ISLAND

As one of the older girls I was sent to school on the larger island; a place where you could be as far inland as not to realise the sea was there, lapping at the shore where tourists would drape their costumed bodies over deckchairs in the sand.  Every six weeks, or for religious holidays we were packaged up and shipped back with chickens and baskets of breadfruit back here to where we were born.

Each time I come back I feel a little bit more lost, more foreign.  The first return I embraced the familiar with every gesture, my whole body reconstituting itself.  The next time the place had become curious, the irrational way in which things were done just because they had been done that way before pricked at my sides and now the very presence of this village cowering low under the mountains: its refusal to grow tall with, ridicules me.

On the first morning back Sela, my sister was waiting for me in the kitchen.  I could hear her humming as I came down the stairs.  The eleven steps from first floor to the kitchen were cold; this was because today the sun stayed outside of the house.  The air this morning was thin as if we lived at the top of a mountain, but we lived down at the level of the sea.   The coldness and the thin air combined to make it hard to breathe.  My lungs felt pressed upon and were probably turning a pale shade of blue.

Sela was sitting at the table peeling an orange, and the sunny countenance of this fruit washed away any sense of foreboding that was building in between my temples.

I walked with Sela to the sea.  This was just something we did for no reason, only today she wanted to show me where last week they had buried the baby goat.

I wanted to ask her and everyone on this island why the beach, but I knew why, because that is what you did when an animal was too small to eat, dig down by the sea, past the crabs, so that the animal too small for this world could have an easy route to heaven. This is what you were supposed to do.

As we walked Sela still had a blue haze around her the kind that accompanied these events of misfortune; she had probably remained in shades of blue since last week.  It still lingered in a few places around the house, in the corners and on stairs.

The way to the sea was a dusty path left in between two rows of houses.  At one end a stray dog slept.

Half way down Sela produced a packet of cigarettes

“Since when did you smoke?”

Her head just cocked to one side as she lit up and the smell of liquorice infused tobacco was added to the blue fug.  The shiny green black dung beetles crashed hopelessly in the dust at our feet before rolling around their ball of shit and taking off again.  We carried on in silence to the beach.

We stood for a while at the sandy mound that covered the baby goat that I had never met.  No ceremony, just a necessity on Selas part to show me what had been.

The wind was picking up and the salt gathered in the corners of our eyes, the pressure at sea was building.

Then she moved on, this time with me following.

“Lets go back.  It looks like there is going to be a storm”

Again she looked at me with that head-to one-side-puzzled look.  Of course she knew the weather was rising around us, probably even before she woke up.   When you live on an island as small as this you learn to read the landscape.

“Don’t you want to go for a swim?”

She started up the beach towards the house knowing my answer but then swooped back like a gull and ran for the sea.  She dived in fully clothed, then stood there for a while with water up to her armpits pretending to be a fisherman catching his dinner.

One wet, one dry we continued our walk,

“Good day miss Poli, Good day miss Sela”

“Hows school on that big island of yours?”

The long voices of the village rounded in on our silence until we finally circled back home.

The wind on the beach had signalled correctly and the afternoon sky sagged down low, pressing on the earth heavily.  It was not obvious when the sun set, as the day slipped early into darkness and the rain, at first at sea and then closer until it poured against our windows washed every colour away.  We stayed cocooned within the four walls of our house.

At the beach, at the spot where we had just been, where the little baby goat was buried, the waves beat away at the mound of sand.  The salt heavy water pushed and pulled over the whole shoreline, reshaping it easily; breaking it apart into insignificant and singular grains of sand.  First to be unearthed was one of the hind legs protruding upwards as if the whole carcass had been shifted by the movement of the water rather than the little body being broken apart by the force.  Then in a grotesque gesture the side of the head surfaced from the sand; its eye clouded over and bulging from the socket in horror.  Covered and uncovered and recovered and uncovered until the little goat was wholly received into the surf along with the drift wood and the starfish that had come from the depths of the sea.  During the night its body became turgid with salt water, its stomach swelled with the ocean.  By the morning it had been taken completely.

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