Saturday evening, and dinner time. Our two guests, escapees from Michigan, Lynn and I decide to wander down to the beach for dinner at the No-Name restaurant, a little bar and food place run by Donovan and Diane. It’s just reopened, after having been raided by the health department for operating without a current liquor license (during which activity there were some suspicious ‘organic substances’ discovered by the authorities). But the restaurant is back in business now, and for Tarpum Bay it is ‘jumping’: there are two guys at the stand-up bar and some rake and scrape music playing loudly from a small radio.
No-Name restaurant is clean and pleasant inside, with two tables for four and the tiny bar. One of the men at the bar detaches himself from his drink long enough to hold the chair for me and utter a long string of works which I can’t really understand, given the fact that he seems to have been at the bar a rather long time, and has a pretty thick Bahamian patois in the best of times. Our volunteer maitre d’ is quite effusive and totally unintelligible, but he proudly points out the little black and white house next door, and I do catch it when he proudly says that he has been living in that very same house for 40 years.
He wants to know where we live, and Lynn tells him that we live in the pink house, “the one that Kervin built.” The latter identification causes him to nod vigorously: it seems that everyone recognizes Kervin’s great building job, and probably envies the fact that he had a year’s worth of work just down the road from his own house. At any rate, we are now welcomed even more warmly by our friend, who proceeds to plant a kiss on the top of my head. He then weaves a few steps back to the bar, and orders another beer.
Diane takes our order: it’s grouper fingers or conch—dipped in batter and fried, of course, with french fries and salad. And we begin the traditional wait: food here is cooked to order, and from my balcony I have often watched Donovan head out to the fish cage he keeps off shore and bring back fresh fish or conch for the evening menu.
But it takes a long time—nobody moves quickly, ever, and there are a couple of take-away orders ahead of ours. Our buddy at the bar seems to think we need entertainment, so he comes back over to our table and proceeds to kiss me on the head a few more times, and tell me that I am his mother, his girlfriend, and his sister, all rolled into one, and he respects me. Since it’s clear that we don’t share any genetic heritage, we all find this pronouncement pretty amusing, but he seems quite serious.
Then he pops the question: Do I like shells? Try asking this question after many beers: it comes out something like “Youalllikeshellsh?” and it took me a couple of tries to get it.
“Sure,” I say.
“Ibringyoushellsh, then,” he says and lurches to the door. We see him go past our window and head for the little black and white cottage, soon to return with two beautiful, perfect sea shells—a tulip shell and a perfect helmet. “These are for you,” he says, putting them in front of me. “Only for you.”
“Wow. What did I do to deserve this?” In the way of an answer, he kisses me on my head again.
Assured that we like them, he is a man with a mission: he heads back to his cottage and returns with a couple more shells, smaller, but no less perfect, cleaned and polished.
Again, we oooh and ahhh, and place them reverently in the middle of our table.
He’s in his stride now, so he lurches out the door and returns with a somewhat battered envelop from the Bahamas Electric Company. He presents it to me and directs me to open it. I am suspicious: am I supposed to pay his electric bill in return for these gifts? A kiss on the head may not be enough for this guy? I hand it back to him, but he insists that I open it.
“OK,” I say to my friends, “You are witnesses. He asked me to open this envelope.” They nod, and I unstick the flap, aware that it’s been opened several times before. I unfold the papers inside, and discover that it’s a check from BEC for $1,146. “Are you Arthur?” I ask. “You’re a lucky guy.”
“You keep it,” he says. “I ain’t got no children anymore.”
“No, Arthur.” I hand it back to him. “You get to a bank. You can live on this for, say, ten years.”
He laughs and goes back to the bar, tucking the check in his pocket, probably with great relief that his offer has been rejected. (However, we notice later that he tries to pay his bar bill with it, much to the disgust of Donovan, who can’t make change and realizes that Arthur has no other money in his pocket.)
Our meal comes at last, and it’s delicious. By now, several other customers have wandered in for snacks or take-away dinner or a Kalik beer. Donovan has had about enough of our friend Arthur (whom we later find out, has the nickname “Goatie”) and refuses to serve him any more beer, an action probably inspired by the fact that he’s discovered that his customer has no money and an uncashable check. A fairly loud discussion ensues as Donovan encourages Arthur to observe bedtime in his black and white cottage, and suggests that something severe will happen if Goatie doesn’t share the proceeds of the check-cashing operation with his next door bartender.
As we leave, Goatie emerges from the bushes for a farewell and we reinforce the necessity of his getting a good nights sleep, thank him once again for the shells, and head up the hill to the pink house that Kervin built.