Kingston, Jamaica, rewards workers and schemers on Friday nights. The moonlight comes by 7 p.m. in mid-June. It wraps around the apex of the Blue Mountain before cascading into the harbor below. Flush with cash — money so pretty it could be from a child’s game — people head out into the softness of evening.
Hair gets straightened, sewn, shaved, scraped, braided, twisted, or gelled into styles that will withstand hours of joined hips gyrating in the humidity of clubs or dusty yards turned dance halls. Speakers boom-boom the bass of reggae dance music from various pockets of the business district. Cars cruise toward the city center, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, each with its own sense of being and vocabulary. Later, couples will park on the hills above the city, their nakedness exposed to the arteries of lights in the city below.
This is Jamaica’s capital and largest city; nearly a million people live here. But it does not sprawl: One could drive from Port Royal, where 33 acres lie underwater since a massive 1692 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, to the border communities in 10 minutes if traffic eased. If one could see the lights of Kingston’s soul, they would find a place where a faraway, bloated empire imposed its will on the land.
This is the first time I have been to Kingston, my hometown, since I moved back to Jamaica in May from Las Vegas, where I’d lived, with the exception of…