My Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York has allowed me many privileges. Take a walk to a house of Worship, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, West Indian Day Parade/Labor Day Parade or the pleasures of Prospect Park on a Sunday in summer where Drummer’s Grove hosts its drummers, playing sounds that draw a vast cross section of people as its audience. Some moved by the beats will boldly step into the center of the Grove and dip and fall and wheel and turn until their beads of sweat pierce the ground or until they have had their fill of the exhilarating rhythms.
My Flatbush neighborhood is a place where, on any given day, I can mingle, smile, laugh or even have my blood pressure taken on the streets by concerned healthcare groups. Inasmuch as this is true it is also a place that is filled with surprises. Surprises that will make me cry or contemptuously holler in silence, especially at the people who choose to be a mobile fashion industry. Nothing moves me more than the stamina that some people have displayed towards certain kinds of fashions whether they are blessed with the physical attributes or not. Seeing a figure dressed in pants which slip far below the waist, exposing the crack in the behind is a ghastly sight as are the figures that are in the business of wearing thongs, inappropriately. On the other hand it is said that art can be found in all things. Abstract? Look long and hard and a “Y” or a “T” will appear.
I wasn’t looking for art on a sun-filled Sunday morning in the heights of spring as I left my apartment and headed to one of my favorite restaurants on Flatbush Avenue. My purpose like many Sundays before was tradition driven, to have a hefty Sunday breakfast. It would be a breakfast which consists of freshly squeezed orange juice, hot chocolate, hot coffee and boiled ground provisions ranging from bananas to all sorts of yams. To name a few there is yellow yam, pum-pum yam, Saint Vincent yam, yampie yam, Lucea yam, mozella yam, renta yam, tau yam and sweet yam, the unofficial names which I refuse to let go. Indulging in the official names would probably take away the enjoyment of a well deserved meal.
It is suffice to say that the ground provisions are served with the most delicious saltine. Meat, fish and poultry fall in the category of saltine or even fruits and vegetables nicely seasoned and cooked. The field of saltine is vast but it is certain that Sunday’s breakfast brings out the best…callaloo, cabbage, mackerel, smoked herring, saltfish, escoveitch fish, kidney, liver, and ackee and saltfish. Side dishes are also available: bammy (flatbread made from cassava), buttered bread, fried ripe plantain and the must-have breakfast staple which is Johnny Cake also called fried dumpling by some. One way or the other, if it weren’t for the presence of Johnny Cakes Sunday’s breakfast could easily be mistaken for dinner.
Setting the record straight, Sunday’s breakfast doesn’t mean that during the other days of the week there is neglect in feeding the body a good amount of food for physical existence. Over the years, in my culture, I have observed that it is a mark of honor to overindulge and dabble in the best on a Sunday, especially in the area of deportment. Furthermore, as practiced, it is a day of rest, reflection, worship, communicating with family and friends, visiting the sick and the needy, giving thanks for the week that went by and to also welcome the week ahead.
As I continued my walk to the restaurant my strides were quickened by feelings of guilt. It was becoming a habit of mine not to be at church on Sundays because I was afraid of taking part in the “hand of fellowship”. The last time I attended, someone forcefully tried to pull my right hand from its stiff position by my side to give me a nose-picking handshake. This incident was enough to tell me not to go back because a peace be with you handshake could very well turn into a piece is with you. I would rather listen to the sermon on the radio at the restaurant while enjoying my breakfast than being set up with some nose-picking handshakes.
