It is day one for me in Barbados, and the clock hands swing on. I have now been awake 18 hours. Gretchen, my new friend and next-door neighbour, has gone to get my landlady whom I have yet to meet. I can hear them outside.
- She's arrived has she?
That would be Mariette.
Mariette, my new landlady, calls a short 'hello' through the screen door and then steps politely inside. I give her a warm 'hello' back amidst a sea of binbags. Next because I can see we are both reasonable people and I want it to be all right I move forward and Mariette does as well. We briefly hug.
When I step back away from her we survey each other. Mariette is a light-skinned black woman older than myself and fashionably dressed. I think she's no fool but I like her.
Mariette looks from me to the binbags.
- I see you're packing up?
- Oh, I was just organising what you left in your cupboards so I could free up some space.
I suddenly feel exhausted.
Mariette looks uncertain but she goes on to say:
- I certainly hope you will be happy here.
We both look at the dark apartment and its tobacco-coloured walls. Also the rather sad fridge and the unmoored cooker. I cross the room to pull open the one kitchen drawer and have a quick look there as well. I have a list in my head and it is lengthening.
- I wondered if I could have a kettle?
I try to soften the request.
- I'm English. We drink tea.
Mariette frowns and seems puzzled.
- Also a toaster if possible.
I go over to the only cupboard I haven't opened yet.
- And a cutting board and a sharp knife?
Mariette sits down.
Mariette calls through the screen door and my duplicitous friend fully arrives.
- Gretchen, have you got a kettle?
- I bought one.
Gretchen says it in her full beauty. I feel ambushed from all sides. Gretchen rented the apartment next door so Mariette was also her landlady.
- It is usual to provide a kettle in a furnished six-month let.
I say it calmly but think to myself : Where am I - Oz?
Mariette says it brightly.
- I am sure we can sort something out.
Then she and I and Gretchen open the screen door and go and stand outside.
In the four months I was to spend in Barbados I would carry this thought first to last: What a beautiful island - O my what a beautiful island.
Gretchen and Mariette began now to speak to each other in a manner I could only partially understand. I had the feeling I was being shown the way of it. All three of us were barefoot and the most gorgeous evening was coming down. Their conversation had a musing quality with no sense of urgency about the slightest thing and they both took turns complaining.
Gretchen said she had been up since early that morning and working non-stop. I looked at her langorous body. She said she had been so busy and she was tired now. I smiled sympathetically. She went on to say that she had been up and down that road two times in her car already and what she needed a holiday.
I thought to myself: You would die - or become a super model - in London.
Mariette's thread was more interesting. She had a repair she wanted to get to around the back. She has somebody she liked for that sort of thing in Florida. Gretchen supplied the names of a few workers in Barbados and Mariette nodded deep in thought. I asked if she had a house in Florida and she said she did. I considered the economics of this in light of my missing kettle and toaster.
I decided to bring the subject back to the binbags.
- I better get inside and start unpacking so I can go to bed. Would you like a hand carrying those binbags upstairs?
I had realised by now that Mariette and her husband lived above me.
Mariette looked doubtful and Gretchen studied a point of darkening landscape just off to the right.
- If you can leave them in the closet for now Jeannie. I will get to them tomorrow.
I had no choice. My request was deemed too much. For my part I was desperate to clean and de-clutter. I also had the ever-growing notion that I would have to repaint. I could never be happy waking up to the stain of tobacco.
I wanted all of it agreed and begun before I went to bed. It was impossible. I knew the right thing to do was to go to sleep. Get some rest and then reassess in the morning.
I did need a cup of tea though.
- I was just wondering...
I began and Mariette cut me off. She sounded a bit like a school mistress.
- Gretchen, until I look into this can you loan Jeannie your kettle?
Gretchen gave me a smile that was alive with mischief and turned on the spot. Then she went indoors and brought it to me.
To be continued...