I opted for lunch at a rather gaudy mid-town snackette where a friend had recently secured a part-time cooking and waiting job. It seemed a good idea to patronize the place and offer her a bit of moral support. Although it was still fairly empty I took a seat at the bar and studied the rather stark menu which was written on a small slate that hung at a drunken slant on the back wall between a faded picture of a very sober Jesus Christ and a dog-eared poster of a reefer-smoking Bob Marley.
Fish lunch $15
Fresh Guava juice $4
It was our very first week on the island and my stomach had not yet acclimatized to the food, the emphasis of which, it seemed to me, was on cooking the hell out of absolutely everything and then stacking a plate so high with rice, ground provisions, vegetables, beans, macaroni cheese, fish, pork, chicken or goat to the point where your lunch would be visible from space and you could no longer see the person seated opposite. Indeed, the term ‘lunch’, I had come to realise, was completely interchangeable with the word ‘food’; it was a generic and traditional belly-filler, high in carbohydrates and fairly low in variety. It followed a simple theme; a wedge or dollop of meat of some kind and then a shitload of absolutely everything else. It was bruising on the stomach, a heavyweight slugger of the culinary boxing card, and I was a novice flyweight who usually threw in the towel half-way through the bout.
“Hello Paul”, said Rhonda, wiping her hands on a dishcloth and then flinging it through a hatch into the kitchen. Actually it wasn’t so much into the kitchen, more out to the kitchen. Located in the back yard behind the snackette, it seemed rather wet, grimy and infested with stray dogs and equally stray men. But a kitchen it was, nevertheless.
“Hi Rhonda. How are you doing ?” I replied.
“Not so good oui,” she frowned.
“Oh dear, why’s that ?” I asked.
“My vagina hurting me oui,” she said, looking me directly in the eyes. I held her stare which was unusual for me as a psychometric evaluation paid for by my previous employer had declared me an extreme introvert, and therefore unlikely to be especially competent in the kind of situation that was brewing here. In hindsight I think it probably helped that I was so desperately trying to avoid looking down in the general vicinity of the aforementioned trouble spot that holding her gaze seemed by far the safest course of action.
“Oh. Er,” I offered, helpfully.
“It’s not because of sexual activities, you understand ?” she went on, now looking even more earnest.
“No ? Yes,” I nodded rather too vigorously.
“It’s because of Him,” she glanced over her shoulder.
“Who ? The owner ?” I asked.
“Heavens no,” she said. “The good Lord.”
“Yes. I having a heavy period right now and it hurting me,” she winced.
“I see. I’m very sorry to hear that,” I winced back.
“Yes, oui. It has been hurting me since early morning and all through the time I preparing the fish lunch. It was so bad, oui, I thought it would spoil.”
“Your vagina ?”
“No, the fish,” she frowned.
“But you made it,” I blushed.
“Yes, oui. Praise be to Jesus. I hanging in there,” she said, making the sign of the cross.
“I’m happy to hear it.”
“Yes, oui. It still hurting, but less than before,” she smiled.
“So you’ll be okay ?” I smiled back, confident the conversation was now drawing to a close.
“Yes, oui. It always happens so. Every month, same thing,” she continued.
“I see,” I said, with what I hoped would be finality.
“So you hungry ?” she asked, now grinning
“Sure. What kind of roti is it ?” I grinned back.
“No roti,” she said, drawing a finger across her throat.
“No. We have fish,” she said, as if announcing something very special and unexpected.
“I’ll have fish then,” I smiled, trying very hard not to think of Rhonda’s vagina.
“Good. I going to come back,” she said and went off through a side door into the kitchen yard.
“Okay then,” I said to no-one.