It’s mid-morning in the Jewel. Bernie is sitting on the wire alone and she can smell coconut oil and frying onions and hear pressure cookers rattling. Usually, she is in her office writing or doing light book keeping for her husband; but, today she feels closed in by all her thoughts and feelings. She tries not to show it to her friend, Dodes, just how much she is concerned about the state of their country. That is just not the dynamic of their friendship. Dodes has always clung to Bernie’s every word and reserved a special benefit of the doubt for her. It got to the point that Bernie had to gently admonish her friend against putting her on such a lofty pedestal. She becomes especially uncomfortable when Dodes puts herself down and defers to her because of her education and position in society. No matter how much she tries to show egalitarian consideration, Dodes refuses to act like her equal. In this way, Bernie can’t ever truly be herself around Dodes. Dodes has put her in the position of mentor and guide. It would not do to show any sort of weakness as the disappointment would upset Dodes’ estimation of her. Bernie is Dodes’ rock, a compass in this crazy, overwhelming world. If Bernie should voice any misgivings or uncertainty, Dodes would be sure to overreact and feel like the sky is truly falling. Bernie doesn’t mind being this for Dodes. She understands that Dodes is alone and needs her to be that stabilizing force in her life. She plays the role well and is nurturing, supportive and even motherly as Dodes sometimes needs her to be. The downside is that it left Bernie without a confidante and that makes her feel lonely at times. She could only be her true self with her husband, Joe and her friend, Judith. But, Judith does not live here and is often busy herself and Bernie hates talking on telephones so essentially, that leaves her with herself, thoughts swimming and fears unabated.
It had taken her a long time to realize that she was not meant to have many close friends as she had tried to force others to play that role. Eventually, they fell away and she never heard from them again, or worse, they would turn on her and misunderstand everything she tried to say or do. The catch is, even though she has her husband right there, all the time, he is very busy. He works non-stop on his various contracts and while they are lucrative, sometimes, the work just drained everything out of him. In that way, she becomes nurturer again and has to wait until he could be available to her. So here she was alone, trying to be patient. Patience had not come to her very easily. Her passion and youth had made every issue, every thought seem so important that she felt compelled to try and come to a resolution as quickly as possible. She had learned over the years, that, that was just not how the world works; and that while she could attempt to engage others into reaching resolutions to arguments, crises, and challenges, forcibly and loudly was not a way to maintain friendships and alliances, no matter how right she felt she was. Now, she had learned that her anxieties were her own to deal with and while others could try to be supportive, she couldn’t expect them to know what to do or how to do it. She and only she could make herself feel calm and determined to continue on.
She felt a flap of air and turned towards it. It was Buster Piam Piam.
“Hey Bustah. What yu doin here? I thought you were at Robinson’s Point with Paulie.”
“I was Bernie but I came back earlier than planned. Granny Ivy is not doing to well so we came home to be with the family.”
“O Bustah, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Well, she is doing better already, as usual.” Bustah laughed. “I swear, she does it on purpose. She heah we outta town, get jealous, play sick just fi ruin we good times.” Bustah smiled at Bernie.
“Ahh Bustah. You and that morbid humour of yours. Nevah change, heah?” Bernie smiled at her friend but it didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“Oh oh. I think I interrupt some deep thoughts here Bernie. You look like you gots your thinking cap on.”
“O Bustah. You are in the world of economics. What do you think about this supah bond business? As far as I can tell, it sounds like crippling debt that we can never repay and I get really perturbed at the thought that I absolutely have no idea where it all went!” Bernie lets out an exasperated sigh.
“Berns, it was a bad idea. I don’t know all the ins and outs of it but it would seem that yet again, for the fleeting moment of glory, we spilled our guts. And now everybody is scrambling to make this seem ok. Meanwhile, the politicians are fighting away pointing fingahs. Shit ah wish they would just get close enough to each other and poke each oddah eye out…dah nuh like dey need dey eye! Dey all blind anyways!” Bustah slapped Bernie on her back as he guffawed. Bernie was startled but she joined in since she wouldn’t want to send the wrong message and hurt Buster’s feelings. Problem was, she really didn’t feel like laughing. She felt to burdened by her fears and unanswered questions.
Changing the topic, Bernie asked Buster, “Wheh yu oddah half dey? Usually him nuh tuh far behind.”
“O lawd, gial Bernie. Paulie meet a gial da caye. She da di cook and every week she come een fi buy produce. Soh him deh wid her right now before she haffi goh back da caye. Da bwoi always got his head undah skirt ah tell yu!” Bernie and Bustah laughed at the thought. “And di ting is, him soh desperately in love and ciant eat nar sleep. Him drive mi crazy wid all dah talk bout dis gial or dat gial. Right now I hafi heah bout ‘Allison has such lovely long legs. Allison’s voice is so musical. Allison is so smart.’ But di ting is las week dahmi Becky…next week it wha be di same tings…’insert name here’.”
Bernie laughed at the truth of that statement. Paulie was ridiculous in love. He would be the perfect romantic partner for some lucky girl, one day, maybe. Unfortunately, his interest waned quickly and soon he was mooning over someone new. She likes the statement “insert name here”. It describes how she feels about all the politicians, just now. It doesn’t seem to matter who, which party, what the accusations are, who tief, who tek, who liad, who get outta facing consequences for committing crimes…just “insert name here”. Her mood started to deflate again.
“Bernie, Bernie!” Bustah’s voice rang in her ear, jolting her back to the conversation.
“Huh? Sorry Bustah. Ah midi tink again. Whe u midi seh?”
“Ah ask u if u have time fi a lee bite. Ih luk like u need some distraction befo da big head a yours explode,” Bustah said with a kind, understanding smile.
“You know what Bustah? Long time ah haven’t been to Seaside Cafe. Ah always feel so peaceful there with the waves lapping and the breeze in my face. Can we go there? They have the freshest papaya you ever tasted.”
“Alright Bernie. You are on but I want a watermelon margarita too!”
“Well talk about ‘it’s five o’clock somewhere’!” chuckled Bernice. “I might just hafi join you. I need some fun Bustah. Do I ever need some fun right about now. Lemme just tell Joe and I’ll be right back.”
Buster watched his school friend fly up to her house with some sadness in his heart. He rarely ever saw Bernie so deflated and pensive. She was a thinker, even as a child but she was also a fun, quick witted provocateur. It got her into trouble with the stuffy, authoritative teachers when they were in school, but she hadn’t let that change her. She just got more spirited and challenging. Buster knew that Bernie was probably not worried for herself as much as she was worried for others who were already struggling. He knew that like himself, people sometimes doubted her sincerity because it was obvious she was wealthy and that she struggled to balance charity against pity. She had always voiced strong hopes that as Belize became more and more developed, that those poverty stricken and seemingly forgotten areas would finally get electricity and the stagnant drains that were breeding grounds for mosquitoes and thus responsible for yearly outbreaks of malaria, would finally be connected to the city sewer systems. He knew that she was probably seeing all those dreams just crumble under the weight of the reality of the financial crisis facing Belize.
“Hey Bustah! Now dah yu di drift off. First round is on you! Let’s go have some fun, man.” Bernie smiled at her friend encouragingly.
“Alright Berns. But if you get tu tipsy tu fly, u pay fi di taxi!” And in his usual gentlemanly way, Bustah let Bernie fly off first, elegantly and sure, she headed towards the beach.