It’s called the Hip Strip—the tourist center of Montego Bay, a street that winds along beside the beach, lined with hotels and restaurants and lots and lots of little stores, all selling the same t-shirts and jewelry and knick-knacks, with owners who stand on the sidewalk and loudly cajole any passing “whiteys” to come in and peruse their wares.
And there she sits, silently, in a narrow alleyway between two shops—a grandma, surely, with wrinkled skin and white hair and wise eyes, offering me only a quiet, hopeful smile. There is a small pile of fruit on a tiny table beside her.
I’ve been craving a Jamaican orange. “How much for an orange?” I ask. “Thirty dollars,” she replies. About 35 cents.
“Will you peel it for me?” A definitive nod, and the quintessentially Jamaican affirmative. “Ya mon.”
She rummages in a little basket, and finds her knife, wrapped in a paper-and-packing-tape sheath. She selects the largest orange from the pile, and carefully cuts into it, the yellow-green rind falling in a long spiral onto the table.
She slices the orange in half and hands it to me. I pull out a 50-dollar bill. “You can keep the change,” I say, and her smile is so big and so sweet as she thanks me.
I bite into my orange, and it’s juicy and perfect, a little bit of heaven, I think, which may be an exaggeration, but really, words seem trite when I try to describe the flavor.
And I keep walking, saying “Not today” to the badgering shop owners, and the breeze coming off the water complements the Caribbean sun, and the old lady’s smile lingers in my head, and I nibble at the fruit that makes my taste buds dance, and I can’t stop smiling.