Clive downs a big glass of orange juice in one swig then
places the mug on the coaster on the small dinner table.
Paulette and Claudia clear the dishes off the table as Richie
swallows his last bite.
'One ting’s certain Miss Susan nuh lost har touch inna
di kitchen,' Richie thinks to himself. He enjoyed the small
but appetizing meal.
Susan busies herself in the living room cleaning up
Michelle’s toys. Clive relaxes, it was a hard day at work. He’s
rather pensive and Richie finds the silence awkward.
After an extended pause Clive comes to life.
“So Richie what you going to do? America is not like
Jamaica you know. We have it real hard up here. Is pure bills
and cost of living sky high. Right now me can’t afford the light
bill, and is two jobs me have. You stowaway from Jamaica to come
a America but America is not what you think it is. Me know in
Jamaica you all think that people up here just pick up money off
the street but that’s not how it is. Life up here is real hard,”
he admonishes then pauses for dramatic effect to let his words
'Hear this brother after he left Jamaica and never did a
thing help anybody now him want to come preach to I man
about life hard in America. What him forget? Him think
that life in Jamaica easy? Richie nods his head in
understanding out of respect camouflaging his real thoughts.
Susan stops what she is doing to eavesdrop on the
conversation. Richie stares ahead into space stone faced. He
realizes Clive will be of no help that’s why he’s giving him all
this hard luck story. He’s simply putting a velvet glove on the
iron fist of rejection.
Clive clears his throat and gets up from the table. “Susan
me and Richie going for a walk. We soon cum.” He signals Richie
to follow him.
Susan looks at Clive sternly. Her eyes express an earnest
caution to Clive not to do anything foolish and add to the
struggling family’s burdens. She knows Clive will have to make a
decision as to where Richie’s going to stay. Whereever it is, it
better not be in their cramped apartment. Heavyhearted, she
shakes her head as she watches the two men exit the apartment.
Clive and Richie stroll down Flatbush Avenue in the heart
of Brooklyn’s shopping district. The street is filled with late
evening shoppers darting in and out of stores. Richie takes in
the ambiance of America, 'the land of opportunity', self
conscious not to make himself look like a tourist.
It’s not exactly what he expected. He didn’t think there
were dilapidated buildings in America. He was shocked at the
condition of the apartment building Clive lived in with its
graffiti strewn walls, poor sanitation and decrepit elevator
system. To his utmost surprise he saw potholes in the street
much like in Jamaica. Richie doesn’t know what to make of this
contradiction to his conception of 'the promise land'.
A couple car horns remind him of the slight ringing in his
ears that’s been with him since the ship odyssey. Clive stops on
the sidewalk near a corner store.
“So what, do you have any money?” he asks with a look of
“Me have one hundred dollars.”
Clive sighs deeply. “Boy Richie, you have any friends up
“Well me have a number for a friend from the neighborhood.”
Clive looks directly into Richie’s eyes. Richie doesn’t
meet his gaze and looks down on the ground in the Jamaican
tradition of being respectful.
In the culture it is inappropriate for a man to look
another man in the eyes for any longer than a passing glance
unless it’s in anger or with evil intent. Unlike Western
culture, eye contact has no relation to the veracity of the
speaker. In this culture men reserve extended direct eye contact
for women as an indication of amorous intent.
Clive forces himself to be straight forward.
“You come at a real bad time. I would really like to help
you but as you see for yourself we have no room in the little
apartment. I can’t even put you up for a night.”
A proud fellow, Richie is affronted. He regrets ever making
contact with this distant uncle. He already spent a night on the
streets of New York among strangers and doesn’t need to be
rejected by his own family. He manages to control himself out of
a traditional respect for his elders.
“Look here Clive, I man never ask you for any help okay. I
man reach America by myself and me will survive by myself. Me
don’t have to beg nobody anything and I don’t need nobody to
feel sorry for me ok,” he states indignantly.
“Richie, the man must not get vex. Me just making you know
the truth up front. Is not like we had time to prepare for your
arrival,” Clive pleads sincerely.
