Three's Company

Dinner at Jerome’s Jerk Joint, home of the best jerk chicken this side of Toronto’s Little Jamaica neighborhood, was an experience for all five of the senses. It could be a little overwhelming at first but once you got used to it you never wanted to leave.

As you opened its yellow, green and black wooden door your ears were greeted by the body moving beats of dancehall music, the welcoming shouts of “Irie! Irie!” from the waiting staff, and boisterous conversation. The brick walls were covered with postcards, paintings, album covers and Jamaican flags of all conditions and sizes. Your first breath brought your nostrils the scents of frying fish, spices that would water your eyes, and the belly-rumbling aroma of Johnny Cakes fresh from the kitchen.

And the famous jerk chicken itself? Best appreciated without cutlery. Any Vancouverite with functioning taste buds knew where to find chicken that was really finger lickin’ good.

Cara and I arrived first, about fifteen minutes earlier than I would have liked and ten minutes later than she would have preferred. She practically dragged me down Granville Street, past the tattoo parlour and pizza-by-the-slice shops, dodging and weaving through the weekend crowds of suits, hoodies and party dresses. Her Social Studies class was doing a section on Haiti and she was champing at the bit to pick Alex’s brain on the subject of his homeland.
“Just remember to give the man time to breathe and eat his dinner,” I told her as we took our seats at a round wooden table along the right-hand wall. I took the chair facing the entrance while Cara sat across from me and tried to surreptitiously inspect the nearest tables. “And please try not to ask anything too personal, I don’t want him to be uncomfortable.”
“Whatever dad – it’s not like he’s your date or something. Or is there something you need to tell me?” She gave me that wide-eyed look of hers that she had perfected over the years. I rolled my eyes and picked up my menu. “What should I call him, anyway? Alex, Mr. Denis, 'hey boxer dude'?”
“You can start with Mr. Denis but I suspect he’ll prefer to be called Alex. Is it my turn to order or yours?”
“I’m pretty sure you got to choose last time,” Cara said as her eyes wandered over the options.
“I’m pretty sure you say that every time,” I countered. “I should bring a notebook with me just to keep track.”
“Please don’t start getting anal retentive now,” she said with an exaggerated shudder.
The waiter arrived, smelling of rum, fried meat and tropical cologne, and placed a water jug and three glasses on our table. He filled our glasses, deftly added a twist of lime, and asked if we’d be interested in appetizers while we waited. I raised my eyebrows at Cara and she told him that a basket of Johnny Cakes would be lovely, thank you very much. I hid my smile behind my menu while the waiter bowed low and promised to return promptly with her request.
She was going to be a real heartbreaker, my girl.
Alex turned up right on time, wearing a deep red windbreaker and dark blue jeans. He slipped past the line-up that had formed since our arrival with an easy grace and we rose to greet him. I made the introductions and we took our seats after pleasantries had been exchanged.
“This feels like a little piece of home,” he said as he gazed around the room, his head bobbing slightly to the beat of the djembe drums which were causing the overhead speakers to pulsate.

“Are Haiti and Jamaica a lot alike then?” Cara asked politely. Her body was almost vibrating from the force of all the questions that remained unasked.

“We have a similar history but they have had a better break from their past,” Alex replied. “The details are not dinner talk but I will say both still have room for improvement, Haiti more so.”

“Is it true that most Haitians practice voodoo, like they say in the movies?”


“It is okay Nate,” he said, showing me the bright pink flesh of his right palm to stay my disapproval. “It is still common, more in the small towns than the big cities… but it is not what most people think. Many people follow both the Christian faith and Vodou, mixing and matching beliefs as they feel proper. Though it is, very sadly, growing more and more corrupt in Haiti now – too many desperate people trying to scam tourists and their own brothers and sisters just to make money.”

Alex was saved from further interrogation by the return of our waiter to take our orders. Without so much as a glance at me or Alex, he turned his dreadlock covered head to Cara and awaited her instructions.

“I’ll have the goat curry, extra hot please, and he’ll have the jerk chicken and island rice with a green salad, house dressing on the side,” she announced in a rather regal voice with a nod in my direction. The waiter bit his lip and kept his laughing eyes locked on his notepad.

“You can order for me too,” Alex told her with only a twitch of his lips to betray his smothered grin. Cara, not missing a beat, ordered him the ackee and saltfish with a side of spicy yam fries.

The waiter collected our menus and slipped away after a final bow to Cara. She looked a bit too pleased with herself but I let her enjoy the moment; I knew she didn’t need her stodgy old man crashing her little party and I wanted to do everything I could to help her on her way to becoming a confident, capable, independent woman. When she left home in twenty or thirty years.

I excused myself to use the facilities before our food arrived, glancing back as I reached the men’s room door to find Cara and Alex already in an animated conversation. After relieving the pressure on my bladder I washed my hands in the pristine sink and stared at myself in the mirror.

My eyes moved slowly along the lines of my face, trekked reluctantly over my thrice-broken nose, and paused to study their green reflections. I looked tired – not physically but mentally, like I needed a respite from all those years of hard work. To slow down and really enjoy all of what life had to offer. To stop fighting and start living.

I didn’t want to admit it then, but deep down I was hoping Alex would be the breakthrough I was yearning for.

The End

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