Some people can be very inconsiderate, I told myself as I moved along. I looked up and down Flatbush Avenue. The street was slowly coming alive with daily activities. I noticed one of the ushers from my place of worship dressed in her white attire, coming full force towards me like she was the angel Gabriel. I didn’t want to be reprimanded for not being at church so I ducked behind a van, waiting for her to go out of sight. It happened quickly and once again I came in full view of my surroundings. The store shutters were down with the exception of McDonalds and Burger King Restaurants. Passenger vans and New York City Transit B41 Buses drove back and forth from Downtown Brooklyn and Kings Plaza, picking up and dropping off passengers. I also saw buses returning from Atlantic City and Foxwoods Casinos with sleepy, dejected looking passengers. There were Canadian buses, preparing to return to Canada with passengers who did a weekend of robust shopping in and around Brooklyn. The telltale signs were obvious, suitcases and shopping bags stuffed beyond capacity with some bursting at the seams. In the midst of all the happenings, stray cats were patrolling the street while a few dogs were being led by their masters. At this point, I considered that all things great and small are the Lord’s handwork. I smiled. I still had the gospel teachings within me.
My spiritual loyalty increased as I moved along. According to the Word, what if God should come for His world while I am eating, I thought. The Word said He would come like a thief in the night. I smiled again because I would have had no problem if He decided on that day to come in the morning, middle day or afternoon. My spiritual realm would be intact. I prayed everyday, sang songs of praise and read from the Good Book. That is all the Lord needs to know, I convinced myself. Furthermore, I work hard therefore I warrant a good Jamaican breakfast. I wanted someone to cater to me at a Sunday breakfast like my Mama did.
My trip to the restaurant was narrowing. Besides being anxious to have breakfast, I also looked forward to seeing the usual Sunday breakfast patrons. They were my conversation buddies, familiar faces at the breakfast table with no names except for the names I mischievously coined in my mind based on character-trait or physical appearance. There was Long-mouth, Loud-mouth, Round-face, Stingy, Greedy, Hot-stuff, Winkie, and Body-builder just to name a few. Time was moving fast as I was one hour behind my regular schedule and I prayed that the foods would remain appropriate in portions, fresh and piping hot.
I was two yards away from the door of the restaurant when I saw Body-builder coming from the opposite direction; he too was late from his physical fitness activity. I hastened to get to the door first but his strides were much longer than mine so he went in with me following a minute or two behind. He waited on line to be served. I stepped right behind him. I noticed the sweat marks in his clothing. The radio sermon filled the room. People were eating. I looked around and saw some of the familiar faces. My eyes met Winkie’s. He winked at me in his usual provocative manner. I smiled and then looked away, to browse the foods. Body-builder was also browsing the foods. I saw my favorite saltine, ackee and saltfish. There were plenty of potatoes, yams, fried plantains and dumplings but only two fingers of boiled green bananas. I sighed. Body-builder would be served next and all the bananas would be gone.
“Next person please step down,” said the server.
Body-builder stepped forward and began pointing at the foods that were laid out in buffet style, choosing the ones he wanted.
I looked at the bananas and said to myself that a miracle needs to take place. The Good Book mentioned that Jesus had turned water into wine and had fed a multitude of people with five barley loaves and two small fish, therefore nothing was impossible. “Oh no! There goes the miracle,” I said aloud as Body-builder asked for the bananas. “Are those the only ones you have left?” I asked the server.
“Yes,” Madam, she replied briskly. “You know that you are late this morning.”
“I know my child. Some days are like that,” I said.
Body-builder looked at me and smiled. “We can share the banana. You get one and I get one. No big deal,” he said. “I see you here all the time.”
“Thank you so much,” I replied.
“That is so sweet,” said the server, looking on in awe. She almost dropped the container of food.
“That took you by surprise,” I commented.
“Yes,” said the server. I have never seen anyone so kind.”
“Well, she is a beautiful woman,” said Body-builder. “Who wouldn’t want to share a banana with her?”
“Ahem,” I cleared my throat, putting a stop to what could have been a sexually charged conversation.
“Here’s your order,” said the server to Body-builder. She had packaged it to go.
He took it and paid the price. He then looked at me and smiled. “Have a nice day,” he said as he left the restaurant.
“You too,” I said, admiring his physique and wondering how many men would have shared their banana with me in a restaurant.
Tah-tah! Wine, dine and live well.
Grace Dunkley-Asphall Copyright © 2010