Old newspapers rustled and danced through the air, their weathered pages fluttering and spinning in a graceful ballet. Small debris, carried on the gentle ocean breeze, pirouetted along the sidewalk, creating a whimsical spectacle of movement and life. A mad man wandered aimlessly through the beach area, leading to a concrete pavement on the streets of Montego Bay.
The evening sun descended over the bustling city of Montego Bay, casting its golden hues across the urban landscape. The heat reducing its attack to becoming more bearable, leaving the man to move to the main street. His ragged clothes hung loosely off his emaciated frame, and his once-white sneakers appeared caked with dirt and grime.
The cruelty of people lost its appeal after he got used to hearing “Vagabond” whenever he’s around. Nothing about him looked pleasant. From the shabby, torn clothes and face coated with layers of dirt and sweat, gave off a strange, otherworldly appearance. But what he looked like was not a concern, nor did he care to appease those who wished him to conform to the ways of “decent people”.
For all the time he wandered about, the final destination remained elusive and the journey never present. He lived day to day, moment to moment, not knowing, not remembering. But on that day, his purpose, yes, his desire, felt awfully clear. Yet he stumbled through the crowded streets, ignoring people staring at him with looks of pity and disdain. Many passing by whispered amongst themselves, wondering,
“How him end up like dat? My god.”
The looks would make anyone feel ashamed. Most people attempted to conceal their displeasure at the sight of the man, but one elderly woman in her late fifties made no effort to be discreet with her comments.
“Jesus Christ, poor ting,” a woman spoke up. “A how him look so. Him couldn’t at least go down to de beach and bade himself? Him stink no backside. Him fee shame a himself. A people like dat, mek foreigners tink all a we stay so. Me nuh know why di government nuh do suppen bout dem.”
Her companion responded coldly, “They need to be removed from the streets. How comes the government no do something about it?”
“That’s how things are in Montego Bay. We pay our taxes but the politicians dem no do nothing.”
The man kept walking, his gaze fixed straight ahead, as he brushed past people without a word. Moving along the road, surrounded by rows of resorts, shops, and restaurants, he heard the laughter of people enjoying their day. From his peripheral, the scorn on the tourist’s faces became apparent, revealing the utter disgust they had for people who looked like him. One woman, dressed in an expensive designer dress, yanked her son from the path of the man who was leaning against a wall next to two popular resorts. The child stared at the man with eyes of curiosity. It almost felt as if the boy was in awe looking at the man. The man made a funny face, and the boy laughed, but the woman pulled him and rushed off.
Not long after, more people came along and recoiled at the sight of the man, clutching their purses and wallets tightly as they hurried past. “Good heavens, I did not know Jamaica had so many homeless people. It’s simply appalling that they can be in this area. I thought they reserved this area only for us. The nerves of these people.”
The moment the tourist uttered the words, a security guard standing nearby honed in on the man, striding towards him and yelled, “Hey dutty bwoy. You caan be up here. A weh you a go round de people dem nice place? Nobody no wah tourist fee see people like oonu roun here. Oonu a gi Jamaican people bad name. Me tired a oonu a mash up de image a Montego Bay. You betta leave before me do suppen bout it.”
The man remained quiet, holding two plastic bags and leaning against the wall. He turned to watch the sun setting along the horizon in the distance. The vibrant colors painted the sky in a breathtaking display, as if nature itself had taken up an artist’s brush to create a masterpiece of warm oranges, deep purples, and soft pinks. The man took a deep breath while listening to the waves gently crashing against the shore. Sweet smell of the ocean filled the air. Joining him were people who stopped to take pictures and enjoyed the sights.
As the sun fades, the air revealed a calmness, with the gentle breeze rustling the leaves on nearby trees. Conversations buzzed softly among people strolling along the sidewalk, their faces adorned with relaxed expressions. The moment’s serenity shattered abruptly as a sharp cry tore through the air, capturing everyone’s attention. Heads turned, eyes widening with curiosity as they witnessed the scene unfolding.
Being frustrated by the man not complying with his orders, the security guard lunged at him, tightly gripping his shirt collar and forcibly dragged him. Their clashing strides created a chaotic commotion. The man’s cries shattered the stillness, echoing through the vicinity, which was getting ready for the evening’s activities. Desperate to break free, he thrashed his arms and legs, striking out with wild abandon.
