A Jamaican Dance
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
I have no idea how I got here, wherever here is. But here I am. Creeping along the shaded edge of a blue, canopy covered maze of chain-link fence, palm trees, and blacktop. Everything is an over-heated commotion of a blur. From the moment I hopped off the taxi my face was impacted with a thrust of thick, moist tropical air. Am I sleepwalking? In a trance? I hear everyone and see everything, yet I am somehow displaced. Not here. Floating. Separated from the scene before me. Senseless, yet not without my senses. I can smell the faint, yet unmistakable stench of stale sweat. Further and further I crawl. The sun seems to set as the light dims into a faux-dusk of dancing shadows cast by outstretched and tangled palm leaves. Further I hike, my wife Kara by my side. Thirsty, hot and tired. “Are we going to survive?”, I wonder.
Suddenly we stop.
“Ah, here we are, mon,” he said with a smile.
We were here, and it was time to shop. And so it was I found myself in the midst of the Ocho Rios market. Kara and I stepped out of taxi and were instantly consumed by a swarm of shop owners offering us coffee, crafts, and the occasional zip-locked baggie of cannabis.
“Come with me mon. I will be your friend and show you the shops,” a mellow, low and soothing voice arose from this mass of madness. “I will bring you to my shop and show you my things. If you like what you see, then we make a deal. If you don’t like what you see, no hard feelings. You just give me a dollar for my guidance and we are still friends. Irie, yea?”. Without giving it a thought, we followed this voice into the market and began our quest for the perfect Jamaican souvenir.
“This is my shop,” our leader said as we stopped at a shady corner tucked into the far end of the market. “Take some time. See what you like. Then we can make a deal.”
His shop consisted only of a small corner, about the size of a hall closet, and was overflowing with an erratic array of goods. Coasters, multi-colored masks, and smooth wooden jewelry cluttered the shelves. Fierce African elephants and five-foot tall giraffes tumbled from the entrance and onto the pavement. It was a souvenir-sucker’s treasure-trove.
“How much for the carved male and female busts?” I inquired.
“The bookends,” he clarified. “They are sixty dollars. But for you my friend, I will give you a deal and charge you only fifty.” He kindly rested his hand on my shoulder for an added touch of scripted sincerity.
I looked up and gave him a sly smile. “Let the bartering begin,” I thought. It was time to dance.
“Hmm,” I replied with folded arms and feigned frustration. “How about the coasters?”
“These coasters? You like the coasters? They are quite nice. They have a Jamaican ten dollar piece engraved in them,” he highlighted. “The coasters are forty dollars, but I will gladly take ten dollars off”.
Not a bad deal, but not a good deal, and by no means what I wanted. I wanted the bookends. It was my move. I had to tread cautiously, attempt to read his mind. ‘How low would he go? What is his breaking point?’ These are the prying questions the skilled negotiator queries.
Doubt, the champion negotiator’s arch-nemesis. Always spitting negativity. ‘He’s reading you like a book. You’re going to stumble. Ha! He deals with tourists like you everyday. He’ll eat you for breakfast. You haven’t got a chance.’
‘No,’ confidence rallies. ‘You have the skills, the skills of a champion shopper. You are the man Nick. You are the man. Now shop good dammit, shop like the man you are.’
“Humph,” I grunted with feigned impatience.
“Look mon, you are my friend and a guest in my country,” he said as he placed his hand on his heart as if about to recite a pledge. “I will give you the coasters and this for only thirty dollars.” He reached behind his back and presented to me a wooden goblet, the size of a shot glass. “Nice shot glass,” he said as he endearingly caressed his craft.
“Humph.” I desperately tried to cover my nerves while coyly wiping away the sweat beading on my forehead. I bit my lower lip, perhaps a little too hard. This was intense.
“The coasters and a shot glass?” I asked. “But what about my wife? I can’t expect her to sit idly by while I enjoy my shot of rum creme now can I?” I chuckled.
“Of course! You are a gentleman, I should have known,” he said with a false gesture of mental clumsiness. “Since I am a gentleman too, I will sell you the coasters and two shot glasses for only thirty dollars. How does that sound? Irie?”
Not wanting coasters and still fixated on the bookends, I looked to bring this dance full circle. It was time for a twirl.
“How much for the bookends?”
“The bookends? Thirty dollars”, he quickly answered without missing a beat. He slyly placed the coasters back on the shelf. He knew what I was after. I knew what he was after. It was a race to the finish.
“Can I buy just one?” I naively asked. “How much for just one of the carved heads?”
“No! No! They are book ends. A set. A man and a woman. They would be lonely if they were separated,” he half-heartedly joked. “How about this mon. I know you like the bookends. I will give you the best deal in all of Jamaica.” He then hushed his voice, “You give me thirty dollars for the bookends and I give you the two shot glasses”, he paused, slowly peered over his shoulder while licking his lips, swallowed, and whispered, “for free.”
Now that was a deal. But rather enjoying my luck and the macho feeling my ego was presently basking in, I arrogantly pushed for more.
“We’re both college students and we’re a bit short on cash. How much to buy just one shot glass?”
“No! No!”, he shouted anxiously, showing what I thought to be a slight hint of frustration with a glaze of sweat.
I had him.
“I tell you what, here’s a deal. The best deal. My final offer. I can do no more.” He quickly rebounded, “I usually don’t make such deals, but you are a good friend and a skilled negotiator, so I do this only for you. I sell you the bookends and give you the two shot glasses for only twenty-five dollars”.
‘He said I had skills!’ I thought excitedly as I gave him a smile and held out my hand. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”
Money was exchanged, the bookends tenderly wrapped and Kara and I began to make our way to the exit. I was perspiring pride; enjoying a shopper’s high. Smiling to myself and thinking, “Nick, you sure know how to drive a bargain. You got yourself a hell of a deal.” I was a shopper with superhuman shopping skills. I was a man’s man. I felt a sudden, primal urge to puff my chest, grunt and scratch with reckless abandon. “I am Nick. Shopping Guru, King of the Bargain. Hear my roar.”
As I inhaled and readied to release a resonating roar, a merchant emerged from his stall carrying a set of bookends. A male and a female, similar to the set I had just bought. Very similar, perhaps on the verge of identical.
“I give you the best deal mon,” he began. “Because you are my good friend, I sell you these two handcrafted bookends for only ten dollars.”
Kara just laughed.
“I still have my two shot glasses,” I mumbled with a scratch.
Nick Klenske is an attorney, freelance writer, and travel consultant. Learn more about Nick’s travels by visiting his website.