Bridgetown

“So Mr. Hunter, at what point did you realize you were in trouble?”
A fictitious reporter asks
Over and over in my head.

“At what point?”

In the Barbados waters
Swimming on the Atlantic side
This Island/Nation
Skies clear
Air dry.

“At what point?”

April 4, 1989, 21 years to the day
The Prince of Peace
Shot dead on a Memphis hotel balcony
By some white man
Helping those who
Don’t want niggers to have shit.

“At what point did it seem that danger was abound?”

Was it the lapse of time?
The absence of children’s voices,
Vendors’ bells selling ice cold drinks
Local souvenirs?
Or was it the sight of blue?

I taste water
Salty
In my mouth
I gag.
I go down.
No longer above water.
My hair is wet.
My eyes open, but I don’t see shit.

I concentrate
Get back to shore.
Then the tide goes in or out.
I don’t know. I’m not sure.

My head above water
I see rocks
Hear the waves crash
I think, Oh shit, I could bust my head
On one of those rocks.
But I’m not afraid.

I tread water
Locate the shore
Catch my breath
My bearings
The tide goes in or out
I wonder if this is fiction or non-fiction
I remember, I’m always confused about the distinction
So I say “fiction=fantasy.”
I, I hope that’s what this is
Then I go down.

But I’m not afraid
Cause you always have three chances
My life wants to flash before my eyes
But my ass wants to sit down
I go with my ass, legs and arms
I tread water.

First I need to swim away from shore
Then parallel
Away from the rocks to calmer water
Back to shore.

Then comes this brother
Chestnut brown
No darker than my own father
With terror on his face
I’m in control now
I think, I’m trying to save my ass.
Ten feet away
He treads water
He doesn’t say a word
I’m about to swim out
To calmer water
But I ask him
With obvious condescension in my voice
“What do you want?”

He says, “Here, catch!”
And throws me a buoy
My reflexes kick in
But this does not fit into my plans.

I realize he wants to help
I think, Maybe this is a better plan.
We start to shore
I realize he has a rope on the buoy
Attached to another buoy
Tied around his waist
I realize he has on scuba flippers
We are five minutes into it
But we have not moved anywhere.

Then comes another
Black man, my complexion
He’s wearing more of the same gear
Less the buoy with the string.

Now I start a strong scissor-kick
Stroke with my free hand
The three of us
Start to make progress
Fifteen minutes later we are on shore.

People gather around
I’m embarrassed
Start to make jokes
In the office they take my
Name
Address
Birthdate
“Are you sure you’re ok?”

I tell them of my plan to save myself
The first guy remarks,
“Oh that’s why you hesitated to grab the buoy?”

I leave the office
And think, Damn! It never occurred to me that a
Black man
Could ever save my life, that a

Black man
Could ever be a lifeguard.

I should have realized I was in danger
When I first went down
Or maybe
I should have realized I was in danger
When we didn’t move for five minutes
But I only realized I might be in danger
When we were joined by the second man.

Or should I have realized I was in danger the first time
I switch my seat on the train when
Black teenagers board
Or when
I talk soft, so as not to frighten women
Or when
I cringe when I hear Black English within
Ten feet of some apparent outsider’s ear.

Or when…
Or when…
Or when…

I realized that I had internalized the hatred
That goes with self, when so many forces around you say:

“A Black Man Ain’t Shit!”
“A Black Faggot Man Ain’t Shit!”


© B.Michael Hunter 1991

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