PENNY JACKSON - ECHO BEACH
Resting at the southernmost point of Montego Bay, Jamaica stood Echo Beach Hotel.
I was eleven years old and sitting on the beach in the shade of a large umbrella with Juliet.
“Gollywogs,” cried Juliet.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“They’re all over. The people who work here. Can’t you see?”
I was from New York. Juliet, also eleven, was from England. Her mother made Juliet wear a thick mask of Coppertone, a white beach robe and a white floppy hat. She looked like a funny ghost.
“Darling,” Juliet’s mother cried in her screechy English accent from her beach chair. Even from this distance, I could smell her coconut suntan oil. “Please leave those poor crabs alone.”
Julie’s favorite activity was gathering hermit crabs from the sea and pulling their twitching bodies out of their shells. I thought this was terrible, but still watched with fascination. At night I had nightmares of Juliet drowning in a sea of pale mutilated shells.
This was the first time Juliet’s family had come to Jamaica, but my fourth. My parents spent their honeymoon there and Echo Beach was their “special” place, always spoken in revered tones.
“Gollywogs,” Juliet said again. “I have dolls at home.”
I had no idea what Juliet was talking about and wanted to leave. My parents kept pushing me to play with her since they spent most of the time at The Cypress bar and slept till noon. To get away from Juliet, I told her I wanted to go swimming. Juliet didn’t know how to swim and sulked back to the hotel.
I walked away to the far side of the beach. The sand burned. The sunlight looked orange but everything looked orange in Jamaica. As I waded through the water, I was mesmerized by the shells and swirling grains of sand, the water lapping at my ankles, until I looked up and I realized I was lost. This part of the beach was empty. Several amber-colored beer bottles littered the sand and a torn pink umbrella was positioned upside down. The sand felt grittier. l knew I wasn’t too far from the hotel because I could still hear the calypso music the band played every noon. Someone was singing my favorite song:
“Good morning Mr. Walker
I’ve come to see your daughter.
Tells me she’s going to marry me.”
A tall man was walking on the beach. He wore a white t-shirt and sunglasses and his hands were thrust in the pockets of his khaki pants. I didn’t recognize him at first but the man was Trevor, the chief bartender at The Cypress Bar at the hotel. My parents spent hours there. I was constantly sulking because disliked being stuck on a stool with a Coke. But Trevor always had kind words for me. He had been born in London but moved to Jamaica when he was my age. Trevor would tell me he never could get rid of his British accent and all the children at school would laugh at him, calling him “Limey.” His accent was different than Juliet’s and her mother’s, more precise yet warmer.
“My dear Claire,” Trevor said. “Whatever are you doing here?”
“Hello Trevor,” I answered.
“Well, this is a coincidence. I was hoping to see you. I’ve just found something for you. And just for you and no one else.”
Trevor took his hand out of his pocket and revealed the most beautiful shells I had ever seen. They were so tiny and white that they reminded me of pearls. He brought his closed fist to my hand and deposited the shells in my palm.
“They’re beautiful,” I told him. I wanted to keep them forever. But I was scared I would lose them.
“Will you keep them for me?” I asked Trevor.
“But this is a present for you.”
Trevor sensed my distress because he opened his hand and I gently pored the shells into his open palm.
“Why aren’t you on the beach?” he asked.
“But this is the beach,” I answered.
“No dear. Hotel guests are not supposed to be here. Did you not read the sign?”
I vaguely remembered seeing bright red letters but had not paid any attention. At the end of the beach was a gate of twisted barbed wire. Beyond that gate I could make out a road with several figures walking slowly in the sun.
“Julie’s horrible!” I suddenly exclaimed.
“And why’s that?”
“She likes to kill crabs. Trevor, what are Gollywogs?”
“Did Juliet say that word?”
“Yes. That’s what she called the people who work here.”
I realized too late that Trevor would be connected too with that name.
Trevor whistled and his eyes narrowed. “My, isn’t she a very English little girl.”
“But what does that mean?“ I asked.
