Grown Man Cries In The Bahamas Chapter One
By David WJ Lee
Two days into my thirty-third year, my trust-fund girlfriend abandoned me. I say “abandoned,” which suggests it was sudden, but in reality I knew it was coming. I guess I just didn’t come to terms with it. I didn’t come to terms with it when we bought the sailboat. I didn't come to terms with it on that last sweltering night in the sweat lodge of the cabin. I didn’t come to terms with it when the Bahama Mama at Passport Control sent a sobbing Alice back to my arms for a final au-revoir. I toyed with the little mole above her little breasts, holding back the tears until I looked into her eyes.
It was meant to be a relationship break, some time apart while she rediscovered herself in the slums of Calcutta. And deep down I’d been all for it. I was excited by the idea of bachelorhood in the steamy night-time scene of the Bahamian capital; scouting the tourist bars, the Cuban and sailor bars, the clubs, pool halls; walking the filthy, airless back-streets at dawn as zombified crackheads awoke in the gutter and gulls screamed at the escaping cruise-ships. Once again I’d be a man of honourable disrepute, a character among the brave, an out-there, doing-it, standalone adventurer.
I took an inner-island road back from the airport, almost hoping to get robbed in the maze of Over The Hill. There was a power cut so the lights were down and the narrow backstreets were aswarm with people. Bright eyes, sweet-smelling smoke, the chink of Guinness bottles and the competing bass of car stereos; the knackered jeep seemed to navigate itself through the crowds, scraping its rusty chassis in and out of potholes.
The night was heavy and a few fat raindrops signalled it was about to explode. At the foot of the Paradise Island bridge, Hammerhead’s Roadside Bar ‘n Grill was a beacon of light running off a generator. I pulled up behind Sid’s rusty Mercedes Saloon and sat for a while at the wheel. Insects buzzed around the neon sign like teenagers on acid; head-butting the light and fizzing out of existence.
I buzzed four times before “Security” let me in, a wild-eyed man chomping on a droopy cigar. I recognized a few faces in the early Friday night crowd, a couple of old Conchy Joes from the boatyard, the bloke with the eye-patch from the marine store, the history teachers’ tattooed daughter and the rest of her band, Olivier the coke-head socialite from Cote D'Ivoire, and there was Sid, slamming shots with two spring breaker type girls at the bar.
“Bloody hell, it's the Captain! Just in time for a shot!” He was wearing his athletic-grey T-shirt of Jesus as a DJ, the one with the permanent sweat patches under the arms. There was an instant in which he seemed to register the fact I was still in my work clothes, that I wasn’t with Alice, that today was the day that she was due to leave. But the girls had swivelled round on their stools.
“Let me introduce you,” he said, “to Megan and Madison.”
Megan and Madison looked very alike, blonde, sunburned and drunk, one of them in a tight red GEORGIA T-shirt, the other with a tight black T-shirt that read Barbie Is A Slut.
“How do you do?” said Georgia, parodying Sid’s ridiculous public school accent. “You live here too?”
Sid answered for me. “Mr Sutcliffe is a fellow heterosexual language teacher and my most esteemed colleague.” He was slurring his words.
“Something like that,” I said. And that was enough. Oh my god! That’s so cool. They just looooved my accent. And according to Barbie Is A Slut, I looked just like Alfie. Whoever that was. Georgia agreed.
I downed my shot, which tasted of freezing cold flu medicine.
“Oh my god he’s never had Jaëgger!” said the girls. “That is soooo cute!”
“Captain Alfie lives on a boat,” said Sid.
More oh my gods and wows. I downed another disgusting shot and chased it with a flat rum ‘n’ coke as Sid explained that I had sailed it all the way from Florida but that I got seasick in tropical storms and sometimes I had to crash on his couch. At school they called me The Captain. The Captain! What a fucking joke. More like the cabin boy. Alice was the sailor. She stood at the wheel. My job was to go below and mix drinks.
“That’s so coooool!” they said. Georgia saluted and Barbie Is A Slut reached out and gave me a little tug of the tie. Sid handed me a Marlboro Light and winked as the two girls recounted their cruise-ship misadventure.
