"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Sunday, February 01, 2004
Playing with Knives
This weeks Blogger Idol theme is "A Day in the Life Of..." Instead of writing about my normal day, I have chosen one special day to write about.
dan-ger Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English daunger, from Old French dangier, alteration of dongier, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin dominiarium, from Latin dominium ownership
1 : exposure or liability to injury, pain, harm, or loss
2 : a case or cause of danger
3 : where you can land suddenly, unexpectedly, on a sunny afternoon.
It was 1987, and I was on yet another free cruise to Nassau.
At the time, I was a travel agent and the agency would take all of us on a cruise in the winter. The cruise was always to Nassau. So, here I went, yet again, to Nassau.
Now, Nassau is not a town where you can spend endless days, like a Paris or even a Lucerne. Nassau has a limited set of attractions. Lets see, there's the straw market (conveniently located near the dock), the botanical gardens (which hardly anyone goes to, but they are beautiful), the underwater theme park/tourist trap, the straw market, a few duty free shops, some sightseeing boats with glass bottoms, and did I mention the straw market?
When I awoke that morning, I knew that when we docked at lunchtime, all those things would be awaiting me. But I felt uneasy.
Something was wrong.
It was not something I could put my finger on, I mean, you could look all around me and ask anything you liked and nothing was amiss or out of place. It was just something was wrong.
I did not know it at the time, but when my wife had dropped me off for the cruise the day before she had a premonition that she would never see me alive again. So did I, but neither of us voiced it. As others made their cheerful goodbyes and warmed up for a several day long party, I said a sober and heartfelt farewell.
The day we arrived in Nassau, I had gotten up far earlier than is normal for me. It was about six o'clock, maybe earlier. I got dressed and went out onto the deck into the gray early morning cloudiness. It was deserted except for one crewmember tossing garbage bags into the water.
Yeah, you'll notice I am steering away from naming this cruise line. We'll leave it that way.
As the ship awoke around me, I felt tense, but managed to swallow it and look as jovial and funloving as ever. And, you know, when you are on a cruise ship and you feel out of sorts, eventually you begin to cheer up and forget your troubles. The cruise lines spend millions of dollars to make that happen, and it does.
I went to breakfast and it was, like all cruise ship meals, awesome. But it seemed like it was missing something.
I guess it was my mood. The food was perfect, but Cliff wasn't. That nagging premonition just wouldn't let me go.
As the day progressed, the sun burned off the early morning clouds and we approached Nassau. In the midst of the limbo contests and the wooden horse races and the calypso music, I watched the island grow ever closer. Slowly, my unease faded to a low buzz.
Even amidst the frenetic merrymaking, I was almost bored. Oh, did I mention they have a straw market in Nassau?
The massive ship thrust itself smoothly into the harbor and then did a butterfly dance right up to the dockside. On the way in, I saw a beautiful pink hotel up on a hill. This hotel had been closed for a long time, but it still proudly stood guard over the harbor like a pink knight of the art deco round table. It was easily as big as the British Colonial, still operating and even featured in some James Bond movies. But this ancient relic seemed stuck in time, abandoned, brooding over the harbor as if it were waiting for yet another William Hearst to pull up in a Rolls Royce and claim his "regular" room.
You know, I've seen that hotel every time from the water, but I've never seen that hotel. Not really, not up close, I thought.
I'll bet I can get some really cool pictures there.
After all the checks and forms filled out and whatnot, eventually the gangplank goes down and we all get to scatter into Nassau proper. So, I dutifully head out; besides there is nothing happening on the ship anyway, everything shuts down for the shore pilgrimage.
There is a line of taxis and limos waiting to pick up passengers as they disembark. They stuff passengers in like cotton balls in a jar. Some of the vehicles are really two vehicles, or were, and you can easily tell where they cut a working car in two and welded the middle of a supposedly non working vehicle in between.
I walk the 500 yards down the quay into town, where the taxis and limos are disgorging most of their passengers. Oh my, there's a straw market.
I go the other way.
There is singing in the distance, this is a new thing. I follow it and come to a church holding its Sunday services. It's standing room only and the crowd has overflowed all the way to the porch. I stand in the back and enjoy the songs and the worship for a few minutes. There are lots of smiles and the people are really nice, and even though we are separated by more than just an ocean, I know these people are my kindred, and they can sense it too I think.
I grabed some lunch at a little waterfront dive I knew about from past visits called Captain Nemo's. They had an open air dining area on the water right next to a marina, and you could eat there and feed the birds and the fish right from your table. The food was Bahamian, very authentic. Well, hey, to them it's home cooking. And it was always delicious.
They had a fish soup that was just awesome, deep and rich and just the right kind of spicy. A young couple, probably newlyweds, at the next table had ordered the soup and they were happily eating and chatting about their visit to the straw market, when suddenly the girl gasped, "Oh my God!" She stared horrified into her bowl.
"What?" her husband said.