Trevor paused for a moment and then shook his head. He told me to turn around and return to the hotel beach. He had to report to the dining room, change into his uniform and set up that afternoon’s tea. I asked Trevor if I could help but he answered that my mother and father wouldn’t like that at all so I hid in the shadows of a palm tree, watching him walk swiftly across the sand. He even moved differently than the other Jamaicans, his back held straight, his stride determined. Trevor’s fingers were always snapping to an invisible beat I imagined was to the tune of my song: “Good Morning Mr. Walker.”
I did not know where to go or what to do. I didn’t want to see my parents; they were always cranky after they woke up from their afternoon nap and would stay in bed drinking rum and ice until it was time for cocktail hour. The sunburn on my forehead was hurting.
I decided to play with the umbrella I had seen earlier and started dragging it to the edge of the beach near the sidewalk. The umbrella was heavy and I was hot but I was determined to bring that umbrella to the gate. With tremendous effort I picked it up and laid it straight against the barbed wire. Now that gate did not look so ugly anymore. I stood there, admiring my work, when I became aware of another viewer. A little black boy stood only a few inches away from me, wearing only white underpants. His limbs were covered in a thin layer of sand that looked like sugar and almost his whole fist was jammed in his mouth. The little boy walked up to what I thought of as my umbrella and began pulling at it. Incensed that he was taking it, I grabbed the umbrella and hauled it back up again.
“Be careful!” I told the boy in a loud voice. “You don’t want to hurt yourself.”
He stood still for a moment, then seized the umbrella and started tugging at it again. A possessive fury overcame me. How dare this boy take my umbrella? I was surprised by how easy it was to lift him. With a strength that surprised me, I swung him over my left side and watched, stunned, as he fell noiselessly into the sand. I was terrified that he was hurt—that he would start howling, that I would get into trouble. But the boy remained motionless and then began babbling in a quiet even voice. He did not sound upset, though at some points he would raise his voice as if I had said something wrong. I had no idea what to do. Before I knew it, he was running. As I watched him take off, I saw in my mind how my day would unfold, boring hours ahead of watching Juliet torture those poor crabs, her mother yelling at her, me feeling listless and trapped. I didn’t want another empty day like that so I decided to follow him.
Beyond the gate, the road was filled with dust and empty beer bottles. A donkey stood munching dry grass. The boy ran very fast and I could not keep up with him. A skinny goat trotted along, staring at me with yellow eyes. There were no cars on the road, and to the left was a large heap of broken bicycles without tires. The boy seemed to be heading toward a cluster of huts painted red and white. There were no windows. The porches were covered with dirty plates, chicken bones and empty cans. The boy stopped suddenly and put his fist in his mouth again. A very old woman with white hair came out on the porch and stared at me with bloodshot eyes. For a few moments she did not speak, but only clucked her tongue.
“You turn around,” she finally said. “You turn around and go back. Understand? ”
I couldn’t move. The woman repeated this and then several people came out of their huts. There were three men; all bare-chested, wearing rainbow-striped knitted caps that did not completely hide their glossy coils of hair. The woman slapped the boy so hard across the face that my hand flew up to my mouth in horror. The boy looked stunned and then burst into tears. Another old lady watched me as she strung blue beads with a large needle. She opened a little cloth bag at her side and a whole strand of bright blue beads spilled out across the porch and onto the road. The blue beads were so big that I thought they looked like eyeballs, staring at me accusingly. I stumbled back to the beach, my thoughts a blur, not wanting to think about that poor boy. I imagined those beads watching me all the way back to my hotel rom.
Four years later I told Trevor about this incident. He was making a large pitcher of Pina Coladas for that evening’s cocktail party and listened to me intently. I still couldn’t shake the image of that day. I felt I had transgressed in some way, but I couldn’t say how. The boy had invited me to run after him, but I knew I wasn’t supposed to follow. Everyone thought this was for my safety, yet he was the one who ended up hurt. Not only by the woman who slapped him, but also by me, for I had picked him up and tossed him—though I didn’t share this part with Trevor.
“It was wrong of you to follow that little boy back to his home,” Trevor told me. “What would you have told your parents? They would have said something to the manager, who would have found out whose little boy he was, and then make trouble with the police.”
I sulked in my seat. I was fifteen and believed everyone was against me.
