“Hey, mister! Can I pet that dog?” asked a kid fresh off the cruise ship, pointing to the old golden lab lying in the corner of the beach bar.
“I don’t know, kid,” I replied. “That’s not my dog.”
Not willing to give a response of his own, the dog snoozed in the sand beneath a plastic table, finding what shade he could in the scorching Bahamian sun.
The child might have been ten years old, and he was the first American stranger I had encountered in months. William, the third of his name, hailed from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. His father, William Jr., sidled up to the bar and, mistaking me for a regular, asked if the local beer was any good.
“It’s a lager,” I responded. “Just like every other island beer in the world.”
“I prefer Jack Daniel,” William Jr. intimated. “You reckon they have that here?”
“Hey!” William asked the bartender. “You got any Jack back there?”
Getting a response in the negative, William decided to place his next drink in the hands of the Fates. “Just give me something strong,” he said and walked away minutes later, sipping on a Bahama Papa. Just like a Bahama Mama, the bartender explained, but stronger.
I had my doubts.
Angela and I had each been to the Bahamas before. But my visit was during a guy’s dive trip in 2017 with our younger son, Ben. And hers occurred years in the past, before we had ever met. So this was our first visit together, and, somewhere during the course of this trip around the world, that shared experience had grown in importance.
To visit every country is a fantastic goal, nearly impossible to achieve. But to see every country together. Through each other’s eyes and with a guaranteed additional perspective. A sounding board for experiences and ideas. Someone to celebrate every joy and help shoulder every misery.
That would be something special, indeed. And it was something we had now resolved to do.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the bar mirror. Long, unruly hair. Unkempt beard. The beginnings of a sunburn. Tired eyes.
It was no wonder William Jr. had mistaken me for a regular. I looked like a windblown expat who had spent years fixed to this barstool. Stranger-come-local. Unable to recognize myself.
And that made me smile.
I had always said that this trip would change us. And, here at the tail end of it, I realized just how accurate that prediction had been. How could we ever return? How could we ever explain who we now were? How could we ever express what we must now do with the rest of our lives?
I needed something stronger than beer.
“You know,” I said to the bartender. “I think I’ll have one of those Bahama Papas.”
“Good choice!” she exclaimed with a grin, and the grizzled old lab looked up at her voice.
“So, is it okay if I pet that dog?” I added.
“I don’t know, sir. That’s not my dog.”