Deep down he’s embarrassed. Richie’s abrupt appearance
brought back memories of the family he abandoned in Jamaica.
Abandoned not because he’s a mean spirited fellow, but the
American reality is, he can barely make ends meet for his
family. If he made contact with the family he left behind in
Jamaica without the means to help them they would despise him
like Richie does now.
Back home everyone’s in desperate straits and much worse
off than he. They all need help, which they assume he being in
'the land of opportunity' must be able to provide. If he can’t
help them in some form or fashion they’ll despise him as being
selfish and mean.
Reaching back to help is ingrained in the culture. By
landing on the shores of the United States you’re expected to do
so because the propaganda of American wealth and luxury,
depicted in the movies has an intractable grip on Third World
people’s minds. This creates the illusion everyone in America is
Clive’s philosophy is, if you can’t feed a starving man it
makes no sense to let him see you eat for he’ll hate you, better
he never sees you at all. The impotence and helplessness in
assisting his own family is a silent shame Clive has had to live
with. Such is the life of the working poor.
Saddened and guilt-ridden, Clive knows this is something
Richie will never understand and makes a feeble offer.
“Me have a few dollars that me can spare to give you, me
will try call somebody who might can help you.”
He retrieves a few bills, money he saved to buy some new
clothes and shoes for the children, and offers it to Richie.
Richie takes a deep look into him. Is this the man who used
to be a giant in his eyes when he was a child? He wanted to be
just like Uncle Clive, his surrogate father, since his
biological father abandoned him at birth. This makes him more
resentful. Deep down he hoped Clive would welcome him and this
angers him further.
Richie sucks his teeth in the Jamaican style, making a high
pitched sound by sucking in air between his lips and his teeth,
as a sign of disgust.
“Keep it for yourself,” he says in a cold condescending
manner, then walks away infuriated.
Clive is dismayed.
“Richie, where you going to?” he cries.
Richie doesn’t look back. The ringing in his ears gets
louder in direct proportion to his raised blood
“What’s wrong with him? Me come too far to suffer. Is
America this, the land of opportunity,” Richie mutters to
Richie wanders through the crowded street. His anger begins to
subside and he returns to his fascination with the place and the
sights. He hears all types of Caribbean accents around him and
is mesmerized. He spent many hungry days in the Kingston ghetto
day dreaming about this place, now he’s here.
At the corner of Flatbush and Church Avenue he stops to
ponder his next move. He asks a passerby about making a
telephone call and is pointed to the phone booth. He gets change
for a dollar from a variety store then goes to the pay phone,
inserts a quarter and dials a number. After three rings Barbara
“Hello, is Oral there?” Richie asks politely.
“Who? Who you want to speak to? Oral?”
“Yeah, tell him is Richie from Yard.”
There’s a pause.
“Oral dead, him get kill last week,” Barbara answers dryly.
Richie raises his eyebrows in disbelief. “What? Oral dead?”
“Yeah him get kill by Donovan Chinqwee for hustling on him
corner,” Barbara states as if it’s general street knowledge.
Richie is dismayed and doesn’t know what to say.
“Is that all?" Barbara asks.
“Yes, thank you,” Richie answers softly and hangs up.
He starts to walk aimlessly, makes a right unto Ocean
Avenue then a left on Prospect Avenue. The news about Oral
places him in a quandary. He counted on linking up with Oral as
his main plan, now he doesn’t know what to do.
This predicament has blunted the excitement of the sights,
sounds, and hopes of his new start in the ‘land of opportunity’.
Now it’s back to survival on the edge again. Richie finds it
ironic that here he is 1,000 miles away from dire poverty, in a
strange new land with the promise of a new start, yet faces the
same old plague of desperate survival and living by inches.
Loud bickering Jamaican voices pull him from his reverie of
desperation as he recognizes the familiar sounds of a soccer
game. The sounds are reassuring and he’s drawn to the source. He
enters a small park off Prospect Avenue and wanders over
to where the game is being played.
