Mags was the man. She was the queen beeotch who could undercut the bottom line and still make a profit. She was mid-something, slim and tall, her clothes of the sheerest huggingest synthetic … stuff. Hipster beige pants and khaki blouse. She stood with one hand cocked on her hip and the other pressing in the earpiece that was her most constant companion. She would peer over her titanium anti-reflect bifocal shades with a withering glance that could set legs aquiver and landlords stammering. Her hand-drawn eyebrows arched independently and the only word they knew was: supercilious.
The one time she showed any sign of emotion was when she described the range of day spa treatments in town. Of course there was the most romantic, Strawberry Hill, but a weekend there would mean an extra bedroom in nine months’ time. I think she winked but I may be wrong.
She showed us cold mansions with razor wired gardens; pension-replacement townhouses built on remittances from Toronto; and über-exclusive compounds where Aryans were welcomed without hesitation. The house we loved had already been let, but that didn’t stop Mags, who gazumped the joyful tenants without a qualm. When Mags took me to meet the owner, I was shocked that she would not look me in the eye, would not talk to me and when we got down to the nitty gritty of the negotiations, would not even stay in the same room as me. Mags acted as go-between. She sighed and shrugged and raised up both her hands at each of our requests.
We finally fell out over a lock worth 500 Jamaican dollars (US$8) – Mags said that all the locks had been changed since the previous tenant, but also that the property had been vacant for almost 12 months. The paint on the back door lock indicated that the lock had not been changed since the repainting, which Mags also said had been done when the previous tenant had left. Gotcha, I thought. The locks haven’t been changed and anyone could have copies of the keys.
Mags was exasperated. Why were we making such absurd demands? The chairman of the residents’ committee agreed. “Grills and bars on the windows? Pshaw! I keep a Colt .45 by my bed and I’ve never had any cause for complaint!”
I was happy to turn the house down, grateful not to have a landlady who wore encrusted Chanel sunglasses and who baulked over the slightest demand on my part. I noted that both Mags and the house owner were “high-toned” and high class. For it’s very soon obvious to the newcomer in Jamaica that there is a “hierarchy of shade”, that the lighter your skin, the higher your social position, the more powerful your connections and the higher up the hillside you live. Yet on this day I was treated like dross, a wetback on a budget and no pull from above. This day it was all about the money, honey.