Steaming asphalt created mirages as the shadows of palm fronds swept across them. I wondered if I had enough sunblock and if my hat was big enough to block everything that could become a carcinogen. I had never used a rental car service before, on my own at least. And this was the best bargain the island had to offer.
Where could he possibly be? He’ll be in the next ten cars that come around that corner…okay, maybe the next twenty.
A sputtering engine could be heard first, then the junkiest beater of a once-black truck appeared almost immediately before me, like a magic chariot. It was missing the front bumper and even part of its hood. Is that street legal here? What have I gotten myself into…
“You must be the one.”
“How did you know?”
“I haven’t seen a hat that big since My Fair Lady.”
“Oh.” I giggled a little.
“Don’t worry, this looks like a junker but it runs like a dream. Anyway, it’s not yours. I’ll take you to yours. That’s all you’ve got? Really? I thought you were moving here.”
“Well, I shipped most of it. And I didn’t want to bring too much. Just in case.”
“Yah, it’s a regular turnstyle around here. You never know who’s going to stay, who will just be drunk the whole time, or who will get lost at sea…hey! I was just kidding about that last one.” He had observed my pained expression.
We were already rumbling along a road that looked as though the nearby jungle was prepared to consume it…in one swallow. It was only a few minutes though, when right at the hundredth palm tree or so, we entered a lot.
“So what I was saying,” he mentioned, “Is that without the Lord our Jesus there can be no salvation. Goddamit! Where did those motherfuckers go?! I told them to watch the bloody shop.”
“Uhhh…I haven’t seen anyone.”
“Not just anyone…danged mongrels. Patrice! Lucy! Come now!”
Something that looked like it was part golden retriever and another complete mutt yawned and stretched behind the tires they’d been resting near. I was never good at identifying the different breeds. A piercing phone ring came from the hut.
“Dammit! Hafta do everything around here.” He gestured with his hand for me to follow him. I took a slow turn around the lot before I did so. A great selection of decade-old Japanese models of cars were there, most in good shape, some with bumper stickers, and all with ancient cassette players.
By the time I got in the hut, he was already growing impatient with whoever was on the phone, but he was putting on customer service charm.
“No sir, I’m afraid we don’t carry any gold Cadillacs. No, I’m fairly certain that even the newer car rental places wouldn’t have them…I see what you’re saying, yes.” He held his hand over the receiver and stage whispered, “Damn Canadians.”
“Uh-huh, sir, yes, mostly Toyotas and Hondas. I can’t guarantee a particular color. That’s why you get the discount.” He swirled his finger next to his ear, indicating crazy. “Well, thanks so much for calling. We’ll see you Tuesday at two with a sedan of some sort. Aloha.” He turned to me. “Crazy Canuks. They’re nice and all, and they always pay in full, but they always have so many goddamn questions. Jesus H. Christ. By the way, did I invite you to a service yet? I go to the Kingdom Hall right down the street.”
“Oh, I…um, I’m afraid I’ll be on the other side of the island. And you know, looking for a place to live, then working most of the time.”
“Sure, sure. Well, if you get some time. Just remember, Jesus always has time for you.” He gave a large wink and a nod of his head.
“Great. I will try.” And I actually found myself partially meaning it. I’d never met such a fowl-mouthed Jehovah’s Witness and I was curious what the rest of the congregation was like.
“Well, let’s get you started here. Do you care about having a cassette deck? Most people don’t…don’t use ’em anymore, and I can cut you a better deal.”
“Um, sure, then. No cassette deck is fine.”
“The music stations around here are really great. I like the ‘I’m gonna love you like a mango‘ song. Superb.” He gave a thumbs up.
Great. I had no idea then that I would come to enjoy that song too, crank it up when I was feeling silly and sing along. I also did not know how much I would miss that song when I left the island.
“Well, let’s get you started with the paperwork here then. Just sign there and there and it’s one-twenty for the week. Let me know if you need it longer.”
“Mahalo, I will.”
“Oh, getting the lingo down already, I see. You’re about to have quite an adventure.”