“Help stop prostitution! Gimme me a dollar.”
I was stopped in traffic, my car window open because my air conditioner was broken, again. The words came from a tall, skinny woman in a short, slack dress that barely covered the loose skin of her sagging breasts. She grinned at me pleased with her own witticism and held out her cupped hands hoping for some change.
A year ago this would have made me laugh, but not this morning when everything was going wrong. I steupsed and turned up the window in her face cutting off the smell of alcohol on her breath.
The traffic moved forward slowly and soon I was at the top of Fort Street. A Rastafarian was selling sugar cane at the corner. He was neatly dressed, his plain, cotton, long sleeved shirt buttoned to the neck and his khaki pants, many sizes too big, belted to his waist with a piece of rope. He smiled politely and shouted “Bobo cane for you, Miss?”
I ignored him and drove off muttering, ‘What is St Kitts coming to? Women drunk at 8 in the morning! Men selling stolen cane on the sidewalks?’
The cane was stolen from the sugar cane fields recently abandoned when the sugar industry closed. I had been one of the casualties of that closure, the out spoken, much disliked accountant, and one of the first at management level to be fired.
I parked my car and walked quickly to a building. It housed, among other businesses, the off-shore company with which I had an interview. I climbed the stairs to their offices and pushed on the glass door. It didn’t yield. I grabbed the handle and pulled but the door was locked. I looked through the glass and saw a completely empty office. I was stunned. I pulled out my mobile phone and punched in the number of the man who had organised the interview just a few days before. I heard the now familiar musical tones, then “You do not have sufficient credit to make this call.”
I returned slowly down the stairs. By the time I reached the bottom I had convinced myself that the company must have moved, it was as simple as that. God was not supposed to give you more than you could handle and I was at my breaking point. I had been out of a job for a year, my landlord had given me an ultimatum that morning and my car was on its last legs. I stepped on to the sidewalk and spotted someone I knew.
“Robert,” I called out, “you know where OmniRock is?”
He responded, “Hey Grace, they packed up and left, lock, stock and barrel. Some kind of tax or legal problem.”
I felt faint, not just from hunger – I had been skipping breakfast to make ends meet – but from despair – this had been my last shot at a job. I couldn’t let Robert see my reaction. I nodded and smiled and he walked away. I sank to the ground, and dropped my head to my lap, legs crossed and hands outstretched. I don’t know how long I sat there or how many people passed by before I heard the voice of a white American male.
“Man, they really need to control the begging problem here!”
A female voice responded, “Have a little compassion. One day that could be you.”
“You’re right, love,” came the response and I felt a piece of paper fall into my hands. I closed my fingers around it tightly.