David Barber is the director of marketing and communications at Half Moon, A RockResort, located in Montego Bay, Jamaica. He was born and raised in Devon, England, UK, and worked for several years on the Jamaican Tourism Board. He later left Jamaica for a few years to pursue other opportunities, but is now back again full-time, unable to stay away from the island's beauty, immensely noticeable in its topography, culture and people.
Clutching pocket money tight in hand, I scampered down the dusty lane to the corner shop located in a small square of rural enterprises. Many children were lured away by sugary trails that emanated from the bakery next door. Their faces flushed as coins were exchanged for a bag of iced buns or frosted doughnuts oozing raspberry jam.
I had other intentions as I pushed open the stiff door to the corner shop, letting a waft of stale air fly out. My eyes focused on a small wooden rack that sat atop the glass-fronted counter; given my youth, I was not tall enough to reach it myself. The stooped old man standing behind the counter knew my quarry. His gnarled, yellowed hands reached forward and plucked a bar of chocolate with the gold foil glinting below the orange wrapping printed with an engraving of a man of war and frigate, sails furled and the words "Old Jamaica." After I let the hot coins fall from my fist onto the counter, I grabbed the booty and escaped as fast as I could back down the lane, avoiding the bantams out for their morning scavenge, and burst into the flower garden. Luckily, one of the lofty sash windows was up, allowing me to crawl in.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, chocolate clutched in hand, I gazed up at a large painting hung on the wall, titled "The Jupiter off Port Royal, Jamaica." Holding up my bar of chocolate, I compared ships while daydreaming of running up the rigging to the crow's nest of the Jupiter. I looked about for pirates and the French fleet before rowing ashore and leading explorations into the strangely shaped mountains that loomed in the painting's background. I then imagined my mailing address finishing with the mysterious word "Jamaica" - an exciting, adventurous word that gave me butterflies. How could I have known that this single word would forever change the course of my life?
The hornet's drone of the DC 8's engines dropped as billowing clouds shaped like giant candy floss bumped us up and down. As I looked out the window, a powerful lurch rippled through my abdomen as the butterflies once again took flight. I began to cry, tears silently falling down my cheeks and onto my trousers. Blue-tinged mountains reached up towards me, their slopes dark and densely forested. Wisps of white smoke snaked into the air from deep valleys. Houses clung to seemingly impossible ridges. I could not see where this land began or ended!
As the airplane turned, a small town or village with red roofs appeared amidst a startlingly green valley with a winding road. I saw an unknown sea of dazzling turquoise that shifted to cobalt before melting into sapphire. White waves danced like horses inside a horseshoe bay. Had the mountains grown? No we were flying lower and lower and lower. We flew in a half circle and then in a blink, a city with tall buildings rose up from flat land. Tankers rested in a vast harbor as cars trundled over a bridge. The mountains came into sight again, this time behind a natural Hadrian's Wall.
Grumble, thump, bonk. The wheels dropped down. Port Royal, Jamaica. I was no longer the small boy on a rug gazing at a painting. I was a young man about to step into the canvas and feel the soil of Jamaica beneath my feet.
Oh, Jamaica, how you snared me. Like a voluptuous Rubenesque beauty you twined your limbs around me. Your fingers dug into my heart and you pierced my soul. I was caught at your mercy and forever lured by your siren call. I traversed your soil, clambered your mountains, swam your coves and buried my face in the bloom of a jade vine. I passed through parishes called St. Thomas, St. Mary, Trelawney and Westmorland. My eyes took in your towns - Savannah del Mar, Spanish Town, Brownstown, Port Antonio, Montego Bay and Kingston. I sat on burnished wooden plantation house floors. I baited a line for fish at Frenchman's Cove and I ate chicken spiced and bathed in coconut milk while sitting on an oil drum as my ears filled with the lilt of your music. Your people bewitched me from the beginning - so handsome, so striking, and so elegant. With faces that bear ancestries from Africa, Europe, Syria, India and China, coupled with diction so infectious and melodious, your people have sung me a never-ending lullaby.
Back and forth you called me. For seven years I worked for you, calling your name to visitors across the world. Your call was lost in the winds for a few years as I worked elsewhere, until you rose to the mountain tops and your shout caught me with a sudden gust as your finger beckoned. I obeyed your call and now you are home for good.
Jamaica, I love you.