Cruising on Wrangler Avenue

Kaleb D’Aguilar

Is Friday afternoon and the sun start come down through the sky as speakers and sound systems stacking up. Wrangler Avenue always have something going on. Is the longest strip in Port-o-Jandie, leading from the town center straight into the beach.

You never see car on this road, for is people create the traffic. Bodies sidestepping each other from morning till evening all there for the fever. ‘Bout a mile of shacks with people spilling out, trying to make a hustle off food and clothes or even magic trick. So-comes every other night is some big party with music box tower so high that you can’t escape the heavy bassline and tempo, and it sure to seep into your blood and send you flying straight up to heaven so you meet God with a pep in your step. But that’s why they say you must wine a girl so she keep you grounded. And that’s how God know you ain’t one-o-them fellas. So later when you dead he ‘low you come through the big gates.

Fedi meet up with Jonah and Paul at Rocky Point, and the three a them walking along the shore to meet the bottom of Wrangler Avenue.  Nowadays you hardly see this trio together since Jonah have him daughter and get the new job at the electric warehouse. And then Paul always on the road promoting the same party he falling out later. But Fedi— he different. A regular Jandie yute yes, born and raise, but always different. He never yet leave the island, never able to go ‘gainst the current, and same so he trapped; dreaming his way out. He live with his mother, who is a dress maker, and granny, who he help take care of— for one Sunday morning she put on a long white skirt and blue blouse with a hat to match and look so pretty for Jesus, but in the heights of a Hallelujah break her foot singing praises. Then, after it start heal she catch arthritis. So she can’t do much these days except complain and pray to the same God for a blessing. Fedi father leave Port-o-Jandie in a boat off to Manilewo to help build the canal and he never come back.

Paul said, “I tell you boys I going get a sweet wine from plenty, plenty girl tonight! Right here in this spot too.”

Laughing, Jonah hit back with, “Yeah? You go’n run off your mouth like you is all that. We all know is only tough face girl want you!”

“Yeah? ‘Least I getting some!” Paul always on a mission to defend him manhood. So, him continue, “And even better I know how to use my dick. Fedi here only know what the insides of him pillow feel like!”

Half frighten, half shame Fedi jump in, “Shhh! Mind these boys hear and believe you! You think I never have sex yet?”

Paul laughing, “Boyo we know you ain’t even touch no girl! Party come and you always find some excuse not to go!”

Jonah quickly adding, “Yeah! And if you do you just drink a beer or two and buss off…”

Fedi now defiant, “Well you know I busy taking care a grams.”

But Jonah not accepting that, “Yeah and I have work! Vanessa kill me if I ain’t bring home dolla to buy Tita nappy. But that ain’t stop me from have a good time…”

And the crash of water folding over rock stone fizzle out on the sand. Fedi know him lose. So he turn round, back facing Wrangler Avenue, staring off into the sea watching the sun fall into it. Maybe, just maybe, at the far edge a boat going come in with him father to save him. He ‘fraid now that he finish school and home full time this mean he marry his mother and granny and have to stay on this big rock forever. But Fedi ain’t see no boat. And he know his father ain’t coming back.

Paul look over at Jonah who just chuckle and say, “Ai sah!” for he used to Fedi becoming distant and rolling them off his back. The Porto-o-Jandie routine would never be enough for Fedi – party till you bored then shack up with a girl after she pregnant. Is like a game a dandy-shandy—one overhead, two overhead, sight, split and stumble. Who the ball going lick next? So Fedi been thinking to go Manilewo, or even Barutista. Both islands major tourist spots and he can get good money at the hotels. Maybe later he can get the boat to America and start life?

The three boys stood on that shoreline, watching the sun spread itself and melt, ignoring the distance from each other on this island surrounded by a sea of maybes.

Paul then took out a spliff, lit it and drew a deep breath.

“So you boys hear what they do Kala?” The smoke coming off the tip.

Jonah said, “I hear they beat him so bad he have to go America get surgery and all.” Paul tried to light it again, but this time struggling to get a flame to stay sake a the breeze. So he turn his back ‘gainst the waters and finally get it to burn straight through.

The smoke now filling the air he say, “I shoulda been there to catch the white fella he with! Believe he just drive off just so and leave him there? Big ole pussy, he to get some licks too!”

