The carport is cool as if air conditioned. It welcomes the morning dew. I load a rarely-used duffel into the basket of my Honda Scoopy and slide my helmet over my the black scarf on my head, wiggling it from the corner of the straps, until it is comfortable. I lick the dust clean from the seat by taking one of my dad's V-neck vests and slapping it across the black, glossy paint of the bike. The Scoopy's stance depicts a reliability that I have often seen falsified in other motorbikes. A few I've owned before were many things, but not always reliable. The throttle stuck on my milestone bike, a 50 cc Yamaha; once while making a turn, the bike decided to drive up the garden wall and instinctively, I leaped off before it flipped over on me. My Scoopy has never let me down.
After two seconds of idling the engine, I am on my way, easing out the blind gate where the Hibiscus hedge has grown dense and monstrous over the wall. I shoot across Beacon Hill onto Broome Street and maneuver the bike, making it dance along the 'S' curve, beeping my horn along the short unpainted wall, by the Sandys Middle School where I am unable to see around the corner. Upon learning the roads and learning to anticipate where danger might arise, I realize it was not necessarily what was around the corner, but making the bend safely that really mattered.
Then one time I could not rely on my Scoopy was when divine intervention struck. When rounding a stretch of bumpy, curvy, steep hills on a rainy day, I called to God through the rain because the water was running into my eyes, hazing my vision. I often had conversations with God along my travels and this had become my ritual the type of practice that was started with one significant event. I couldn't block from my memory the bike accident that I'd had in the rain a few years back, which left me with a cracked upper jaw, two displaced teeth and a mouthful of twine which had to be crudely cut with common pliers when removed. The accident occurred after drinking at the Somerset Cricket Club Bar with a childhood girlfriend Candace who had a knack for getting old men to open their wallets and after three vodka and ale's from one of Candace's benefactors, I called my boyfriend, Jimmy. I was supposed to meet him at his apartment that evening, but instead had allowed Candace to influence me. Jimmy could tell I was drunk. "Weren't you supposed to come to the house?" he asked me, sounding paternal.
"Yeeeeeeeeeth Jim. Uuuummmmm commin..." I replied sloppily.
Jimmy slammed the phone in my ear and I left the bar in a stupor, attempting to ride the 7 parishes to his house and crashed on a slick 'S' curve that had taken so many lives before. I had a memory lapse between the time I was driving past the old Hitching Post and the time I lay face down on the asphalt of Barnes' Corner, missing a Psychology Exam because I had to stay in the hospital for four days to have surgery. I awoke to find Jimmy hunched over the corner of my bed, his hands clenched tightly, quietly repeating to himself, "It's my fault. It's all my fault." Whenever I look back on my life , I wonder about my perspective in thinking I was so grown at the time, yet I made such unwise choices.
As I reach the top of the second hill and round the bend, just beyond the old Fort Scaur, I relive another event over and over in my mind. The day I made the decision to get my life on track. On that occasion, my rear tire deflated while I was riding and began to make a slapping sound on the asphalt. I pulled the bike to the side of the road to inspect the recently changed tire, put on my Joe at the gas station attendant\mechanic the day before. Obviously Joe, did not do such a good job, so I found myself stuck in the rain. Normally, Bermudians are helpful, but because there was a nip in the air that day, the cars plowed through the puddles, spraying water in my direction. A minute lapsed without a car in sight and I leaned on my bike eying my watch, knowing I'd be late for my afternoon job. A familiar face moved on the rise of the hill, riding a blue Typhoon scooter and moved closer and closer, grinning when recognizing me, then slowing to a halt, directly in my path. It was my girlfriend from school, Michelle. Michelle and I had been to church many times together, but I had never really committed myself to becoming a member. "I was just thinking about you!" Michelle said in her usual greeting. "God must be working overtime today. I see you need a ride to Joe's."
"Where were you heading?" I asked, concerned about interrupting her day.
"I was going to my Mama's house to drop off some catalogs and stay until I go to work this afternoon. But I don't mind taking you to Joe's, it's on the way."
I dragged my duffel from my bike basket and hopped on the back of the wide-bodies Typhoon. Michelle pulled off in the direction of the gas station. While we waited for the truck to deliver my bike, I told her I was thinking about becoming a member of my church finally. Michelle found herself in the same position, so we decide to attend church together that Sunday. I was so tired of hopeless relationships, discord in my workplace and tired of my family holding me back from becoming my own person. Michelle had been waiting for her live-in boyfriend to marry for four years and despite her prodding him, it didn't seem it was going to happen any time soon. Her sisters, Jasmine and Hannah had gotten their educations, gotten married, then had children in the way they were expected to; and they were also very active in the church. Both Michelle and I found we were traveling a road with no map and we were aware of it. We needed help; we needed direction and we believed this was the only way.
I fly past the Somerset Primary School, the school where I had experienced the best years of my life. Today, the field seems lengths shorter than it had once been. Across the street still stands the mini-mart, where I would buy two dollars worth of candy each afternoon with a swarm of nuisance kids who were let out of class at the same time, but were from different primary schools. Together, we all converged into one giant candy monster. My allowance was ten dollars a week and when I didn't have money, I would ask Uncle Prichard for a dollar. He would always sit with spindly legs crossed on the short wall outside of Lines Liquors, early in the morning, waiting for the store to open. Once, a nosy lady who knew my father, told me not to take money from that filthy, old man. At the time, I didn't know what she meant. He was only my Uncle Prichard.
