It takes only five hours to fly from Trinidad to Jamaica; but for a Trini leaving home to spend a year in Jamdown, it would take months to stop missing home.
Or so I thought.
But I’d barely unpacked and had a chance to bawl down the place before I was dragged up to Greenwich Cottages in the Blue Mountains. By the time we drove past the first pine trees, the air had chilled and everything was a deep green, sprinkled with startling patches of purple hydrangeas. Well. I didn’t have to run back home right away, I reasoned. I mean, I could see how things worked out.
I loved this land they called Xaymaca, from the first time I came here two years ago. The rivers, the brilliant greens of grass and mountain; the raw primitive appeal of nature in secret places like Port Maria. But other things take some getting used to. Between the stoosh uptown folks who frequent exclusive resorts like Strawberry Hill and Island Outpost, the foreign diplomats and professionals who samba at the Jonkanoo Lounge and the rude bwoys at the Cactus, I found myself in limbo.
Didn’t anybody know how to just “bus’ a lime”?
“Lime? Wha’s dat?”
“Lime, nuh,” I replied, exasperated and faintly shocked. I assumed the word explains itself, and all worthwhile experiences in life. Therefore, the whole world knows what a lime is.
Indeed, the word is well known in Jamaica. So much so, some say we Trinis stole it from them. But that couldn’t be; since Jamaicans, it seemed to me, might chat plenty ’bout nothing, drink a lot of beer or go to a dance, but only Trinis could really lime, i.e. do all of the above at the same time.
Before two weeks had passed I found myself throwing a party for 24 people, most of whom I barely knew. Now, you don’t just drop by people’s house in Jamaica and lime for hours just so (like we do in Trinidad). You have to be invited. The host has to prepare for your visit. What we were having wasn’t a lime, I discovered: Denise made signs for the rooms in which different games would be played. There’d be kaluki in Room 1 (the verandah), Pictionary in Room 2 (the living room) and dominoes in Room 3 (the back porch).
An hour later in Room 2 I was surrounded by three Jamaican women (“pieces of phatness”, as the men lovingly call good-looking women) yelling “Cave!” “Black hole!” “Mouth!” A serious game of kaluki, that complicated version of rummy which Jamaicans play with deadly competitiveness, was being played by JP and his Jokers Wild Crew two feet away.
The Jokers are really young professionals who thought of a good way to make money. They hold regular meetings to organise a party. We’re talking about radio ads, contests, money giveaways, caps, posters, going to other parties to promote their party. A good time in Jamaica, it dawned on me, is meticulously planned. People enjoy themselves with a determined gusto. No lolling around, talking, laughing, heckling or arguing about the latest political muck-up. If we’re having a games lime, then we’re here to play games. And win, too.
Denise and I ended up licking the other teams with annoying Trini arrogance. In the moment of eerie silence that greeted our loud victory, Denise pranced over to the CD player to put on Big Truck. As our soca don Machel Montano’s “Yeah yeah!” sounded, we bruck loose in a flurry of ungracious celebratory wining.
The others watched with silent disdain. Wining is a little distasteful, I gathered, except at Carnival. We got the message and subsided into an awkward, “So what do y’all want to play now?” Ten minutes later, I was labouring through kaluki. You have to learn this card game to be socially viable in Jamaica. (The same applies to “all fours” in Trinidad.)
JP, the leader of the Jokers, is a tall, heavy dude with a big voice and smooth lyrics, the original macho “general”. In the midst of building four threes, Karen, whose leg was propped up on her husband’s, dropped a bombshell. “Yuh know JP did my nails for me tonight?”
My jaw dropped. The other two guys had been absorbed in their hands. They looked up, shocked. “Yuh lie!”
JP was having an apoplexy. “Karen! Why yuh tell them for? When I do that yuh not suppose to advertise in front of everybody!”
Karen had the grace to look chastised. I turned around and yelled into the living room, “Hey everybody! Yuh know what JP did — ?”
“Hey!” JP shouted, his face Red Stripe red. “Stop that!”
“Why not, JP? It’s something to be proud of,” I needled sweetly.
“All right, all right! Tell them!” he shrugged, pretending to look embarrassed but proud. I turned around and yelled the news to Denise, who told all the women in the living room. They roared with delight.
JP squirmed in his chair. “Karen, that’s the last time I do that fi you, yuh hear?” She smiled sweetly, blew him a kiss, and wiggled her toes at him.
A case of Carib (imported from Trinidad and sold at HiLo in Liguanea) and Heineken and seven hours later, the house was empty. Dawn was minutes away. I was just as tired as if I’d spent the night liming at the Pelican in Trinidad. I stifled a yawn. As I drifted off, I smiled. Trinis, Jamaicans . . . who cares? A lime is a lime, yes.