Shades of Grey / by VH McKenzie



"Mi cyan't find mi sista cell phone. A wheh it deh?"

We were driving back to Negril after spending the day in Sav La Mar. I had no idea where the cell phone could be. I had no use for it myself. This was the first year cell phones began to pop up all over Jamaica and I hadn't quite gotten used to the idea that you could actually reach someone without resorting to the rural grapevine. Which was, incidentally, a remarkably reliable method of contacting folks.

Frighteningly reliable, now that I think about it.

But cell phones had arrived. We'd actually brought this particular cell phone down for Felicia just so that we could stay in touch with the family directly, rather than depend upon the sole neighbor who owned an actual land-line phone. A cell phone became THE prized luxury accessory of the season, better than a gold chain. Even if you had no battery charger to keep it functioning, hell, even if it had no battery aTALL, wearing a cell phone prominently clipped to your pants waist was even better than a new pair of Clarks.

And ours was missing.

"I dunno," I said, "are you sure you left it in the car?"

"Yeah, mi leff it dehsoh," my husband said, pointing to the well behind the gearshift box, between the seats. "An mi mine tell me," he said, tapping his finger against his temple, "NAH let Sticks inn a mi cyarr -- { sound of kissing teeth} - but mi let him a move it, mi let him put di cyarr inna de shade," {more kissing of teeth} "mon, mi know 'im a tek mi phone outta mi cyar."

"Sticks? But I thought he's one of your friends? He wouldn't take your phone." I was a little puzzled by this conclusion.

"Yeah, mon, mi know Sticks lahng time, he a grow up amongst we, mi know him since we a likkle yewt. And he's a teef. He always been one likkle teef."

We drove silently for a few minutes.

"Mi guess he the man who tek the cigarette lightah fram the cyar, too." We'd noticed that the car's cigarette lighter was gone after our last trip to the country. " Mi nah know what he cyan do wid dat lightah, it cyan't werk pon it's own, not widout de cyar," he chuckled.

"Well," I said, "perhaps he'll steal a car to go with it." I rolled my eyes.

I was still trying to digest the fact that my husband was so matter-of-factly accepting the notion that his friend stole from him. It annoyed him, but didn't seem to surprise nor upset him much.

"But we just spent the better part of the day with Sticks", I said. "We fed him and the other guys, and we all sat on the verandah eating a meal together, and now you're telling me he's a thief? But he's your friend? He's a thief AND he's your friend?"

Although my husband knew better than to call me "one eeediot", he shot me a look that said essentially the same thing.

"Mon, sometimes you look like yuh jess nah know wha-gwan," my husband said -- {more kissing of teeth, which is the equivalent of a new yorker rolling her eyes}.

I had to admit that, frankly, he was right. When in Jamaica, I just never really DID understand what was going on, particularly when it came to the rather fluid boundaries of friendship.

"Next time, jess nah let Sticks inna de house, seen?". Next time? So we were still friends with Sticks, but with necessary precautions. Alright.

Sometimes I just wished the good guys would wear white hats and the bad guys would wear black, just like in those old politically-incorrect westerns. That's me all over, I'm afraid. I've been told I tend to see things in strictly black and white terms, but Jamaica, contrary to it's turquoise waters and emerald hills, is really just a whole heapah shades of grey.

4"x6" ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.