An indispensable question

A scene from the Virgin Islands. ELLEN CREAGER / Detroit Free Press
A scene from the Virgin Islands. ELLEN CREAGER / Detroit Free Press
Posted: August 17, 2012

'How you?" The gentleman in the sunglasses asked, not of me. "Everything safe?" I looked forward at the man behind the wheel, expectantly.

"Yah, yah, man, everything safe," Bunn replied. And at the moment, it was. Everything was safe. I leaned back in my seat behind him.

Bunn was our taxi driver during my family's weeklong sojourn on Jost Van Dyke, the smallest of the main British Virgin Islands. According to the local nurse-practitioner, there are just 198 souls on the island, all catering in some way to the tourist trade.

One of three taxi drivers on the island, Bunn drives a jerry-rigged pickup that's spray-painted white and green and bears the message on its bumper: "What Jah bless may no man corse." He handed me a fresh mango and smiled as he dropped us off at our hotel.

Bunn is an unassuming man, with wire-rim glasses, a close-shaved head, and a standard-issue tropical flower T-shirt that probably came from a tourism promotion. He also plays the triangle - like, the triangle we all fought each other for in elementary-school music class. Imagine a triangle being played to a reggae beat; I couldn't either before Bunn played for us at Foxy's Bar later that evening, where he showed up to fetch my husband and me.

Earlier, we had ventured by ourselves down a hillside to the Grand Harbor, where a few restaurants and bars lie scattered among palm trees. We were there to drink rum, forget the stresses we left back in Philadelphia, bask in the humid air, and watch the nightlife unfold in front of us.

There were sunburned tourists and tanned expatriates. There was the local who, years before, had tied a rope to a pole in front of the bar to practice his night moves: swinging and twirling in a completely sober state, the pole his inanimate dance partner. Intermittently, he would tire and ask for a cola at the bar.

Bunn came looking for us at 10 o'clock. I think we can all agree that this is not the Cinderella hour by any definition; the night was young yet, and our budget allowed us at least another cocktail.

"You two should get to bed!" Bunn shouted from his truck before spilling out of it, triangle in hand. "You have an early morning tomorrow for touring, and you need a good night's sleep."

Now, imagine a taxi driver in Philadelphia pulling a stunt like this; it would provoke laughter at best and threats at worst. Yet, in the islands, it seemed OK. We knew Bunn wanted to keep us safe, we knew he had a family to go home to, and we knew it was probably wise to go to bed.

So he let us finish our drinks while he played his triangle for a small crowd at the bar. Then, a few rounds before we would have called it quits under any other circumstances, we hopped into the back of Bunn's truck and held on for dear life as he willed the vehicle up the steep hill and back to our villa.

We awoke the next morning refreshed, turned to each other, and laughed: Bunn was right.

A few nights later, the scene at the bar had changed: We were all glued to the television. There was no music, no triangle, no bright, cheery toasts to vacation and sand and sea.

Someone had walked into a movie theater near Denver and opened fire: on children, on mothers, on brothers, on friends. We stared at the screen, silent, somber, and sober.

That night, the greeting I had heard from the locals around the island took on a different dimension: All we want, no matter where we are from, is for those around us to be safe.

Sometimes we forget that. "Everything safe?" How many of us can answer that it is? If you can, good for you. Maybe take a lesson from Bunn and go get your friends and family, pick them up by the scruff of their necks, and bring them home. Grab your children and tuck them tightly in their sheets and blankets.

Also, hold your breath, let it out, and think of those who, one evening or morning, find they are not safe. And pray that one day, they might be.

Megan Ritchie is an academic adviser at the University of Pennsylvania and a freelance photographer. She can be reached at

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