It was the half hour sliver of clock that is neither day nor darkness. But nobody realized. Not the prostitutes nor the cocktail waitresses nor my taxi driver, cheerfully escorting one more stranger back to the airport, back to where he came from.
“Where do you come from?” he asks.
There are two types of latin accents in the United States. The typical, the natural, exaggerated famously by Hollywood’s unabashed racism. Then there are those who try to Americanize their a’s and o’s and i’s by suppressing their tongues and distorting their mouths, stretching out their lips. Just like the Americans do it.
My taxi driver does not try. He has been here 16 years. He will speak this way for 16 more.
A complicated question, I tell him. Most recently, Argentina.
Do you speak Spanish? he asks, in Spanish, eyebrows raised in the mirror.
Good, he says, smiling relieved. He is going to tell me a joke, he says, still smiling. What happened to the white stripes on Argentina’s soccer jersey?
Maradona snorted them all up.
The punch line is obvious, I should have guessed it. But it is also somehow unexpected and it takes me a few seconds to get the joke. The taxi driver is laughing, laughing, laughing and I begin laughing at his laugh first, the joke second. We laugh and laugh and laugh.
He drops me off, I pay him, and we hug, then realize, awkwardly, that taxi driver and customer do not hug at the airport. I fly to Jamaica.
Jamaica wears its tourism like a sunburn, a loud pre-party clamor drowning out the Mozart of the sea. They come in all shapes and sizes, their fleshy sun-spotted thighs swinging lazily under the rippling hem of their beach wraps. They smoke cigarrettes, they cackle, and inevitably, self-consciously at first, they say ‘ya mon.’
The skin and the burn each seek validation from the other. Both are insecure models and distorted mirrors. Between the layers of peeling pink and vulnerable tissue, the sea swells and sighs, swells and sighs.
There are seven children in the resort’s swimming pool. Four children that is, and three pre-teens. The pre-teens huddle speaking softly on the shallow end of the pool, bobbing up and down from the ripples emanating from the other end. Their voices are inaudible, their gestures exaggerated. On the deep end, four children, all sharp bones and taught skin, jump off artificial rocks into the chlorine. They pinch their nose, they close their eyes, and they jump. Over and over and over again. They never tire.
In the swimming pool there are no races, no melanin, no thousands of years of history painted on flesh in this shade and that. There are other insecurities, sure. The noticeable strip of hair under the belly button. The practiced poses, photogenic tilts of the head for cell phones cradled at the ends of arms extended.
Sitting around the pool are four families seated at two tables. Unlike their children, they are very much either black or white. They are old. They remember the death of Emmett Till and the birth of Brown v. Board of Education and the Notting Hill race riots. Their children will not learn of these things until they must take ethnic studies classes in college in order to graduate.
The children pinch their noses, close their eyes, and jump. In the background the sea swells and sighs, swells and sighs.
The soft touch of the six o’ clock sun, generously airbrushes reality. For fifteen minutes we become so beautiful, our skin flawless, the white of our eyes optimistic, our lips moist with unspoken fertility. The photographers ambitiously call these 15 minutes the Golden Hour. The peeling pastel paint of the fishing boats transforms from brokendown to rustic, this is their 2 am on the corner barstool. The sea too transforms from turquoise to peach to empty gray, sighing and swelling, sighing and swelling.