"I have to go to Bermuda," I announced to my father one afternoon in September.
"Have to, as in, longing to go?" my father asked.
"As in, I've been offered a job teaching drama to children and senior citizens," I said.
"That's an odd combination, isn't it?" he asked.
"Maybe, but I need a job, so..."
From my tone of voice and sloping shoulders, you'd think I was travelling to Siberia, which undoubtedly Bermuda is not. Still, it wasn't even on my top ten list of places to visit. Isn't that always the way?
"Don't bring your computer," Paula, my soon-to-be employer, said. "It will cause you problems at immigration, and you can always use mine."
She also promised me a cell phone, assuring me that bringing one from Canada would cost me far too much to use.
"Do you think it's odd that I'm going to another country without any means of communication?" I asked my husband. He shrugged. Usually, we would be far more practical, but all of this was happening in the span of two weeks, and we were in the middle of a move.
So, I packed light, assuming that I'd be able to obtain anything I might need once I was there.
Paula was an ex-pat Canadian with too much time and money on her hands. She had a face that looked like a cautionary tale for plastic surgery.
"You made it!" she said after I finally emerged from an hour in customs, "What took you so long?"
I wanted to tell her that she hadn't filled out the paperwork for my visa correctly, but we were just getting to know each other, and there was plenty of time to get off on the wrong foot.
In the car to my house, she made chit-chat about the places I'd be teaching at and the curriculum.
"I don't think I mentioned," she let slip out casually, "That one of the schools is entirely devoted to handicapped children."
"How handicapped?" I asked
"Mentally and physically challenged. Oh, did I remind you to bring your tap shoes?"
It was too late to get back on the plane.
There are lots of things I take for granted; telephones, transportation, internet.
"Ah, how am I going to get to the schools?" I asked Paula, stupidly assuming that she's made some kind of arrangement.
"Oh," she said, "I suppose you could take the bus."
"From one end of the island to the other?" It was becoming apparent that I was up a creek without a paddle.
"And the computer…?" I ventured.
"It's at my house. You can use it whenever you want."
"Except," I added, "I have no way of getting there."
I wrote the following in my journal:
Went into town today. A perilous undertaking as I soon discovered that walking, no matter however briefly along Bermudian roads – especially when it's raining—is inadvisable. An umbrella, which is necessary, is a particular hazard since the circumference of the thing extends out into the road and is as likely to get caught up in a fender as it is to keep one dry. It's amazing how narrow the streets are. Even at the bus stop, I cling to the rustic pink pole for dear life, pinning myself between it and a low dividing wall in the hopes that I'm not run over. I'm going to need a moped.
Every day in Bermuda was an adventure. While eating breakfast, I'd watch the weather network. The satellite image of the island would clearly indicate what kind of natural disaster I could expect within a 24-hour news cycle. My favourite thing to do was watch the typhoons as they inched their way towards the island. It reminded me of those movies where a group of oceanographers cram themselves into a submersible and go into the Mariana Trench. Inside the craft, looking out, there is nothing but darkness, yet the radar onboard indicates something big and dangerous is getting closer, and closer and closer. Some nights a gale would come up and toss the patio furniture against the house. In my mind's eye, I'd see this tiny speck of an island swept away like soap down a drain and me along with it.
On Sundays, I'd buy a calling card then bike to a payphone out in the middle of nowhere to call home. Often the thing was held together with paper clips, the receiver dangling from a wire barely connected. There I would be in a field, cows strolling by, roosters crapping on my shoes and me trying to phone home just as a torrential downpour would start.
"How's it going?" my father would ask.
"Oh, fine, dad. (thunder) Just fine. (moo)"
Somewhere around the four-week mark, my apartment became a crash pad for cockroaches, the kind that look the size of small rodents with the additional bonus of having wings. They'd enter my apartment and defiantly saunter across the living-room floor, stopping halfway to glance at the television or perhaps size me up.
"Paula," I said on the phone, "I wonder if you have any suggestions regarding cockroaches? Repellents? Powders? Firearms? Anything that eliminates them?"
Five minutes later, my landlady was at my door.
"So, where are these cockroaches I keep hearing about? I haven't seen any."
