Another Day In Paradise
Generally, Bert had been a lucky guy. He’d had a good life: steady, well-paid job, beautiful wife, big house. No kids by choice, they’d been the original DINKS of the eighties. On top of that, he was lucky to have retired early, at fifty-five. At his leave party, co-workers harmonized, “We could never afford to live in the Caribbean.While you’re lounging on the beach all day, clipping coupons, we’ll still be hard at work in this office. You lucky stiff!”
And starting life over again in a tropical paradise might have been the perfect ending—if Sheila had shared his dream. After a slow six months, she’d packed up and shipped off, saying, “I can’t exist like this any more, with nothing
to do. We’re only retired from paid work, not waiting to die. I have to get out of here and start living again. You don’t see how pathetic you’ve become. For God’s
sake, do something with yourself!”
Things might have been better, had she stayed. But then some would say he was lucky to lose her, she’d become such a nag. Now that he’s a bachelor again, Bert does spend many days lazing around on those sandy, sun-kissed beaches, but, for the most part, he’s bored out of his
mind, refusing to admit his luck may have finally run out—in fact, too stubborn to face the truth of what he’s become, or even to desert the dream altogether,
returning to his old life.
This day was no different than the string preceding it. He was anticipating the upcoming tourist season, and all the paste-white bodies that would eventually join him on these empty beaches, filling restaurants and bars, and the old acquaintances who would alleviate his boredom—at least for a few months’ time.But those visitors would only offer the same talk about the same rehashed subjects, just like the previous season.
Sheila had been right. Bert needed to do something. He couldn’t go on like this, latching onto anyone who happened to glance his way, hoping to strike up a conversation, finding momentary companionship. He’d spent most of the morning at Lower Bay, prone on a towel. A book by Grisham hadn’t maintained his interest; it lay to one side, abandoned.
I think I’ve already read this, he mused. It sure sounds the same. Had he said that out loud? Now he wasn’t even sure if he was talking to himself. Worse would be if he began answering.
There were still two months before the hordes arrived. It wasn’t even Canadian Thanksgiving yet, his favorite holiday as a boy, growing up in Bishop Lane. He could still smell the pumpkin cookies his mother usually made - his favourite. “Albert!” she’d holler, mad because he’d steal a handful then run outside to gulp them down before playing in the crisp fall wind, a hint that winter and snow were just around the corner. There was wind in the Caribbean—usually too much or never enough—but you couldn’t call it crisp. At least there was never snow. Bert hated winter, but missed the fall weather: Sweaters, football, the smell of burning leaves. That was a whole lifetime away. Sitting up, he dusted sticky sand from his hot arms and scanned the beach,still the only soul there. A boat tacked into the bay, its mainsail flapping like a long, striped skirt billowing in the wind. Only two other boats were moored there.
Business had been slow since the previous Easter. Too slow. Bert was lucky it wasn’t necessary to have to eke out a living from tourism. His retirement package had been more than enough to provide a comfortable life. No need to supplement.
Squinting up at the brilliant sky, Bert then glanced back down towards the horizon and gazed at the endless sea. The sun was above the yardarm. Time for a drink.
He wasn’t an alcoholic… at least, not yet. He’d been lucky in managing to avoid the habitual gatherings of several other retired ex-pats at a local seedy rum shop—the “office,” they called it—knowing that, if he gave in, finally accepting
their repeated invitations, he’d soon be on a slippery downward slope. But he might begin considering the possibility if no other prospects came along.
stranger to his old life, and would have a hard time fitting into Canada again—if he ever considered going back.
Standing up, Bert stretched his arms overhead, then swung them around like a windmill. The breeze was beginning to pick up and it blew sand into his face, as well as scattering dry leaves around his feet. He turned his back and a
large almond tree leaf hit him, fastening itself exactly to the spot where the hair thinned on top of his head. He reached back and peeled it off, releasing it to the wind.
Bert turned around. A young village girl was striding towards him,carrying a towel that partially hid a small baby, wrapped up as though it were a precious gift.
“You funny,” she giggled, passing in front.
"Wait, don’t go,” Bert said, anxious for any company. “May I look at the baby?” The grinning child appeared too simple-minded to be capable of caring for such a small infant.
