Bri’Land glistened at me, her brilliant display of pink sand shimmering in delight. It would seem that I had finally, on our last day, come around to granting her name the proper pronunciation. We had landed on Harbour Island, but we would depart from Bri’Land.
I shade my eyes, stretch my gaze over the expanse of blue sea spilling away from the pink sand beachfront.
“What’s out there?” I wonder aloud.
“Africa,” my companion responds. “Though I doubt you’ll make it that far. Plenty sharks swim off the shores of The Bahamas, wayward tourists a favorite delicacy.”
A week ago, I might have found her teasing off-putting, would have panicked at the realization that we had been swimming among sharks all this time. But the trip has left me transformed, the sun, the surf, the island breeze cracking open the hardened outer covering I tend to hide within. A protective shell that at this stage in life has burrowed two or three layers deep into the person I claim to be.
Holiday Dreamscape –
The holiday went by like one of those rare dreams where you hadn’t drifted off expecting to dream. The dream had come anyway, entirely of its own accord. You wake wishing to reassemble every precious detail of your dream, to concoct a potion capable of snapping you back in line with this very dream sequence the next time you fall asleep.
Recognizing the limitations on your ability to will your dreams into appearing on command, you traipse through memories of your dream, work to create a semblance of the self your dream has permitted you to observe from the smear of snippets swimming in your head, some recognizable, others wholly manufactured from the life you might have wished to lead. I do the same with recollections of the trip to Bri’Land, venturing with trepidation beyond the doldrums of my carefully constructed existence back home. I caress each moment, played in reverse from that spot on the pink sand beach, my gaze rebounding off Africa.
The Slow Unwind –
We had again eaten tuna sandwiches that day for lunch. Tuna sandwiches, every day without exception since our first full day on Bri’Land.
“You mean to tell me this very fish was swimming in the harbor this morning,” I ask the shop keeper on our initial visit, my OCD activated by the unfamiliarity of my new surroundings, my perpetual sense of dislocation.
“This very fish, here,” he replies.
“Swimming, in the harbor?” I persist.
“What, you think tuna swim in a metal can, show up prepackaged on a shelf inside your local food store?”
The man sends us off with a wave of his hand, tuna salad sandwiched between thick slices of freshly baked bread, the aroma left in the air offering further evidence of the inferiority of prepackaged goods, an island existence making flour and dry yeast much easier to come by than a loaf of some mass-produced wonder bread.
Dinner the night before had descended into a similarly confounding exchange.
“Cracked conch,” I announce across the table.
“I was thinking grouper fingers,” Lucy responds, eying the list of dinner entrées.
“No. I mean, the menu says Crack Conch. It should read Cracked Conch – Eee-dee,” I enunciate through half-clenched teeth.
She again eyes me with the slow blink that I find at once endearing and brimming with contempt, her patience waning. “You mean to tell me you’re not going to eat until you find a menu that matches your sense of grammar? Maybe you should try the conch salad instead.”
Our waiter saunters over, hands at his back, our hushed quarrel having caught his ear. “What you havin’?” he asks.
“Looking to see what’s on the menu,” I reply.
“How about I bring you something,” he offers. “The Crack Lobster is without rival.”
‘Cracked,’ I think to myself. ‘Cracked Lobster – Eee-dee.’
We rinse our food down with a steady supply of rum punch. I take Lucy’s hand in mine on the walk back to our wing of the villa rental she’d arranged, the twinkle of stars overhead fueling my ambitions, the fragrance of Lucy’s skin amplifying my intoxication.
“I have never tasted anything so delectable,” I admit, remarking on the meal.
“Ain’t nevah tyas’t,” she corrects me.
I blink my eyes slowly at her before venturing a kiss. “Ain’t nevah tyas’t,” I agree.
