“I’ll never get this stain out of here,” I said, under my breath. The bell on the glass door rings.
“Hello,” an old man said, his arms full of clothes needed laundered. “Do you work here?”
“No,” I answered. “But I’ve been in here for a few hours so, I like to think I’ve gathered some knowledge.”
“I’ll take it.” He dropped his laundry on the table and started sorting darks from lights while I examined the impossible coffee stain.
Finally, I give up and toss it in the washing machine. Again.
“Do you live here? in New Smyrna?” I look over and now he’s stuffing his clothes into a washing machine that’s a little too small for his load (and there were larger, other options) but I didn’t say anything.
“I don’t,” I said. “We are passing through. We live on our sailboat.”
“Sailors?” He said with a lightness, as if remembering his days on the water.
“I like sailors: good people. I once lived on a boat; we used to race all around Cuba and back.”
“Really?” I pulled up a chair as he poured in his laundry detergent. “We left our jobs to sail and travel a bit.”
“Good,” he said, without hesitation or needing to know any further information from me. “You only live once.”
“And knowing that fact,” I continued, “made it feel nearly impossible to want to spend my days working in an office for someone else.”
“Yes. Impossible. Down right criminal. I’m glad you got out while you’re young.”
With that, he told me he’s going to take his old bones to the gym and he’d be back in a half hour to check on his laundry. With his hand on his hat, he nodded, like I imagine a cowboy who herds cattle would do out west.
He leaves me to my thoughts and the incessant hum of the machines working all around me to clear the dirt and warm the fabrics.
My memory travels a few weeks back.
December 18, 2017
We step outside of the airport into the warm island air. It’s my thirty-second birthday and I was just wished a happy day by the woman who stamped my passport.
“Thank you for choosing the Bahamas,” she said, plopped the stamp down and granted me 30 days in her country.
I close my passport book, smile and move onward.
Outside, we find Bahamians hustling for work. Do you want a taxi? Do you need a bus? Can we carry your luggage? Have you ever been to the Fish Fry?
We were on the search for a taxi cab to Hurricane Hole (and, no, we’ve never eaten at the Fish Fry).
Armed with prior knowledge, a tip from a friend who knows, we knew the cab ride to Hurricane Hole should cost us less than $50, so when a cab driver wearing a winter hat complete with a puffy ball on top said, “Hurricane Hole: $43,” we handed him our bags and jumped into his Toyota minivan.
Once inside and revved up, there were clinks and clanks. Enough to cause my eyes to widen.
He turned to us, shrugged and said, “It needs some parts.”
Then, he immediately kicked it into gear and sped off through the night on winding streets.
“Where are you from?” He asked, jerking around sharp corners in his part-needing minivan.
“Virginia. Here to visit the Exumas for awhile,” we say.
“Good show. Good show.”
We talk about the islands and the quickly-approaching holidays: Boxing Day, Christmas, New Years.
“I’ll play you Junkanoo,” he said, after telling us about the upcoming Boxing Day parade where the 1,000-member band was expected to play from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM. His speakers scratch out music full of drums, horns and human voices.
“I don’t celebrate Christmas,” he said. He explains it’s only him and his son.
“I have another son on the island, but, you know…” his voice trails off to silence.
We didn’t know, but we didn’t ask.
Suddenly, the van lurches.
“Our new Prime Minister wouldn’t have hit that hole,” he said, laughing.
The Prime Minister is new - since May - our driver tells us. How is he doing?
“Too early to tell,” he said, matter-of-factly. Junkanoo plays in the background.
We arrived at a toll and our driver starts to reach for money.
“American influence,” he said, peeved that the toll attendant was sitting in a window on the left and his drivers seat was on the right.
“I have to get out of the car to walk around,” he explained. “Don’t think I’m leaving you.”
Placing the car in park, he walked around to pay the $2.00. When he returned, he explained to us the Bahamian to American dollar exchange rate.
“It’s dollar to dollar, and everyone accepts American,” he said.
When we arrive at Hurricane Hole, he passed our bags over and we wander to the glass door. A Bahamian woman working the night shift buzzes the door open.
“Good evening,” she said, with a smile. There is a large Christmas tree covered in fluorescent pink flowers.
“Good evening,” we said. “We are looking for the sailing vessel SAMORU II.”
“All the way around, and then down the dock,” she explained and then points. “It’s that boat right there.”
We thanked her and pulled our luggage, making our way to the 52-foot Catamaran that we will call home for the next 7 days.