"There's a... a... oh my God this is ... there's a fish head in my soup, I think." She carefully, delicately, squeamishly poked around in the bowl a bit. "I think I'm going to be sick." They both stared at the bowl, and the fish head stared balefully back.
The Bahamians, of course, use ALL of the fish. This couple was unprepared for what that really meant. They left their soup uneaten.
After eating, tossing some bread to the wildlife, and watching the same boat make the trip across the harbor at least five times for no apparent reason (it was called the "Come and Go" probably because it never "stopped and rested") I decided that the time had come for my adventure.
I checked my wallet, after my meal I had about twelve dollars. If I wanted to see that old hotel, I would have to walk, at least one way.
Traffic was heavy, not because there were a lot of cars but rather because there was not much road. Actually, if you are from the United States, even crossing the road in the Bahamas is a challenge because they drive on the left. And to make it even more fun, most of the people driving are Americans in rental cars, and are not real good at the left hand driving thing. Add a few hundred rented mopeds, and it can get real exciting really quickly.
I headed up the road towards the hotel. It soon narrowed to a tight two lane with hardly any shoulder, and I was walking pretty much in the ditch with the thick tropical vegetation hanging ominously over me, completely over the road. Soon, the former luxury hotel rose into view above the jungle in all its pink glory.
And she was massive.
I walked up the cobblestone grand drive, still preserved, and looked at the ornate main entryway to the lobby. You could see that, in her prime, this must have been the playground of only the most rich and the most famous. But now, she was falling down. Palm trees were growing through the roof, vines hanging everywhere, the jungle was eating her alive. She was valiantly fighting, but she was losing.
I walked into the main hall, and saw a pile of trash and bottles. It looked like someone had been sleeping there, or at least getting drunk there. I thought better of this and went back outside, where it felt safer.
As I headed to the side of the huge decaying structure, I came to some coconut palms that had grown through the old sidewalks. Beneath them were some broken coconuts.
I went through them, and rounded the corner.
This was like a scene from the movies. I was standing on an old tennis court. You could just barely tell what it was, because there was grass and weeds coming up all over it and the ancient clay was hopelessly cracked. There were huge spots where the weeds were three or four feet tall, but it was easy to imagine how gentlemen and ladies with bobbed hair and bloomers had played tennis in this spot.
I was surrounded by thick jungle on every side except where the hotel was. I began clicking off picture after picture, this spot was incredible. Palms sticking up through the roofs, flowers everywhere, the sun hitting just right. There were some buildings behind me too, probably private bungalows for the immensly rich. I could stand right there and use up all my film.
Which is probably why I didn't notice him come up, with my eye gawking through the viewfinder.
"Hey, you got any money?"
He was gaunt, almost starved looking with big hollow eyes and gray skin from eating badly and cleaning less.
I had only twelve dollars, and that was supposed to last me. And I needed a taxi, I figured. Besides, I hated panhandlers.
"No, not really, no. Sorry."
He covered the ground between us like a tiger and before I knew it he had a knife to my throat. "I'm going to kill you. Now give me your money."
The moment was here. My heart pounded in my ears like a bass drum.
He started trying to rip my back pocket off to get at my wallet, and I reached in and dropped my wallet on the ground. He picked it up and took out the twelve dollars, still keeping the knife against me. He might have been gaunt but he was strong.
He took my rings and took my gold necklace.
I said, "Wait...You don't want to do this."
He looked at me, stunned. What a thing to say. And I think I was probably looking at me stunned too.
He stared at me, motionless, looking deep into my eyes. "I'm starving. I need food. All I have had to eat are some coconuts and I am craving real food. This is the only way I know to get it." He lowered the knife.
The broken coconuts. Coconuts don't break by themselves.
I began to talk to him about seeking help, and he told me about how he had tried and no one would help him. I told him about the church I had visited and how nice the people seemed. As I talked (for I think God was guiding my words) his heart began to melt.
"OK", I said. "First give me my money. I will then give you some of it back to buy food, and it will be a gift, not something you stole."
He looked at me like he fully expected me to trick him. He held the bills out as far as he could reach, ready to spring if there was any motion from me, eyes wide, nostrils flaring, knife gripped tightly. You could tell how hard this was for him, how badly he wanted to trust, how difficult it was to do it.
I carefully and slowly took the cash, took a couple of dollars for a taxi, and gave him the rest. He smiled. "You are giving this to me?"
"Giving?" he repeated.
"Yes. Now the jewelry."
He handed the jewelry back. "Man, I didn't want to hurt you, I am just so hungry, I would do anything."
I told him about God, and he listened. Afterwards, he even walked me back to the road so no one else would rob this ignorant tourist who did not know better than to get out of sight of the highway.
I walked home, unable to find a taxi. Inside, I was elated. I had crossed the nexus, I had met the challenge and passed it. I melded with the crowds of passengers winding their way back to the ship, firmly gripping wierd hats and gigantic straw baskets. I had something far better.
I was alive.
Dinner that night was one of the best I ever tasted. Danger survived does that.
It's a dangerous business going out your front door.
J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 - 1973), The Fellowship of the Ring