Strangely enough, I wanted to say they don't stick around long enough for introductions.
Instead, I replied, "I think all the renovations going on upstairs are causing them to move around a bit."
"Look," she said, "If you want to live in Bermuda, you better get used to the cockroaches."
Did I mention that my rent was $2000 a month--in 2007?
One of the difficult aspects of living in a destination like Bermuda is that no one has any time to listen to you complain about anything. Imagine Adam and Eve whining about too many flowers or an abundance of avocado. I could say, "A tomato cost me $7.00." and people would reply, "So what? You're in Bermuda." Or I might remark, "It's $3.00 a minute to call home," and invariably, the response would be, "Yeah, but you're in Bermuda."
It didn't matter that the Canadian dollar was worth more than the American dollar for the first time in forever, meaning that I was, in fact, losing money teaching there. It didn't matter that my employer was certifiable or that I was utterly unqualified to be teaching half the kids. I needed to count my blessings and not my bank balance. I confess, there were days when it occurred to me that maybe Eve ate the fruit of temptation to get out of Eden.
Around the halfway mark, I became terribly homesick. I was keenly aware that, unless I was teaching, I would go whole days without speaking to anyone. I didn't socialize since I knew no one, and without a cell phone or computer, I was shut off from the outside world. I’d read that The Tempest was supposedly set on the island of Bermuda, and I imagined myself a kind of Caliban, enslaved to an employer who promised me things that she never delivered.
Now it just so happened that on Tuesdays, I taught an afterschool program at a private school called Warwick Academy. Of the 20 children in my class, maybe two had seen a play before. They didn't know upstage from down or left from right. Moreover, they didn't care. They took the idea of "putting on a play" to mean exactly that – play. We were working on an adaptation of Roald Dahl's, The Twits:
Katie: They're shocking!
Steven: They're smelly!
Janice: They're silly!
Then it was Dylan's turn.
"They're the pits! What's more, they don't deserve to be in a play, but they DO deserve to be in a song. Something like Twits, Twits, Smelly old twits!"
"Okay, Dylan, that's great, now –."
"They are the pits. Armpits. Peach pits."
"Thanks, Dylan, but—."
"Twits, twits, twits, twits, TWITS!!!!!"
"Dylan," I'd say, "What is your actual line?"
"Smelly armpits!" He'd say, and all the kids would howl. Then he'd turn and give me the thumbs-up sign and smile.
"I think your 'actual' line is: 'They're stupefyingly stupid.'
"That's what I said. The Twits are the PITS!!!"
It was clear he was a natural-born ham, and he came by this honestly because his father and mother were famous actors. Not semi-famous or somewhat famous. They were Oscar-winning famous.
I worked with Dylan for about four weeks when his parents came to pick him up from school.
I was just wrapping up the class when I saw them standing in the doorway. Was I starstruck? Verklempt? Enthralled? No. Instead, because I recognized them, I had the unique experience of finally feeling as though I was in the presence of people I knew.
"Michael!" I said, rushing up to him like a madwoman. "So nice to see you. How's it going? What's happening?" I literally stopped short of, "It's been a while."
God, how I wished Catherine would invite me to dinner.
They, of course, took a step back.
"Ah, Lezlie?" he asked.
"Yes!" I said, "Lezlie. That's right! It's me!! Lezlie."
I'm sure famous people are often in the presence of idiots. What he didn't know was if Colonel Saunders had walked into the room, I would have probably acted the same way.
"Just here to pick up Dylan," they said, and holding him close, they briskly raced for their car.
As I made my way home that evening, I replayed the afternoon's events over and over in my head. I was mortified. I had, ironically, become a kind of Caliban of my own making. Void of human interaction, I had lost track of the proper human responses to things.
I stopped at the payphone in the field to call my husband.
"Honey," I said, "I'm going to need you to mail me my PC.”
A week later, Paula dropped by my house. "Did you have your husband courier your computer?" she asked like I was smuggling drugs into the country.
"Yes," I said, "I need it."
"Well, customs called me to say that it was going to cost you $225 in duty to get it."
There was no point complaining. After all, I was in Bermuda.