Saturday, September 27, 2008

Gangs and a Piss'n Tail Taxi

From time to time, I take Jamaican public transportation. Usually, the journey is long and switches have to be made around 3 times. So, I'm not usually excited about the draining task. However, each time I see something that makes me S.M.D.H. (shake my damn head).

So, I live in the first capital of Jamaica - Spanish Town. (The present capital is Kingston.)Spanish Town these days has a bad rep. When I meet persons for the first time and I say I live in Spanish Town, they usually ask me to show them my gun.

Part of the reason for the bad rep is because of the presence of gangs in the old capital. There are two gangs really that make the news regularly. One is Clans Man. The other is One Order. Back when I was doing my Literature degree, I lived on campus and would hear from my parents about the violence/clashes/bloodshed between the two groups. I believe politics is linked to the feuding as well as the two gangs are linked to the two dominant political parties, respectively. They (the gangs) coordinate a lot of the daily illegal activities in Spanish Town and (most alarmingly)have started branching out into the countryside.

So, as I was saying, I wanted to get to school early one morning and decided to bus it baby (lol). I then decided to take a route taxi from Spanish Town to Half-Way- Tree. Half-Way-Tree is a vibrant, busy, central section of the parish, Kingston and St. Andrew. I didn't do so well in Geography but I believe it is the capital of St. Andrew. St. Andrew is the unofficial capital of Jamaica. If you are from St. Andrew, I suppose you are considered cosmopolitan by the country folk. A substantial number of Jamaicans work towards owning a nice house in the distinguished, affluent parts of St. Andrew where the elite class lives. Kingston is basically the capital of Jamaica because it is (or actually used to be) the Central Business District. St. Andrew is virtually the capital for not only business, but everything else. Everything else includes residential areas,public facilities, recreation...urban living.....................

....Right. So, I walked to the taxi stand and noticed that everyone stood, sticking out their necks looking for approaching taxis. (Taxi = taxicab). I anticipated the present future to be like the past - I expected to fight for a seat in a jampacked taxi and figured I'd be outrun as I'd been many a time. Somehow though, this quiet group reminded of cows at a trough, drinking water, dreading an upcoming milking. Or maybe, Gideon (was that his name?) and the soldiers who drank the water at the river cautiously, looking out for imminent danger. It was indeed a tense quiet.

After waiting for perhaps 10 minutes, I heard a hesitant voice say "Awffichee" (Half-Way Tree). I bolted, expecting Usain Bolt's cousins to leave their shoe marks in my back.....What do you know? One or two persons walked calmly to the taxi, which had driven up on the back section of the stand. I still believed that at any moment a race would start so I hurried in. Outside a woman whom Jamaicans would call a sketel (skeh-tell)which basically means a vulgar or fallen woman, drawled "OOO? Mi nah guh inna dah piss'n tail taxi." (Who? I am not going into that piss'n tail taxi...I am not certain what exactly piss'n tail means, but I know it has to do with piss which in some contexts denotes inferiority.)

I asked the cab driver around three times if he was going to Half-Way-Tree and he gave me a subdued nod each time. So, I sat at the back of the taxi, all alone wondering what exactly was up with the gloom and calm around me. A large woman was the only other occupant; she was in the front seat.

Next, something else interesting happened. The driver, I saw, noticed a light skinned, scowling man who magically appeared at the taxi's side. He held out an open and cupped palm. The driver ignored him and tried unsuccessfully to drive to the other side of the taxi stand to exit. The scowler wore rings on his left hand and with this bejeweled hand, he slammed it into the side of the car's exterior. I cringed. The taxi man ignored him and amazingly tried to ram his front end into an oncoming vehicle in an attempt to leave. Blam/Scrape/Scratch again. Then, finally, the way was clear and the driver got to the other side.

On the other side (where I had earlier stood, waiting), quietly and reluctantly, my co passengers filed into the car. I almost pinched myself. Four of us were at the back, thankfully none of us was significantly large, so I didn't feel squeezed. At the front, the large woman got out and allowed a smaller woman to go into the front seat first, resting adjacent to the emergency/hand brake. The large woman then went back in beside her on the front seat. We were all set.

And so was the scowling ring wearer. As the taxi took off towards the exit, we noticed that the entry barrier/security gate was locked. And of course, the beautiful gold rings glittered in the sun again as the cupped palm was extended. This time, the driver, wound down his window and gave the scowler around 500 Jamaican dollars and requested his change. He claimed that the scowler had some money for him from the other day. I am not quite sure if the scowler gave him any money or if he had to utter an expletive quietly and drive away without getting his change.

This scowler was none other than an extortionist from one of the gangs. I am not sure which one. My gardener had told me about the extortion that the taxi drivers had begun to endure. This must be the reason why everyone seemed so wary. Criminals were right there in your face, taking a fee for work they did not and would never do.

You never know why a man bad drives you (drives aggressively and illegally)on the road. Maybe, you surmise, that he wasn't brought up right, or that maybe he burns too much weed (smokes marijuana) or doesn't know any better.

I have a pretty good idea why this quiet, sad taxi driver took every risk on the road, endangered mine and my co passengers' lives and broke every rule in the Road Code that morning.

I got to school early.


Aleta said...

I have no idea how to respond to this post, other than to say that I'm so sorry you have to endure these types of conditions.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

That was a close encounter with crime and criminals! Here in Mumbai, the underworld has a very strong presence, but it thankfully does not bother with us poor middleclass types.

I loved your poems, as usual, esp the shock at the end of the second one (the pus-filled shoe).

Yam is a popular food here as well, only it sadly does nothing to our running abilities.

I've tagged you, did ya see it?

Paul Bernard said...

Great story. I was just going to write to say, 'tell us more about your life in Jamaica' and then I spotted this.