Tales of St. John & the Caribbean: Book People

The Ghost
"The Ghost"

The First Time I Saw A White Person
By Curtney “Ghost” Chinnery
From Tales of St. John & the Caribbean

When it comes to tourists, I as a child saw very few. Reason being is because in those days, which were the 50s and 60s, not many yachtsmen would venture across to Jost Van Dyke. I for one used to call white folk “Book People,” for that’s the only place I used to see them, in books or magazines.

I remember one day in Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke, a little before where Foxy’s is today. It was the first time I came in physical contact with a white person. It happened one day while a white boy and girl were playing ball. I was asked to join in, this for me was a great privilege, and, happy as can be I played with them. From the paleness of their skin, and due to the fact that I could see the blue veins beneath their skin, the thought was placed in my mind that they were soft and fragile. This in turn created a sense of fear about touching or grabbing them too hard.

When the fellow’s sister hit the beach ball in the air, both him and I chased after it. He tripped and fell, causing me to fall directly on top of him. Fearing I might have hurt him I screamed with a feeling of fear mixed with sorrow. Immediately I rolled off him asking, “Are you okay?” In any case, seeing he wasn’t harmed I asked him with a little shyness, “Can I touch your hand?” He looked me in the eye and got serious. Then he answered without a smile, “Sure, but only if I can touch you next.”

The situation reminds me of a saying: Judging a book by its cover.

With my pointing finger I reached out at his arm. At first softly I poked his skin. He did the same, but to my chest. It seemed to me that he might have had thoughts of me being fragile, the same way I though of him. Something like me thinking he was soft as a jellyfish and his thoughts that I may be soft as chocolate pudding.

It was my first touching a being in the company of someone white. A twist of fate made it to be the same for that boy. It was exactly the same. The kid and I became friends that moment. When the yacht left Great Harbour, I watched with the hope that they would return someday. For almost two months, I would make my way to the bay in order to check if their vessel had returned.

That was my first dealing with the so-called white man.

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