Yet the security guard maintained an unwavering grip despite the man’s fierce resistance.
“Do bossy, no hurt me. Do please leggo haffi me. Me neva do you nutten. Just let me go, sah. Please,” he pleaded for leniency, yet the guard disregarded his pleas. Resolute to expel him from the tourist zone, the man’s struggles unmoved the guard.
Finally, the guard dragged him to the bottom of the street and away from the tourist area. He released his grip, and the homeless man collapsed onto the pavement, exhausted and in pain. He looked up at the guard with a look of fear and despair. The guard had no response. He just scoffed and walked away, leaving the man scratched and bruised on the ground. People on the street were stunned by what they had witnessed. Some yelled at the guard, but he just kept walking.
Slowly getting to his feet, his body shaking from the pain and humiliation, the man limped along the sidewalk, struggling to move without wincing in pain. People he passed turned their nose at him while others crossed the street to avoid running into him. As he walked on, his eyes fixed on something in the distance.
“Tank you, Jesus. All me haffi do is just mek it.”
He gazed upon the small, humble church nestled amid the bustling, brightly lit storefronts in the city center. He felt a strange pull towards it, as if it were calling out to him. Following the strange pull, he moved with as much haste as possible. The closer he got, the stronger the strange pull became. His hands were still clutching tightly onto his shirt and pants, falling off, and his head bowed in reverence. Ignoring the stares and jeers of those around him, he made his way to the sanctuary.
Exhaustion seeped through every fiber of his being, clinging to his weary body like a heavy shroud. The journey to this point had been arduous, fraught with obstacles and challenges that tested his resolve at every turn. He had fought every instinct to reach this critical juncture, spending tremendous effort and sacrifice. The goal was so close, yet somehow out of reach, taunting him with a tantalizing mixture of relief and despair. His body collapsed at the doorstep, then the doors flung open.
“Oh my god, Michael,” a woman exclaimed.
The mention of his name elicited a wince from the man, his features contorting with pain as he laboriously rose to his feet. The grinding of his teeth accompanied each movement, a testament to the discomfort coursing through his body. Helping, she guided him through the entrance, easing him into a seat in the back row. The congregation was singing hymns, and their voices filled the small space, drowning out the outside world’s noise.
“Michael, we’ve been looking all over Montego Bay for you. We thought you were dead,” the woman explained.
“Michael? Is that my name?” the man asked. “Yes. At least, that’s what you told me to call you, even though..it was not Richard two months ago, and Paul, about a year ago.”
“Oh,” the man said as tears streamed down his face. He stood up, and stepped into the aisle, then said, “Jah, Rastafari. For de fuss time in a while, me feel at peace. Me feel like me home.”
He closed his eyes and felt the vibrations of the music and prayers reverberating around him. The woman stood while holding his hand. Taken aback, he remained silent. “When the world turned their noses up on me, you saw past my ragged clothes and dirty face, welcoming me with open arms. Thank you. Thank you for giving me what I’ve always wanted, a home.”
“Michael, you always have a home. Mommy’s been trying to find you, so we can take you home. The last time you were like this, we never saw you for seven months. The doctor said it’s because you suffer from a split personality disorder,” the woman explained.
“I won’t leave like that again,” he promised.
“I know you mean it,” the woman replied. “But I also know you won’t be able to resist the urge to leave when another personality kicks in. For now, let’s just get you home and cleaned up.”
She reached for his hand, and he slapped it away and screamed.
“Nuh, touch me, dutty gal.”
The woman’s eyes widened, and she lowered her face. She knew what it meant.
“Wey oonu a look pon,” the man yelled when confronted by the many eyes in the congregation staring at him. The man ignored her outstretched hand and approached the door, but the woman blocked his path. Undeterred, he pushed her aside and marched out of the sanctuary.
The man was back on the street, and the locals and tourists stared at him. They easily assumed they knew who he was and why he was this way. They passed judgment, but unbeknownst to them, it did not matter. The man was oblivious to what was happening, so navigating the world was easy especially on the streets of Montego Bay. As he disappeared into the night, the woman from the sanctuary knew the man may never find a home the way she saw it because, in his eyes, he was already home.