still, flowers crept out of the sandy crevices of this badly chiseled rock along Par-la-Ville Road. The wall, while catching sunlight of its own, completely shaded the road below.  No flowers grew, just cigarette butts, piss, motor oil, empty bottles in bags, and others that were just left smashed on the concrete.  Trudging up the unsmooth steps towards the moongated[5] park entrance I look around to see where I should sit. This is the best entrance because it’s the highest point in the park. To your left is the path down towards the floral-covered pergola that gives shade to groups of drinkers and guys just sittin off smoking erb[6] passin a spliff around, and straight ahead leads to the main entrance where somewhat-respectable crowds sit and discuss. I sit by the ballerina statue straightahead of me, between the main entrance and where I just entered to give me a over-view of what’s going on. The statue stands between two benches, and I sit on one of them, hoping nobody sits on the other, unless I know them.  I sit on the soft and damp wooden bench, and unwrap the top of my paper bag. The brown paper wrinkles and tightens around the green bottle’s neck like a tourniquet and Pop! off goes the cap. I see the grayish fog of carbonated air roll off the bottle’s opening, curling like thick cigar smoke in a dimly lit room.  I lick the thick brew from my upper lip as I waft in the smell of malt.  I lick the remains of the popcorn on the tips of my fingers, and clean them with the condensation from my cold bottle.

These kids show up in the middle of the park. They’re wearing their dirty schoolclothes[7] and don’t care about stinking them up with the smell of ganja. In fact, that’s what most of these kids were doing now; passing the spliff around like an after-school special. Once it’s been passed, the schoolgirls start to come around looking for entertainment. I don’t know what they’re doing looking for it here, but I know I like looking at them. Just like their uniforms they are colourful; Black Bermudian and White Bermudian, American, Canadian or British, Portuguese or Azorean, Filipinos and Indonesians plus every color in between. All of them strutting in their red, blue, green, grey, burgundy or plaid skirts and stockings. I finish my beer while I take in the afternoon sun and sights like a tourist.

 From the opposite entrance of the park an old man starts dragging his feet up the concrete path towards me. It’s the only path to walk, so I’m not worried, just trying to judge whether he’d want a smoke or want to chastise me. So I stay cool on the bench and slouch a bit towards him in order to keep him in my peripheral sight. His clothes were as colourful and loud as any islander. A red Adidas football[8] jacket that was a little old and beat up (but you could still tell it was clean) along with jeans and sneakers in the same condition. He had a big beenie that held his long and natty[9] hair, and a face as hard as limestone. He was probably in his thirties but looked forty-five with his unshaved face, and eyes as yellow and red as a fighting-cocks’ feathers. “Good Afta-nuun. Ya got fiya?” Great weight feels lifted from my shoulders as I reply “Of course,” and pass him my lighter. I feel relieved when I see more than a halfa-pack, knowing that I won’t have to be some grown man’s tobacco benefactor.We go back and forth, from the problems we read in the Royal Gazette[10], to the long nights, and how the rum makes our stomachs feel in the morning. 

                         Life seemed very grim to anybody within earshot, but you can talk about grimness 

                and evil with a beer in your hand and the sun burning on the back of your neck. To 

                not move your ass from your seat, until you gotta, and absolutely, must take a piss!  An 

               instinct so powerfulyou had to resort to your natural surroundings. Suddenly when I reach    

               the communal bush spot, I feel the pressure drop, and the rays of sunlight shining through 

               the branches start to splinter into sudden darkness.. I know it’s coming, but I ignore it, and 

               keep pissing as the rain starts to pour frantically from the sky. 

[1] Bike meaning motorized scooter anywhere from 50cc to 150cc
[2] That is the color of American bills along with Bermudian 2, 5 and 20-dollar notes respectively, and by green I mean lime-green!
[3] Bermuda is often colloquially referred to as Bermy
[4] High-proof Carlsberg
[5] Moongate: it is good luck for honeymooners to walk hand-in-hand through a Bermudian moongate. Located in various places across the island, especially outside hotels and resorts.
[6] Sittin off as in hanging out and doing nothing during any particular time or place. Erb as in Ganja
[7] School uniforms; all schools on the island (elementary, middle and high) public or private have codes of dress
[8] That is, European football as in soccer
[9] Natty: natural
[10] daily newspaper

Julian Suazo is an American musician and writer currently living in Boston, MA

Photo credit: Justin Faria 2012 


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