I have always been hesitant about writing about this because I’ve always had the greatest respect for Bob Marley and the Wailers. From songs such as “Africa Unite” by Bob, “Blackheart Man,” by Bunny, “Get up, Stand up” by Peter and Bob, and “African,” by Peter, I was able to create my political viewpoint which, in turn, affected my writing and the creation of characters such as Uncle Obadiah in “Uncle Obadiah and the Alien” and Papa Legba in Benjamin, My Son. In fact, some of the scenes in Benjamin, My Son were directly influenced by some of the synchronistic meetings that I had with Bob.
The first time I met Bob was in 1976 after the release of Natty Dread (1975). A Bob Marley celebration had been arranged by Danny Morrison and JahMick (“I Want to Disturb my Neighbor”) of JahLove Musik. The celebration was held at the Mona Heights Community Center in Jamaica. I had arrived late for the celebrations, and when I got there, Bob was sitting under an acacia tree. I walked up to him, introduced myself, and he told me to sit down. This was the first time I had experienced Bob’s so-called psychic ability because he began to tell me things about my life that no one else--not even my mother--knew about me. I still don’t remember the details because I was in a state of shock. I just couldn’t believe that anyone upon meeting me within the space of five minutes could have told me so much about my life.
I continued to meet Bob over the years as he would drop into JahMick’s home on Geranium Path or sometimes when members of his entourage would come to the park on Aralia Avenue in Mona Heights to play soccer. There I met Gilly Dread, Seeco Patterson, and Neville Garrick and sometimes we would play football late into the night by the light of the moon or sometimes when we couldn’t see each other, but could only scream at the glimmer of the ball going between a defender’s legs, "Salad!"
For the non-Jamaicans, a “salad,” is when you pass the ball through the open legs of your opponent, and probably has a derivation from a song with the refrain, “Please, mister, don’t touch me tomato. “Salad” tomato took on a sexual connotation and referred to a woman’s vulva. So, if you pushed the football between another man’s legs—unsexing him—it was a big insult. You had made him into a woman, and in “macho” Jamaica, “a guy would kill you for less than that!”
Soon the games expanded and with Real Mona members, we began playing games against teams from August Town and our team once played a pickup match against some old guys like Allan “Skill” Cole and Lindy Delapena. The only days we didn’t play football (and it wasn’t for want of trying) were New Year’s Day, Easter weekend, and Christmas. And we always played way into the night.
Then, one week everyone disappeared. Bob had been shot. We figured it had something to do with the “Smile Jamaica” Concert. I went to National Heroes Park that night, but I left early because I got fed up with waiting. I told my friends that I was tired and that Bob wasn’t going to show up.
Was I wrong! Bob showed up and the next morning and all my friends were teasing me and said that I had missed the best concert that Bob ever played. I was determined I would never miss another Bob Marley concert. I would have to wait a long time because after the concert, Bob went into a self-imposed exile in London. But the football games continued without him.
So, when Bob back to Jamaica to do the “One Love Concert” in Kingston, Jamaica, I had to go despite the tension and all of my friends warning me that something bad was going to happen. Nothing did. It was a great concert, and I thought that I was going to see many more. However, things got dread in Jamaica, and my mother sold our house in Mona and sent an airplane ticket for me. She gave me a month to get everything ready and leave. I left Jamaica for Miami on April 30, 1979.
In December 1979 after starting college in Miami, I returned to Jamaica for the Christmas holidays. I met up with Seeco, who was driving down Old Hope Road in his blue (?) BMW, and he invited me to go to Island House and “kick some ball.” I was always in sneakers and always ready for a ball game. When we got to Island House, “One Drop” was playing in the background on the loud speakers. The minute Bob saw Seeco, he wanted to play a game against the old dread. We divided ourselves into two teams: Bob, Gilly, and if I remember correctly, Leghorn on one side, and Seeco, myself, and another dread--I can’t remember his name—on the other side.
We played the first game and beat Bob and Gilly, 6 -3. Seeco told Bob that he should give someone else a try, and Bob said that it was his house and he wasn’t coming off, so we played a second game. All the while, Survival was playing over and over.
It was during the second game that I saw Bob’s temper flare up. During the game, I slipped the ball through his legs--a salad--and Bob tripped me. Of course, I wasn’t going to take it like that, so I stood up to him, knowing full well that he could kick my ass without even trying. They didn’t call him “Tuff Gong” in Trench Town for nothing. I was trembling, but I was going to back down.
Luckily, Seeco intervened. Bob got angry with him, picked up a cinder block to hit him, and then came to his senses. When Bob realized how angry he had gotten over nothing, he calmed down and we played rest of the game. This time they beat us 6-2. Bob said we had to come off the field. We told him we weren’t going to come off because we won the first game. We decided to play a third game.
During the third game, it was getting dark, and I realized that I had to catch my plane back to Miami. The score was 3-2, our 3. I told Seeco and Bob that I‘d be seeing them soon.
Bob nodded and gave me a look that even then struck me as meaningful and that I’ve never forgotten.
I went home showered and caught the plane back to Miami. That was the last time I saw Bob.