“Don’t go to the grocery, Miss Judith,” Kervin warns me. “It ain’t Tuesday yet.”
While that warning may not mean much to anyone else, to the whole Bahamian island of Eleuthera it’s common sense, and if the truth be told it’s one of the things I did remember: it’s why a half-dozen protein bars and a package of Starbucks coffee singles are taking up precious room in my suitcase—so I can last until Grocery Day.
You see, the boat–referred to as ‘The Boat’ by the people who live here (you can hear the capital letters in their voices)—arrives on Tuesday morning bringing supplies to the small mom-and-pop groceries scattered throughout the island. What that means is that there’s one day a week islanders can be sure to have fresh bread and milk and eggs, assuming they’ve planned their shopping trips and limited finances accordingly.
It also means that the tiny market next to my house will do a frantic amount of business for the next 6 hours. And it means that Lord Street will be filled with rusty pickups and junker cars belonging to the patrons of “Bert’s for the Best”, who use Tuesday afternoon not only for this important opportunity to stock up for the week, but also loiter on Bert’s concrete front stoop greeting friends and relatives.
Relatives? On an island this word takes on a new dimension. Kervin is a Culmer, and related to pretty much everybody, it seems. My cottage was built by his great grandfather and is rumored to be the first concrete house in the village. He was delighted when we bought it, roofless and with a large coconut palm growing up through the middle of the kitchen area, and then hired him to remodel it. Since then he’s taken it upon himself to be our caretaker, guide, friend, news source, termite exterminator, and airport pickup taxi whenever we come to Tarpum Bay.
Kervin is also married to Brenda, my closest island friend, and together they are a nucleus for a family unit consisting of Brenda’s grown children, Kervin’s grown children, various aunties, uncles, and cousins, and two grandchildren whom they are currently raising. Like most of the families on this island, they subsist on pick-up work: building, cleaning, cooking, and fishing. And like most of the families on the island, money means very little to them, except as a means of filling immediate needs.
In this world, nobody has any money and nobody ever expects to have any—it’s an almost meaningless commodity. If you have a toothache, pull the tooth. If you need food, go to a relative who has some to spare. If you need company, go sit on a street corner—the weather is always nice.
It’s a friendly world on this Eleuthera—not idyllic, certainly, but welcoming and comforting, a place where people are indeed family, literally and figuratively. It’s a place to which I’m always happy to return, and for which I will gladly eat protein bars and drink instant coffee, waiting until The Boat arrives.