My Last Jamaica Visit And Police Encounter

Jamaican PoliceIt was mid-day when they arrived in the town of Montego Bay. The lunchtime crowds were milling about Jarrett Square, daring the stream of cars, buses and trucks for a share of the streets. The whipping breeze on their drive into town had cleared his head and Bennett now felt at ease. He said to Valerie, “Every time I visit Jamaica I see a new hotel going up somewhere, but the heart of Mo’Bay is still the same – dirty and stinking.”

She laughed. “That’s what gives it character. Daddy says the tourists are always telling him how they love the ‘quaint’ little town. They don’t mind it as long as they can go back to the hotel and find their beds made and hot and cold water in the bathroom.”

“I think you’re right.” he said. “If they ever rebuilt downtown, and covered up the sewer drains, it would be just like Miami or any other American resort. Well, this is it. I’ll wait in the car – you run in and get the plates and cups.”

They planned a picnic on the beach. He had pulled up in front of a supermarket that took up half a block on a narrow lane off Jarrett Square. Valerie grabbed her purse and dashed into the store. Bennett settled back in his seat. The supermarket was the best stocked in town, and at this time of day, it would be chock full of shoppers. He closed his eyes, trying to sort out his impressions of last night’s meeting with her father and his associates. It was too early to tell if they’d buy into his business plan.

Lost in the train of his thoughts and the backdrop of noisy street activity, he failed to notice the policeman approach the vehicle. He was startled out of his wits when the red seam, as the local active-duty constables were called, shouted in his ear, “Bwoy! Move this car NOW!”

Bennett stared coldly at the dissipated brown face thrust through the open car window. “No need to shout officer.” He said calmly. “I am waiting for someone to come out of the supermarket.”

The constable looked shocked. Face flushed with anger, he sprang half a step back from the car as his hand fell to the service revolver at his side. “What! You arguing wid me!” his voice raised to a nearly hysterical pitch. “You little ‘sweet boy’ you think you can come talk outta you nose and back talk me!” This last comment was a reference to Bennet’s Jamaican upper-class, English-sounding speech. “I say get this fucking car out of here.”

By now passersby were slowing down, stopping, sensing a bit of street theatre in the making. Bennett, opting for discretion over valor, leaned forward to start the car. Just then Valerie, using her shopping bag to force a path, broke through the knot of onlookers. She smartly tossed her sun-reddened hair, and glared at the posturing ‘red-seam’ over the roof of the car.

“What is going on here, officer?” she demanded. “This car is waiting for me.”

The cop switched his gaze to her. His features sagged through several changes of expression ending up looking sheepish-indignant.

“Oh! Is you him waiting for?” he said. That last shot of overproof white rum that capped a lunch hour spent in Rosie’s Bar & Grill had exploded in his head like a red flame after fifteen minutes back on duty in the hot glare of the square. He did not recognize the woman, but something about the way she spoke and acted… You learned to tell the types who can make trouble, that is, the people with connections. “Is no problem, lady. But this is a no parking zone.”

“We will remember that next time, officer. Thank you for letting us know.” Valerie answered with a smile as she got in. She turned to Bennett. “Can we go now?” She tossed the bag into the back. As they pulled away from the already vanishing ring of humanity, Valerie gave her view of the incident. “Fresh little country bumpkin! They give him a gun, and now he thinks he is somebody.”

Bennett said nothing, though inclined to agree, he also saw in her attitude to the dark-skinned cop, and the cop’s obsequiousness to her, troubling signs of the deep fissures in this ancient, caste-ridden society. And he wondered how his plan would fare, how he would fare, in the weeks and months ahead, now that he was home, for what he had thought would be for good…  (by Wendell Scott and Arthur Lewin)

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