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Chapter One

March 1954. Ashore in Kingston, Jamaica. As Scotty and I are walking up Princess Street, someone behind us is yelling, "Scotty, Scotty, Scotty". We both turn round to look. There is this huge Negro woman running down the street with a big straw hat on her head which she has to hold down with one hand. This is Agnes. She runs a saloon in Kingston called Aggie's Place at #7 Princess Street. Scotty introduces us and tells her our story. She says that we will come and stay with her until we sign up on another ship. I look at Scotty and he looks at me. He says, "Okay, Richard?" And I say, "Okay, Scotty". We pick up our gear, throw our bags over our shoulders, and away we go.

What I thought would be Aggie's home turns out to be the saloon. Above it there are four rooms. A kitchen and a bedroom belong to Aggie and her little boy. Across the hall are two small bedrooms. Scotty and I are given the back bedroom, which has a big double bed and a smaller rollaway bed in it. It's just about big enough to make us comfortable. Aggie's saloon is sure as hell not the best damn place I have ever been in. It has a small bar and an old worn-out linoleum floor. It looks as if it was built out of old scrap lumber. Out back is a patch of dirt ground surrounded by a high board fence made out of old driftwood. There are dogs, cats, and chickens running around. Several girls are in the yard, sitting in the sun or washing their hair. They are getting ready for the business of the evening. The more I look around me, the more I understand this place is a whore house as well as a saloon.

Aggie brings out a couple of bottles of cold beer for us. We sit down and talk about the trip from New Orleans and why we signed off the ship. Aggie is happy to see Scotty. She keeps hugging him and telling him what a great time we will have as her guests. Some of the girls come in and began to laugh and joke and talk with us. They want to know how long we are going to stay. There are calypso records playing. A couple of the girls begin to dance by themselves. Very slowly, very sensuously and suggestively. One of the girls comes over and sits down in my lap and puts her arms around me. Her name is Marjorie. Most of the girls are very dark-skinned Negroes. Some have Chinese blood and several are of Syrian descent. Most of them are pretty enough. We're going to have a great time staying here.

Scotty and I decide to take a shower and clean up. It's almost 6 by now and the Arnetta sails tomorrow morning about 8 o'clock. We decide to make a night of it and have a ball with our shipmate buddies before they leave for Trinidad. Aggie has several cases of beer put on ice and sends out for rum.

The party starts out kind of slow. We sit around out in back and have some beer and rum and cokes. Several girls we haven't met that afternoon come in. It isn't long before everyone begins to loosen up. Scotty is really in his glory because so many of the girls there know him from before. Several people come in from the street to join our party. Marjorie, the girl who sat on my lap before, has taken a liking to me. If the other girls try to come over and make out with me, she says she will cut their throats. If I make eyes at any of the other girls, she would just as likely cut mine.

The captain has ordered the crew aboard the ship in time to secure the hatches and winches and tie down the boom. They will be leaving anytime between 2 and 6 o'clock in the morning. About 11:30 the crew begin to amble towards the docks. I don't say anything to Scotty. I just sit there and watch him staring into a glass of rum. I know he's sorry to see them leave without him, he's sailed with them for many years. Many of the girls have left, but there are still quite a few people in the bar as there are other ships in the harbor. Marjorie is with me and a girl named Blossom is sitting next to Scotty, holding his hand. There is little talk or conversation.

All of a sudden we hear the blast of the ship's whistles. Three quick blasts. Silence. Then three quick blasts again. Scotty stands up and says that he wants to go down to the docks and wave goodbye to his buddies. So we take off. Barefoot and with a bottle of beer. Several of the girls walk down the street with us and a couple of the seamen come along too. We walk the two blocks down to the docks and stand on the end of the wharf. It's about 3:30 in the morning when the Arnetta pulls away. I think Scotty is crying just a little. The crew line the side of the ship and begin to wave and yell fatherly advice to us. And then they're gone. Just a light fading in the gloom. On one of the ships tied up at the dock the crew begin to laugh. They think Scotty and I have missed the ship altogether.

