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Me friend from The L'ance

By PI |

Many years ago I met a friend from D'Lance. He would take me around Gouyave and D'Lance, he in his khaki shorts, worn bare at the seats, buttocks showing. Mine, not so bad. He, barefoot. Me, in tight rubber ‘dog-muzzles’ that cut into my feet. I took them off and hid them. I wanted to be like my friend. He roamed the streets and shorelines in rags of poverty, but with a rich gusto for life.
He showed me the best fishing spots, how to catch black crabs for bait, and crayfish in the river with hands under rocks. How to make and fly kites. How to make catapults, with wood, inner tube, and old shoe tongues. Catch birds with bent twigs and twine lassos.
I would run away from the fish market school on D'Lance with him and others. Gladiator movies in Casaman Theatre. Audie Murphy movies Down Street. I followed my friend everywhere with his rags blowing around him like flags of adventure.
Then I left Gouyave, and some years later, Grenada.
I didn’t see my friend again for many years. Then a few years ago, driving up D'Lance, I recognized him immediately. Walking across the street in front the same fish market that served as a temporary school in our youth. We embraced and headed for the closest rumshop and drank for a long time, reminiscing in high spirit about those early days.
Then I asked him if anything had changed over the years.
“Yeah, man,” he said with a sparkle in his eyes. “Remember, I used to live on one side of the fish market?”
I remembered.
“Well,” he said with the same enthusiasm he had many years ago. “I moved to the other side.”
Interesting, I thought.
Was it possible that on the day he was moving from one side of the fish market to the other, I was moving from North Carolina to the Far East? Or that on the days he was crisscrossing the narrow streets of D'Lance, I was crisscrossing the wide expanse of the Pacific?
Maybe on the days I shook hands with governors, my friend was shaking hands with unemployed youths. Or on the days I puffed cigars with generals, he was smoking Phoenix cigarettes with fishermen. And when I toasted the head of the Japanese parliament with rice wine for a good day at the casino, my friend was toasting his friends with Rivers Rum and Carib Beer for a good day’s catch of flying fish.
Was it possible that on the days he paraded from one end of D'Lance to the other barefoot or in worn slippers, I was parading in National Cemeteries and military bases from the East Coast to the Pacific in dress blues uniform and spit-shined shoes?
When he asked me what I had been doing with my life, I could have told him that on the days he was collecting jacks from fishing nets, I was collecting degrees from universities.
But I didn’t. And couldn’t
In the presence of my friend the fisherman, my petty accomplishments seemed pale and woefully inadequate. My jovial friend lived life ten feet from a fish market. He never owned a credit card nor knew what a mortgage was. And it showed. His face had fewer age lines than mine did. He had a richer head of hair than I. I had more gray than he did.
The passage of time had been visibly more generous to his youth than mine.
I still felt I belonged in the shadows of the noble rags he wore as a boy and still wore as a man. His aura spoke louder than any words could. Life isn’t about where you go, what you do, or what you have. Life is about who you are. And when you know who you are, it doesn’t matter where you are.
I saw him again just last week on D'Lance. He was sitting with friends across the street from the fish market having a cold Carib, joking and laughing.
That’s when it hit me.
If Papa God came and told me, “Your time has come. Today is your last. You’ve been in the company of sergeants and generals, governors and doctors, economists and philosophers, fishermen and farmers. Choose one to spend with on your last day.”
Who would I choose?
Maybe I am just becoming sentimental in my middle years . . .
Somebody, quick! Buss out a case a cold Carib and a pack of Phoenix cigarettes!
Doh waste me time looking for matches. Ah go get a light from a coal pot on D'Lance.
And doh waste me time asking for money. Settle de account with the insurance money after ah gone.
Today is me last. And ah spending it wid me fisherman friend on D'Lance!