One day, my mother announced,
“Stephen, I have told my friend Ginny Johnson that you will accompany her family to the island of Tobago.”
“You what?” I asked, incredulous. “I don’t want to go anywhere with strangers, Mom. What are you talking about? I’m not going.”
“They need a playmate for their son, Jimmy, and I agreed that you would go, so you are going.”
“I don’t like to drive to Baltimore, and I’m flying to an island with a family I don’t even know? I’m shy, and I’ve always had a fear of my plane crashing in the ocean, and I’ll be devoured by a shark. I’m not going,” I said.
“You leave next week,” she said.
One week later I was on my way to Tobago and wearing a pair of bright green slacks that my mom got for me. First, we flew into Port of Spain, Trinidad. At the bottom of the airport escalator, there was a very black man beating on a steel drum. He sang, “Here comes a big boy in green. We welcome him to the Caribbean.”
I gave him a quarter.
Our flight to Tobago was on a tiny plane. They made me sit in the back, I think so the front of the plane would go up in the air. They had to shoo the sheep off the runway before we could land. I couldn’t watch the landing and buried my face in Mrs. Johnson’s chest. It was a great trip so far.
The Johnson’s had a little house down there with a coconut tree in the front yard and little gecko lizards running about. It was hot and sunny. The first night, we grilled some barracuda that we’d caught in the lagoon, served with beans and rice, and fresh baked bread. We went to bed early.
Jimmy woke me up at one o’clock in the morning and told me he had his father’s rental car keys. We were going to drive to the other side of the island and go diving for lobsters with flashlights and a spear gun. He also showed me a fifth of rum. I said a short prayer, “God, help me through this night,” and followed him silently to the car.
At the tender age of fourteen, I felt as if I was on a drunken adventure with James Bond Jr., and everything went as planned. We were on the way back–our lobster was on the backseat–when Jimmy ran the car off the road and tore the muffler off at the manifold. The car sounded like a machine gun, and we woke up villages of Tobagans on the way home. The Johnsons were waiting outside when we got back. They told me to go to bed and screamed at Jimmy for half an hour. I think Jimmy got smacked. We snuck out again the next night, but we were on foot.
This was the trip of a lifetime, and I never will forget it.