It's really all right
By Robert Lalah
All right, here we go. Deep breath. Remember, it won't last long.
And so, the evening news begins (cue: overly dramatic horror-movie scream).
Terrifying, I know. There's hardly a more unsettling programme on TV these days than our local newscasts. Murder, mayhem and mischief, it's all there in the news, playing out like some sort of morbid video account of Jamaica's slow descent into anarchy.
The way things are going, we'll all soon require a dose of anaesthetics just to make it through the headlines.
Sometimes you wonder if there's any good left in people and whether the country isn't headed straight to hell in a handbasket.
It was with thoughts like these that I set out last week for St Thomas for a Roving with Lalah, a weekly feature that captures my experiences islandwide. Most of the stories are from little-known communities.
I was in White Horses, standing in the shade of a large mango tree, when I noticed a cyclist heading my way. He was carrying a sack full of ackees, and the struggle to keep it from falling was causing the bicycle to wobble.
Soon, the inevitable happened. Man, bicycle and fruit landed in one ignominious heap on the pavement. I hurried over to help.
"Heh-hey!" the man chuckled as he got up. The wheels of his bicycle were still spinning as I gathered some of the ackees that fell out of the sack and returned them to him. I could see now that he was 'up in age', maybe close to 80.
"Mi son, mi ackee dem scatta weh, heh-hey!" he laughed again. I asked him if he was OK.
"Yes, man! Mi all right. Mi a fall down off bicycle from mi a lilly pickney," he said.
I saw movement from the corner of my eye and turned to see a heavy woman running over to us. She was wearing what looked like a nightgown and carrying something in her hand. "Elton, yuh all right?" she asked, carrying a bottle of white rum and a towel. "Mi all right, Miss P," the man responded.
She looked him over. "Mi see yuh fall down while mi was on di veranda. Mi heart jump!" she said. The man smiled. "Never mind, mi all right. Later mi come seh howdy," he said.
Elton brushed off his trousers, returned his bicycle to the upright position and smiled. "Tank yuh, mi son," he said to me.
"Tek some ah di ackee dem fi yuhself."
I told him it wasn't necessary, but he insisted, leaving me with a handful of the best-looking ackees he could find. "All right, God bless yuh and tek care!" he said, as he waved to the woman and me before pedalling away. He was whistling a merry melody as he disappeared around a corner.
The woman shook her head. "Poor Elton," she said. I told her not to fret, since he was feeling all right. "Mi know, but is not dat mi mean," she said.
It turns out that Elton has been facing some tough times. He's been ill and lost his beloved wife in the past year. "But all wid what happen, him always want to help people and always a smile," the woman told me.
"Anyway, later mi cook some food and carry around there. We tek care a him; is our people," she said.
For some reason, being there while all this happened that day made me feel better. There's still a lot of love in Jamaica, and when I take the time to think about it, I realise that I see it all the time.
From neighbours sharing pumpkins and mangoes over fences, to the hearty wave and smile you get whenever you pass by a stranger sitting on a veranda, you realise that the good in Jamaica far outweighs the bad.
We have a lot of problems and focus on them a lot, in the hope of someday finding solutions. But even while we do this, it's good to understand that, as long as the good people in Jamaica - from those living in tiny hillside communities to the numbers cramped together in urban jungles - continue to be who they are and to care for others the way they do, then we're going to be all right.