“Here, Claire. You can have just one sip but don’t tell anyone.”
Trevor sometimes allowed me to sample his concoctions without the liquor added. Even though I knew there wasn’t alcohol in these cocktails I still felt dizzy as if I drank three Coconut Crèmes in a row.
“I live there too,” Trevor said softly. For a moment, I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then I realized that his home must also be located amongst those huts. Somehow, I had believed that Trevor lived in the hotel – maybe even in a room similar to my own. He seemed so intimately connected with Echo Beach
“It’s a beautiful day, Claire,” Trevor told me. “Go outside and swim. This is no place to spend your vacation.”
“My parents are driving me crazy,” I moaned. “I wish I had stayed home.”
“You’re just angry. Everyone is angry at your age.” Trevor leaned over and smelled like the limes he had been slicing. “Shall we have a cup of tea?”
I felt a warm rush of feeling through me. Our teatime together was my secret, my special place at Echo Beach. I followed Trevor into the back kitchen. There was always a teakettle on the burner. He was very strict about making tea – the water had to be ice cold before it boiled, and the tea bags needed to steep at least five minutes. I loved the smell of hot water and soapy suds, the soothing ritual of making British tea.
“England ruined me,” he once told me. “Here, I’m not Jamaican. There, I was never British.”
I knew Trevor felt deeply betrayed by the country that refused to accept him. His family was invited to England after the war as guest workers but forced to leave after their shop was burned down.
“Please sing Jerusalem to me again,” I asked Trevor then. This was, according to Trevor, England’s official anthem, a song he proudly told me he had once sang when the Queen’s cousin came to visit his school.
“Not today, love,” Trevor said. He lit a cigarette and I watched a silver wreath of smoke float up to the ceiling and disappear. He passed me a tray of Edinburgh shortbread biscuits and we both nibbled in comforting silence. Our shared solace seemed as golden as the sun, which shone through the window and illuminated the crystal glasses in the serving trays. Someone outside called out his name.
“Do you have to leave?” I asked him.
“I wish I could spend more time but work is work,” Trevor said, standing up and grabbing a dishrag for the bar.
Outside Juliet was perched on a bar stool, water dripping from her wet hair. “Hullo Claire. Hullo there, Trevor. Claire, why aren’t you on the beach? It’s brilliant outside.”
Guests were not supposed to wear bathing suits inside the hotel but Juliet went everywhere in her green string bikini. Her mother had died and her father’s new wife was only twenty-five. The two shared clothes and cosmetics.
Over the past couple of years, Juliet and I had written letters, at first one or two a year, but then picking up pace. Our letters couldn’t get to each other across the ocean fast enough. I had forgotten I had disliked her once. She was now funny and charming. We traded secrets. Whenever we saw each again at Echo Beach, we were able to resume our friendship as if we had never left the hotel.
“Claire refuses to leave me,” Trevor told her with a wink.
“Who can blame her?” Juliet asked with a grin. She was always flirting with Trevor and the rest of the hotel staff.
I thought back to when Juliet had compared crabs to Golliwogs. Last year, I had looked them up, seen the racist images of black rag dolls in England, comic and minstrel. I thought about how Juliet had seen the bulging eyes in the faces of the crabs, thought about how she had mutilated their bodies.
“Come on, Claire,” Juliet whined. “Sit with me on the beach.”
I was furious with Juliet’s intrusion but I knew I couldn’t spend all day with Trevor in the bar. We said good-bye to him and walked out into the glaring sunlight.
“There’s a party,” Juliet told me. “At The Lucky Irene. Let’s go.”
There was always a party on the boat called The Lucky Irene. It was a yacht that never seemed to sail anywhere. The owner was the widow of the hotel’s original owner. She had her own special table in the middle of the dining rom, which she shared with a series of Jamaican men. The man who was now with Irene was tall and elegant and always wore white suits with a slender shimmering gold watch. Irene was a woman in her sixties with jowls like a bulldog and eyebrows haphazardly painted on. Her loud laugh was metallic and cold and could be heard from her yacht at night.
