LAST Saturday, the tenth day of the tenth month, as I usually do when numbers, days and months clash, I got-up in the mood to do something special.
I decided to reorganize my bookshelves while soothing my mind with some Blues.
I was in fine spirits on the last shelf in my COVID-converted bedroom, when something interrupted my morning’s happiness, albeit briefly.
Out of the blue, in the middle of the Blues, my hands landed on a book a dear friend lent me a long time ago — and just seeing the cover rendered me instantly deaf-and-dumb, with a little lump in my throat…
I’d been listening to ‘The thrill is gone’ performed by B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana.
But as soon as I touched the book, it was like if someone invisible pressed the pause button while I listened in my wheelchair, lip-syncing, playing an imagined piano and blowing my invisible harmonica.
It was a biography of a legendary American singer and actor of Italian descent, long gone but whose memory still lives on.
The everlasting star, my friend and I had some things in common: good love for good food with good wine and good company at a good restaurant, with personal service unavailable elsewhere — and we exchanged related snippets every time I dined at his homely northern emporium.
Our light conversations with loud laughter about ‘Frank’ at the quaint Rodney Bay Italian restaurant would only be interrupted if a key game was being played on the ‘Sports-only’ TV on the counter.
Or, if the prime minister’s mother, or a prominent former prime minister, or another former prime minister’s nephews, or the patriarch of the island’s best-known Tourism Family, or the owner of the local franchise for a global pizza brand, or the island’s best-known entertainment radio announcer from next door – or anyone else, for that matter – walked in.
His regular clients were not always of the ordinary – and he knew my every favorite on his long menu of specialized dishes with names I pronounced well, but never tasted.
And he personally placed my orders…
Customer satisfaction his eternal quest, he’d prepare ahead for my very special orders, like: French Fries (fried with garlic), meats (very well-done but with sauces apart), pasta (with an extra Parmesan serving), salads (together, but totally apart), toast (already buttered), local juice (with no ice), chocolate-chip ice cream (with nuts and raisins) — and/or a banana flambe (with white Martinique agricultural rum).
And he’d always ask: ‘Which international news channel would you like with your meal?’
As I flipped the pages, I promised myself to complete reading the book by December and return it ‘for Christmas’.
(Not that I would ‘give’ him something that’s his, but I knew he would treat it like an unexpected but most welcome surprise…)
I placed ‘Frank’ in the ‘To Do’ basket on my main desk – and my ears started hearing my slow Saturday Morning Blues again, this time Muddy Waters singing ‘Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom…’
I continued rearranging my boudoir office until late evening. But little did I know how that Saturday evening would haunt me forever…
Early next morning, a friend who monitors Death Announcements daily called and asked me: ‘You heard who was killed at his home last night?’
As per usual, I was waiting to hear him name someone we grew-up with.
But when he said ‘Renato’, my jaw dropped — and a long chill ran up my spine.
I pressed my open right hand tightly on my chest, as if my heart had skipped a beat.
I shut my eyes tight and it all started making sense in the dark – Tenth Day of Tenth Month, The Book named ‘Frank’ and The Conscience Call on Saturday.
That Sunday morning I’d also read, out-of-the-blue, in bed, an entire six weeks of missed daily Bible.com quotations posted to my phone by a well-wisher in Jamaica.
Renato waving me goodbye?
I won’t know, but I will never forget the last time we spoke (before COVID and my terrible accident).
He’d accompanied me to the gate with my extra takeaway order and I promised that ‘next time’ I’d bring a music CD of Frank Sinatra to play inside while I smoked a Cohiba (Cuban cigar) outside.
‘That’ll be the day,’ he responded, in his typically pleasant but always careful, non-committal way.
As soon as my friend hung up, I downloaded and played all the You-Tube versions I could find of Frank Sinatra’s everlasting hit ‘My Way’ — and heartily sang-along the best I could, in tribute to how Renato also did it: His way, all the way, until his final day.