“Mr. King!” A light-hearted, cheery voice calls in from outside my window.
“Ya!” I call back, leaving my open laptop on the table and slipping on a pair of flip-flops.
Stumbling out my front door, I walk toward the gate and turn the lock open. No one is out there, just the side of the market in front of me, a car parked off to the right and a dumpster down the road to the left on an otherwise empty street. But I’ve seen this trick before.
“All right, J. Where are you now?”
“Ahh!” a boy jumps out from behind a pillar, hands forward with a menacing grin.
“Almost got me that time,” I laugh, offering a fist bump as he steps inside the gate.
“Sir, lewwego fishing,” he says, hopping up on the banister of my veranda, legs dangling.
“You want to go fishing now? It’s going to be dark soon.”
“Yeah, down by the jetty.”
“I’m not sure I can,” I reply, thinking about the numerous online tabs of graduate schools and job-search websites left open on my laptop.
“Why not?” J questions, almost baffled at the thought I could possibly have something more important to do.
I lean back on the banister next to him, mulling over the thought in my head. On one hand, I didn’t have any real obligations this evening, as due to the upcoming Corpus Christi holiday we didn’t have school the following day. I was also looking forward to a night in, not doing a whole lot and begin exploring some post-Peace Corps opportunities.
On the other hand, awhile back I had promised J I would go fishing with him and had yet to fulfill that promise. So the more I thought about it, the more I suppose this was as good of a time as any.
“You have everything we need?” I ask.
“Yeah! I just have to run home to get my bait-catcher,” he says, his eyes lighting up.
“Okay, then run home and get it and we’ll go,” I agree.
“Yes!” He hops down. “Oh, but sir. Can you call my mother?”
“My mother. Can you ask her if it’s okay I go to the jetty?”
I go back inside and come back out with my phone and hand it to J, who dials his mother’s number and then hands it back to me.
“Hi, good afternoon,” a pleasant, female voice answers.
“Good afternoon. This is Scott King, the Peace Corps at the RC. I have J here by me and was wondering if I can take him down to the jetty to go fishing.”
J watches intently.
“Oh, okay. You’ll be with him?” she asks.
“Yes. And I can have him home at a certain time if you like. Is there a certain time you would like me to bring him back home?”
“Well his bed time is 8:00, so have him home by then.”
“All right, I’ll see to that. Thank you and have a nice night.”
“Same to you.”
“What’d she say?” J asks anxiously.
“She said it’s okay. I just have to have you home by 8.”
“What time is it now?”
“6:30. So if we go one time then we’ll have an hour down by the jetty. Quickly run home and get your things and we can go.”
J runs out of the gate and takes off down the road. I slip back inside and switch into a fresh set of clothes. Sitting back down on the couch, I then wait for the impending cheery voice to call: “Mr. King!”
A few minutes pass by…
I check the clock, J doesn’t live too far down the road, so it shouldn’t take him all that long…
“Ahh, there it is,” I laugh.
I step outside and lock up my apartment, joining J on the street. I turn around to lock the gate to the complex. The sun had already set as we begin walking down the street. We turn the corner onto the main road, a typical Gouyave scene unfolding before us. Various people are hanging out on the sidewalks on either side of the road. Some are standing, leaning up on the buildings, others are sitting on crates or on the sidewalk. Cars and buses fly past, honking their horns in a friendly manner and dodging the vehicles parked on the side of the road. A few ladies sit out in front of the market, looking to sell their fruits and vegetables to anyone passing by. Up ahead at the junction, half a dozen men stand idly leaning against their cars waiting for someone in need of a taxi service.
“J! Come!” A lady calls from across the street.
J takes off across the road, taking in his hands a bag of mangoes that the lady gave him.
“You got some mangoes there?” I ask.
“Yeah, they’re from me auntie. You want one?”
“Sure, but in a little while.”
“Sir, can you hold this for me until we get there?”
“Yeah, no problem.”
We cross the street and continue our walk to The Lance, the part of Gouyave across the newly-built bridge. J, with a blue jersey and bathing suit, walks proudly as he swings the bucket in his hand with each stride. Inside the bucket were a couple of plastic water bottles, each with a fishing line wrapped tightly around it. Half a dozen small hooks are tied to the line, the only creases in the otherwise tightly-wrapped lines around the bottles.
