by Grace Segran
Honorable Mention – Flash 405, June 2020: “International Travel”
I crossed the parking lot at Barbados’ Grantley Adams Airport and made a beeline for the bus shelter. The ZR (pronounced “Zed R”), a private minivan bus service, came along almost immediately, heading in the direction of Saint Lawrence Gap, where my hotel was.
My fascination with Barbados began four decades ago while I was in high school. I played Tituba in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible in my hometown of Alor Star on the Malaysian Peninsula. Tituba was the slave from Barbados, the only non-white character in the large cast set in Salem, Massachusetts; the most visible invisible person in the community she lived in.
Riding the ZR became the highlight of my trip. I knew I was in for a good ride every time I hailed a ZR blaring contagious island music. I loved the camaraderie; it felt like we were all one family riding together. There was always someone who shimmied to the beat or sang quietly to the song that was playing, oblivious to the audience. And sometimes with gay abandon—like the driver’s assistant who sat at the back with us whose job was to collect the fare, open and close the door, solicit customers as we whizzed past a potential one walking in the same direction as the bus, and help folks carry shopping bags while they tumbled into their seat in the van. Everything worked like clockwork in the 18-seater. When the empty spots in the bus began to fill up, passengers moved silently and with the precision of working a Rubik’s Cube to achieve a perfectly filled van. And they did it happily; no huffs or sulks because someone with too many bags from the market was cramming their space. Unlike my predominantly white neighborhood in Boston where the #74 Belmont bus passenger looks at me with a smirk from her peripheral vision, as I arrange the Market Basket shopping bags neatly at my feet and on my lap. Here in Barbados, I felt I belonged.
I flagged the ZR for Grantley Adams Airport a week after I arrived. The ZR operator pulled my suitcase up as I climbed in, while she sang contralto to homegrown Rihanna’s “Diamond” streaming from the radio. The sea glistened in the noonday sun on my right, the warm dusty air blew gently in my face. Tituba. She shining. She home.
Me Shining is about the thrill of finding community, and acceptance, in a strange and foreign land, a feeling the narrator’s current city doesn’t provide. You wouldn’t think a private minivan transport service, on a tiny island at the edge of the Caribbean, would be brimming with such life, joy, and music, but the author brings the scene alive, and presents such a clear picture, I felt the same sense of belonging that the visiting narrator came to know. References to The Crucible frame this story. They show the author’s expertise, as well as an ability to make connections, in the same way that connection with a new community enriches the narrator’s life.
Grace Segran is a former journalist and global nomad who lives in Boston, Massachussetts. Her work has been published in Columbia Journal, Pangyrus, The Common, Brevity, The Smart Set, and elsewhere. She was a finalist in Columbia Journal’s 2019 Fall Contest and the winner of the 2019 Keats Literary Competition.