Short Story: V is for Value

“Coconut shell burn hot, hot,” enthused the taxi driver. “An’ it don’ lef no black mark pon de pan.”

The marketing representative temporarily forgot the hot leather of the back seat. “No black marks?” she asked, leaning forward.

“No, miss,” said the driver. “It burn wid a blue flame.”

The rep took out her tablet and began tapping away. “So wha’s dis ting yuh goin’ to? A coconut wha’?” asked the driver, peering at his passenger through the rearview mirror.

“Oh a symposium on value-adding in the coconut industry,” she replied, without looking up.

The driver thought, he didn’t know what the rass a symposium or value-adding was, but he knew coconuts. “I grow in de backdam,” he went on, not concerned whether or not he had an audience. “We had plenty, plenty nut. It give we food fuh de pot, compost fuh de yard, fuel, oil…”

The closest the rep had come to a coconut were the shiny cartons of coconut water her company produced. Her last-minute appearance at the symposium was part of the firm’s corporate social responsibility strategy. “Try to get some photos with local farmers,” her boss had said. “Shows us engaging. Customers love that.”

“See dose ladies?” the driver’s voice cut through the rep’s thoughts and her eyes followed his pointing finger. Two women sat behind a roadside stall, one mopping sweat from her brow, the other absorbed in a cell phone. In front of them was a pile of long, brown whispy bundles. “Pointer broom,” explained the driver. “Yuh mek it wid de coconut palm.” The rep brought her tablet to eye level and snapped a photo. “An’ look dat jewellery! Is made from de shell.” Click, went the camera again. This stuff was gold, thought the rep.

Over the next ten minutes they passed a woman selling quinches (“Cassava bread an’ coconut”); a man driving his cutlass into a green coconut (“Don’ need no plastic cup”); and a pile of discarded shells along the road (“Dat’s gon’ attract mosquito”).

Soon they were pulling up at the conference centre. “I was wondering if I could take a photo with you?” asked the rep, handing over the fare through the front seats.

“Yuh want a photo wid me?” the driver’s eyebrows raised in the mirror.

“I want to remember this journey,” she flattered.

“Ok, ok!” chuckled the driver, clicking his seatbelt open.

The rep directed him in front of a coconut palm, put the camera into selfie mode, and clicked. “That’s great!” she said.

“No problem, dear,” replied the driver. “If yuh need a ride back jus’ call. David’s de name.” He handed her a thin card, eased himself back in the car and with a short beep was gone.

The rep perched on a wall, in the shade of the tree, and within minutes had updated her presentation with some impressive ideas for coconut by-products – including on-the-ground photos.

As she put her tablet away, a small rectangle of paper fluttered to the ground. But she was already halfway to the entrance steps where a woman with a clipboard was waiting to greet the visiting experts.

V is for Value’ was shortlisted for the 2017 Green Alphabet Writing Prize (GAWP!), FlipSide Festival’s writing competition.