“You know why I had you talk to my mother?” J asks, hopping back and forth from the sidewalk to the street.
“Why is that?”
“Because she would have said no if I asked her. But I knew she’d say yes if you asked,” he grins.
I let out a little laugh and shake my head, remembering what it was like to use any leverage you can to try and stay out later than your parents would otherwise let you.
“You have any plans for the holiday tomorrow?” I ask him.
“My father is going to take me through the bush,” he responds enthusiastically.
“Yeah, we are going to hike up through Clozier and hunt for manicou.”
“That’ll be fun.”
A white and green-painted gas station comes up on our right; it’s the only one in town. Buses and cars whip in and out, being serviced by a staffer who pumps the gas for them like they did in the olden days. We cross the street and come across a shop that sells arts, crafts, and spices. The owner locks up the red, green, and yellow-painted gate in front of the shop as he closes up for the night. Walking past the shop, we reach the apron of the bridge as the road rises up steeply before running the flat of the bridge across to the other side. Stepping up to the sidewalk at the flat of the bridge and looking directly to my left, a single palm tree stretches to the sky over a rock-strewn stream that eases seamlessly into the bleak Caribbean Sea. Looking ahead now, the rugged, green mountains off to our right overlook the homes, bars, and shops of The Lance as it finally spills into view. Fast-paced soca music pounds earth-shakingly from speakers somewhere in the distance, the rhythmic heartbeat of this part of town.
By the time we passed all the homes, shops, and bars lining the road in The Lance, the Fish Market finally came into view. Turning left onto the drive of the Fish Market, we walk toward the jetty, a concrete pier stretching out into the water. Looking to my right into the Fish Market as we pass, most of the stalls inside are now vacant, vendors having cleared out for the night. The aroma of salt water and fish fills my nostrils, as if its scent was plastered into the walls of the market itself. A single man in the back hoses down a stall as he cleans it, the water trickling along the floor before running down a drain.
Walking past the Fish Market and onto the concrete jetty, we continue to the end as we’re welcomed in by various docked fishing boats tethered to the light fixtures and concrete stoops on either side of the jetty. A group of men are standing on the end, looking out into the water and casting their lines. Some of them sit on the side, legs dangling off the edge with a Carib in one hand and a cigarette in another. Others stand with their poles in their hand, looking for a late-evening catch. J drops his bucket and gets right to work, eagerly unwinding the tangled fishing line from the bottles. Stepping up to the edge, he twirls the six-hook bait-catcher like a lasso and casts it out into the water. The water has taken on a blue gray color, reflective of the somber color of the sky from the quickly fading daylight. He almost immediately begins reeling the line back in, enticing a fish to bite at his moving bait-catcher.
The sound of waves quietly lapping against the side of the jetty and the incessant calls of the hungry seagulls complement the scene around me. Looking back over my left shoulder, a small beachhead runs along the coast of The Lance with several boats rocking quietly, anchored out off-shore in the waves. Lights began to speckle the mountainside behind us as the homes and buildings began turning on their lights, the night falling fast.
J winds the line all the way back around the bottle and casts the line out again. On about the third try, he felt a tug of resistance. He bubbles with excitement as he rapidly pulls in a small fish roughly the length of my pinky. Unhooking it and tossing it onto the concrete, he casts out another line before taking the fish and placing it in his bucket. After another couple of tries he was having no more luck, so he decided to move to another spot off the left-hand side of the jetty, where several small boats were docked.
Another boy, a year or two older than J, was also fishing at the same spot. This boy had two plastic bottles, which he took turns casting out a line before leaving the bottle propped against the concrete curb of the jetty while he pulled the other line in. J steps up next to him and throws out a line of his own. I peer over the edge, looking into the water below to see what could be down there. Looking past the ropes that held the boats to the jetty, the water was somewhat clear under the streetlights of the jetty, enabling me to see the shadows of fish scurrying across the sandy sea-floor. Just then a quick movement and a sudden splash suddenly caught my attention off to the right. I wasn’t the only one who saw or heard something either, as in a moment all the men on the jetty came rushing to the scene. A fish had caught the other boy’s line and pulled the resting bottle over the curb and into the water!
