The Heart Of The Matter – Part 1

Tying off his ketch and then pausing to give thanks for safe harbour James mad a mad dash through the driving rain toward the neon light of a pub a short distance away. He was soaked to the skin as he pushed the door open and walked into a lively room full of patrons sheltering from the storm.

A hush fell over the room as he made his way to the bar and ordered beer and whisky. The Creole band resumed playing and everyone went back to what they had been doing as the newcomer settled in.

James downed his whisky and took a long pull on his beer as a puddle of rainwater formed on the floor under his stool. He glanced around the room taking in the dark faces of the natives until his eyes settled on the only other Caucasian in the place smiling at him from the other end of the bar.

He raised his glass to James who grinned and returned the gesture. The stranger got up and came to sit beside him.

“I say, old man, you’re a bit worse for wear. Just get here, did you?”

James looked his new companion over. He was dressed in old tweeds and smoking a meerschaum pipe. Piercing, inquisitive eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses told him he was probably confronted with a professorial type.

“Yes I did. I was making for Martinique when the squall came up and threw me off course.”

“And now you find yourself in Berekua. First time in Dominica?”

“Yes it is. Friendly place?”

The stranger relit his pipe and his eyebrows creased as he considered the question.

“Certainly. Why wouldn’t it be?”

James waved his hand, unmindful of how wet he still was. Water splashed on the other’s glasses and James apologized profusely.

“So sorry, how careless of me.”

Taking out his handkerchief and wiping his face and glasses the man shook his head and smiled.

“No worries. I wonder, though, if you might do me the favour of answering my question.”

“Oh, you mean about friendly natives”, James asked, pointing his chin at the other patrons.

“Indeed.”

“Oh, well, I did some reading up on the Caribbean before I set out. The Carib have a rather colourful history as I understand.”

He noticed that the noise level around them had died down and some of the other patrons were glancing in their direction, in particular a colourful old man at a table not far away, who, now that he thought about it had been staring at him intently for several minutes.

“Do they? By the way, my name is Alfred.”

“James. Pleased to make your acquaintance Alfred.”

Alfred tamped down his pipe and slid it into his pocket. James was beginning to feel uncomfortable with the attention.

“Mind telling me why I’m being stared out by these people?”

Alfred looked about and then back at James.

“Well, I imagine it would be due to your reference to a ‘colourful history’, old man.”

“Oh. Well, I mean, as I said, I read that…he trailed off as more heads turned in his direction.”

“Oh, do go on James.”

“Well, you know, about the, shall we say, practices surrounding warfare and such.”

He could feel his cheeks beginning to burn and Alfred was holding him in an unflinching gaze. He picked up his glass and drained it and asked the bartender for another. It was placed on the bar before him with a decided bit of force causing some of it to spill over the top.

Acutely aware that he had committed a faux pas James excused himself to go to the toilet. When he came back out the room seemed to have returned to a more relaxed state but Alfred was still studying him unabashedly. He was beginning to think it might be time to brave the storm once more and head back to his ketch.

Part 2 Tomorrow

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