A few expensive sport kitted foreign cars are parked in the
small parking lot beside the soccer field. Richie gapes at the
Hondas, Acuras and Jeeps. These are models he has never seen
He walks to the empty make shift bleachers adjacent to the
parking area. A couple of spectators stand on the sidelines
laughing and exchanging jibes with players on the field. The
sight of his fellow countrymen enjoying themselves eases his
mind a bit. He takes up a position on the empty bleachers to
watch the pick up game while observing everything in detail.
A few players and some of the spectators take notice of
his arrival. After momentarily assessing him from a distance
they continue what they’re doing. Richie notices one person in
particular on the far side take up a position where his moves
can be monitored discretely.
Rory dribbles the ball and beats an opponent with a nice
step over move. Another defender comes with a hard tackle. He
plays the ball skillfully between the defender’s legs and jumps
simultaneously to avoid the tackle. A roar goes up from the
sideline as the spectators cheer the fantastic move. Some of the
players bust out laughing and jeer the beaten defender. Rory
shoots the ball and scores and the cheers get louder.
Richie smiles, impressed by the spectacular play. 'Them
man must be in runnings with expensive cars like this. I
wonder which set them come from?'
The booming bass of dancehall music interrupts Richie’s
thoughts. He turns to investigate the source and sees a black
tinted, kitted, M5 BMW with gold plated grills and rims cruise
into the parking area.
'Who is this?' he wonders in amazement. He returns
to the game and notices no one pays much attention to the new
arrival. A few players barely glance up then continue playing.
Geego pulls the BMW into the parking space beside the
bleachers. Without budging, Richie glances covertly through his
periphery, curious to see who’ll emerge from the car. He focuses
on the soccer game trying to appear as if he belongs while
simultaneously observing the BMW.
The car door opens and a cloud of smoke escapes the
vehicle. Geego extends one leg out the car door. Richie can see
he’s by himself and is wearing a large gold Gucci link chain.
Geego fidgets with the car lighter, pulls it out and lights
a spliff. He takes a few puffs and a couple seconds later his
entire 6' tall light brown skinned frame emerges. He leaves the
car door open and walks over to the bleachers to watch the
Rory nutmegs Cowboy a defender then makes a crisp pass to
the right winger.
“Cowboy is so your legs easy to open,” Geego shouts.
Cowboy laughs. “Why don’t you come out here and do it,” he
retorts without looking up.
“A lucky you lucky me did have some things to take care
of”, Geego jeers. He notices Richie standing in the bleachers
and doesn’t recognize the new face.
Richie feels Geego’s eyes on him. His stomach tightens as
he focuses on the game and the trusty 9mm in his lower back.
Geego, gregarious by nature, sees Richie standing oddly
stiff. 'This man look like him could use a draw a weed.’
“What’s up star? Do you want a draw of herb?” he offers.
Richie looks at Geego and feels a good vibe then looks at
the tempting spliff. 'I man certainly could use a
spliff right now.’ “Give thanks brethren.” He accepts the
offer and takes the spliff from Geego.
Richie rubs his fingers over the fat fronto rolled spliff
and admires the craftsmanship behind the well rolled joint. Most
of all he appreciates its size.
Geego hands Richie his lit spliff. Richie uses it to light
the spliff and returns it then focuses on partaking of the
He savors the pleasant fragrance and sweet taste of the
herb. He can tell this is a good draw of Cush-um-peng5
and is fixated. At this moment only the draw of weed exists in
He wraps his lips delicately around the tip of the spliff,
moistens it with his saliva, then rotates it slowly. He feels
the smooth texture and veins of the fronto leaf caress his lips,
then reverentially suckles on the sacred eucharist.
The universe slows down as the herb’s vapors speed down his
windpipe and fills his lungs to capacity. He holds it in and is
transported to the seventh dimension.
As he exhales the smoke slowly through his nostrils,
tension and stress flow from his being, and new vistas open up
to his mind. He hears insects chirping playfully in the grass
where before there was silence. He hears a melody of car horns
in the background three streets away. The birds, bees and breeze
speak to him like King Solomon. It’s a multitude of sounds, each
separate and distinct, coming together like nature’s jazz
ensemble to create the rhythms of life.
