Warning: This A-Musing contains language and a description of events that might be offensive to some. Parental guidance is advised.
Many years ago, and things might surely have changed radically since then, my wife and I experienced a singularly bizarre occurrence on one of our more ‘selective’ beaches.
Now let me say from the very outset that I have no sympathy with those hotels that attempt to keep Saint Lucians off the beaches abutting their properties. Yes, I do understand that sometimes hawkers, vendors and other people who are trying to make a dime in these hard times will sometimes overstep the mark, and laudable entrepreneurship can turn into harassment of an exceedingly unpleasant kind.
It is amazing sometimes how a beggar – to change the subject slightly – can be transformed from a smiling mendicant (Excuse me, boss man, can you spare me a dollar for my sick son, a meal, a ball for our cricket team or even a new house?) into a foul-mouthed threatening beast the instant you say no, no matter how politely you say it.
I must say, most beach and market vendors are not in the same class. The vast majority of them are very well-versed in the skills needed to flirt their way to a sale, and I admire them for it.
I recall years ago in Africa being accosted outside my dwelling by a well-dressed gentleman with a briefcase full of jewelry. He insisted on showing me his wares, and I rather fell for a silver bracelet – the sort that is more like a clasp, open-ended with knobs – and indicated I might buy it if the price were right. It wasn’t. The gentleman, who explained he was really a medical doctor who was trying to augment his income in order to treat, for free, more poor people who really needed his help, offered me one particular bracelet for 120 dalasi – their word for dollars. Negotiations took place over a period of days, perhaps even a week, every morning as I left the compound, and I finally bought three bracelets for 10 dalasi. We parted as friends and I continued to do business with him over a period of years, though I never actually got to visit his surgery. I doubt it even existed.
I congratulated myself on my bargaining powers until my neighbour told me that the going price was usually 2 dalasi a bracelet, but all the same 120 down to just over 3 was pretty good going, I thought.
Well, there we were, years younger than we are today, my wife and I, on the beach at the Cariblue Hotel; it was a Sunday; work was over for the week; the kids were in the water as usual, but we had done our stint of splashing about and having fun and were sitting, I under the shade of a tree, my wife on a towel in the sun just a couple of yards away, reading and minding our own business.
In those distant days, there were no all-inclusive hotels, no attempt to prevent locals of all class, colour and, presumably, creed, from using the beach for enjoyment and recreation. In fact, games organized by the hotel, which usually took place in the late afternoon, were always well-attended by locals of various hues; the guests, and the hotel management for that matter, probably thought outside participation added colour to the proceedings. There was even a group of Gros Islet fishermen standing on the beach or in the water with their long net – I think this type of fishing is called seine net fishing – and the hotel guests crowding around to admire the catch in the late afternoon just before sunset. Once satisfied, the fishers filed out of the bay, up the hill, baskets laden with fish, whole families in single file back to their homes in Gros Islet.
After a while, I noticed a black man approach my wife. He sat on the sand beside her as she continued to read while he tried to make conversation.
You know, I suppose it’s a sign of some sort of subconscious racist tendency that we find it hard to tell a person of a different
colour who comes and pesters us to bugger off. For unknown reasons we feel we have to be polite. My wife was clearly reading and did not wish to be disturbed, yet the man made no move to go away. I began to feel a little irritation and made to move in, when I heard the interloper ask, “Do you want to try a black c**k?” To which my wife replied with a dismissive wave of the hand, “Not today, thank you.” And the man, disconcerted at the polite but firm rejection of his offer, got up and drooped away. She’s always been a pretty cool chick, has my wife!