As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
-John F. Kennedy
Ren and I are back yall! We have truly re-threaded ourselves into the fabric of Long Island. It occurred to me one night when we first arrived again on Long Island. We embarked on the second of our twice-daily hitchhikes between Salt Pond, where Nila Girl stays and the 20 miles to Dean’s Blue Hole, where we dive. Usually we hike in the morning, as people are leaving for work and in the afternoon, when people are returning home from work. This night Ren and friends, Brian Pucella and Will Trubridge finished a spearfishing adventure late. Ren and I set off after kisses to our friends with a shopping bag full of fish down the long, dark Queen’s Highway back to our home and some supper, which I still had to make.
As it got darker and darker that night it became much harder to find rides. Long Island is affectionately known as the “family islands” of the Bahamas. Any good family islander knows that you have to be home for supper if you want to maintain a happy, healthy home. As the number of churches outnumber bars, restaurants and grocery stores combined, the Bahamian’s have a great sense of core family values. Perfect for family life, not so helpful when trying to catch a ride after dark, swinging a bag of fish by your side. We walked along the side of the road, which really doesn’t exist. There is no “side” of the road. Only concrete then an abrupt transitional slope of vegetation leading directly into the ocean. Slapping mosquitos, which were many this particular night, we trudged on in the dark. The world was quiet except for the sound of our light footsteps smacking the pavement and the occasional gust of wind, which has a character of it’s own out here.
The faint sound of rhythm echoed in our ears. We stopped and listened closely as the drum beat got louder. The beat was intensified by horns and a voice. The darkness of night was interrupted suddenly by lights. Bright lights! The lights came careening towards us and we thought what any other hitchhiker might have thought at that moment, “Aliens!”. We assumed our routine hitchhiking position, Ren in the front me in the back. We have noticed that my placement at the rear of the hiking train improved our chances of getting rides. Probably because anyone welcoming a stranger into their car would prefer a women to a smelly, hairy man. Not that Ren is either smelly or hairy but hey, how is a stranger supposed to know that. From our routine positions I lifted my right arm straight out and gave the Bahamian “slow down” arm shake. The sound of an engine coming to a halt woke us from our fantasy that aliens were picking us up. Hello! Alien spaceships don’t sound like 1970’s model Ford F-150s…I don’t think they do anyway.
To our disappointment, we were not being approached by aliens after all. To our excitement, we looked up at our ride to see the midnight blue F-150 with silver bed rails running down it’s back. Emerging from the opaque tinted window which was rolling down in front of us was a head of perfectly suave dread locks and beautiful reggae music, that explains the drum sounds. The dread locks poked their head out and turned down the music just long enough to say, “Whe ya goin’?” Our usual reply, “As far as you’ll take us.” Ren jumped in the front seat which was lined with a patterned seat cover. The old school bench covers, woven with mulit-colored thread. The kind my brother has been trying to find in the States for his truck. Throwback seat covers that remind Corey and myself of our Dad’s grey F-150, the manual shift I learned to drive on. For people that don’t have as many material belongings as the typical American, this guy would sure give Corey something to covet.
I had two options, squeeze in the middle of the bench between dread lock, ghost rider and Ren, or take my preferred seat in the bed of the truck. It didn’t feel like a choice to me. I threw our bag in the back of the truck, stepped on the rear truck tire and swung my leg over the bed rail. Saddling up against the rear window with my legs sticking straight out towards the tailgate, I slapped mosquito after mosquito all but yelling for the guy to, “Get moving!” The truck clunked into gear and we were off. I had an immediate flashback of this time when my family was very young and living in Charleston, SC. We were in our maroon Astro minivan going, who-remembers-where. Ahead on the side of the road was an old black man. The guy must have been 50 or 60 but seemed ancient to me at the time, just having crawled into the double digits myself at the ripe age of 10. The man was wearing standard blue Dickie pants and jacket set. He carried a huge black lunch box. The kind that comes with a full sized thermos. Your Dad may have had one, mine did. One hand on the colossal lunchbox, the other outstretched towards the road, thumb pointing straight up, fingers curled in a fist beneath the thumb. I remember my Dad saying, “If you guys weren’t in the car with me right now, I’d pick that guy up.” My Mom looked at him in horror. She couldn’t believe he would suggest such a thing in front of her precious babes.
“Oh God, Earl. Don’t tell me that!”
“But really, Mari. He’s just trying to catch a ride home from work. He’s harmless.”
That’s when I first realized that everyone was out to get me…and probably nobody was out to get me, all at the same time. This thought flashed through my head sitting in the back of the truck, wind blowing my hair straight out in front of my face. I watched the moon rise over the water from the back of that truck. The moon was blood red then shifting to orange as it flew up from the horizon to give us nature’s street lamp. The moon rose quickly overhead and shone bright white illuminating the waters, land, the midnight blue truck and me. The truck became a bullet, shooting down Queen’s Highway and a smile stretched wide across my face. I imagined watching us from my perch on top of the moon, shooting down the road, three people, strangers communing in the moonlight just trying to get home after a day of work.
Although NC is our home, this was the perfect way to usher us into what is quickly becoming our second home, Long Island. I tried my hardest to silently will the truck to go faster. Like diving down to depth, you reach a certain point and you just want to keep sinking or in this case, flying down the road. It didn’t matter at that moment if we ever got home, I was already there. Nila Girl emerged in the distance and the truck slowed again, this time to drop us off. Ren pulled all of the lionfish he had out of the plastic grocery bag nestled between his feet in the cab of the truck. He gave the lionfish to dread locks, the perfect payment for a ride home, and a pure experience of gratitude.