Nothing like a nice, juicy book
THERE IS A BOOKWORM ON BROAD STREET selling apples, grapes, bananas and nuts. This peach of a fruit vendor will tell you that a book a day keeps his boredom away.
Ricardo Francis sets up his tray six days a week, selling all types of fruit and nuts at his customary spot at the top of Broad Street just outside the Barbados Public Workers’ Cooperative Credit Union Limited.
He prefers books to berries.
“If I ever have to go into hospital I don’t want my friends bringing me fruit, I want books,” he advised, laughing heartily.
He does not allow himself to be distracted by pedestrians, motorists, limers or gossipers. He only breaks his reading to serve customers.
“Fortunately, I work for myself and don’t have to answer to anyone so I can read on the job. I also never get bored because reading helps to pass the time,” he said, smiling as he carefully arranged fruit in his tray.
He can finish a book in two days if business is slow, but if it is busy, it will take him a week.
It is 7:50 on Thursday night and this businessman quickly paused the book in which he is engrossed to meticulously weigh and sell a cluster of juicy-looking red grapes. The blue paperback, A Plague Of Secrets by John Lescroart, is propped next to some nuts.
Immediately after a sale, Ricardo anxiously reaches for Lescroart’s gripping prose and easily leafs through the pages, pausing near the middle. He is more than halfway through this thick volume – 500 pages to be exact. He estimated he would be on the last page in less than 24 hours, depending on how business was. After all, bad business is good for reading!
Those who either stroll or hustle by, or drive past this unique merchant at the top of Broad Street, just across from Norman Centre, are accustomed to the sight of Ricardo, who they may not know by name, huddled next to his treasured tray, book in hand, often reading in dim light, awaiting his next customer or his next chapter, whichever comes first.
Ricardo, who lives in Beckles Hill, St Michael, has been selling fruit and nuts for the last 20 years, 12 on that Broad Street spot, and he has been reading for as long as he knew himself.
Always with a book in hand or certainly never far away from his reach, Ricardo recalled that he loved reading from childhood days.
“I loved reading from schooldays. I always preferred reading a book to watching TV,” said the former student of Alleyne School, who was also hooked on Archie magazines growing up.
From primary school days, he was always reading the newspaper and continued that trend into his adult life. “I read the newspaper every day. I grew up in a house where my parents used to buy a paper daily. That is how I know what is happening in the world because I don’t watch TV. It is only recently that I started reading the obits,” he said, smirking.
When he graduated to secondary school, Ricardo was busy reading school texts, especially those that were part of the English literature syllabus, as well as some novels.
With a chuckle, he said: “When I should have been studying for school, I was reading other books”.
Today, Ricardo enjoys reading suspense thrillers. The only forbidden fruit among books are those that are “almost unbelievable”. Rattling off the names of some who were among his harvest of authors, he listed Geoffrey Archer, Robert Ludlum, David Baldacci and John Grisham. Writer Sidney Sheldon was the apple of his eye when he was schoolboy book addict.
He admits that when he picks up books of his chosen authors, it is difficult to put them down. It has only happened once that he could not finish a book, The Painted House by Grisham. But that author redeemed himself for this avid reader and since then he has read Grisham’s The Pelican Brief countless times.
Reading some books more than once is a norm for this man who boasts of reasonably good vision at age 50 although there are times he relies on readers especially at night.
“I read in bad light and I probably damage my eyes, but my vision is still relatively good,” explaining at night he draws closer to the store next door for better lighting to read.
He also always walks with a “spare” just in case he finishes a book ahead of time. “I don’t like to run out”.
Ricardo gets his books from a second-hand store, noting this was more economical for him especially since he moves through so many.
He buys about three books at a time each week and sometimes trades them back in to get more. “Sometimes I trade in about six or so and I can get two more,” he said, beaming.
Ricardo also spoke of the various emotions he sometimes feels when he reads certain books. He remembered a John Grisham book that brought him close to tears because in it, a man was framed for a murder and sentenced to hang. He subsequently died in jail before it was discovered that he was wrongly accused.
Then, there was a true-life story on Mafia man John “Golly” Goddard that brought shock when he read of the hundreds he had killed.
Ricardo knows about the Kindle but insists he will be sticking to the traditional books.
So how many books do you think this well ripened reader has read?
Reminding that he avidly peruses books in season and out of season, he added: “It’s impossible to keep count. I can’t. I just love reading”.
While making a respectable and honest living, Ricardo’s prodigious routine has borne him a tray full of rich knowledge.