Richie puffs hungrily on the spliff. In what was a few
moments to mortals he transcended time and touched the eternal.
The ringing in his ears vanishes.
Fascinated, Geego observes Richie’s absorption of the herb
with interest. 'This is a man after my own heart, him
know how to appreciate good weed.' He smiles to himself and
watches as Richie finishes the spliff in silence.
“If the I want the man can build another spliff for
himself. Me have two bags of weed and some fronto on the dash
board in the car,” Geego offers.
Richie hesitates as he relishes the higher meditation.
‘This brother have a good spirit.’ “Jah know, me
would smoke another spliff yes,” Richie accepts humbly.
“Go get it and bring the other bag of Ses for I
Richie goes in the car to retrieve the weed. Geego likes
Richie’s vibe and humble style.
Cowboy takes out Rory with a vicious slide tackle. Rory
takes issue and protests the dirty play. A heated exchange
occurs between players on both teams.
Rory and Cowboy exchange threats in the middle of the field.
Such is the competitive spirit of soccer which can get
serious even among good friends.
“Kick down the boy when him get the ball! What, you afraid
of him?” Geego instigates.
Richie returns with the two bags of weed. He hands Geego a
bag and begins to prepare a spliff diligently. Geego follows
“The man fresh from Yard I bet you?” Geego enquires.
“Yeah, how you know?”
Geego smiles, “Because the I still have the real Yard look.
You look like a Yardie.”
“What it different from the American look?” Richie asks
“Yeah in a way. Fresh Yardman have more of a hardness to
them look,” Geego states philosophically then asks, “So where
are you staying?”
Feeling comfortable in Geego’s presence, Richie puffs the
newly rolled spliff and opens up.
“Brethren, you want to see I man stowaway from Yard
and just got here last night. I don’t know anybody in America.
Me have a uncle around here but him say him can’t put me up so I
am on me own.”
Geego is surprised but admires the character of his fellow
“You serious? You stowaway and don’t know nobody in
America? I tell you, the things sufferation drive us Yardman to
do. Jah kno. Don’t feel no way one time I an I was in a similar
situation,” Geego empathizes.
He knows how strong the survival instinct is and how deep
the roots of grit and determination run in the ghetto youth of
Jamaica. He remembers when all he had in the world was the
resolve and will to survive. It’s the story of poor people all
over the Third World and its been sometime since he has been
reminded of this reality.
A curtain of darkness descends and ends the soccer game.
The players disperse into various groups. Cowboy strolls over to
join Geego on the bleachers and gives Richie a cursory look
“What’s going on Geego? Give me a spliff.” Geego hands
Cowboy the bag of weed perfunctorily still enthralled by
“Hey Cowboy this youth here just come from Yard.”
Cowboy nods his head approvingly and smiles as he busies himself
rolling a spliff.
“Oh yeah, that good. So what the man name?” Cowboy asks
matter of factly as he runs his tongue along one edge of the
“I man name Richie.”
“Which part a Yard you come from?”
Cowboy exchanges a knowing glance with Geego. They haven’t
met a lot of Jamaicans in America from the Waltham Park area so
“Oh yeah. So what, do you want to make some money?” Geego
asks, always on the lookout for potential recruits for his drug
operation and Richie is the perfect candidate.
“What do you mean? Of course,” Richie exclaims without
This is the opportunity he’s looking for, a chance to make
some money. He doesn’t care how he’s going to make the money at
this moment. From the looks of Geego if he’ll look like that too
he’s all for it.
“Me have some drug spot to open in Philly for the Don man.
That’s where I am going right now. If you want to come let’s
“How do you mean,” Richie exclaims accepting the offer. He
heard a lot about drug spots and people hustling from them in
Jamaica. It’s common knowledge among the ghetto youths and
accepted as a normal means through which they liberate
themselves from the bondage of poverty.
Happy with this sudden turn of events, Richie jumps into
the BMW and they drive off.