On this settee where I sit, red clay tiles beneath my feet, mahogany overhang above, the rich and lush green of the garden rolls gracefully out to a sweeping view of the ocean beyond. Birds twitter all around, a mongoose rustles through the hedge and in the ficus tree, a green monkey chatters.
He was on the lawn yesterday. This green faced cheeky devil who, if given a chance, will steal your sunglasses, or anything shiny off your chaise. He loped easily across the lawn. Leaped up onto the fence and stared towards us where we sat chatting and laughing in this space where I am sitting now. We watched him. He watched us. Bored, he shook a tiny paw at us before leaping up to grab a long spindly root hanging down from the ficus tree. He disappeared into the leaves above, the only evidence of his departure, the chatter of his scolding voice as he climbed up, out of sight of our inquisitive eyes.
Just like the man who climbed over the wall, up to the second deck where the sleeping quarters are yesterday afternoon.
It was before the storm that blew in on a breath of ferocious wind and blew itself out just as speedily. Before the rain that sheeted down, emptying the sky of moisture, drenching the foliage and the outdoor furniture with water and before the bottle of wine fell out of the fridge inviting the mongoose to wander into the living area to check out what was so enticing to its olfactory nerves.
The man was dark-skinned. Skinny Tammy said. Wearing a cotton shirt. She is the 40 something daughter of our hosts from Calgary. She was upstairs taking a nap in the heat of the afternoon.
I had just left with C.C. for a walk along the beachfront. I too had been upstairs -- working -- in our bedroom. After three hours of finishing off the funding proposal I must submit before noon on Wednesday, a break sounded delightful. C.C. wanted to walk. I wanted to go with him.
It was hot.
So, when the door to her bedroom slid open, Tammy thought it was her bedroom partner, Jack coming in from the heat. The bedrooms are air-conditioned, offering a nice respite from the constant heat.
Tammy and Jack are not a couple. Just good friends. Originally a friend of her parents, the couple who invited us all here to spend this two weeks in paradise, like us, they've formed a friendship through time. This house belongs to friends of her parents. Andy used to be President of one their companies. A big one. This house was made available to them for years to entertain their largest clients. Now, they are occasionally afforded its use, just for fun.
And it is fun.
Except for the man who snuck in while Tammy was sleeping.
The sliding open of the door had awoken her. Groggy. Her mind still seeped in slumber, her body facing away from the door, she debated letting him know she was awake. She didn't want him to think he'd disturbed her. She was facing away from the door, lying beneath the covers of the twin bed on the far side of the room.
When she heard the man rustling about in the room, she sleepily rolled over and asked, "Jack?"
There was a momentary stillness and then the man spoke. She doesn't remember what he said. She thinks he was trying to lull her back to sleep. To get her to relax her guard.
She knew something was wrong. Her intuition prompted her and she listened.
She rolled over, saw the shadowy figure of a man and knew immediately it wasn't Jack anyone else she knew. Startled, not yet feeling the fear, she called out, "What are you doing?
He was standing by the bedside table closest to the door. The table on which sat Jack's wallet, sunglasses, camera case, IPOD and clutter of small items that had nowhere in particular to be but where he left them within easy reach.
The man stood in the dark, the sun slipping through a crack he'd made in the white drapes as he entered the room.
She wasn't sure who was more startled, him or her. But, upon seeing her start to quickly get up out of bed, he darted back through the still open door, bolted over the balcony onto the retaining wall, leaped onto the roof of the front porch, down to the ground and quickly vanished into the shrubbery beyond.
Just like the monkey.
And like the cheeky monkey earlier that afternoon, he didn't get anything of value. Didn't even have time to pick up Jack's wallet before bolting.
Tammy raced through the open door, watched him disappear, ran down the stairs into the house, screaming out for help.
It was too late. The man was gone stealing nothing but what was most valuable to her -- her peace of mind.
A woman who used to be a professional in Edmonton but now resides here in Barbados, a friend of a friend of Jack's, arrived later to take those who wanted to go to play tennis.
She's lived her fourteen years. She knows the island and its peoples and its ways. "They're always watching you," she said. "Always on the lookout for an opportunity. Their intent is not to harm. Just to grab what they can and run. They're opportunists and tourists give them lost of opportunity."
It is the way of an island where tourists arrive in bleary eyed wonder, lulled into complacency by the heat and the rhythm of the waves lapping at the shore. The 'guests' are not consciously watching, thinking about danger. They're mostly thinking about fun.
It is the watchers, those unseen eyes all around, who are constantly watching, waiting, hoping.
And sometimes, they take a chance and discover an open door waiting to be explored.
It was a good wake-up call for all of us. To be safe, lock all doors. And while it is horrendous that Tammy had to experience it, we are all grateful nothing untoward happened. It's a reminder that while we are in paradise, we are prey for those who would use paradise indiscriminately.
We're grateful it happened at the beginning of our stay. We had already lulled ourselves into feeling complacent about leaving cameras and laptops and ipods lying around.
Ann, one of the staff, had told us not to worry about locking the bedroom doors while we're in the house. There's a security guard walking the property at night, she said. During the day, there's enough activity to deter someone from entering. except on Sunday's when there is no activity in the neighbourhood, no gardener or pool man or traffic -- and yesterday was Sunday.
Now everyone is aware. The upstairs doors will always be locked and we won't leave valuables lying around the sitting areas. Even in a gated community like this one, there are ways to enter unseen and leave just as surreptiously.
The police came but no one heard the ringing of the bell at the gate. They called later and we asked them to come back today. There's not much they can do, but it is reassuring to know that they do want to get the particulars and are eager to follow up.
As for Tammy, she's shaken but not stirred. She's strong and amidst people who love her and will protect her. And, as she said, she's so glad she's got a sleeping partner whose bed is closest to the door!
Lessons from paradise -- It's not always sunny and sometimes, the surface calm can be disrupted by those who have nothing to lose and everything to gain through our complacency.
And beneath the angst of 'what happened' is the truth of what is happening. We are six friends enjoying ourselves in the heat and mystery of a tropical island. Spending time with people we love, laughing, sharing, teasing and having fun!
Life is good. Life is grand. Life is paradise sitting on a patio, hearing the waves lapping at the shoreline, the whisper of the fronts stirring in the gentle morning breeze, watching a mama mongoose and her two little babies wander in and out of the lawn furniture just a few feet away.
Life is sweet.