Some of the men drop on their stomachs, reaching down to try and catch hold of the bottle or the line. But the fish had already taken off with it. One of the men cast out a line of his own to catch the boy’s, which was now pulling away around the end of the jetty and out into the sea. After a few tense, anticipatory minutes, the other men were somehow able to pull in the boy’s escaped prize. They returned it to him, but not before laughing at the whole ordeal and ribbing him for nearly letting one get away. Personally, I was just baffled the fish was strong enough to be able to pull the bottle over the curb and into the water.
After the excitement settled down, J continued building his catch count. Climbing down the stairs on the side of the jetty to be directly next to the boats, he would cast his line out into the water and reel it in. Once getting a catch, he would eagerly pull it in and toss the line over his shoulder to the top of the jetty before running back up the stairs to unhook the fish and start the process all over again. He got his second fish, then his third, then his fourth. A few older men, some having come from a day out on the water or just having reached home from work in town, began taking their places on the side of the jetty. They began casting out lines of their own or simply watched J and the other boy work their lines.
At one point, J’s line got tangled with the other boy’s and they needed help untangling it. Some teenage boys on the other side came over and began helping them, mumbling under their breath and shaking their heads that such a mess was made of the lines. J ran back to the bag of mangoes he received from his auntie on the way over and handed a mango to each of them, in gratitude for their help.
At this point I checked the time on the clock, 7:45 p.m. It was almost time for J to be home. He was too busy to notice, thrilled by his handful of catches. I began to feel a pit of indecision in my stomach, not wanting to be the buzzkill that sends J home but fully-knowing that I made a promise to his mother to have him home at 8:00. I walk along the top of the jetty and crouch down so I was just over his shoulder.
“Hey, J. It’s about time we go home, it’s almost 8:00,” I tell him, out of earshot of the others.
He nods but doesn’t say anything, not wanting to go home just yet. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t ready to go home just yet either. But then again, Momma’s rules are Momma’s rules. I step back and allow him to push it another couple of minutes.
“Eh, eh! There goes a ray,” a man in a worn-down, beige-colored t-shirt with a black backpack and gray stubble on his chin says, pointing down toward the water.
“There’s a sting ray?” I ask, looking out over the edge. “I didn’t know they were out in these waters.”
“Yeah man,” he responds. “But it pass now, keep an eye out it might come back. It went by just under that boat there.”
I kept a cautious eye on the water, secretly hoping to catch my first sight at a sting ray down here. But it was to no avail.
Then with about five minutes to bed time, knowing we were already going to be late, I leaned over to J again.
“Okay J, it’s 8:00. I already let you stay past the time. It’s time to go,” I say, using a little white lie to trigger him to finish up.
“Okay, sir. Just one more,” he responds tossing out another line.
He pulls it in empty and reluctantly climbs back up to the jetty to gather his things. Wrapping up his bottle and line and putting them in the bucket with the four fish he caught, he was finally ready to go home. Bidding the guys gathered at the jetty a good night, we turn and head back home. We walk back through The Lance, now come to life in the night as locals share drinks on the side of the road, inside and in front of the rum shops. The music is still pounding and the vehicles with their bright headlights blind us as they bustle past. We cross back over the bridge and through the main part of Gouyave, walking past the market as well as my apartment and all the way to the rock shoreline just beyond town. Climbing on top of the large rocks, I turn on a flashlight as J pulls out a knife and begins scraping off the scales of his fish. He then cuts open the belly, pulling out the organs as if he were in a sophomore level biology class, explaining to me the proper way to clean a fish.
“Sir, you want one to take with you?” J asks, holding out one of the fish.
“I’m good for now, thanks J. Maybe next time.”
I wouldn’t be opposed to taking the fish, if only I knew what to do with it. One of these days I’ll learn how to prepare a fish freshly caught from the water, it’s on my list of things to learn before my time here is up. But this just wasn’t the time.
Upon returning back to my apartment, I began preparing my own dinner. While the seasoned chicken was roasting in the oven, I pulled out my laptop to continue exploring the opportunities for me post-Peace Corps. I know it’s early to start looking, but curiosity has begun to get the best of me. My motivation quickly subsided, however, as I settled in and my mind drifted elsewhere.
