II. NEARLY ON THE NEWSPAPERS IN MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA

photos, music curation and story by hannah molly baker

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The next morning, Shayna and I turned down Delroy’s offer to drive us into town before his shift in order to attempt to  maneuver the city’s bus system. Nearly everyone in the neighborhood worked in the resorts, so we followed those heading to work. We walked single file down the narrow road to make space for the cars speeding up and down the path, exchanging questions along the way.

I asked how to say specific phrases in Patois, they asked me what snow felt like. Shayna asked where we could find breadfruit, they asked her why she was so short.

We switched sides when they did, realizing they helped us avoid the blind spot of out of control cars.

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Eventually, the ground levelled out to show the lone bus stop along a highway, where we boarded, paid, and headed into town. Once there, we parted ways with those off to serve in resorts, choosing to stay downtown for its cheaper food and free beaches.

That night, we retraced our steps to get back to our place. Standing at the foot of the same path we descended earlier, we congratulated ourselves for successfully choosing not only the correct bus, but the correct bus stop. The path felt steeper this time. It was certainly darker without the sun to light the way. An eerie silence fell over us as we trudged upwards. Something wasn’t right. Where was everyone? We had company on the walk down this morning, but now, we were conspicuously alone.

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Still, we pressed on to steeper, darker terrain where twisted trees blocked out light, blurring the edge where the road ended and the drop of the mountain started. Despite the cool night breeze, sweat poured out of me as I powered up the mountain. Glancing up, I realized that an oncoming car would not be able to see us, and if it did, it wouldn’t be able to stop.

As if in sync, Shayna started racing in a panicked run, with her tiny arms and legs pumping furiously. I loped along behind her, but my less athletic build couldn’t match her speed.

“We’re not that far, just a few more twists and turns!”

Shayna yelled. She sprinted up to round the first bend, but as soon as she disappeared around it she reappeared again.

This time facing me.  

A car was barreling down the road.

The turn prevented us from seeing its headlights, but we heard the low rumble of its engine.

Shayna reached out and grabbed my arms as if to spin me downhill, but we were too high up to run back to the safety of the bus stop. We scanned  around for anything that might lead us to safety.

There was the road, and the drop off. And for a split-second, with our feet balanced precariously on the edge of the road,

I hated myself for not turning back when I felt something was wrong.

I hated Shayna for suggesting we visit Jamaica in the first place.

I could hear her rapid-firing curses under her breath as the glow of headlights radiated from behind the turn.

In a flash the two lights blinded us.

That’s when I thought it: No one will find my body.

I couldn’t even see where the cliff ended, but saw that it was littered with rocks and roots. It’ll be an international incident. I practically wrote the headline in my head: “Two American Girls Missing in Jamaica, Kind Airbnb Host Suffers Horrible Reviews”.

Then, the car screeched to a life-saving stop.

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High on adrenaline, Shayna and I took off again racing up the hill. This time, I found the energy to keep up with her, slick with fear-sweat, but steady with determination. It wasn’t enough. Another car swerved around a corner, the second one to screech to a stop.

“GET IN. NOW.” The driver screamed. Shocked, we stared up past the headlights and saw Delroy, in his dilapidated taxi cab, leaning over to unlock the passenger side of the car. We piled in, panting and heaving on the seats. I felt my eyes roll back in relief. We were alive. We were out of danger. And we were idiots.

For all my uncertainty of our off-the-beaten-path trip, we had been the biggest danger to ourselves. It wasn't our room in a questionable neighborhood, or our noticeably foreign faces. It was our reckless lack of awareness as we climbed a path that no other local citizen seemed to do at night, without stopping to question why. And those same people had rescued us.  
 

 

BIO

Hi, I'm Hannah.

I took my first trip outside of the country when I was sixteen. I went to Israel for two weeks without a phone or Internet access and returned home sleep deprived and sick, but ecstatic. My parents barely recognized me, though that may have been due to my new hairdo. A bodyguard I met while away didn't speak much English, but was still able to convey how funny she thought it’d be to cornrow a blonde, white girl's hair. 

Eventually, the braids came out, but something new stayed with me. I realized that my bodyguard travel buddy had taught me a lesson, one that I now live by: Language barriers don’t stop people from connecting. In fact, they may be a point for bonding. Humans are basically universal – they feel, want, and need the same things no matter where they are, though how they express that may differ with speech. But that’s only a minor detail, really.

Since that trip, I’ve lived in Spain and Peru, and have traveled to ten different countries (and counting), eager to learn about each language spoken there. For me, it’s the first step, if not the most important one, to connecting on something bigger.