“In Rock Sound,” the text message said.
“Yippee!” I wrote back.
It was my good friend, Captain Jim on his boat, the Ocean Dance. I’d been watching the satellite tracking of his journey to Eleuthera from Florida, and he was here at last. Brenda and I jumped in the car and headed South. (Brenda really wanted to go with me: she needed a few things to get ready for Kervin’s brother’s funeral. Plus, curiosity about my visitors was getting the best of her.)
We found Jim strolling down the middle of Queen’s Highway, having motored to shore in the dinghy from the Ocean Dance. Brenda immediately fell in love, I could tell—but then, who wouldn’t? Jim is handsome and charming, resplendent in his shorts and boat shoes, a big smile across his sea-browned face.
Since Rock Sound was his port of entry into the Bahamas, we decided to pick up Brenda’s purchases and head for the customs and immigration authorities at the Rock Sound Airport, about a mile out of town. First, though, we needed to stop at the “Convenience Superstore”, one of those surprising little businesses I’d been in on earlier trips with Brenda. In the dark, cluttered interior were all sorts of treasures—from huge jars of inexpensive spices to molded plastic lawn chairs. Brenda was on a hunt for black shoes; however, the plain pumps she found did not come in her size in black, only red. “Red at a funeral would be an insult, you know,” she explained. “They’d chase you outta the church!”
She also wanted a hairpiece, and the store owner led us to a small building behind the superstore. It had no sign, but inside every inch of space and counters was covered with beauty aids for Bahamian women: nail polish, lotions, hair jewelry, and boxes and boxes of hair pieces and extensions in all conceivable shapes, styles and colors. Brenda and Jim went at it, sorting through the options and finally deciding on a large bun with black and gold strands. Quite flattering on Brenda, and it filled the need for something on one’s head in a funeral. I might add that Jim’s opinion was clearly what mattered in this transaction….
Brenda also bought a lovely fishnet shawl to cover her arms in her sleeveless black dress—again a necessity for appropriate church attire.
We stopped at the airport on the way home and Brenda went in with Jim, determined now that she would do everything she could to make his entry into the Bahamas smooth and effortless. (And of course, since she and Kervin are related to a large percentage of the island’s population, she wields considerable power.) However, the immigration officer wasn’t there yet, and no one seemed to know when the office would be open.
“Well,” the attractive customs lady told us, “I’ll just call you when she comes in, and you can come back and talk to her.” Another of Jim’s conquests.
Kervin and his brothers and cousins were in the cemetery at Tarpum Bay. Because the cemetery is by the sea, it’s necessary to prepare a concrete vault before a burial, which is what the men were doing. When we arrived they were sitting under the tent at the grave site, a large cooler beside them, watching the concrete dry in the mid-morning sun.
“You give Miss Judith and Mr. Jim some of that chicken souse I made yesterday for the wake,” he instructed Brenda. “And,” turning to me, “You pump the brakes on that car twice. I don’t want you in no accident. Remember that: TWICE!”
Then it was back to the airport – the mysterious immigration official had appeared and was ready for us. Jim filled out an endless supply of customs forms: How long is the boat? Weight? What’s it’s value? How many crew members? How long will you stay? Do you need a fishing license?
Jim’s only question: “Do you take credit cards?” Answer: no. My question: “Do you take traveler’s checks?” Answer: no.
Between the two of us we managed to scrape up the $300+ to get the Ocean Dance permitted in the Bahamas for 90 days. “I’m sorry I’m out of fishing licenses,” the pretty woman said, smiling up at Jim. “But I’ve written across the bottom of your welcome letter that it’s OK for you to fish. If anybody asks you about it, you just call me.” And she batted her eyelashes.
The customs officer was a different story. She was located in an isolated office overlooking the runway and, once located, she clearly resented the fact that our business interrupted her Bible-reading. She too was quite attractive, dressed in a starched white blouse with epaulettes, a navy skirt, and sensible heels. Her hair and makeup were perfectly applied and she was lacking only a smile. “Where’s your crew,” she snarled. “Why did you come here? Didn’t you enter the Bahamas in Nassau or someplace else?”
When Jim explained that the crew was on the boat waiting to have passports stamped before disembarking she demanded, “Who told you to do that???” as she produced a sheaf of customs declarations. Seeing that Jim was going to be a while, and that his friendly grin didn’t seem to produce any miracles with this bureaucrat, I quietly found a seat in the waiting room, happy to use the airport’s free wireless service to check my email. (Take THAT, Cherry Capital Airport!)
A while later, Jim emerged, looking a little worse for wear but officially a legal visitor to the Bahamas.
I drove him back to the dock where he had moored his dinghy. The little boat had not survived the prolonged customs inquisition: it was swamped with seawater, and stranded on the beach by some heavy incoming waves. A gangling young man was standing voluntary watch over the unfortunate boat.
“Do you know anybody with a boat who can pull me out of here?” Jim asked. The boy gazed silently out to the Ocean Dance, moored far off shore.
“Maybe Machu,” he said, after a while.
Machu turned out to have a small boat repair and rental operation about a quarter mile down Queens Highway. The way we were to recognize his business, our informant told us, would be when we see ‘lotsa boats in the yard.’
And right he was. The ‘lotsa boats’ turned out to be lotsa boat corpses, and Machu turned out to be Matthew, a grizzled, wiry guy who willingly agreed to bring rope and a bucket and help Jim rescue his dinghy.
The whole process took about a half hour, with both men getting thoroughly drenched in the waves. But at the end of it all, Captain Jim climbed into the now-floating dinghy. “Thanks for your help,” he yelled as he bounced out to sea. “I’ll call you once I rest up from this excursion and come ashore again. We’ll have dinner.”
I dropped a waterlogged Machu off at his boat graveyard on my way to Tarpum Bay, heading for a Bahamian funeral and a bowl of delicious chicken souse.