Paul start cough, hard, so he pass the blunt to Jonah who take a draw and say, “But you know these fellas, all coming here for the fever to wine and grind and get a Jandie! They know we don’t ‘gree but still they want to come up in we face and do that shit on our land, in our turf! They must be crazy! I ain’t feel sorry for Kala! He knew boyo. He knew.”

The smoke now fly up into Fedi’s nose like he get a bullet in his brain and he turn round sharp and say, “Fine! I stay out with y’all tonight! We going have a good time. Right fellas?”

Paul said, “Yeahhhh boy! Le’we catch the fever and sink into the night!”

. . . 

Couple hours later, the moon high up drawing a tide breeze to travel through the dense crowd on the beach, taming the fever. Everyone catching a good vibe with music and weed and liquor and girls. Jonah and Paul feeling well hot, enjoying themselves and a try make Fedi feel the spirit too, but he just hold his cup and sip every now and again.

When somebody feel they going drown and dead they catch hold of the closest body and sink. But sometimes, they let the water pull them down fast before anybody reach, so they don’t owe nothing in heaven.

In the far corner ‘side a set of speakers, three older women spinning them waistline holding steady on top a heels. Paul eyes them quick, fixing him stare on the one in the middle in a tight jeans batty-rider shorts and shocking-colour-pink mesh top, with the black bra outdoor and navel ring to match.

“Come le’we mash dem up nah. One for the three a we.”

And he grab a fresh beer from the bar and leave Fedi and Jonah behind, watching to see if he have skills for real. And between the ebb and flow of bodies passing between the bar, between the dance, between skin sweat and bass line, they see Paul talking and talking and lean in closer and closer. And Jonah see him pass something to the lady in pink, who pocket it and start strut between all the excitement to meet the shy guy on the other side.

“So how comes you ain’t ask me for a dance?”

Shocking Pinky come right up in Fedi face and he smell all the liquor on her breath, and see some of her makeup mixing with her sweat and running down. And he wonder why she put on green eyeliner when that no match. But this was not no dolly house, and he fix his stance real quick to play up a comeback above the music.

“I ain’t know you looking my way.”

Shocking Pinky burst out a belly laugh and bend back far. And Fedi see that the men in the party eyes shift, looking under her, and looking at him.

He tried again, “But you looking real hot in dem shorts girl.”

And Shocking Pinky shift her bumper and start to move it round and round, backing it up on the unsuspecting boy. And Fedi see he being watched, by Paul from the speakers, and Jonah from the bar who a shout him name and draw more crowd. So he take a big swig from him cup and grab her waistline, and the two bodies meet somewhere in the middle between the rhythms.

When somebody feel they going drown and dead they catch hold of the closest body and sink. But sometimes, they let the water pull them down fast before anybody reach, so they don’t owe nothing in heaven. Fedi realize he can’t keep up, and his hands drop from her waist and start shake by him side and he wonder if he to shift and move him limp dick from between her crack— but she keep bouncing it. And he feel him frame getting weak and start wonder if he should just fall and take the beating that going come after— hoping he don’t dead. Or, catch she by her waist and sink with him manhood, able to stand tall cause he find way to tame the broad and level the waters. Luckily, the liquor reach him head and decide for him. So before him falter, he haul Shocking Pinky by her belt straps and she drop straight on him pants front. And everybody rail up and form circle round them. And Fedi eyes get wide cause Shocking Pinky still a jump and bubble on him; and he wonder if this is what it going feel like— somewhere between a loud slap and soft ripple from water. And for a moment, he ready to dive deep and test him limits, ‘till the song trail off, selector change speed, and the crowd move back into a rhythm.

Shocking Pinky ease up off Fedi and walk back over to the speakers without saying a word. And before Fedi could even think to brush off the sand off him pants, Jonah came running.

“Yeah! Big man in the dance tonight!”

Jonah’s words drag Fedi from out him head and back in the dance to see his friend smiling at him, proud.

“I tell you I can do my thing.”

“Yes boss!” And Jonah give Fedi a new cup a brown mix with ice.

Fedi took a sip, shock at the strength in this one, but he relaxing now. And he start bob his head and feel the bass in the budup budup from the speakers.

“You think she want me?” Fedi looked at Jonah, half excited, half doubtful; he regret the question but want the answer.

“After one dance boyo? Then again, maybe. Is here I meet Van.”

Maybe. Just maybe tonight.

