“Miss Judith! Miss Judith! Y’all ready?”
“What, Brenda? What am I ready for?”
“Miss Judith, I done told you, you don’t say ‘what’ to somebody. That’s rude! You supposed to say ‘yes’ when somebody calls you.”
“OK, then YES, Miss Brenda? What am I supposed to be ready to do?”
“I told you yesterday. We going shopping! Get some clothes on.”
That’s three errors in Brenda’s eyes: I don’t say “Yes” when called (I always answer ‘what?’); I don’t remember making plans for a shopping trip (but I probably did. Sometimes I just get tired of trying to decipher the Bahamian language shortcuts and just nod as if I am really understanding what they are saying), and I don’t have on a skirt (a Bahamian fashion transgression. Women wear skirts, not denim shorts. )
Well, I can be partially retrained: I will answer ‘yes’ when called, but I’m not wearing a skirt to go shopping. With relief, I note that Miss Barbara’s two adult daughters also don’t wear skirts as the four of us squeeze into a miniature Chevy, rusted and sprung, with the trunk tied shut.
I’m along for the gas money, I discover, but it’s good to get out of Tarpum Bay and head north along Queens Highway. For my US friends, ‘highway’ is a bit of a misnomer—the road is two lanes wide, except where it isn’t—places where the sea has swept away a part of the second lane or the potholes have eaten out an intersection. My friends back home would notice a lack of road signs warning of dangerous curves and no passing stretches: island residents have only one main road which traverses the 100 mile length of island, and they know Queens Highway like the palms of their hands.
And where they have made mistakes there are roadside memorials: weathered wooden crosses, plastic flower mounds, and rusted auto parts.
We pass through Governors Harbour, James Cistern, Alice Town, and Gregory Town, over the Glass Window Bridge with the Atlantic Ocean on our right and the placid Caribbean on our left—all the way to the northernmost part of the island. The ladies chatter and laugh, and I catch a few snippets of conversation—who’s pregnant, in jail, or hasn’t gone to ‘choich’ lately. We do a lot of honking and waving as we travel, and when we slow down for a stop sign there’s usually someone there to be greeted: “You all right?”
At last (after about 90 minutes of travel time) we’re at our destination, the North Eleuthera Shopping Centre outside the settlement of Bluff. We pull into a parking lot. There are three cars baking in the afternoon sun next to a very large warehouse-like building. The structure is new—the original store was destroyed by fire a couple of years ago and the re-built grocery was opened again in 2009.
Inside it is large and airy, light and clean. I am delighted to see a large produce section (fresh produce is not common in Eleuthera), a variety of frozen foods and meats as well as dairy products which include more than yellow brick cheese and week-old milk. Prices are comparatively good too—there’s a large wholesale section of staples and an array of small appliances and housewares. I think of all the time I spent last year looking for curtain rods and bathmats: one afternoon at the North Eleuthera Shopping Centre would have solved my problems.
I must admit I am distressed at the huge selection of the favorite consumption product of Bahamians: junk food. Every day at my local grocery store I see school kids buying their ‘lunch’: a bag of potato chips, a dollar package of choco-chip cookies, and a soda. Today, it will be my job to hold a case of chips and pretzels on my lap as we head back to Tarpum Bay after our shopping is done.
We stock up. I buy Brenda a pair of knock-off Croc sandals in bright red, and for me some cereal bowls and other items not readily found at Berts for the Best in Tarpum Bay. I am delighted that this establishment accepts credit cards, a rarity in the out islands. One forgets how inconvenient it is to have to pay cash for two months and not have access to a money machine.
We load our groceries in the tiny car. This process necessitates flipping down the back seat to put our bags in the trunk—and even then, we all have parcels on our lap as we head south. In Palmetto Point we discover Brenda’s granddaughter, Shandera, waiting for an after-school ride, and so we load her in the car—book bag, potato chip cartons, grocery bags and all and head the 20 miles home.
A fun afternoon, shopping with ‘the girls’. But I’m glad I didn’t change my mind and wear a skirt.