In the days when air conditioning units blasted loudly in offices, I stood gazing through the window while I drank some hot coffee. It was unusual for me to be drinking coffee after ten in the mornings, but I needed it to remain awake at my desk. It had been eight rough, sleepless nights since we brought home our newborn baby; and she seemed to be crying nonstop.
As I looked through the office window, the scene outside only made matters worse. The traffic was at a standstill, and the exhaust fumes, swirling upward with hypnotic slowness amidst the glare of the noonday sun, made me very drowsy. I stood there sleeping beside the window, when Milly said:
“Mr Austin, there’s someone here to see you.” She was our secretary, and the sound of her high pitched voice pierced the clouds of slumber that engulfed me. I shook my head, hoping that the movement would remove the state of sleepiness from my mind, and smiled at her. And just as I was about to inform her that I was still on my break; Gregory came walking in.
“Wait man!” I said loudly, and smiling broadly. “Is how I didn’t see you come in through the driveway?”
Gregory was one of my best friends from high school days, and it had been quite awhile since we talked. He lived in the Portland countryside, and believed that I was making it big in the city.
“I did see you though” he said laughing. “I just stopped by to see how you’re doing.”
“Yes man!” I replied, “How is your farm coming on?”
“I hear you have a new baby now,” he said. “Another girl.”
I nodded my head in agreement, and smiled. It was amazing how news travelled fast; it seemed like almost everybody in Buff Bay had heard that I had three daughters now.
We talked some more about everything that seemed important, until it was almost time for me to resume working at my desk. Gregory was also ready to leave, and as I accompanied him through the office doors, I quickly walked him away from my battered, second-hand car that was parked nearby.
“What an eye-sore!” he said, pointing his chin in the direction of my car. And as we continued walking, he asked “So where is your big car now Austin?”
“Same place there in the parking lot.” I replied.
“Eh heh?” he said. “The blue one?”
“A must be the silver one then?”
“Come nuh man.” I said. “I have to return to work, you know.”
“Austin, don’t tell me sey that de pap-down car a fi yuh?”
“It’s not popped down.” I said, and hissed my teeth. “It’s better than having to walk, or taking the bus.”
“I know a man who can sell you a good car, for a nice price.”
“Who that?” I asked.
“It’s Joe.” Gregory said. “Parson Thomas brother’s son. Yuh remember Joe, don’t it?
I didn’t remember Joe, but I was glad I could get a deal. It was a good thing that Gregory should mention him, for I had recently finished saving enough money to replace the car I drove.
“Just guh one more mile up di road deh, and tek a right turn.”
Those were the directions a farmer gave me for locating the cook shop where Joe said I would find him. I had driven all the way to St. Mary after work, and was anxious to inspect and test-drive the car he described to me over the phone. It was about five-thirty in the evening when I blew my horn at a wooden structure with a sign that read: ‘Janet’s Cook Shop’.
Joe emerged from the shop with a plate of food in his hands, and with a full mouth, he said, “A soon come.”
He looked like how he described himself: tall, balding with sideburns, and wearing blue carpenter’s overalls.
While I waited, a coolie woman stopped suddenly,
“Beg yuh a drive nuh?” she asked. “Is long time me don’t drive in a car lika dat!”
Her friends laughed along with her, as they walked away.
“Dem still have car like dat inna Jamaica?” one of them asked.
While they spoke, I pretended to be reading the newspaper, and after they departed, I thought to myself,
“It’s a good thing I brought the money for the down-payment along with me.”
Despite my wife’s warning that I should only test-drive the vehicle and not to pay down on it; after the women’s mockery, I decided then and there to buy the car that very evening. A few pregnant goats strolled by, and they stopped to munch on the green hedge that grew outside the shop. Joe stepped through the door, and after he gulped down his drinks, he dumped the juice box, and walked toward my car.
“Come mek me carry yuh to where the car park up.” He said.
The car was a second-hand ford, and as I drove it, I felt as if it was designed just for me. Maneuvering the car around several corners, and at various speeds; I was satisfied with it, and with the engine, which revved almost perfectly. All its parts were functional, and its interior seemed to be almost new. Through the rear-view mirror, I could see that the owner was partially sitting in my car, and he and Joe seemed to be discussing the latest cricket scores.
“The West Indies win again?” I asked, when Joe came over to me after I parked the ford.
“Yuh well skilled in your driving.” he said.
“I like this car.” I responded.“When can I pay down on it?”
“Just give me a minute there,” he said. “Let me have a little talk with the owner.”
After a brief discussion, the driver drove off with his ford.
“But I would even buy that car right now.” I thought to myself, when I saw the ford disappearing around the corner. “Imagine me when I drive that to work tomorrow; let’s see who will be laughing then!”
As I looked around, Joe seemed to have also disappeared.
“But is where him gone to now?” I pondered; and as I searched for him, I saw him in the distance, running away as fast as he could. Joe seemed to be sprinting even faster than Donald Quarrie, and he was going through the hilly terrains that were obviously inaccessible by vehicles.
“But what the hell is going on?” I thought; and then I remembered the down-payment I had tucked safely away in the side pocket of my car. With my heart pounding, I felt around anxiously for the envelope; it was gone.
“A mean, I even searched the car tyre rims dem for mi money.” I said to my wife, later that night. “I can’t believe that di man dem really thief me fi true.”
My wife sighed.
“Then after I reported him,” I continued. “The policeman asked me, ‘Which Joe?’ and I couldn’t even say anything else, for I didn’t even know his full name.”
I heaved a sigh, then hissed my teeth.
My wife sighed again, and shook her head; then the baby began crying.