So I recently celebrated another birthday (it's all downhill from here) and while ideally, such an occasion would find me engaging in varying degrees of malfeasance, this year, the milestone was accompanied by a pestering requirement that comes around every five years. It was time to renew my driver's licence, which meant - you guessed it - a dreaded trip to the tax office (insert horror movie sound effects here).
Now, I've learned a few things over the years, when it comes to visiting the tax office and I've developed a list of guidelines such as, never go at the end of the month, never go very early in the morning and never, under any circumstance ask to borrow a pen from a frowning woman holding a small, crying child.
Armed with this knowledge, I strolled into the tax office last week, hoping for the best. It was close to midday.
There weren't very many people there. I looked over at the cashier section where a short line was beginning to develop. I walked over and stood at the back of the line, putting me behind a man in a red shirt and khaki trousers. I nodded hello and he did the same. I looked around the room. There was a section with some chairs reserved for senior citizens. About nine persons were sitting there.
The man in the red shirt tapped me on the shoulder.
"Yuh know if is here dem sell di sticker?" he said.
I asked him which sticker he was talking about.
"Di sticker what yuh put pon di cyar. Di licence sticker, man," he said.
I told him he would have to show the vehicle's documents to the cashier and then he'd be able to pay for the sticker. He looked annoyed.
"After mi nuh have dat!" he said. I shrugged.
"Den meck dem nuh tell people dem ting yah?" he said before hissing and storming off. I watched him walk through the exit and disappear outside.
I inched forward in line. To my left, I noticed a small sign hanging from the ceiling which designated that section for the renewal of driver's licences. I didn't remember seeing that the last time I was there. I started wondering if I should have gone there directly instead of immediately joining the cashier line. Under the sign, a short, slender woman was sitting. She looked utterly bored. I then glanced at the persons ahead of me in line. I counted eight. I would have hated to wait all that time to pay, only to be told that I was in the wrong line. I turned to the person behind me, a fellow of about 40 years and inquired whether he would be good enough to save my spot. He nodded and I walked over to the woman sitting under the sign. I said hello. She nodded without blinking.
"Do I have to pay for the renewal first?" I asked. She nodded again, then pointed to a section next to the area provided for seniors.
"There is an express line if is that alone you doing. That line empty now," she said.
I couldn't believe my luck. I thanked her and hurriedly walked up to the waiting cashier. I told her what I was there to do, she told me the cost and I handed her the money. While I waited for her to make change and hand me my receipt, a short, balding man wearing spectacles walked up to the cashier next to me.
"A very good day to you!" he said. "And, how are you on this fine day?" he asked. The cashier nodded and snatched the documents from him without saying anything. I got my change and receipt and headed back to the woman sitting under the sign.
She took the receipt, gave me a form to fill out and pointed me to a section where I could sit until called to take a photo.
There were two men and three women already sitting there. I took a seat. A man wearing several gold chains and rings walked up to the counter near me.
"Hey main," he said. "I don't leave Merica fi a bwoy pass him place wid mi," he said to a stocky man standing behind the counter.
"Sir, we cannot help you until you show us the documents," the stocky man said, seeming unamused.
The fellow with the rings waved him away and walked over to where I was sitting. He sat beside me.
"Main, mi live in farin fi so many years. Mi don't used to all this badderation, main," he said. I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing.
"Dem want mi show ownership papers for the land, but main I ain't got no papers. I live in Merica," he said, gesticulating wildly.
I felt a nudge on my knee. It was a fair-skinned man with bushy hair. "Beg yuh move over likkle bit deh mi bredda," he said. I shifted slightly. The man stretched his legs out.
"Di sun mash mi up bad bad," he said.
I turned back to the man from Merica, who, by the way, had not stopped speaking.
"Ain't no way mi going back to Branx without tecking care of business, main," he said.
My name came blaring out of a speaker. It was time to go take my picture. I followed the directions of the stocky man behind the counter and walked into a small room where a camera was set up in front of a chair. A woman wearing lots of make-up was sitting next to the camera. I said hello.
"Have a seat and look into the camera," was her response.
I did as told. In a matter of seconds it was over and I was instructed to go back from whence I came to sit and wait.
Back outside, a man called Ramble asked me if I knew how much it was to insure his car. Ramble smelled of cologne. He was a middle-ager with triangular eyebrows. I told him I had no idea. "Man, mi want to just pay di ting and leave but mi nuh sure if mi have enough," he said.
I paused for a second then mentioned to him that he couldn't actually pay for his car insurance at the tax office. "Seh wah?" he said. I repeated what I had said. His face reddened and he walked away without saying anything else.
I heard my name again and rushed over to the counter to collect my licence and sign for it in a giant book.
I was happy to walk out of the building. As I was leaving, I gave a final glance over at the man with many rings.
"Good fi you, bredda. You done but I'm still here. Mi ain't leaving fi now," he said.
Where should Robert go next? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following are some feedback letters to last week's edition of Roving with Lalah.
After reading your piece it mek mi mouth wata. Even though we get mangoes in NY nothing like back home. I love to read your pieces in The Gleaner. They bring me back to when I was young in Jamaica.
- Y. D.
Nice story as always. Big up!
Never stop writing. You are the best!