Tourist Guide –
Lucy and I interned together one summer back in Washington, DC, a clash of dueling H-Us (her Hampton University vs. my Howard U). Home beckoned upon her graduation the following spring. She huddled with her auntie and uncle in Nassau for a time then took a position teaching primary school in Harbour Island, following the draw of the more pronounced need. She has since returned to Nassau, having survived a storm surge her third or fourth year into teaching that seemed intent on swallowing Bri’Land whole.
A youth hustles past like he hadn’t meant to cross paths with us, then stops just ahead of us, his intent set most certainly on crossing our path. I brace myself for the exchange, a tattered local offering a barrage of unsolicited begging, some useless trinket in hand, hoping to dupe us out of real money in exchange for a sight-seeing map gotten free from any hotel lobby.
Lucy has been long enough gone to find the return visit nearly as disquieting as I have. Only not so long ago that she no longer recognizes one of her former students.
“Majig, you finish the lesson I left you?”
“I ain’t finish, finish. But I g’on finish,” he replies, falling seamlessly into the ruse, any assignment she’d given nearly a decade overdue at this point. Now gangly in length, he had evidently been her hands-down favorite, his need to be favored equal in size to his moonbeam smile. Done grow is how she described him, eying him from the toes wriggling at the ends of his bare feet to the sun-drenched kink of his knotty, brown hair.
“You gonna get lost, wandering ‘round here unaccompanied,” he says as a way of offering his services as tour guide. I reach for my wallet. He waves me off. “No charge, Mister. Miss Lady, here. She a honored guest,” he tells me, motioning with a ceremonious sweep of his arm for us to proceed up Bay Street.
Hurricane Ways –
I’m dressed in a t-shirt I’d picked up duty-free at the airport in Eleuthera, my chest emblazoned with the Bahamian flag–blue for the ocean, yellow for the sun, black for the strength of the people. It’s the thing the customs agent leaned into me and whispered after stamping my passport, hoping to send me into the world armed slightly less ignorant than the average visitor to his island nation. Lucy had sent me a postcard bearing the same image. Tired of my ducking her repeated invitation, she had written a single word alongside my street address: COME.
Majig proceeds to observe details the average tourist is bound not to fully appreciate: a black and white dog, apparently called Bounce-back in tribute to the years of turmoil he has endured, an elderly gentleman sitting cross-legged overlooking the harbor, watching the mailboat unload all manner of things, from mailbags, to foodstuff and related goods, to passengers laden with what could rightly be all their worldly possessions.
I note every third house plastered over on one side with heavy plastic sheeting. “Renovating?” I ask.
“Surviving,” Majig responds. “Lotta damage left after the last hurricane.”
“But I thought the harbor side was protected from storm winds.”
“A hurricane don’t obey no strict observance of a front-door/back-door way into a place,” he replies. “A hurricane comes and goes as it please.”
We wind through an arrangement of tiny rental cottages, interspersed among a handful of private kitchens, a sign reading take-away hanging crooked at one end above an order window, held open partway. Majig leads us to the top of a small hill. He again sweeps an arm, drawing our attention to the expanse of blue sea edged in pink sand.
“Enjoy your stay, Mister,” he tells me.
I fold a twenty surreptitiously in one hand, lift it between two fingers in his direction.
“Nah, man,” he again tells me. “Miss Lady, here, is our honored guest. Treat her special.”
About the Author
Jedah Mayberry was raised in southeastern CT, the backdrop for his fiction debut. The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle won Grand Prize in Red City Review’s 2015 Book Awards and was named 1st in Multi-Cultural Fiction for 2014 by the Texas Association of Authors. A second book, Sun Is Sky, is due for publication in spring 2020. He is also at work on a sci-fi series featuring a young dark-skinned girl tasked with saving the planet from mankind’s self-destructive ways. In 2018, he completed a Hurston-Wright Foundation workshop in Fiction. His work has appeared at Loose Leaf Press, Linden Avenue, A Gathering Together, Akashic Fri-SciFi Series, and Black Elephant. Jedah resides with his family in Austin, TX.