Jamaica and the waterfront. There is little work to be had. Most of the boys make a living by begging, guiding tourists around, or selling souvenirs. You can hardly move without someone asking for a shilling or something to eat. The trouble is they mean it. They really need something to eat. They don't bother Scotty and me too much because they know who we are and that we are on the beach ourselves. But so many of the people who live around the docks, the wharves, and the waterfront actually have no place to sleep. When we get back to Aggie's from seeing the Arnetta off we find one of the girls and a couple of guys asleep in the hallways. Someone else is asleep in one of the chairs in the saloon. No one does anything about asking them to leave. When we climb the stairs to our bedroom, I'll be damned if there isn't someone in our beds. Marjorie and Blossom. Seeing that so many people don't have a place to live or sleep, I begin to wonder if Marjorie has taken a liking to me or my sack. Well, there's nothing to do but crawl on in with her. She murmurs "'Allo Dick, you like me, yes?" And she snuggles up nice and warm. A fitting way to end a full day.

Next morning Scotty crawls out of bed and wraps a towel around him. I jump out of the sack and follow suit. The girls are nowhere around. We put on wooden sandals left by our bed for us and go clippety-clop down the stairs and out into the back yard. Everybody laughs when they see how we are dressed. I ask where I can wash up and Marjorie comes towards me. She leads me to the side of a small shed. There's a pipe sticking out with a faucet attached. She says I can take a shower. I wait for her to leave but she doesn't move. She just picks up a bar of soap and a rag and takes the towel from me. Nothing to do but to turn on the water. She proceeds to wash my back and help me take a shower. Well, I have never had anything like this happen to me before, but I'm sure not going to waste any time arguing about it.

< 4 >

After I shower, Scotty takes his. Then we just sit around in the sun in our towels, and have a beer. Aggie comes back from shopping downtown. She asks us if we would like something to eat, then has one of the girls fix us some fried eggs and potatoes. We talk a little about the fine party we had last night and how sad it was to see all of Scotty's old friends leave.

It seems that Aggie is a pretty important individual in Kingston. She has quite a bit of political pull and is well known from one end of the island to the other. Many years ago there was a strike on the island against the labor situation and the wages. Many of the English factories had closed down, many Jamaican people were out of work and had no money to buy food. Aggie set up a kitchen in the saloon. She had people lined up continually, just like in the United States during the depression of the 1930s — a soup line. Most everyone considers Aggie their friend and because Scotty and I are going to stay here we too are their friends. Every time we go someplace from Aggie's, we have a small army following us. The girls go with us, the guys go with us, and we pick up friends along the way.

After showering this morning and having breakfast, we decide to walk around the waterfront to see what ships are in. We are not even going to try to get a job on a ship for at least a week. We are just going to lie around, relax, and enjoy ourselves. That is O.K. with Aggie because she is real pleased to have us with her.

Scotty and I walk around Kingston all day. At the docks, boys are begging or trying to carry the baggage of passengers for a shilling. We walk to a saloon called Dirty Dick's, about two blocks from Aggie's. Scotty knows the bartender — they are old friends. It is a nice place to just sit around, talk, and drink beer. We meet some Englishmen off a ship that docked here two days ago. A bunch of rough bastards, here with Jamaican girls. We are starting off on a little party when one of the girls gets angry as hell at something one of the fellows says. She starts to throw beer all over the place, so he knocks her right on her ass. Of course, a brawl starts, pretty soon the police come and everyone is yelling, and jabbering, and talking at once. Scotty and I just sit on the sidelines and take it all in. The police kick everyone outside and try to straighten it out. Actually, it was the girl's fault for throwing the beer and threatening to hit someone over the head with the empty bottle.

July 13, 2015, 3:49 p.m. 0 Report Embed 0
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