Stay Tuned

By Opal Gayle

My father did not know how to read so he traveled the world with his ears, nose, and bones. His bones, he said, told him when it was going to rain. His nose told him what was in the tiny phials that he bought for his clandestine healing missions. And, at his insistence, the ten o’clock news took us both around the world.

We learned of the aftermath of the Cuban revolution in our back yard, Jean Bertrand Aristide’s victory next door in Haiti, the bombings in Sarajevo, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, and Mandela’s release from prison in South Africa.

At first, I only tuned in because he made me.

“Two things in this life nayga man must always know,” he cautioned, “where him come from, and what going on roun’ him.”

But, I spent the early years terrified of our radio, wondering how the little people got inside and how many there were. Still, I mourned their death the day my brother Bobby accidentally spilled hot cornmeal porridge on the small rectangular box with pieces of Formica on the sides. The next day when we knocked it to get it to work, a large intrusion of cockroaches came tumbling out. There was no more talking; all the little people had perished.

But, soon after, my father came home one day, beaming, with a gigantic, shiny four-speaker boom box that even had a cassette player. We listened to the BBC, and I wondered why all the people sounded like they had a cold. But I was sure it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be cured with one of Father’s concoctions — rum, ginger, lime, sarsaparilla, and a drop of oil-of-something from one of his mysterious little bottles.

On JBC, our local station, I loved to hear the voice of correspondent Rose Coombs. “Rose Coombs for JBC News,” she always ended her reports. She was from my parish, Clarendon, and I imagined what she looked like, how long her hair was, and wondered how in the world she ended up inside the radio.

As the years rolled on, I took a genuine interest in all the broadcasts. I fantasized about Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection. I walked around terrified of being burned alive by the ozone layer. I tried on different last names for size: Castro. Thatcher. Gorbachev. And I started to look up places like Germany, Ethiopia, Chernobyl, and Yugoslavia in my school atlas.

Between the news and my Mills & Boon and Harlequin romance novels, I already knew I would never be interested in the boys that sat on the walls along the road all day doing nothing but yelling catcalls. I longed for places I had never been. I read aloud the Spanish instructions on the green Baygon roach spray can. And I scoffed silently when my stepmother said that at best I would become a street cleaner. Because I had already started to dream of bright lights and far-away places.

""Opal Gayle grew up in rural Jamaica. She is a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Saint Louis University. A poetry and language aficionada, she has been writing with Writers In Progress for over a year. She lives in Western Massachusetts where she teaches Spanish and French.

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