Borrowing Brenda’s Car

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Kervin and Brenda loaned us Brenda’s car today. It was a newish car for Eleuthera, maybe five years old or so. Like most cars here, it gets left outside to fend for itself in the blistering daily sunshine and nighttime sea air, and assumes a matte finish, a weathered patina. And there’s seldom a rusty spot on a vehicle in Eleuthera, though Brenda’s car has a little patch under one wheel well.

Lynn and I needed to go to the “Shopping Centre”, a huge warehouse filled with ‘stuff—furniture to toothpicks and paint, with lots of ‘sale items—already marked down, take 15% more’. Which makes things only twice as much as I would pay in an upscale US department store—and these goods aren’t the least bit ‘upscale’.

But still, despite our stowing away household goods in our suitcases, we needed a big pot and a water pitcher and some porch furniture. And Miss Lynn needed a bed!

So, we borrowed Brenda’s car. Well, not borrowed—we’re both very careful to pay for things as we go, so yes—we rented the car. Kervin brought it over early this morning, after Brenda had thoroughly vacuumed and dusted the interior. “Careful, Miss Lynn,” he warned. “Don’t NEVER leave the keys in the car. It locks itself you see, and you leave the keys in, you be locked out!”

As we loaded the hot Nissan, Kevin issued yet another warning: “If the car alarm goes off, just push that button there, the one with the two dots.” And he roared away, down Adeline Avenue in his matte-white pick-up.

“Ok,” said, Lynn. “Here we go. Left side of the road, look out!” And she turned the key in the ignition.

Nothing. Silence.

“Well, dammit,” Lynn said. And she turned the key again, and all hell broke loose.

The car alarm system must have been top of the line. It had about seven auto-theft climaxes, and screamed them all at top decibel level. It whooped, it screeched, it grunted rhythmically, and it whooped again.

“Punch the button, punch the button!” I shouted. “No, not that one—the one with two dots.!”

“I am, I am,” Lynn screamed back at me. “I am, I am punching!”

From out of Bert’s for the Best grocery came a young man, 20 or so years old, dark skin in photographic contrast with wide-open eyes and a broad, toothy grin. “Miz Lynn, what yo problem?”

Soon we were surrounded by five men, all helplessly staring at the shrieking car. Nissan keys were passed from hand to hand, each man contributing to the button punching ritual, many with inventive combinations involving the lock and unlock and double-dot buttons.

One discovery we made was that when the car was in crisis mode, it locks itself up and refuses to start. So there we were in the early Bahamian morning—one orgasmic car, two sixty-ish white women, five sturdy, glistening black males—and not a helpful idea between the seven of us.

A sixth young man left Bert’s Best and casually sauntered over. He took the key ring imperiously from one of the others, punched the button, and—silence. We breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“How did you do that?” I asked?

He looked at me, said with extreme patience, “You push the button with two dots THREE times.”

And off we drove.

Our destination was about two miles down Queen’s Highway, at the Tarpum Bay Shopping Center.

The Shopping Center is, in fact, one large two-storied stucco warehouse containing furniture, paint, hardware, sheets, jewelry, batteries, and snacks. We had a long list of incidentals as well as a mattress and box springs, most of which we found quickly.

The car lay baking in the hot sun of the parking lot, sullen and sleepy. “Three pushes, Lynn,” I reminded her. And the car erupted, hooting and screeching, through all seven orgiastic warnings. And once again, all of the able-bodied males within a quarter of a mile descended upon us. “Poke the button.” “Turn the key”. “Unplug the battery and let it reset.” Louder and louder they begin to yell at each other — and at us. “We don’t know,” we answered. “It’s Kervin’s car. We don’t know anything!”

At length Julian, owner of Tarpum Bay Shopping Center , got in his pick-up and headed down toward Tarpum Bay, looking for Kervin while Lynn and I settled in for an hour of US television, discussing with our hosts, Julian’s parents, the prospects for an Obama success.

A warm pop and stale popcorn later, Brenda’s car was once again surrounded by men, including Kervin’s sons and their friends, a tangle of dark arms and dusty bare feet. And suddenly, once again, the silence struck. Quiet. And no triumphant faces. The silence, it seems, was due to the dead battery—so dead that no jumper cables could resuscitate it.

Much later still, Kervin arrived and the boys scampered, fearing his probable wrath at discovering the need for a new battery in Brenda’s car. Kervin brought us home,  better for us anyway because all our purchases could fit in the rear of his truck.

“I’ll bring you the car tomorrow morning, Miz Lynn, Miz Judith. I got to get me a battery. And we is gonna take OUT that car alarm. And you will have to lock it wid the key inna lock.”

“Kervin,” I asked, “where are people going to hide a stolen car on an island that’s only two miles wide?”

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