In the storm
I awoke to the sound of rain. I lay and listened to its insistent drumming drowning out the sound of the crickets who chirp and chatter all night long. I got up out of bed, pulled apart the drapes and watched sheets of water pouring down. It pummeled the ground and deck and patio furniture soaking everything it touched.
I slid open the sliding door and felt the moist dampness of early morning caress my face. I stepped outside and watched the downpour from beneath the safety of the overhang of the roof above. The air was thick with moisture. The world beyond the safety of the balcony a wet and dripping cacophony of water pouring down, grey skies pressing to earth and a gunmetal sea flowing endlessly into the grey and soggy horizon.
It was beautiful to watch and just as lovely to return to the cool white sheets of bed and listen to the noise outside. I lay awake and listened while C.C. slept oblivious to nature's fury pouring down.
And then the rain stopped. The crickets let out one last volley of sound before fading into morning light and I lay quietly listening. Waiting.
It was morning and the day had begun. I came downstairs, turned on the coffee, opened the doors and let the morning in.
Bassifus, the compound guard greeted me as I opened and latched one of the door panels to the wall.
"Good-morning, ma'am," he said in the lilting sing-song voice of the island, his face wreathed in a toothy smile. "I hope you sleep well. I keep house safe."
"Good-morning," I replied. "Did you get wet?"
"No, ma'am. I seek refuge in the storm. But I always watching." And he smiled again, lifting a short baseball shaped club that he held in his right hand. "No one come when I'm on duty."
I thanked him for keeping us safe, he bid me good-day and continued his rounds.
There are four houses in this complex. Four graceful abodes whose lawns sweep down to the edge of the sea. There is little beach where land meets ocean. There used to be several feet of beach, Lia tells me. But time and global warming and other unknown causes have brought the water closer to the land, wiping out the strip of beach that once connected this end of Holetown to the other.
Yesterday, Tammy and I swam to Holetown, stepped out of the water and walked along the beach wishing we'd brought some cash to stop for an 'Island punch' at one of the classy restaurants we passed. Welcoming beacons of sustenance to hot and sunburnt tourists, they line the beach, their umbrellas unfurled, white clad waiters slipping amidst tables draped in white, their dark skin merging into the shadows, they look like ghosts serving drinks and food to the guests whose presence make their island life possible.
We passed upscale hotels where bodies lay upon blue and green cushioned chairs, their white flesh turning every colour under the sun. A brown-skinned man lay apart from the crowd, reading a paper. Unlike the other sun worshippers we'd passed, he didn't smile, just briefly glanced up to watch us walk past and then quickly lowered his eyes back to his book. I wondered if he kept himself apart because he was neither black nor white. If, by some unwritten code of beach ethics, he knew the structure of the community and did not want to tempt the ire of the masses of white-skinned tourists frolicking in the sun and the dark-skinned locals who hawked boat rides and water-skiing excitement to passers-by.
Life is visible everywhere we greet it, in all its complexities and inexplicable forms. Perhaps, rather than being conscious of his East Indian birth, he was simply desiring time apart, alone, far from the maddening crowd.
We passed by and kept on walking, the sun hot against our quickly drying skin.
We passed an upscale boutique hotel, its beach littered with sun-bathers and children playing in the surf. Beside it, a pockmarked lime green house of dubious strength, sagged on its foundation, tilting precariously towards the sand. Its grilled windows were opened. Signs of habitation littered its porch. Towels. Beach wear. A bucket. I wondered who lives there. Their every step slanted downwards in gravity's inevitable drag pulling them off-center, closer and closer to the shifting sands beneath the home's tired, wornout facade. What tales could that house tell of life at the edge of the sea?
Another hotel. More sun-worshipping tourists. English voices, rounded vowels, flattened vowels, vowels of every rural distinction cluttered the air. And with each word, the universal sound of joy. Laughter.
There is no definition, no discernible cultural pedigree to laughter. It exists in standalone and continuous volleys of joy that lift the spirits and the hearts of those who share in its enjoyment. Loud laughs. Soft laughs. Belly laughs. Horsey laughs. Giggles and more.
All around us on the beach laughter drifted in and out like the surf ebbing and flowing on a continuous wave of motion as Tammy and I kept walking.
The sand hot beneath our feet, we passed the canal where at night white cranes perch in the hundreds upon dense green foliage that lines the water in a riot of texture and tone on tone infused shrubbery. From surfside looking in, it is a bucolic scene. Still, silent water. Deep, dark greenery drooping towards its surface. A bridge further up carrying cars back and forth, horns honking in the cacophony of sound that is part of island life.
I have seen this scene from the other side, looking down. Walking across the bridge towards town. The water reddish brown and brackish. Littered with refuse and wrought iron piping left over from some other time. It is not pretty from the bridge. Not a sight to please the eyes. And still the birds come. Still they arrive every evening to perch upon the green leaves of the trees that will be their resting place for the night, their white bodies hanging like tiny white baby blankets strung haphazardly on a clothesline, here and there a bride's veil tossed aside in the throes of wedded passion.
Like being a tourist on an island. We fly in. Soak up the sun and sand and island rum and rest for a week or two, before flying off again to lands far away. We step onto the tarmac from the silver bullet that carried us in anticipation to this island haven, toss off our city clothes and don the finery of island life. We shed our cares and worries to claim a little piece of paradise as our own, carving out memories of a special respite from the harried schedules and 'must do' lists of our daily existence.
Like the crane's resting-place seen from the ocean's shore, the world appears beautiful and bucolic. We soak up the sheer wonder of this place from the idyllic perspective of our sun-starved eyes, reveling in the soothing blanket of ease and comfort that envelopes us as we play and laugh along the ocean floor, catered to and cared for by the people who call this island home.
And all around us, their lives are at work. Serving. Washing. Cleaning. Caring for. Guarding over. Taking care of.
We smile and greet them. Sometimes learn their names. The children they've born. The lives they've left behind on other islands when they came to this island to find refuge from some other stormy place far away.
We learn a little of their lives sharing little bits of ours. And then we leave to be replaced by other faces, mostly white, who come to soak up a little island fun and sun and even rum.
It is the cycle of life on an island where the currency of tourists fuels employment and trade. Our dollars become the inexorable pull of a tantalizing dream of freedom from servitude. And yet, where slavery once shackled these soft and gentle people to a master not of their choosing, there is little choice on this island paradise but to serve the tourists who flock like cranes to rest upon the soils of their home and native land.
What price freedom?
Heavy thoughts on a not so blue sky day. Clouds have rolled in once again. A stiff breeze blows through the ferns and trees lining the yard. The air is warm, mystery is afoot.
I'm on island time awash in the wonder and the magic and the dichotomy of a tropical paradise where my life touches those who serve me and their lives enrich mine with the warmth of their greeting and the grace of their care.
Nameste. I'm off for a swim.