Carnival Fantasy left Charleston on Thursday morning. Since then, they’d drunk as much as they could. Freeport was boring and expensive. Georgia had had half of her hair braided, then the scam artist woman had asked for another sixty bucks. I hadn’t even noticed. So far Nassau had been as much of a disappointment. Some “drugged out” dolphins on Blue Lagoon Island and the straw market had burned down since they were last here – half the cruise ship had haggled for replica handbags under a tarpaulin in the rain. Thank god they’d “bumped into” Sid in the bar in Atlantis. It was now 8pm and the cruise ship left in eleven hours. Hammerheads was Sid’s way of showing them the “real island”. But they’d already had enough. They were ready to go to Señor Frogs. 2 for 1 with the fluorescent bracelets on their wrists.
What else was I going to do? Go back to the boat by myself? Chat to some of my rummy neighbours or the security guard perhaps? Call my mother on Skype from the air-conditioned safety of On The Run? We got another rum ‘n’ and coke for the road and piled into Sid’s battered Merc; Olivier the coke man coming along for the ride. I sat shotgun and Sid handed me half a joint, fashioned from a sweet Backwood cigar, vanilla flavour, dollar-a-piece from the gas station. He reached into the glove box and fished through a pile of cassette tapes. We headed downtown, the dilapidated colonial buildings flashing by, passing round the joint in a toke and hold fashion, everybody singing along to Phil Collins, One more Night.
No standing in line with the cruise ship trash for us; Sid and Olivier were on hand slapping terms with the six foot frog on the door. Renaldo or Denaldo or something. The girls were impressed. They cashed in on their 2 for 1 megadeal and I found myself with a massive fluorescent green plastic tumbler filled with frozen margarita slush. On the dance floor, wasted white people were barking to Who Let The Dogs Out, as far as I knew The Bahamas most successful export.
I’d been to Señor Frogs a few times, stoned with Alice, but purely in social observation mode. We’d sit at the bar drinking Yellow Birds, watching the Abercrombie & Fitch brigade grab their ankles for the local gigolos. But clearly this was different. No-one intended to be a fly on the wall. The MC bellowed something about showing them who your daddy was and everyone was more than happy to comply. Sid held up his tumbler like the Olympic torch as Georgia wiggled her ass into his crotch. Barbie Is A Slut imaginary pole-danced in front of me as I leant at the bar smoking pure white Marlboro Lights from Sid’s sweaty soft pack, the sight of her perky young breasts awakening my libido and made me feel dizzy and confused.
Was this it? Was this what I’d secretly craved? College girls on tour. For at least six months I’d envied Sid and his open-ended Nassau nights. "Routine" was the word that Alice used to describe our sex life. And routine was not what we were about. She'd begun suffering from what she called the female equivalent of erectile dysfunction. But the more she needed josticks, whale songs and candles in the bath, the more I needed the likes of Barbie Is A Slut.
Olivier came back from the bathroom grinning and rubbing his nose. He palmed the coke to Sid who gave me the nod, and we left the girls sandwiching him to Fat Man Scoop.
The toilet cubicle smelled strongly of puke. “Looks like you’ve got Barbie,” he said. “Or we can swap if you want.” He fished out a small vile of coke and his vintage Mercedes key.
“We haven’t split up,” I said.
He held out the key for me to take it. I motioned for him to go first.
“Thought you were having a break,” he said holding the key under one nostril and holding the other one closed.
He sniffed and swallowed, staring up at me like some spoof rockstar about to go onstage. If only the students could see us now. “Mr Sutcliffe,” he said. “A break means extra-curricular activities allowed.”
“She’s coming back,” I said. “I mean, we just bought the boat. We still have to do our trip round the islands.”
“When?” he asked, the key under his other nostril. "When's she coming back?"
“When she’s discovered herself.”
There were voices outside the cubicle, then a heavy knock on the door. “Occupied!" said Sid and we waited, staring at each other as the footsteps moved along the row of cubicles. I knew it sounded ridiculous. But then I also knew that we were still in love. It was crazy to think that boat was going to solve everything. She still had to do "her thing"- feed the sick, save some street orphans, whatever it may be, this thing that kept getting in the way of "us."
Sid handed me the key and the coke.