Fedi could still feel her weight in his lap and smell her sweat on his skin. She wasn’t the prettiest, but under the brown mix and flashing lights, she could pass. So Fedi start ease his way through the crowd towards the speakers, trying to do the Jandie thing and be a real man. But calf can’t play in bull pen.

Fedi see it clear-clear. Paul behind the speakers holding Shocking Pinky’s face and sucking out her tongue with his. It was messy. And Fedi think to go curse him friend for stealing him girl, but he wasn’t a messy man, and he knew the words wouldn’t come out like rock stone. He knew he would stutter, trying to find the right beat, and even if he did, it would come out too polish, too different. And so he leave them be.

Returning to Jonah, Fedi catch him saying, “You get your girl?” But all he could say back was, “I going piss,” and move straight past him, through the party, past the toilets, and up Wrangler Avenue.

. . . 

With all the shops lock and people off the street, Wrangler Avenue have a different energy, kept beating with every twinkle from the fireflies and whisper from leaves a tell suss and story. The air is cool and wet and Fedi could taste the salt in the atmosphere, or maybe is him own sweat.

The music trailing off in the distance, Fedi see a spot ‘side a shop and start. And he could feel his body get lighter and lighter, like the whole a himself going run out with the yellow water. But just then, he hear a rustle in the darkness across the road. Finishing, he turn round fast, keeping safe within the streetlamp light, his eyes trying to focus.

“So you ain’t enjoying the fever?”

A voice coming from the darkness. Fedi could only see the push and pull of a cigarette flicker from behind bush and board.

He hesitated, “Is not really my style.”

Maybe he should a lie and say he having a good time; that the bathrooms full or something. But surprisingly, the voice came back with, “Yeah not mine either.”

Fedi now looking hard to see who it be. The voice sounded older, and the accent not as thick. So he lean back and puff him chest, for no tourist going make him scared.

“Oh? So who you be? If you going rob me I ain’t have no money so don’t even bother try!”

The voice laughed.

“God kill me rob a little thing like you! All flesh and bone. Nothing there to eat.”

Fedi eyes get wide, then crunch up slow as him decide what to say next. And he look down to the party, then back towards the voice. But then, a small breeze blew in his eyes and the light shifted in the darkness, revealing part of a man’s face. Fedi eased.

“Ohhh! Is you Rico! Why you a try scare me?” And a smile come out as him inch towards the edge of the light; following with, “So why you not on the beach tonight? Not your thing every Friday?”

Rico, who finish him smoke, drop the bud and say, “Not tonight,” stamping out the tiny flame. “Tonight I just wan’ chill and cruise up Wrangler.”

“So you not going come out?”

“I waiting on you come in.”

And Rico moved down through the darkness, towards the entrance of him shack, and disappear past the swing doors. Fedi waited a while, looked back at the party, and then move from under the street light and into the darkness to walk straight up the path and disappear too.

. . . 

Back on the beach, Jonah find Paul sitting in the sand by himself, facing the evening tide.

“Is what happen? Pinky tired you out?”

And Paul raise him head, lifting his hand to the sky shouting “I can’t tired. Port-o-Jandie nah get me!”

And Jonah, who know he going have to drag Paul ass home at this point say, “Awright shotta. You know where Fed is? I cyaa find him.”

Then Paul drop his whole body in the sand, kiss him teeth and say, “Shit man.” For everything catching up, “I was getting the girl for Fed but then she all over me and…shit man! Him all right?”

“Come. Le’we go find him and cut.”

And the two boys trudge their way off the damp sand, back in the party, and through the fever to start up Wrangler.

. . . 

Back inside Rico’s shack, Fedi now in the bathroom washing his hands and he look in the mirror to see himself. The pipe running water, but Fedi freeze on him face— a regular Jandie yute, born and raise, but different. Could he really last in America? He wash his face and water start drip down from him cheeks and the stubble from a young beard. And him smile. 

Coming out, he see Rico sitting on the bar bench drinking a beer. The lights turn on now and Fedi could see the place better— the dancefloor, the bar, and Rico— the white man who come here for the fever to wine and grind and he get a Jandie.

And Fedi approach him like he counting every step, like a child waiting on him parent, or a Jandie waiting on a visa; then offered a “Thanks…” standing and waiting.   

Rico, bobbing him head to something less Caribbean playing low, hold up him bottle and signal to the exit, “See you ‘round skinny,” swallowing the end with another gulp.  

