Ogami grinned and looked over to the white skinned man sitting in the passenger seat. Dan was struggling to find the right button that would roll down his window.
“Wot up, Dan-man?” he asked in a cheery tone.
“Can’t seem to find the right button….” Dan mumbled.
Ogami reached over and pulled Dan’s hand away from the center console.
“What is freakin’ wrong with you Canadians, man? I got the AC up full, and you wanna roll down the window for what?! Let the heat back in? Damn, dude, you messed up.”
Dan looked over to the still wildly grinning Ogami, “Ya, sorry. Not feelin’ all that great today.”
“You gotta be like me, Dan-man! I’m tellin’ you what’s to worry about? You are in paradise, man, my paradise. What got you down, dude?”
“Ogami, I appreciate you trying to cheer me up, let’s just get to the location and get this done.”
Ogami sucked noisily on his teeth. “You been here a month and already you bringing me down.”
Dan sighed heavily. “Sorry, dude, not my intention.”
“You wanna talk about it?”
“No, not really. It’s irrelevant now.”
“Oh come on, man! We been hanging close now for a month….”
“What’s your point, Ogami?” Dan said dryly.
“That is my point! Brother, you gotta lighten up. You gonna bring the whole crew down, Dan-man.”
Dan turned away from Ogami and looked out over the tranquil blue and turquoise Caribbean waters that stretched out past the horizon. It had been a month since he arrived on the island of Saint Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands. For Dan, it had been a very long month.
It was fall but there were no trees turning color, no dark grey skies filled with rain, and he missed all the traditions and trimmings of a Canadian Thanksgiving.
“It’s just another television show, just like all the rest. And that’s what we do, dude.”
“Yeah, I get that, Ogami.”
In amongst the unfamiliar musicians and artists on the local radio station, the familiar bass back beat of a Bob Marley song came on and caught Dan’s ear.
“See, there you go, brother-don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing’s gonna be alright,” Ogami sang along with Bob in perfect pitch and tone. Dan smiled. He liked Ogami. In fact, he liked Ogami allot. They had become quick friends and colleagues in their professional pursuit of creating television programming for the local public broadcasting station, WTJX.
Dan had been seriously considering flying back to his home on Vancouver Island over the last three days. He had been hired for a one year contract to work at WTJX as a Senior Television Producer-the only producer at the station. The title of Senior made him feel even older than his 50 plus years, greying hair and a slight bit of a beer gut projected.
When he was thirty-five, the title of Senior anything made him feel validated and progressive. Now, he was just a senior and tired human being.
“Come on, tell me. We’re brothers in arms, now,” Ogami smiled at Dan. Ogami was always smiling or grinning like some wild happy man.
“This is fucked up.” Dan snapped.
“Hey! Come on now, you don’t need to cuss me out.”
“Look, Ogami… we got shooters that can’t shoot, editors that can’t edit and just what the….” Dan stammered looking for a less offensive swear word, “…hell…am I doing here?”
“You’re making television. We both are.” Ogami swayed his body with the music as he steered the television production van past the crowded Safaris and tour buses.
“You’re making us all better! Shaky is doing better camera work, Freeze’s graphics look cleaner. Come on, man, it’s getting better. And you’ve only been here a month!” Ogami was really trying to cheer his new friend up.
“Thanks, Ogami that was kind of you to say.”
“It’s true…” he exclaimed brightly, “…and I always tell the truth!”
Ogami was also in his mid-fifties, small in body shape, balding, yet big in his actions. Born and raised on St. Thomas, Ogami wasn’t like most West Indians. He was sharp, ambitious and for the most part, professional. Always enthusiastic and considerate, Dan would observe him closely. To Dan, Ogami was the happiest man alive and maybe he could learn something.
“I need to stop at the Shop and Gas. I gotta see my gal.” Ogami snapped his fingers on the word gal to accent it.
“Really, dude?” Dan was annoyed.
“Yeah, man, really. I gotta see Michelle ‘cause she’s paying a bill. You can stay in the comfort of the AC, listen to Bob, or go to the beach and smoke.”
Any form of smoking in the West Indian culture was frowned upon. In fact, smoking nicotine was considered such a bad habit that there were very few places that anybody could smoke, inside or outside.
Ogami turned the vehicle into the gas station and convenience store and turned the van off. They both got out.
Dan was hit by the heat and humidity. He looked past the brightly colored building and saw the beach.
Ogami strutted over to a pretty woman who had brightly colored beads in her hair. Her skin was a light brown. Her smile wide and bright.
They hugged and kissed and held each other for a long moment. Dan turned away and walked towards the beach.
