Caribbean Tale

On the island of
Sint Maarten

From the sea, miles to the west, you see the island rising steep and green.  At night the ocean looks black.  Swells run wide and high.  At night on that sea around the island, the silver lights of stars define wind-whipped wavelets that texture the rolling waters.  Atop of the highest peak on the island, you see miles away a radio tower with lights.  If you are a pilot of a plane with 230 once-in-a-lifetime vacationers on board you will veer around those lights and so the peak will not reach up and knock you out of the heavens.

Even on foot, if you should be so brazen and energetic as to climb up there before sunset and decide to stay the night, you will be safe.  The lizards are small. The mosquitoes are few and the natives are of generosity spirit.  This sweetness, even they would lose in the cities where the tourists work, to earn the luxury of a vacation on an island as untroubled as this one.
If the next day, your boat enters the harbor, you tie up and go beyond the docks and past the last big hotel, you come to beach the color of the breasts of northern women who never sunbathe topless.  There you will find seashells.  The water is cool and sweeps gently over small rocks and up the slope of crushed coral that looks just like sand.  Stand in the water and see your feet pulled apart into fragments of light. It is hot every day here and the water is always pleasant.
Big trees shade the shore between the beach and a gravel road.  One tree that fell years ago is a gaunt wood skeleton in the sun. When it rains the fantastic dead tree takes on dark streaks. When it rains, the dense curtain of drops hide the hill with the radio tower.  The drops pock the puddles in the gravel road and the salty wavelets at your feet, and as far to sea as your eyes can see.
Beside the beach, two brown boys wrestle on the wet grass together.  Grown men stand, hands on hips and laugh at them, remembering how it is to be eight or nine and to run loose all day wearing nothing but cut-off pants.  Across the road, the brightly painted signs on the restaurants and stores look darker in the rain.  The sun comes out and the signs glisten.          Some people, even here, are too busy to turn and look at the rainbow.  Or perhaps they’ve had their fill of rainbows and prefer to think about food.
Or they are watching the girl in the turqoise turban who walks beneath the red bougainvillea, on her way to the bakery. She goes several times every day, and again to buy fruit.

If you follow her inside, you will smell fresh bread, and see fantastic delicate pastries, and the ice cream in the freezer.  The big glass door is heavy for her to push open with her arms full of bread and fruit.  You can walk behind the girl in the turban, smelling her sweet perfume, astonished at the grace of a healthy woman’s walk, even up the rough path and down along the beach toward the small hotel, built in the embrace of the cove.
Older women come down to the beach by twos and by threes now, the children running ahead.  The men come along too, solo or in groups.  One man carries a guitar and is singing.  The sun is hot on their backs.
At five o’clock, a hundred Adventists gather near the biggest tree for a baptism. The two pastors arrive, wearing dark suits, starched white shirts and black ties.  Each carries a briefcase.  They remove their shoes and socks and talk together near the public dressing shelter.  Women in stylish, bright colors talk in groups.  Two teenaged girls, leaning on the skeletal tree, trade shoes and giggles.
Down at the little hotel on the cove, a pink-faced American of sixty sits alone at the bar.  A heavy black woman is mixing a drink for him.  He stares out to sea, at the white caps near the point.  The wind is picking up.  New rain clouds have blown in.
A slender Frenchman dives into the pool, leaving the board bouncing on its pedestal.  He comes up at the far end of the pool, his black hair falling in his eyes, and grabs the coping.  A young woman in a red shirt, white shorts and white tennis shoes walks through the lobby twirling a large, iridescent leaf in her left hand.  The Frenchman watches her.
She stops at the wrought iron rail above the beach, puts one hand on the rail and lets the leaf spin down onto a rock.  Behind her, in the garden by the pool the yellow trumpet flowers are tossing in the wind.  The palms rustle.  A bumblebee attempts to alight on a moving yellow petal.  The bee gives up and flies toward the young woman.  She watches it coming with interest. It vanishes and then she screams.
Shocked by the scream, the American at the bar knocks his glass off onto the tile.  The bartender shouts angrily.  The Frenchman climbs out of the pool and runs toward to woman who screamed, cuts his bare foot on the glass and cries out in agony.  The two boys who were wrestling on the grass by the beach run up the steps to see, as the sky bursts open.
The woman in the turquoise turban, who had stopped to watch the baptism while she carried bread and fruit back for the hotel cooks, hurries up the stairs with her arms full.  A pastor and seven newly baptized parishioners follow her up to the terrace, to get out of the rain.  The pastor comforts the young woman who dropped the leaf.  She has been stung on the inside of the thigh.  He wants to see.
The girl in the turban puts cocktail napkins on the Frenchman’s foot, talking with him, expressing her sympathy, undismayed by the blood.  The bartender asks if the Frenchman would like a drink.  One of the baptized women discovers that one of the boys in cutoffs, hiding behind the bar, is her son missing since church this morning.  She launches her angry shouts at him.  He runs out into the pouring rain, followed by his pal.  They run along the beach until they vanish in the heavy downpour.
More parishioners come up from the beach to get out of the rain.  The bartender sees among them her ex-husband with her old guitar, which he took when he left.  Annoyed, she spills a glass of scotch she’d poured for the Frenchman.  The whiskey sprays over the pastor who has come behind the bar to get a towel for the cut foot. The big bumblebee alights on a leaf that has fallen on a rock above the beach.  The wind lifts the leaf and drops it into the waves a few feet from shore.  A fish snaps up the bee.
The rain clouds move away and the radio tower appears once more.  Off to the west, out over the ocean, the big drops pock the waves for miles, until the last cloud is spent.  It’s almost dark now.  Soon the silver stars shine through a thin mist to make silver patterns on the wrinkled surface.  From out here, your boat rushing away on the wind, you can see the outline of a green island where nothing at all ever happens.


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