I looked over at the sculpted resort hedge, illuminated by a Tikki torch, and stepped uncertainly off the porch, like a young adult waking up from a Frank W. Dixon Hardy Boys mystery.
“Boy! Boy! Come here!”
I walked over to the hedge, eyes adjusting to the androgynous gloom. Crouching behind the hedge like the gums of a cancer victim was a real live Rastafarian with long flowing dreadlocks and superfly mirrored sunglasses. I could tell he had been smoking weed.
“Do you want to buy a bag of sensimilla?” the Rasta rasped in a low gravelly voice.
“No thanks,” I said. I had never smoked pot before.
“Was that your sister you were talking to earlier?” So. He had been spying on me. “She is good-looking. Maybe you can set me up with her?”
Yeah, right. “She has a boyfriend.”
“My name is General Montgomery!”
This is, of course, the same name as the legendary former leader of Liberia, the only attempt at a real U.S. colony on the African mainland, spearheaded by Free Blacks, former plantation slaves turned American mercenaries.
Even though I was underage, here in Antigua, a permissive Caribbean island almost totally reliant on tourism, I was allowed to drink Red Stripe beer and banana and pineapple daiquiris—and, more dangerous, talk to the young local islander women who kept asking me if I wanted some “company.” I guess I looked old for my age. I felt free and easy on this family vacation. Maybe I should try something new.
Yes or no?
The General handed over a large plastic pouch of “sense” for only 20 dollars! Dreams are cheap in the Caribbean.
Paranoid. Smoking the ganja in my bungalow bathroom, with rolling papers supplied by the General, and ready to flush it down the toilet if my parents barged in, I felt warm waves of ecstasy shudder through my body. This was as cool as listening to Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon!” I felt like my soul was pulsating, then I saw stars, strobes, fireworks, and passed out like my lethargic greedy cat, Kirk, on the stone floor.
Initiated, I would buy a bag from the General every day over the hedge, which appropriated folkloric dimensions, from the vague friendship forming between me and the Antiguan. I was a big Bob Marley fan and was just a little bit in awe of the freestyle Rasta-man culture, which the General explained was based upon worship of the late assassinated Ethiopian King Haille Sellasse and an eventual exodus or return to Zion. It’s uncertain if the so-called religion is based upon Judaism or Christianity—the twin faiths of the African Ethiopian diaspora.
“We must also eat a lot of goat stew!” the General added superfluously. “I don’t like fish.”
I was eating gigantic lobsters every day. But my favorite was the conch fritters, which I ate absentmindedly like Fritos or Pretzels.
“Boy! I will return tomorrow with another bag of the best sensimilla.” With that, he made his way like a bat through the shrubs and quickly across the grounds to the beach.
Where the next day I spotted the General wearing only shorts running down the beach like an Olympic athlete on steroids, closely pursued by two policemen, who tackled the General and handcuffed him. As they hauled him away, he bawled out, “I’m innocent!”
Oh well, I thought glumly. There goes my supply. And so that was probably the end of my experiment with becoming a drug addict–like my burnout friend, Erik, back home, who surreptitiously grew marijuana leaves in his basement with Grow Lights.
Huh? What? The General appeared at the appointed hour at the hedge, like an apparition.
“The police arrested me, but later let me go. No evidence.”
“That’s lucky!” I was psyched to smoke.
Montgomery then invited me to meet his friend on a secret place on the beach. I wondered if the so-called friend was a woman. Reluctantly, I agreed.
The friend didn’t seem very friendly. A fat black guy wearing a T-shirt, saying simply “Antigua,” he had wild eyes and seemed to be suffering from some mild palsy which made him shake when he talked. In Caribbean slang, he said something about me, along the lines of: “What’s this fucking white cracker doing here?”
With a devilish smile, the General loaded an elaborate chamber pipe with some bud his friend was handing over. He lit the pipe and quickly handed it to me, his arm moving like a lightning bolt in front of my face.
“Try!” demanded a disembodied voice.
I grabbed the pipe and inhaled deeply, deeply.
Whoa, I woke up sprawled out on the beach, my head pounding, unsure of what time it was.
“Boy! Boy! Are you okay?” His voice sounded like a saxophone: scared.
There was no sign of his friend.
“What happened?” I managed, with suspicion sliding around like a salamander in my sore throat.
“You passed out. Maybe this ganja is too strong for you.”
I stood up and felt around in my pants for my wallet. “My wallet is gone!” I lamented with teenage angst.
“We’ll find it tomorrow,” the General said lamely.
“Do you think your friend stole it?” I accused.
The silence that ensued seemed dangerous, so I said goodbye abruptly, and walked back toward the resort, wondering if the General had set me up. I no longer wanted to be his friend. I felt like a fool for being so trusting in a foreign land.
On the way into my bungalow, wouldn’t you know it? “What?”
“John, we’ve been looking all over for you.” My dad looked exhausted with worry. “Where were you? Have you been drinking?”
Luckily, my dad just thought I was drunk. Aside from having seen the classic propaganda film “Reefer Madness” and owning all the original Capitol Records Beatles albums, my father, a university professor and notable literary critic, was so square that he never suspected that anyone he knew smoked marijuana. He, however, smoked 3 packs of Kent cigarettes a day.
Obviously relieved, my father finally said, “Well, we’re leaving early tomorrow and you have to get up for the plane. Sleep it off.”
Back home in the New Jersey suburbs, I received a small package evidencing illiterate scrawl. I opened it. Out popped my wallet, empty. On a small piece of paper was written the following:
“Greetings from General Montgomery! I found your wallet on the beach, but the money and cards were gone. . . .”
Sure that the General had lifted it himself, I was somewhat miffed by the unreasonable request that came after: “For returning your wallet, could you send me 10 pairs of Levi’s blue jeans?”
Signed: “General Montgomery, your Caribbean friend.”
About the author:
John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking in Thailand to being stuck in a military coup in Fiji. His work has appeared in such magazines as CNN Traveller, Missouri Review, Salon.com, Grand Tour, Islands, Escape, Endless Vacation, Conde Nast Traveler, International Living, Emerging Markets, Literal Latté, Coffee Journal, Lilliput Review, Poetry Motel, Artdirect, Verge, Slab, Stellar, Trips, Big World, Vagabondish, Glimpse, BootsnAll, Hack Writers, Road Junky, Richmond Review, Borderlines, ForeWord, North Dakota Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review. He recently won a NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Award, a TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Award, and a Solas Award (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He lives in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” where you can eat ethnic every night with lost souls from Danté’s Inferno. His future bestsellers, Move and Fluid Borders, have not yet been released. His new work-in-progress, Dubya Dubya Deux, is about a time traveler.
photo by ••iFLUK•• on Flickr