By Robert Lalah
The unmistakable squeak of a rusty bicycle chain was getting louder. I stepped to the side of the road a bit to make room. I could hear a man's voice, singing. It was coming from around a corner. It wasn't a song I had ever heard before.
"Uncle Jimmy, mi seh gimmi di pitatah/Mek Aunty Lilly slice up di tomatah."
But that was all. The singing stopped and there was no more squeaking chain. I stared in the direction the singing was coming from, but saw no one. Strange. I walked closer to the bend around which I assumed the singer and his bicycle would be found. I was right.
He goes by the name Mello and he's about 40 years old with a chipped front tooth. He was sitting on the bicycle that had clearly seen better days, near the side of the road on Skyline Drive, high in the St Andrew hills.
I might have caught him at a bad time, but Mello certainly didn't live up to his name. When I asked him what he was doing just sitting there, he did not take it well.
"Den ah wah? Mi caan just siddung one place again? Mi nah trouble nuh baddy. Look yah, just gwaan and low mi yah," he snapped.
I asked him why he was getting so testy. I was, after all, just trying to make conversation. This seemed to calm him down a bit. He sighed, then rubbed the back of his head.
"Have mi excuse yah, boss," he said, in a more controlled tone. "Mi just nuh love people ah badda badda mi. All di while people ah badda badda mi," he said. I should note here, that Mello, though fully capable of attracting a woman, I'm sure, has remarkably large ears. It's the kind of thing you can't ignore. From a distance, he appears to be wearing earmuffs. So when he told me that people were constantly bothering him, I, without thinking, asked, "Because of your ears?"
Mello's eyes widened and I realised instantly my error in judgement. Thankfully, he appeared not to have heard me, so when he said, "Eh?" I responded hastily with, "They've been bothering you over the years?"
He nodded. "Yeah, man. Mi nuh know ah wah 'bout mi why people evah ah badda mi so."
I tried hard not to look at his ears. I asked him where he was from.
"Mi really live at a place name Burnt Ground in St Elizabeth. Yeah, man. Is there mi born," he said.
"But you know how it go. You have to move come town fi si if you can mek something gwaan fi yuhself."
Mello told me that he had been staying with a friend near Skyline Drive for about a month, but was getting antsy and wanted to return home.
"Town life too hard yah, bredda," he said. "You see a sexy woman stand up and as a man, you eye dem just naturally go to har. Two twos har man inna yuh face ready fi kill yuh, seh yuh ah look pan him woman. Mi caan live so," he said, shaking his head.
I asked him if this had happened to him personally. "Well nuh really, but something like dat," he said.
RESTING A WHILE
Mello was heading to Papine, at the foot of the hill, where he sells bottled water. He was to meet up with his supplier, but found that he was more than an hour early, so he stopped to rest a while.
"Dah views yah pretty though," he said, pointing behind me.
I turned to find as good a view of the city and surrounding areas as you could hope for. With the sea in the distance, it was quite spectacular.
Mello glanced at his wrist (though he was wearing no watch) then said it was time for him to go.
"Mi nuh want di truck fi lef' me," he said, before pedalling off, the chain squeaking all the way.
I walked across the road and into a narrow dirt lane. There I met a woman sitting behind a bucket of soapy water. A pile of clothes was near her feet. I greeted her and told her I was in the area, trying to find out about the place. She was silent for a moment. Then, she looked down at the soapy water, then at the pile of clothes, then back at me.
"Mi kinda doing something now, yuh know," she said. I apologised for the intrusion. "Come back a next day. Like next week Friday or so. Mi caan deal wid nothing before dem time deh," she said just before dipping her hands into the soapy water.
I was dismissed, but thanked her for her time before heading off. I intend to try again next week, as instructed.
Where should Robert go next? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org