Everything else had changed around the island: the main streets were paved, the faces were so unfamiliar. All that wonderful fun she had had with amazing people, through the haze of alcohol and cigarette smoke – faded. The air had cleared and what she was left with she didn’t like the sight of. Bartenders had changed, bars had disappeared, shopkeepers’ smiles had faded – her favorite shops had also been taken over by monolithic cement piles.
Her reflection also showed change: lines settled in permanently, her roots needed more touching up than usual, that weight she kept trying to shift suddenly made its way to her middle. Her wetsuit outlined this severely her first dive out, and did not stop being merciless for every dive since. She was back for a few weeks and even her apartment had that sad, abandoned quality the island seemed to radiate. Perhaps it didn’t help that she came back during the slow season – but there was certainly an air of finality, a last breath before settling into the inevitable: ruin.she had missed. That much was still around – although prices had certainly changed for the worse. And all the time, she kept her eyes open, her neck swiveling to find the sight of the one who made such an impact in her life she vowed never to come back. Yet here she was, and like the fool she believed in her heart of hearts to be, she held some sort of hope. Now, he drove away, passing by her, the splash of the last puddle hitting her at the ankles.
He winced and looked at her as if to apologize. The look on his face was laughable – shock and fear, followed quickly by just plain recognition. She smiled wryly and gave a half wave. She kept walking away, and while his car slowed slightly, she kept her back to the vehicle. Already she felt like her decision was the right one – she kept walking.
Back in her room, she paid the girl she’d seen growing up on the beach selling bracelets and all manner of other things. Now tall and gangly, and ripe for ruin herself, she managed to hold off the inevitable by getting herself hired as babysitter. There he was, her six-year-old baby curled up on the sandy sheets, obviously passed out after a hectic afternoon of beaching and sandcastle building. His wispy brown hair fanned out in a glorious nimbus of curls, his caramel colored skin glowing healthily from all the sunshine he was enjoying. He never had to worry about getting a tan – he had been born tan, product of a most ridiculous fling one summer seven years ago.
For ages, she had wondered why she bothered, why keep this child when it was obvious his father wanted nothing to do with him. She had tried to figure out a way to remain on the island that, in her fecund state, seemed to offer so much possibility. He had went along with her dreams, feeding her little morsels of “yes” and “it will work”, keeping her as long as her ticket extension would last, then, when she was ready to make the inevitable choice, to stay and make the final leap into an uncharted life, he disappeared.
Having decided to make the final call to cancel her ticket and begin the long process of figuring out her extended stay – what was she thinking?! – she took a long walk down the beach. Already, she had begun her conversations with the little being inside her. She spoke of the fun they would have, and how much he would love the island, running down the beach and growing up half naked most of his life. Freedom. For something so final, all she felt was freedom: freedom from the frenetic rat race, the constant worry about the latest gadgets, the latest cars, the best jobs, and the pay raises. Not thinking, drunk on the possibility of making things work where she had no solid, positive example to follow, she opted to stay on to make it work for a few months.
She had stood out on the water, feeling sand between her toes, the warm foamy water trickling and wrapping around her ankles. Despite the early hour, the sun already blazed a white hot heat. She saw a school of sardines flit by just a few feet away, and above her, gulls and frigate birds soared and dipped. Like a fool, she had fallen for the romanticized notion of running off to an island and living like the natives. Satisfied with her decision, she had walked back to the cabaña she had rented a few weeks after her hotel fees didn’t seem practical. She ducked under the funky stairs at the front and walked up the few steps to her little room. The door was slightly ajar, so she merely walked in and headed to the bedroom where she had left him sleeping. He wasn’t there.
Thinking he was at the shop down the street, she brewed herself some tea. Everything was better with a cup of tea – at least, her English senses said so. Surprisingly, the little bugger inside her wasn’t causing any problems. She would have hardly known had it not been for her rigid schedule - and the break in said schedule. She drank her entire cup of tea then stood to pour more. She walked around her little place, wondering what would be the arrangements once she stayed on. She had seen his apartment, and had a basic idea of what he did as a guide running his own show. They would have to move somewhere a bit bigger, better for the baby when he or she finally arrived. She wondered if she could be a guide too – there were so many questions, yet all she needed was to tell him what she had decided.
By the time she finished her third cup of tea, her bladder screaming at her to stop, she knew he wasn’t coming back. That he had never headed out to the shops to pick up the sweet bread that she loved so much. There was no possibility of the romantic guiding couple with a local baby, taking tourists out to dive and snorkel. A fool. That’s what she was – a pure and simple fool who fell for the biggest game in the playbook.
As the clouds swallowed the tiny plane up into the sky, she closed her red-rimmed eyes, refusing to cry any more. She had done enough of that while she grabbed most of her items and made the call to confirm her flight back home. She was done, and never coming back.
Now seven years later, she ignored her promise and was back. And she wasn’t sure what she was here for.
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