And is that make Fedi know it done, like Rico already fly gone and forget. And he chuckle out loud, but really to himself for expecting something more. And he wonder if Kala was happy before he get ketch, or maybe now since he in America. Then suddenly, he get this bad taste in him mouth, like all his sin collect and rest on him tongue, but he ain’t have nowhere to spit. So he stare hard on Rico, and take the beer out him hand and wash everything down too. And then he chuckle again, this time under his breath, and move towards the swing doors.

“Yo Kid!”

Fedi stopped.

“Come through the front. Jus’ take the steps back down to the beach.”

Fedi took another swig then move back past Rico to pull the front curtains and reveal the glass doors that let the moonlight in. A white shimmer glisten over the push and pull of the distant ocean. Opening the door, a tide wind blew through the hazy room, and the salt smell remind Fedi of him father. How far does the ocean stretch? Will it carry this secret back to him?

Rico, who must’ve catch wave of Fedi’s stillness— the lost buoy drifting at sea—finally threw a line, “If you serious, I can get you to Manilewo. Just don’t bother run off when you reach. It’s a wild place being right under America and they eat up skinny Caribbean boys like you.”

Laughing, Fedi made his way down the steps, spotting Jonah and Paul in the distance going up Wrangler. So he move back through the shack towards the swing doors, but Rico catch hold of him hand this time. And a strong wind shut the glass doors behind him. And Fedi wonder what going happen if Jonah and Paul barge through the swing-doors right now. He going dead too?

But there was no scene, no story. Rico let him go, shaking his hand off the young boy, collecting back him beer. And Fedi quickly move through the swing doors and up the path through the darkness, landing under the streetlight on Wrangler Avenue to catch his friends in front him. He shout,

“YO! We leaving?”

And Jonah and Paul stop and turn round to see their friend running towards them.

Jonah jump in, “Yeah man! We cold now, been looking all over for you boyo!”

And Paul put his hands on Fedi shoulders to keep himself standing, and stare up into him face with a look that tell Fedi he want vomit, but he spill out a question instead, “Where you been?”

Fedi chuckle and look at Jonah before following with, “Nowhere. Just walking.” And Fedi move to hold him friend up but Paul push himself off and dress back, showing them he is a man able to stand on his own. Slurring his words, he try to find an apology.

“No…no…Listen Fed, the girl…” But Fedi stop him right there.

“Paul! We good man. You think I hot over she? You crazy!”

And Paul smile at Fedi big and wide and start blink fast like he going cry but he lose his balance instead and fall on the white-lined pavement looking straight up at the moon. Fedi look at Jonah, expecting him to take control and for the two a them to haul the sad drunk home, but he just chuckle and say “Ai sah” and lie down beside Paul. And Fedi, as the defiant last puzzle piece bound to submit too, followed after, smiling. This trio of black men, like boys, lying in the middle of the road, staring up at the big black and blue sky, an ocean of endless constellations— stars floating towards and away from one another.

“Guys…” Paul’s voice was direct. “You really think this is it?”

And the fireflies kept a steady twinkle as the other boys tried to come up with an answer. Jonah slowly sat up, looking down Wrangler at the sea of bodies still in the fever. Could this really be it? But then he see someone—Rico, come from out the dark smoking a cigarette, and turn left down towards the party. And Jonah turn and look at Fedi right as he come up with an answer.

Calm, but with the words able to travel straight through, Fedi said, “This, is what we make it.” 

And somehow, a gust of wind made its way through the crowd on the beach, cruising up Wrangler to brush pass Fedi’s face, and salt water fly from out him right eye into the breeze. And he smile at Jonah who ask, “Y’all ready?”

Rising before Paul, Fedi stand up and look down Wrangler Avenue then up towards the town center and nod him head – yeah, it’s time.

And the three boys made their way off Wrangler Avenue, towards their own lives, their own boat to dock and hold harbor or set sail and tide the sea.

Image credit: Ananda Poon

Kaleb D’Aguilar is a Jamaican writer and filmmaker. His passion for the arts started with the drama club at Ardenne High School, later joining the Quilt Performing Arts Company. After completing his BSc. in Anthropology at the University of the West Indies, where he graduated Valedictorian in 2017, Kaleb transitioned to writing and directing for film. He has currently completed three short films, all of which have participated in regional and international film festivals. He is currently doing his MA in Directing at Goldsmiths University in London. 

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