“Six weeks of holiday coming up,” he grinned. “What are you going to do? Toss yourself to sleep every night on your boat? You’re a British accent with a sailboat in the Bahamas. A pussy magnet, man!"
“I was going to ask her to marry me on the trip.”
“Thought you didn't believe in marriage.”
I did one nostril. “I don’t,” I said, swallowing the bitterness and feeling my tongue go numb. “But neither does she. That’s the point.”
Alice always said that Olivier had the purest coke. I wasn't much of a connoisseur myself but I recognized that it had the desired effect. I snogged Barbie Is A Slut in the back of the Merc. And felt her breasts through her shirt. Like a rock star. Just because I could. Because I wanted to. Because it felt good. Her mouth tasted metallic and I wondered if she had braces, but when I ran my tongue on her teeth they were smooth. She said they went to “college” in Georgia. I told her I didn't speak American. Did that mean University or school? We sang along to Phil Collins and passed ‘round a joint. Georgia was sprawled across Sid’s lap in the front and I couldn't tell if she was sucking him off until we swerved to avoid a joneser in the road and she came up for air. Barbie kept calling me Alfie and playing with the bulge in my linen trousers. “Who the fuck is Alfie!?” I shouted out of the window as we passed my wreck of a jeep. Sid beeped and the crowd on the Hammerheads balcony hollered back, waving the golden Merc past the Paradise Island bridge.
The rain came down when we reached the boatyard, as if it had been waiting all day for this point. The power was off and the gate was locked. The dry dock was a gloomy graveyard of boats on stilts. I rattled the padlock for Security, who finally appeared with flashlight. The old man looked like he’d been sleeping. He did a double-take as he took in the situation. No chirpy Miss Alice tonight.
We ran up the pontoon in the tropical rain, the girls with their handbags over their heads. Barbie tripped on one of the slats and broke a heel. I helped her to her feet. Georgia was in tears laughing. She took a picture of us with her phone.
“Cute,” the girls agreed, standing on the dock as I pulled in the lines for them to jump aboard. Georgia took another photo. “This is so romantic. Can’t believe you live on a boat.”
There were lightning storms over Paradise Island. We stood in the cockpit as I slid open the hatch and we went below, four of us into the sauna-like cabin, the rain drumming on the decks. The lights weren’t working (again) but Sid and Georgia didn't seem to mind. They slumped onto one of the benches (the one that pulled out into a double-bed) and got right to work, grunting, gasping, pulling at clothes.
I lit a candle and found a mildewed towel for Barbie Is A Slut. She pulled me towards her on the opposite bench, yanking at my fly. I suggested a spliff and some music, something to drown out Sid and Georgia who looked like they were actually fucking. Yes that was definitely his dick.
Barbie told me not to worry; she pulled me onto the bench with her, stuck her tongue in my mouth and put my hand up her skirt. There was no denying what was going on here. The girls weren’t up for a philosophical discussion. They had a few hours left to fuck an English accent and get back to the boat. Which was fine. She even had a condom at the ready, must have had it in her bra. She was wet and I was ready. Something Alice and I hadn’t had in a while. It was a relationship break. Everything was fine.
Until I saw the Buddha in the flicker of the candle. Alice’s lucky Buddha on the chart table inches from my face. Big fat shiny belly. Crazy grin. She couldn't have forgotten him. She always took him everywhere in her backpack. I'd seen photos of him in Tibet, Australia, on a horse in Mozambique, having dinner on the Trans Siberian railway. And that was before we got together. Since then he’d followed us from Wales to the French Alps and onto the Bahamas (via a surf & yoga camp in Costa Rica).
At one point I thought about screaming. Chasing them all out with the flare gun up the dock and out of my sight. But I didn't. Instead I just lay there on the musty mattress, the scene of last night’s failed attempt at an aurevoir, Barbie smelling of sweet margarita mix and cigarettes, feeling myself go soft before we’d even begun. At one point she snapped off the condom and tried to suck me into life. At least she could go back to college with a story of blowjob with a British accent on a boat. But it was game over. I stared at the Buddha and the sailing charts, the islands we were meant to sail to, the pots and pans catching raindrops, waiting for Sid to baptise the boat.
Finally she looked up, desperate, a porn star afraid she might not get paid. “Are you seriously crying?” she asked.