It is the eve of day before the long weekend and not a sound can be heard. No cars zoomed by, no birds chirped, and no one walked along the streets. On this silent road sat a middle-aged man on an old wooden bench at a bus stop. Not in the middle of nowhere, but in the outskirts of a big city. Patiently, he sat in the glass shelter, filled with calm anticipation for the beginning of his near-two-hour ride home. His face was long and exhausted, where creases of his wrinkles made home to particles of dirt from the industrial warehouse he labored at. Beneath his eyes echoed the strains he carried as he bustled at work. His tattered jeans and worn out T-shirt, both covered in his work’s filth, defined the extenuating hours of lifting high-digit-pounds of boxes, tools and various instruments he handled. His body ached, his muscles were tender and they yearned for a gentle kneading touch.
From a distance, he noticed the black, red and white large city bus approaching. The sore soles of his feet begged him not to stand up, but upon the buss’ arrival his heart was ready to venture the journey home. He groaned as he rose to his feet that pounded at every step he took. He dragged himself in his heavy steel toe boots to the entrance of the bus. He paid his fare without a smile or even the slightest acknowledgement of the driver and made his way to the back, with his heavy steps.
“Another day, another dollar,” he whispered to himself in his deep and tired voice. Out the window, he watched the same buildings that he would see on each ride on the same bus, at the same time, on the same route every day of the work week.
His stomach growled. His brain scattered through choices of meals for dinner.
“Spaghetti an’ meatball? No, don’t feel like cooking”
“Macaroni an’ Cheese? No, mi na wan fi run mi belly”
“Mi need something easy an’ filling. Mi a spend money on Chinese.”
Drained and drenched from his brainstorm, he shut his eyes for the rest of the ride.
“Next Stop Kydaya Crescent,” alerted the automated voice, as done at every stop.
He woke up by auto-instinct, pulled the bell and prepared his body to get up and off the bus.
The doors swung open and blew aside the dirt that was nestled on curb of the road. With a groan and a tight grip of the door’s railing for support, he kicked down his right foot and then his next. The evening sun shone brightly in his dark brown eyes. He lifted his thick and callused hand above his head to block the rays that beamed in his sight. As he squinted to focus, he noticed a new Caribbean restaurant and grill that recently opened for business on the street close to home.
“Mi a try dem,” he muttered in disinterest. He hauled himself through the doors and evaluated appearance of the establishment.
All of their fine oak tables came with wooden chairs that had sun and hibiscus flowers wrapped around the spindles. The walls were a warm yellow that blended into a hot orange as they travelled to the kitchen. There was a realistic palm tree with coconuts in each corner. On the ceiling was a mosaic marble tropical sea made out of a series of blue shades. He stood at the entrance and reminisced in the tropical vibe that ran throughout the place and forgot of the aching pain that ran throughout his body.
“Looks like back home,” he thought to himself in a pleasant surprise.
A young lady with a black fanny pack around her waist and a pen and paper in hand approached him with a friendly smile.
“Good evening sir! How are you doing today?” she said in a tone that welcomed him in.
“Tired and ‘ungry,” he complained.
“Oof, I can definitely understand. Long day at work, I bet. Let’s get you a seat and menu to get started on a plate.”
“Mhm,” he grumbled as he followed her.
She led him to a table that was close to the open kitchen. He sat across from a painting that covered an entire wall of the restaurant. It was not of a sandy beach or of a typical island sunset, it was an impressionist painting of the Jamaican countryside. It illustrated the green farmland of dark and rich soil that appeared to extend infinitely across the land. It had famers wearing white with woven baskets in their arms as they picked at the crops. The sky was a soft blue with beautiful clouds that beamed with bright light from the sun.
“Here, go over our menu,” she offered him a pamphlet. “We start off with our signature appetizers that were uniquely crafted by our chef who is a native Jamaican. He actually lived there for nearly his whole life, but now he has joined his family here in Canada and opened this Caribbean Restaurant.” She opened her arms to present the restaurant, “anyways, it then follows with our main meals like…”
Her voice was engulfed by the noise from the kitchen: the movement of pots and pans, food roasting, boiling and stirring, and the chiming of utensils. The aroma of the cooked food lingered from the kitchen and filled the restaurant.
“Smells like home,” he thought to himself as he bore into memories.