“Yes, please.” She stopped and uncovered a boy’s silent face; large brown eyes stared at Bert.
“Is this your brother? What’s his name?”
“No, he mine. He name Shakil. We goes for a sea bath.”
Bert frowned surprise. A claim of maternity from someone so young? Not unusual in the Caribbean, but Bert had his doubts about this particular girl. He said, “Do you think that’s a good idea? Your baby seems too little to go into the sea.”
“We’s alright. I a good swimmer. I takes care of he.”
Bert wasn’t as confident. “Maybe I should swim with you, just to make sure.” He had never liked children, but that didn’t mean he could allow these two to enter the water, unsupervised. "Okay.” She sat the baby down on the sand, still wrapped in its towel, and began stripping off shirt and shorts, revealing a hand-me-down bathing suit with an unravelling hole just above the waistline. Kneeling, she opened the towel, plucked out the naked boy, then stood up.
She ran to the water’s edge before Bert had a chance to think, but, in a few paces, he was next to them, ankle-deep.
The young mother stepped forward and squeezed the baby so tight against her chest that his eyes popped out as he stared over her shoulder at Bert. Both children squealed excitement while they were being bounced in the surf.
Bert’s concern was now bordering on panic. “I really think you should give him to me.”
The waves were increasing in size. Where the girl stood the depth was only a few feet, but, even that close to shore, the current was strong. A wave slapped the children; strands of the girl’s long, beaded braids stuck to her face as well as to the baby’s head, so the two looked as though they were already surrounded by seaweed. Bert moved closer, the better to grab them, if need be.
From behind, further up on the beach, a voice shouted, “Ula! Ula! What you does?” The girl and Bert both turned to look. A big woman was breaking through the bush that lined the road. She ran towards them, but stopped short at the
water’s edge. “You comes here! You brings dat baby!”
“He mine!” Ula cried, turning to take another step out from the shore, just as a large wave smacked her in the face, drenching the baby as well. He began howling.
Bert reached out and gripped Ula’s arm before she could escape. She dropped Shakil, then opened her mouth wide and began a panicked screaming. Ducking down, Bert fished the baby out from under the water’s surface, bobbing
back up a split-second later. Holding Shakil above chest level, he pushed through the water onto the shore, the baby coughing and spluttering in his arms. He handed the shivering child to the woman who stood with tree-trunk legs rooted in the sand, her wide arms holding open the towel. She immediately wrapped Shakil back up like a package.
Ula slowly walked out of the sea.
“What you thinks, girl! You crazy? My grand-baby too small for dat! You no deserves he. I gonna gives you licks,” the woman said, holding up a meaty, flat hand. Ula grinned, open-mouthed. Bert said, “The baby is okay, isn’t he?”
Attempting to defuse the situation, he reached over to pull the towel away from Shakil’s face. The boy had stopped choking and was now settled into a steady cry. The woman’s hand lowered to tightly re-secure the towel. Then she turned away, not allowing Bert to touch her grandson.
Over one shoulder, she spat out, “Dis no your business.” She marched towards the road, shouting, “Come, girl! Dat’s what gets you in trouble already, talking to a strange man.”
In the meantime, Ula had dressed. She took off at a run, following her mother. Then she stopped and turned, walking the few steps back to face Bert again. Flashing a big gap-toothed smile, she stretched out a small hand and said,
“T’anks, Mister.” They shook. “You’re welcome. Lucky I was here to help you. But what were you…”
She turned immediately, running again to catch up, ignoring Bert’s further plea of, “Wait!” He watched them disappear, his jaw set in anger. He ruminated for a moment, more furious with himself than with either the mother or daughter.
Turning around, he stared at the endless, boring sea. It really was time for that drink—a good strong one.
Then he would phone Sheila, conceding that maybe she had been right
after all. He picked up his towel, book and clothes, and walked down the beach to the bar.
Thank you Susan for joining us once more here on The Scribbler.
Please visit next week and read my latest short story - Mr. Warrakoo. In Australia during the first part of the 20th century, half caste children were forcibly removed from their homes. A whole generation that was referred to as the Lost Children. Imagine if one of them came to Canada.