I once found myself in the Caribbean with my brother.
I believe it was St. Lucia.
Have you ever hung out with Kevin? You should. He’s one of the more sincere BS artists you’ll ever meet. Kevin is the devil’s advocate, the turd in the punchbowl, the handsome man you suspect may be pulling your leg.
He is. Pulling your leg, that is.
Except when he isn’t.
Both Kevin and I tend to attract lonely people, and we did on this vacation. Perhaps it was because we were having fun, perhaps because we looked like people that would listen, perhaps because we looked like people who were drunk.
It’s not important. What was important was the moment Kevin asked Jean-Claude to sat down.
Jean-Claude was a very black man with very white teeth, a man whose face spoke of sadness. He tried to sell us a variety of cheaply made trinkets in a rush of words, more than three-quarters of which whistled into one ear, around my brain, and back out my other ear without my understanding them.
Kevin threw himself into the moment.
“What am I gonna do with this stuff?” Kevin asked. “Seriously. Jean-Claude, aren’t you tired, brother? Let’s relax. You want a beer? Here, you run and buy Pearl and I here a beer, and buy yourself one, too. You wanna?” Kevin handed him a twenty.
Jean-Claude’s sad eyes took in the money, looked at Kevin and I, and left.
I took a long pull off one of the beers we already had in front of us. “Think he’ll come back?” I asked.
“Of course he will,” Kevin said, lifting his arm to display a dozen necklaces. “I’ve lifted half his inventory.”
Sure enough, Jean-Claude returned.
We had three beers apiece with Jean-Claude, or “Jay-Say” as he insisted we call him, on Kevin’s dime; and while his island patois was not easy on these Minnesotan ears, his story came out as the hour grew later and the steel drums played. His mother had just died. He had three younger sisters still in school. He worked during the day, sold trinkets at night.
He looked up. What did we think? He got by, but it wasn’t enough. Should he go back to school?
Kevin put a hand on J-C’s arm. “Brother, you need to go to school. Make yourself the go-to guy here. Work on your English, give ‘em that big smile of yours, and use that brain. It’s all going to be okay. I know it. Say it with me: it’s going to be okay.”
J-C smiled sadly. “It’s all going to be okay.”
“That’s right,” Kevin said. We raised our last beers, clinked.
We left about an hour after that. With handshakes and hugs, J-C went his way and we went ours.
And I bought a necklace.
We walked away from the outdoor bar. “That was real nice,” I said, “all those things you said to J-C.”
“Wasn’t nice,” he hiccupped. “Was true. S'all true, and I hope he believes it like I do.”
We stopped walking and stood for a moment, a streetlight overhead, the ocean in front of us. Strange Caribbean stars blinked overhead.
Kevin, a full foot taller than me, smiled down.
“It doesn’t cost anything to give people hope, you know.”