Public transportation in London is, let's say, a bit different from what it's like in Jamaica. - photos by Robert Lalah
While standing at a corner on a cool, misty morning in London, a black Vauxhall motor car pulled up in front of me. A yellow sign on top read 'taxi'. I wanted to get to Brixton, so I hopped in. The driver was an overweight man with caramel complexion. His face was round and he had a receding hairline. He had a slight beard and was wearing a grey shirt with a pair of weathered khaki pants. He seemed to be in his early 60s. "Where to?" he said with a deep, raspy voice, before taking a sip of a steaming hot beverage in a paper cup he was holding.
I told him my destination and he turned to look at me. "You is a Jamaican?" he asked. I responded, "Yeah man," and he let out a raucous chuckle. "Mi was waiting on the 'yeah man'! Hee Hee!" he laughed. "Mi know seh from you is a Jamaican you would say dat," he said, still chuckling.
As the driver pulled the car on to the highway, he told me his name was Tony and that he is from Kitson Town in St. Catherine. Fifty-one years ago, however, he moved to the United Kingdom in search of a better life, and today his home is in Brixton.
"Mi leave Jamaica and come here in 1956! You see how long mi deh here? Dat a when you daddy born young bwoy!" he snickered. "Yes man, mi come here pan di ship when mi was 13 years old. Mi come stay wid mi uncle who was living here for some time," Tony said. The plastic lid of the cup he was drinking from was resting on his leg. He took it up, glanced at his rearview mirror and then threw the lid through the window. He went back to talking as if nothing had happened.
Didn't like it at first
"Yes. When mi come here mi was a likkle bwoy but because I was begging a place with my uncle I had was to find some work and do. Anyway, I had was to tell lie dat mi was actually 17 so I could get an apprentice work with a carpenter. So mi stay there fi a few years and learn the trade. After a while mi move out pan mi own and start make more money," Tony said.
I asked him what he thought of England when he first arrived. "Well, any Jamaican will tell you dat when you just come here to live you don't like it. It nuh nice because it so different from what you used to back home. Mi couldn't find nuh enjoyment in England when mi just come. All when Christmas time come it was depressing. When mi a grow up inna Jamaica when Christmas coming it was a big thing. Mama used to give we one slice a cake and cocoa and it was a big thing. Mi used to love dem ting deh! When mi come here mi lock up inside and caan do anything. Mi cry whole day," said Tony.
"Inna Jamaica we would look forward fi go a dance wid coconut bow a cover di sound box dem. Hee Hee! Mi love memba dem something deh!" Tony laughed.
"We woulda boogy inna di likkle nightclub dem pan Young Street and go out a road go drink a waters when we ready. But when you reach a England is a different ting! Not a enjoyment!" he said.
Negative feelings pass
Take a taxi in London and you are likely to meet a Jamaican.
Tony explained that after living in England for several years, he eventually got accustomed to that nation's norms and has become quite at home there.
"When you just come it nuh nice but when you know that you coming here because you want to make a good life then you just ignore the negative feelings and eventually they will pass. Today, mi just as comfortable here as mi was back inna Jamaica," said Tony.
"There is good life to live here in England you know, but you have to work hard for it. Life so far from you yard is a struggle but if you strong you will make it."
I asked Tony what was the hardest thing to adjust to.
"Is when mi come here mi really realise dat mi is a black man. When mi in Jamaica I was just a regular youth because we never see skin colour but when I come here I realise quick. I used to go to people house to do carpenter work and dem turn mi back and say dem don't want any black people in dem house. Yes man!" Tony's eyebrows went skyward as he spoke.
"But as a Jamaican I know better than to make that bother me. I just carry on working hard until I could start my own company. Mi do very well too. Mi have four children born and grow here. All of them go university and have good jobs now. I own my own house and everything. Is just because I retire why I decide to drive taxi just to pass the time. I like it too. You able tomeet plenty people," he said.
Jamaican swear words
Now much of what Tony said to me in the confines of that small black taxi in London could not have been published here. Suffice it to say that he still remembers all the uniquely Jamaican swear words and puts them to use with alarming frequency. Indeed, his authentic pronunciation of the famous Jamaican 'B' words was impressive, 51 years after he left Jamaica. I asked him about this. "Whoi! All mi friend dem always ask mi dat! Even mi white friend dem. Dem always ask mi why mi caan learn fi chat better. But is alright, mi nuh want nuh accent. Mi is a Jamaican and is so we talk. Is mi language," he said, with a nod.
Tony has no family left in Jamaica. He said they have all died. His wife and children all live in England. He said he's living a good life and is glad he didn't run back to Jamaica during his first unhappy years in England.
"Let mi tell you something young bwoy. You cannot judge a place when you nuh spend any time there. When I come here it was because times was hard in Jamaica. I know I couldn't leave just because I didn't like it. People who just come here will tell you dat it nuh nice but there is life to live here if you stick it out."
Of the happenings back in Jamaica, Tony had this to say.
"I follow the news in Jamaica same way. Bwoy it distress mi. We have the the best, decent people in Jamaica yet we a shoot and chop up one another over nothing at all. Is time we stop dem ting deh now. Di world don't have nuh time fi people like dat. We have so much good tings and we need fi realise it and be thankful. The weather in Jamaica must be the best in the world and the jerk pork and music too. Lawd, if you only know how mi miss di life inna Jamaica!" Tony said, his eyes drifting off.
With these words, I arrived at my destination. I felt that I had made a new friend and bade the talkative old man goodbye with a handshake. When I got out of the car and closed the door behind me, Tony drove off slowly, but not before sticking his head through the window and giving the signature Jamaican farewell, "Likkle more!"
With that, Tony the taxi driver disappeared.
There are more than a few good spots to refresh yourself on the streets of London.