“ya hungry? I made you some food. G’wan sit down an’ fill up yuh belly from school,” his mother ordered him right as he past the entrance to his home, before he even got the chance to put his bag down. It was as though she had anxiously waited for him, from the moment she started to cook, to tell him to sit down, consume, and bask in the meal that she dedicated hours to cooking for him as he was at school.
“Mi cook fresh for yuh, ay, oxtail, rice and peas, curry chicken, veggies. Unna grow fi be big an’ strong.”
He turned to his mother as he sat with the plate in front of him and smiled at her.
“… and the orange juice, and the apple juice and other juices.” She continued, “if not that, we have alcoholic beverages, too.”
“Mi a take curry chicken with rice and peas, some oxtail on the side with veggies,” he calmly requested. “With a cool glass of water.”
“woi mummy, this taste so good!” his youthful self exclaimed in excitement of filling his belly with fresh hot food after an exhausting day at school.
“Here is your plate and your glass of water,” she pulled him back to reality as she took the plate and glass off of her tray and laid it in front of him on the table.
He took a second to observe it all: the gravy all over the steaming rice and peas, broccoli resting and complimenting the hot chicken bathed in curry, the dark oxtail that laid around the rice, and the cold, refreshing glass of clear alkaline water. He recited a short prayer and gave his thanks. Picked up the fork, scooped some rice and peas drizzled with gravy and held it together with a piece of curry chicken at the tip of the fork, and put it into his mouth. Frozen, he closed his eyes and slowly pulled out the clean fork.
He was thrown back into deeper memories of mother. His tense body that once ached is relaxed from the tough day’s strain. His feet no longer pound and his muscles have softened. He began to chew.
“Mmm, mi cook it just for you, ay” she giggled, kissed him on his forehead and sat across from him with her own plate. Together they sat, enjoyed their food as they shared stories from their day. He watched his mother eat and listened to her every word and every lesson she taught from his stories. He began to forget the pain that he felt that day from the anguishing walk on the way back home from school. He failed to recall the students that would pick on him for silly reasons that put him in misery. The soothing voice of his mother and the warmth of her food took it all away.
Tears began to roll at this ancient memory that was buried under all the long days of work and masked by a sorrowful funeral. He dove in for more and fed himself all the memories of his dearest late mother.
“Boy, you mus’ undastan’, bad mind people can do nothin’ to yuh. You must come tell me if anyone trouble yuh” She pulled him into her arms and held his small body tightly.
“Mommy, don’ leave me,” whimpered the young boy.
“Mi always be by your side, don’ worry. Mi love yuh, you will always ‘ave me.” The young boy filled his mother’s shirt in rivers of tears and wet snot as he held onto her.
“Sir, are you finding everything alright?” She genuinely asked with a delicate smile.
“Yes, ma’am. It is good, its good.” He sniffled and was flustered as he rushed the words out of his mouth in an eager attempt to hide his soft feelings.
“Thank you, we noticed you became emotional after you started your meal and hope you are doing fine.” She sincerely explained.
He nodded his head, “Yes I am, good.”
She looked down and turned from him to walk away.
“Its just,” he grabbed her attention back. “I lost mi mudda few years back and ‘aven’t ‘eard from no family. She would cook this here meal, everyday when school finish. Aching like how I am now from hours an’ hours of work, made me feel just like me back home as a young boy. I ‘ppreciate this, the food is delicious. Smell, taste, everything reminds me of my mother. I miss her and I would do anything to go back, but you,” he smiled and nodded his head in agreement with his passion, “you brought me back.”
“Sir, that is so touching, really.” She consoled as she placed her hand on her chest, over her heart, “my condolences for your past mother, she definitely did a very fine job in your upbringing.”
Tears flowed down his cheeks and he rubbed them off his face, along with the dirt that was nestled in his wrinkles. She passed him some tissues.
“She do,” he stuttered and continued, “she do all should could fi keep smile on mi face. She was precious.”
“Oh, a very precious woman she was.”
Amidst the silence, he held his head is down as tears rolled down his cheeks and dripped onto his filthy worn out shirt.
“Don’t worry about this meal, sir.” She comforted and rubbed his shoulder, “it’s on the house.” She quietly walked away and let him swim in his tropical sea of memories.