Eamon Doggett is a 24-year-old from Bettystown, Co. Meath and a recent graduate of the MA in Writing programme at NUI Galway. He has had short stories published in Prick of the Spindle and the ROPES 2016 Anthology and hopes to have a collection published in the future.
I remember nearly stepping into a large hole in a pavement in Kingston, Jamaica. It was unguarded. There was no warning signs or luminous tape around its perimeter and it must have been close to three feet in depth. At its base were broken and rusted pipelines, giving the impression of an unfinished repair job.
I had gone to Kingston to see my girlfriend Whitney, who was from Jamaica. We had met while working in South Dakota and this was our first morning in Kingston and the first time we had left the confines of our hotel. Whitney was leading the way to a bus station, where we were to get a bus to a supermarket. I was nervous and talking about random subjects when I planted one foot at the lip of the hole and redirected my other foot when I saw what I was stepping into.
“What the hell is it doing there?” I asked. “Jesus, I was inches away from stepping straight into it. I could have broken my leg. Is that normal?” Whitney laughed and shrugged, as if the hole didn’t require an explanation. I kept talking about it as we walked on, glad in a way to have something to talk about and concentrate my mind on.
It was a busy street. There were several street vendors selling jerked meats, fruits and vegetables. They shouted to Whitney in Patois and made hissing noises when she didn’t respond to them. We walked on and she turned to look at me occasionally.
“You look nervous,” she said a few times.
“No, I’m fine,” I told her.
I tried to walk loosely and look around to reassure her but people stared at us as we walked. They seemed to look first at me and then at Whitney, always in that order. Some of the men and women gave her raking looks, starting at her head and then moving down to her legs.
“People are going to stare at us,” she said to me, sensing my thoughts. “You are white and I’m black. We are a bit of a novelty.”
There was lots of traffic going to and coming from the market. The cars kept beeping at each other and at the pedestrians who casually walked between them to cross the road. I went to hold Whitney’s hand but it went limp in mine.
“People don’t really do that here,” she said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“They don’t want others knowing their business.”
“So we are pretending we are not together then?”
“No, well, you just don’t really do that here.”
I wasn’t sure what to do with my hands then and wished I had something to carry. There was an eerie deadness to the air and I wondered when I would see the sea and the beach and the rastafarians.
We walked past a taxi rank, where drivers shouted the names of nearby towns and people clambered in until the cars could fit no more. There were more street vendors and market stalls selling shorts, t-shirts and DVDs. Customers were haggling and making exaggerated shows of walking away from the stalls before they were cajoled back into a negotiation. I kept commenting on the heat and letting out tired sighs, although I wasn’t particularly hot or tired. Then the road started to narrow and there were fewer people as we gradually left the busy market behind.
I began to relax and conversation got easier. I brought up some of the things we had been joking about over many months of texts and calls. She laughed and talked about some of the things she had planned for us. Then I nearly stepped into another large hole in the pavement. It too was unguarded and lacking any safety provisions. I noticed several more holes ahead of it. From the opposite direction, a woman pushing a buggy negotiated her way around them, while her small children jumped over the holes and chased after each other down the street towards us. I didn’t comment on the hole this time and Whitney laughed.
“I guess they probably should do something about all of these holes,” she said. I smiled. We walked on and did our own little jumps over the holes, until we reached the bus station and joined a queue to board the bus.