When I first came down to the Caribbean with the Peace Corps, I was eager for this experience to be the launching point of my adult life. On one hand, part of my reasoning in coming down here was that I did not know what I wanted to do for a living and this was a means of buying time to figure that out. Having reached this point a little over a year into my service, I do have a better idea of what I want to do. But I am still not certain, and have a-ways to go in figuring it out.
But then fishing with J reminded me of something that is important, but often neglected. His excitement at the prospect of going fishing reminded me of why so many of us are envious of children. After all, each one of us at some point feels the nostalgia to return to the days of little to no responsibilities, ample free time, and an ambition to explore and rebelliously push the limits of staying up past bed time. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, distracted with the responsibilities and obligations of adulthood and forget to take the time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, like going fishing with a bottle and a line.
Our time on Earth, like my time here in the Caribbean, is fleeting. After all, just this past month I finally reached my one-year anniversary of being in the Caribbean. At this time next year, I’ll be preparing to return home for good. The prospect of finally returning home excites me, which is why I’ve already begun exploring post-Peace Corps options. That being said, I am also not nearly ready to close this chapter of my life, having truly come to feel at home and hit my stride here in the town of Gouyave. I’m simply having too much fun.
But fact of the matter is, as important as it is to fulfill the responsibilities and obligations of adulthood, it’s just as important that we never lose the passion for fun that all children have. Between my after-school tutoring, weekly Peace Corps Skype meetings with other Volunteers and staff, creating and editing news segments, and household chores such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry, my adult responsibilities have lead me to sometimes pass on the opportunities for simple childhood activities. Due to how overwhelming these obligations can seem, it’s easy for me to use them as an excuse to pass on the times J and other local kids ask me to play cricket, football, or to go fishing.
But when I do find myself back in the United States, sitting at home, at work, or at school (or wherever I may end up), I can already envision myself reflecting on my days in Grenada. The memories that already stand out in my mind are often the times I’ve spent involving myself in activities with the local kids.
A Monday evening I swam into the river to retrieve my frisbee a child accidentally threw a bit too far.
A Tuesday afternoon playing cricket with J in the green space in front of my veranda with a cut-out piece of plywood, tennis ball, and chair, before being told by my landlord not to play there in concern of a window being broken. (An unlikely possibility given the circumstances, but we’ve since kept it to the park).
A Wednesday evening taking turns as the goal-keeper and shooting for goals in a rotation with the other kids at the park.
A Thursday lunch playing cricket with my third-grade students, who get excited at the prospect of “outing,” or “hitting a six,” off their teacher.
A Friday morning racing first-graders across the courtyard of the school between classes.
A Saturday morning spent showing some local children how to run receiving routes with the American football at the park.
It’s these times, the times that I get to be a kid again, that I’m sure I’ll most likely miss.
Coming here right after graduating college, I was excited at the prospect of launching the start of my adult life. But as I have become engulfed in the responsibilities that adulthood brings, I have realized how much I am going to miss what it was like to be a kid. So in this sense, although I am still launching the start of my adult life down here, that doesn’t mean I have to give up the passion for excitement in simple activities that is inherent in children.
Going fishing with J that night reminded me of that.
Whether we’re 12 or 24, 46 or 64, 78 or 93, we are always at the launching point of our own adult lives.
At any given point, we still have the rest of our life to live.
But sometimes we need that reminder that at the end of the day, we are all really just a child at heart.
4 thoughts on “A Child At Heart”
Scott–I found it interesting that you titled this piece “A Child at Heart” as I have always said that the mark of a strong teacher is to have the capacity to understand the heart of the child. You ‘ve got it, baby! May you enjoy many more fun moments with your young friends as they learn from you and you from them!
What a great mantra to live by as a teacher! Now I understand how you always got along so well us! Thanks for the well-wishes.
I agree with you. When I watch the grandkids I have so much fun. The day I jumped on the trampoline I felt like I was 10 yrs old, playing in the pool, getting ice cream, just having fun. Everyone needs to keep the inner child alive to truly enjoy life. ❤️ Aunt Betsy
Aunt Betsy, how come that doesn’t surprise me at all! Keep enjoying their company and tell them all I said hello!