Two years ago when I last saw Fortis David Henry, he was still clutching his crown – the one I had anointed him with some forty-six years ago. “Remember, you told me that I was KC’s prettiest runner,” he was quick to remind. “Yes David,” I assured. “I’ve seen many before you, and many since. And your crown is still intact.” I have kept my word as long as I could but, times change. If David should now wake-up one morning and find his crown missing, I hope he doesn’t don his wig like the old basketball player in the State Farm commercial, and run-around claiming that his crown was stolen, because, it wasn’t.
Last Champs, former KC track & field Coach Donavan Davis remarked, “I’d go anywhere to see Akeem Bloomfield run.” My eyes weren’t then that keen. And so, all he got from me was a shrug of the shoulder. This year was different. Bloomfield is a ganglier – with strides long, loose and easy, and with hands kept low and wide, much like the one-time Major League baseball player Dave `Hendu’ Henderson, and much unlike traditional runners. His body leans forward, but not to the point of being a stumbler.
If some were disinclined to attend future runnings of Champs, the way in which Bloomfield and yes Calabar’s Christopher Taylor brought down not the curtain, but the house, on the Saturday night, must certainly have changed minds, and gladdened hearts. I have seen many a quarter-mile Champs legs - those run by Rupert Hoilette and Lennox Miller come to-mind – but none like Bloomfield’s split 44.5 secs. His was hair-raising. And so, just like that, David Henry’s crown was gone.
Years from now – and leave it to him - in a quiet moment of reflection, he may want to ask himself, if he could have pulled it off because, such a first-class relay leg, was undeserving of a second-place finish. And from the walk through the grand stand tunnel all the way over to Mas Camp, as I eavesdropped on conversations buzzing-around, that was the topic in the late evening. But we should leave the young man alone. He ran his heart out and left it on the track. What else could we have asked for? The Fortis ‘never yield’ motto, was left intact.
The business of KC winning Champs, though still important, is less to me, the end-all. What I look for more these days, are athletes – both young men and young women - giving all that they can, and competing as if it’s the privilege that it is, and not a right, to represent their school. I saw runners lapped, but still had it in them to finish long after things had finished. I saw some wheeled-off on stretchers, because their engines had fell-out. Champions they all were. And most will, I’m sure, take away something from having known, that they gave it their all. In Bloomfield, young Taylor, and several of the other Class II, and Class III athletes – both male and female – Jamaica’s reputation as being `the sprint-capital of the world’, remains intact, and its future in that regard, is secure.
As always, it was good to meet-up with Fortis men such as Lance Seymour and Wayne Stevens, and Michael Richards from Toronto. Then there were `Centy’ Samuels and Clive Savage – two with whom my acquaintance pre-dates my time at KC, and goes back to Saturday evenings over Merl Grove High School, kicking ball. I was heartened too, to hear the voice of Bobby Fray – my long time Second XI cricket partner. When on-song, nobody in Jamaica can call a race – or any sport for that matter – like `Wobert -Fway’ can. Let’s hope he stays on-song, and, for-long.
I am now too old for the nightlife. And standing-up in the open-paved-lot at Mas Camp on the Friday-night, was more torture than fun. I had to find a bar-counter to lean-up on. And of course, that came with a price, because loitering was not allowed I could hardly have waited to ship my elder son off, and to venture-out beyond the confines of Kingston – now too fast for me. And so as usual, I made a couple cross-country swings, with me-myself-and-I. It’s still open-country for me, and my anonymity in those parts, is savored.
There’s a saying that the only time life is easy, is when one is going down-hill. And that’s the frightening thought that came to me, as I made my way from Kingsland, Manchester, down to Gutters in St. Elizabeth. The scenery on the way down – especially overlooking the plains of St. Elizabeth - is still magnificent, and stands-still with time. As usual too, I found my way down to Middle Quarters, in St. Elizabeth, to buy my peace offering – several bags of peppered shrimps. “I’m heading-off to Montego Bay to sell,” said the lone early-morning shrimp-lady. That immediately denuded my bargaining power. On the way back, I paused at a little grocery-shop just before the canopy of bamboo arches took-over, to sip a cold one. Nothing beats that sort of stillness.
I have now fallen in-love with the architecture of old colonial cut-stone churches, the colorful uniqueness of watering-holes, and countryside homes in those parts and beyond. For churches, St. Thomas Anglican Church in Lacovia, the Ewarton Methodist Church, and St. Mary Parish Church in Port Maria are all beauties, and so too are some of the old stucco-roofed colonial homes going-up Ward Avenue in Mandeville.
A swing back up to Gutters and a glide down to Little Ochie in Alligator Pond, was also refreshing. Marcia the cashier who has been there for donkey-years, offered to give me one of her back-breaking hugs – an offer I had to politely pass-up. I am not now young anymore, I had to remind. And the closest chiropractor, I heard, was quite some distance away. Life from Gutters all the way down to the south coast seems gutted, but not totally barren. And news of Alpart’s cranking back up in Nain, is playing sweet music in those parts. Let’s hope for their sake, it arrives sooner rather than later. Not the same hope for small businesses in Williamsfield, and down the road less travelled, from Hope Village to Melrose Hill. Those areas have now become virtually ghost towns, except for a bar or two, and a potter selling his high-quality wares at bargain-prices. For that area though, there’s no relief in sight, as the alumina plant at Kirkvine, I hear, has been cannibalized for parts, to keep the plant at Ewarton running. The freshly-painted Lighthouse Church at the roundabout is now the cornerstone of Williamsfield.
What’s going-on with parrotfish in Jamaica? “All a have is snapper,” the fish-man said, as he opened his freezer at Blackie’s. “The lionfish a eat-off di parrotfish dem,” was his take. The same sad news greeted me at Dors Fish Pot outside of Oracabessa, when I swung northeast to Port Maria. I had to settle for a fried chicken, at that fish place. But something is wrong with this similar message in antipodal fish-joints. And it was not just my bad luck. It’s time to take biodiversity management, and the effects of climate change, seriously, in Jamaica.
As always, I find my little jaunts refreshing. For me, nothing beats crossing my paws on a high stool at a nondescript bar, where I am called, ‘Sir’, as nobody knows either me, or my name. It first decompresses, and then recharges. And the soul can always find use for both.