Guys leaning on the wall outside of the school field call to me, as I accelerate past them on the Scoopy. I keep my head straight, but my eyes are wary behind my dark shades. The guys all know my name. At one time, I might have stopped, for a little ego-boosting conversation, just to hear lies from embellishers, but that was before I knew better. The guys on the wall represented the epitome of stagnation. Some of them have been leaning on the wall since I first walked to school and when returning in the afternoon to walk back along the trail. If my father ever caught me sitting on the wall, even if I was waiting on the bus, he would snatch me and push me into the car. I was never allowed to sit on walls. The acts itself always had a negative connotation to it. Mornings and afternoons, I was supposed to wait for my next door neighbor, Treeka, but some days she moved at a sloths pace, so I often walked alone. I was always stopped by this guy, who practiced Karate in the playground. We called him Karate-Man and he would always take my money, the two fifty cent coins my father had given me from my breast pocket. Still dissatisfied with the small amount of change I was given, he made me take off my shoes in the street, to see if I had money in the bottom of my shoes or socks. I thank God for being there with me at times where I was most vulnerable. Worse things could have happened to me.
The traffic thickens and begins to crawl as I move nearer to the city. Cars and trucks coming head-on toot in my direction and I toot back, although I can't always see who is greeting me. The traffic merges into the only three lane expressway on the island, and the courtesy of each driver is outmatched by another. Quaint stores begin to line the street, giving travelers the awareness that: You are now entering the City of Hamilton. It is difficult to miss. The road parts into a 'V' and I take the cut which turns into Court Street where all of the black businesses like the True Reflections Bookstore, Dub City, the Muslim Bakery, the Spinning Wheel Night Club and Swinging Doors bars stand. It is also a high drug and crime area. I can't help but scan the sidewalks, looking for my cousin, Carol-lee. The streets are her existence. She's been running on the spot since her teens, trapped in her life's choices. Whenever any of my family members passes through Court Street on their way to work, they keep one eye on the sidewalk and one eye on the road, because sometimes Carol-lee won't be seen for months. I pass the regal Parliament House, set back on the green with the United States, Great Britain, Canadian and Bermudian flags protruding from the Cenotaph positioned at the gate. For years, I never looked in that direction, hardly noticing the staunch government building, but today the proud, waving flags draw my eyes and remind me who I am and who I will be.
There are moments when I am terrified, when I think about what I am about to do, because I never took into consideration how I might feel until now. Emotion was not a factor in my journey, it was only something that went along for the ride. But now a fear of the experience, an overpowering feeling of being utterly alone, the scrutinizing eyes of a crowd, and standing wide-open, but unprepared all come into play. But this was not about me, it was about Him. If I don't do this now, I tell myself, I will disappoint myself and have to wait another year until Easter rolls around again for the Next Baptism. The point is to get baptized and then celebrate Resurrection Day at the same time Jesus rose from the grave. I have come so far by already accepting Christ in my heart and becoming a member of my church, but I gave up so much as well. When I gave my life to Christ, it was the best decision that I had ever made and now I was about to make the second best.
Without applying gas, I idle right through the final green light, before reaching the entrance of the church, the central church in Hamilton under the Bishop. In the parking lot, people whiz past me to get seats at the front of the stage. I don't see one familiar face and I start to shake with cold. Pastor Kenzie spots me from the backseat and ushers me to come into the room where the other women frantically change into their white skirts and tops, remaining shoe-less. I dress with my back to the chatterers who talk about how scared they are to go on stage and I realize I am not alone.
As the line of young converts inches towards the stage, doubt begins to race through my mind. Look at all of these people staring at you. You are going to make a fool out of yourself, getting up on that stage! You are not ready. You only think you are saved, but you're not. Do you think God cares about you? How do you know He is the good guy and I am the bad guy? I fight those words knowing the devil's tricks, that he is famous for instilling fear in believers. Finally, I am baptized in the icy water, because the pool thermostat is broken today, but I come up singing anyway. It is as if the haze is drawn away and my eyes are wide open. Michelle's small image stands in the far corner of the auditorium, close to the entrance, waving from behind the applause of the crowd. Pastor Kenzie grasps my hand and helps me from the water which no longer seems cool. "I told you you could do it!" she assures me with an embrace, wrapping a giant towel around my damp skin. Michelle greets me in the doorway of the changing room glowing with pride.
"How do you feel?"
"I'm great!" I say, "I feel like I am floating above the ground... Didn't you have a prior engagement, I though you weren't coming?"
Michelle doesn't hear me. Her eyes are frozen on Sister Murdock who is finally getting her baptism after ten years of being a church member. Her voice trills to the words of, If It Had Not Been for the Lord on my Side and her head is tilted back. She doesn't quite look like herself today, her face is the image of a young woman both unburdened and renewed.
"I think it will be my turn next year." Michelle says, still admiring Sister Murdock. "I think definitely, for sure."