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Sole music

Monday, December 23, 2013
Tobago Peeps
James plays his guitar at his shack in Buccoo.

5.30 am: The sky over the sea is black and heavy, with rain slowly rolling toward land. Not minding if I get wet when it eventually comes, I begin my brisk walk from Goodwood/Black Hole to Fort Granby. Framed by her living room window, the silhouette of my neighbour Janet sits before her altar, devotedly chanting morning daimoku: “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.” 


Against the dark cloud backdrop, the warm glow of her living room light reminds me of a safe port in a storm. Janet herself is a lighthouse. In her home, perched on a height at the edge of the ocean, she is a perpetually smiling beacon, always there with the offer of entertaining stories, freshly-baked sweetbread, rice and peas, fish or whatever treat she has conjured up in her kitchen on days when I go to visit.


Walk, walk, walk, walk …looking at the sea below, gazing at vegetation, thinking about the day ahead, anticipating the inevitable encounter a little further on with Stinky and Bubbles, the two “Tobago Terriers” who rush out barking and attempting to bite all who dare to walk by. Suddenly there is a flapping feeling and sound. A piece of the sole of my right track shoe has become unstuck. I immediately think of James. 


In July, while I was volunteering at the Buccoo Integrated Summer Camp, the sole of that right side track shoe came unstuck for the first time. Go barefoot, buy a new pair of track shoes or get the sole fixed? Someone suggested that I go to James, whom I subsequently discovered to be a simple and deeply interesting elderly Buccoo man “who can fix anything”. James for Shoes Trousers Skirt Repair and Things, the sign on his shack announces.


That July day, he took a few minutes to fix my sole, but I was there for what felt like hours. We chatted about life, spirituality, music, people…and he blew me away with his guitar-playing and smoky voice in a laid-back yet powerful rendition of original bluesy songs. Back to this morning when my sole is flapping for the second time: I return to James, who is sitting in his usual chair in the corner of his wooden roadside fix-it shack. He looks at me over his glasses. 


“Long time!” While he applies glue to my sole, we chat about his recently injured foot, guitar lessons and other random topics. While the glue is drying (It will take about ten minutes), he gently pulls his shiny, black and cherished guitar from its case. He too is a lighthouse, shining from his chair in the corner, amidst shelves  crammed full of old items that are still to be fixed, waiting to be collected, or entirely forgotten. “Listen to this,” he says. “My new composition.”  


After just a few strums, I feel  the little shack transform into a quaint urban club. The cluttered items on the shelves morph into a standing room only crowd of adoring fans. James becomes an old blues singer, his strums and hums transcending his surroundings to mingle with the vibes of other old jazz and blues greats. The song is about one minute long. He stops and looks at me over his glasses. “That’s all I have so far. It don’t have no words yet.”


“What if that’s it?” I say. “It’s like life. Some experiences are short, some are long. Some are describable and some go beyond words.” James agrees. The glue on my sole is dry. He presses the pieces into place and we bid each other goodbye.



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