She can’t ignore it.
The little red circle on her iPhone is mocking her. “You can’t relax,” it says. “You can’t settle,” it says. “You can’t be at peace,” it says. She looks away and peers absently into the bold sunshine and as she does so, she hits the small button on the side with her little finger and hears the satisfying “click” as the screen turns to black. Yet, she doesn’t even have time to break a grin of gratification before her finger betrays her, touching the button again and, before she can stop herself, hitting the email button to see what emergency could be so important that someone feels they must interrupt her vacation reverie.
Her eyes look through her designer sunglasses and, as she quickly scans the S.O.S. from her office, she sighs and begins typing a response. Eighteen hundred miles of warm Caribbean sea is apparently not enough to keep her troubles from finding her. She leans against a curled palm tree, flip flops burrowed into the sand, and quickly generates the professional response that is expected, that is demanded, from her.
As her fingers breeze lightly across the touch screen, she hears a cry behind her.
She turns, bumping her wide brimmed, straw hat against the side of the palm tree and knocking it into the sand. Her hair now blows freely in the breeze, long strands like silken gold reaching across her sweaty face. She absently brushes it back, and, as she does, she sees him running down the sandy lane that stretches lazily around the bay and that serves as a main street on this barefoot little island.
She sees a little boy with skin the color of rich cinnamon running between the palm trees and the old white box van that now sells roti out of its side window, holding a white string tightly in his fist. His feet are bare and smudged with sugary sand and he has knees that are knocked and knobby, scraped from countless hours and days and years of climbing across the rocky face of the sea or digging into the endless sandy beach. His red t-shirt is crisp and clean and, as he runs, puffs of white sand fly into the air with each step.
What she notices is his smile, as wide and bright as the sun overhead. He is exuberant. He laughs to himself as he runs and his kite flies high above him. It is bright blue and yellow and its tail streams behind him in a series of billowing flags, waving in the breeze that his simple joy has stirred up around him. He runs past Christine’s Bakery, where the smell of freshly baked banana bread wafts lazily past an old yellow shutter, its paint curling up at the edges and peeling off to reveal the old pink shutters that live underneath.
He has no cares, she thinks. No worries. He has no urgent phone calls at 6:00 a.m., no deadlines, no inbox, no pressures. No one demands anything from him or expects the impossible on a daily basis. He wakes, cocooned inside soft white sheets that still smell of warm sunshine where, just yesterday, his mama hung them on the line that stretches across his bare yard, tied on one end to an old hibiscus bush. He has his breakfast of fresh warm bread with mangoes and fried cheese and runs from the dusty porch as his mama sweeps the yard and his wrinkled grandmother smiles as she skins green paw paw to make jellies. He spends his day in the golden sunshine, wrapped in the broad arms of a soft cloth hammock or collecting conch shells, running through the soft sand streets and swimming in the shimmering blue waves. When his blissful day is over, he drifts sleepily along in the sweet night, with only the sound of the tree frogs singing outside his window as the full moon shines overhead, and he dreams his carefree little boy dreams.
His world is unencumbered, passionate and free. A deep and ragged sigh escapes her.
Issiah runs barefoot down the street. He wishes he had his shoes, even though they are just cheap, worn out hand me downs from his cousin, but he can’t remember where he left them. He thinks that dumb dog next door carried them off the porch when he set them out to dry after he finished cleaning the fish. They smelled so bad and had little pieces of scales stuck all over them. Mama yelled when he tried to take them inside. So, as he runs, his feet hurt when they hit the jagged shells and stones that lie half buried in the sand. He wishes he had his shoes. He wishes he had a sidewalk. He wishes he had a bicycle and then he wouldn’t need his shoes or a sidewalk, he could just tie his kite to the end of his shiny, red bike and ride down the street as it fluttered overhead.
He can smell the rich, warm banana bread that drifts out of Christine’s Bakery, and wishes he had a dollar in his pocket. All he had for breakfast was a Johnny cake with ketchup in the early morning dim before he had to run out to meet the fishing boat and drag in the smelly bucket. Without his shoes he can’t run fast enough to keep the kite in the air. Every time he gets some speed going, he hits another sharp shell and stumbles, jerking the blue and yellow kite along behind him, ducking and halting in ungraceful half arcs.
As he runs, he sees a vision before him.
He stretches his neck and sees the girl leaning casually against a palm tree. Her skin is bronzed by the sun and long golden hair blows beautifully across her glowing face. She has a wide, straw hat with a bright pink scarf tied around the middle and her shiny black sunglasses make her look glamorous to him, like a movie star. She is tall and lithe, her sandaled feet making circles in the sand as she taps absently at the cell phone in her hand. A cool drink sits on the picnic table beside her, beads of perspiration dripping down its icy sides.
She is cool and poised, an air of importance floats around her like a billowing cloud. From head to toe, she is polished. He looks at her and knows she had never worn a pair of hand-me-down sneakers from her cousin and that her skin smells of lavender and fresh soap.
She has no cares, he thinks. No worries. She is never awakened at dawn to meet the men on the fishing boat as it hauls in its stinking treasure. She doesn’t have to skin the fish and pull out the cold insides so that Mama can make a fish stew. She has never had to lie awake most of the night, listening to the night sounds as the heat rises from the floor and wraps her body in suffocating stillness, brushing sand from sheets made scratchy from drying hard on the line. She wakes in luxurious silk and linens as a silver tray is set before her covered with fine china dishes of eggs and bacon and sweet, sugary cereals. She pulls on a soft, cotton shirt that has never been pulled off a clothes line by the neighbors’ dog and dragged through the dirt yard. Her day is filled with enormous leather couches covered with soft pillows, television with a remote control, and central air conditioning that delivers delicious coolness with the touch of a button. At the end of the day, she sits in her car, with the cool air blowing across her face and the sweet sounds of the radio buzzing gently in her ear and she orders a Whopper with cheese and a large coke and French Fries that she eats in her car as she drives home. She has money in the bank, clothes in her closet, and food on her table.
Her world is predictable, safe and secure. A long, silent sigh escapes him.
Her eyes meet the eyes of the little boy as he stops in the middle of the sandy lane. She drops her phone to her side and she holds up her hand in a semi-wave as if to say, “Hello.” He waves back.
They both smile, and as she turns the phone off in mid-email and buries it for good in the bottom of her bag, she kicks off her shoes and runs through the sand as he breaks out into an oversized grin and runs exuberantly down the street, a blue and yellow kite fluttering freely behind.