On the beach he felt better. There was a bit of a refreshing breeze and the palm trees swayed gently. He was in paradise, and indeed, living in paradise.
He took out a cigarette, rolled the filter between his lips, lit it and sucked the smoke deep inside of him. Dan felt better immediately.
“Hey! Hey, man, you can’t be smoking that crap on my beach!”
Dan turned on his heels to see a Rastafarian coming at him and pointing his finger at his hand.
He stayed motionless as the elderly man approached him.
“Put out that poison if you gonna be standing here.” He demanded.
“It’s a public…” Dan was ready to argue for his cigarette.
“No. No. No. This is my beach!” The man tapped at his own chest.
Dan sighed and dropped his habit into the sand. The man stepped closer to him and looked up.
The man was at least in his early seventies. His dark brown skin was wrinkled and weathered from the years on the beach. He wore large green, yellow and red knitted tam over his thick and heavy dreadlocks. He had several wood carvings strung on thick thread around his neck that bumped together when he moved. His brown eyes were clear and piercing.
“You ain’t no tourist?”
“No…..nope I’m not.” Dan spoke evenly.
The man walked a complete circle around Dan then stood facing him again.
“You ain’t right.”
There was an awkward pause between the two men. Dan moved his shoulders toward the gas station. The elderly Rasta-man thrust out his hand and put it over Dan’s heart.
“Man…you don’t know if you stay or go,” he giggled to himself. “You got her on your heart.”
The beach dweller lowered his hand. Dan was too stunned to respond.
“She left me…” he whispered.
“Nah…she did not. If you speak to me…” he thrust out his chest proudly, “…then speak to me as a man…not some snotty boy.”
Dan stepped back slightly to give him some breathing room. The Rasta-man stepped back into him.
“Well, she did!” His words tasted sour and angry. He hadn’t mentioned this to anyone since his arrival.
“Only you do the leaving.”
“No, no. She left me. She said…”
“It don’t matter what was said.”
Dan’s mind was starting to spin with the scene of the break-up running in fast motion. He felt a need to defend himself, his actions or his words.
“Where are you?”
“Oh, come on! I’m standing on the beach in the…”
The old man grabbed Dan’s wrist.
“Where are you?” he insisted.
“I don’t understand…..”
“Come with Tanza.” He led Dan away from the water and to his two room shack at the edge of the jungle.
“Look, I have someone waiting…”
“…and they will wait.”
A small fire was burning. Beach logs had been placed around the fire for comfortable seating. The door was a large old sun bleached blanket with the image of Bob Marley on it.
Behind one of the loges there was a complex construction made up of palm tree branches and smaller twigs from the trees in the jungle. It loosely resembled a book case. It was filled with a variety of gourds. Green button, butternut, spaghetti, and a familiar orange pumpkin. Each one had a drawn, carved or items pinned into it resembling faces. The pumpkin had two horns sticking out made from the stem. Triangle eyes, nose and mouth completed the Halloween appearance. Tanza noticed Dan’s eyes scanning the odd assortment.
“My family. My protectors. And, if I get hungry, I can eat them.”
Dan smiled slightly at his comments.
Tanza stood close again. He put his hand on Dan’s chest.
“You can only leave if you know you are leaving. You cannot leave or stay, because you don’t know you.”
Dan remained motionless. Tanza smiled warmly.
“Know thy self, young brother. Then you can decide.”
Dan had no response. He had no idea what was going on, yet something was resonating. He was listening.
“Here. You are in a hurry.” Tanza stepped over to his gourd selection and picked the pumpkin. He offered it to Dan.
“What do I do with…?”
“It will protect you.”
“Uh, ok.” Dan took the pumpkin. It felt and looked familiar.
“And you can make pie later.” Tanza laughed. “And quit that poison.” He turned away from Dan and went into the shelter.
“Dan-man!? Come on, we gotta go dude!” Ogami was on the beach calling him and waving him back.
They got into back into the van and Dan put the pumpkin on his lap.
“Damn! Dan what up with that kiddy Halloweeny thing?”
“It was a gift.” Dan gave Ogami a genuine smile.
“Yeah, ok, dude. Like I said, you messed up.”
Dan was quiet for a few moments as Ogami put the vehicle back onto the busy main road.
“I’m staying, Ogami.” Dan said.
“Really? I didn’t knows you was leaving.” Ogami put his wild man grin back on.
“I have some things I need to learn first.”
“Alright! Dan-man!” Ogami put his fist out towards him in the air. Dan fist bumped Ogami. He would be doing that allot from here on in.
Dan looked out the window, relished in the cool AC, listened to Ogami singing and felt for the first time in a very long time, he was going to be just fine.
Daniel D. Williams
Photo by Josh Wilburn on Unsplash