Juliet told me to meet her in thirty minutes in the lobby and to look sharp. I only had a black dress with spaghetti straps made of some nylon material that made my skin itch. Juliet wore a glittery gold dress and gold sandals with tottering high heels. Her eye shadow sparkled, and the perfume she wore smelled like her late mother’s cocoa butter oil.
The deck of The Lucky Irene had been transformed into a ballroom. Chandeliers of candles seem to hang from the night sky. A steel band played calypso. Pretty Jamaican women served rum in carved-out pineapples. Juliet and I hid in a corner and watched the shadows of the guests glide across the water.
Irene wore a ruby red dress with a long shimmering scarf that trailed behind her back. Her Jamaican was stunning in his white suit and carried a bottle of champagne. No one spoke to him except Irene who kept whispering in his ear. One torchlight seemed to attach itself to his gold watch and it made my eyes hurt when I looked. The drummer of the calypso band began pounding on his drums. They brought a limbo stick out on the deck and torched with a high flame.
“Show time,” Irene cried out. “My friends, may I introduce you to The Wonderful Wanda.”
Wanda was a Jamaican girl, only a few years older than me. The plastic fruit precariously perched on her head seemed always on the verge of sliding off. Her Hawaiian grass skirt was too big for her and had to be held together at the waist with a large safety pin. She looked awkward and uncomfortable—too young for her clothes, too earnest. When she thought no one was looking, she even gnawed at a fingernail. What was she doing here? But still everyone applauded as Wanda smiled nervously and bobbed her head.
The torchlight reflected in her eyes, making them glow. The girl placed her hands on her hips and leaned all the way back until her head touched the floor. Then, to the rhythm of the conga, she shimmied beneath the fiery stick and slowly stood up with raised palms. The act was repeated over and over again each time with an increasingly louder drumbeat. A troupe of men singing “Yellowbird” joined her. Several drunken guests tried to dance beneath the limbo stick themselves, and a fat man became stuck and the crowd roared with laughter.
“Yellowbird,” Irene sang, her voice screeching above the musicians. Her Jamaican suddenly left her side and strode out onto the dance floor. He lifted the limbo stick so the fat man could stand up and walked over to Wanda.
Gently taking her by the arm, he said “enough.” His voice was calm yet seem as loud as the Congo drums. He swept his hand in a small circle, indicating the yacht, the musicians, and the torches. “I am leaving,” he told Irene. “I do not want to do this anymore.”
Irene stared at him with an open mouth as he took off his white jacket and draped it over Wanda’s trembling shoulders. “Go home,” he calmly said to her. “You’ll still get your money.” The calypso players stopped singing and stared sheepishly at each other, unsure what to do next. There were whisperings among the guests. It was very quiet on the deck of The Lucky Irene as the people moved silently toward the bar.
At first I wanted to tell Trevor about the party, then decided not to let him know I had been there. I also felt upset about the man in the white suit’s rebellion. I knew he had been right, but hotel guests paid a lot of money to get the Jamaica they wanted. Echo Beach seemed suddenly different to me. It was like finding a beautiful shell on the beach and turning it over, discovering it covered with maggots. But I wasn’t one of the white tourists in that boat who had watched her? Why hadn’t I said or done anything? I felt dirty and even nauseated. The girl had looked so scared.
I tried to talk to Juliet about it but instead she wanted me to meet these two brothers from Boston who would take us to a reggae concert in town. One of the boys offered me a joint and I eagerly inhaled it. I wanted to forget the scene I saw on The Lucky Irene. I wanted my version of Echo Beach to return.
That day was so hot and humid that it was difficult to breathe and the smoke from the ganja smelled like burnt sugar. The singer was dressed in green and everyone in the audience held green stalks in their hands and swayed in rhythm to the music. We hitched a ride back to the hotel in an open truck filled with cats. The cats climbed all over my body and when it suddenly rained they nestled against our bodies for protection. The rain felt soft and warm against my face. In that moment, I didn’t have to think about the man in the white suit. I didn’t have to think about the boy from all those years ago getting slapped across the face. There was just the music, the rain, that moment, the simplicity of Jamaica being uncomplicated Jamaica. At sixteen, this was all I wanted.
Susie’s House was modeled after Rick’s Café in Negril, supposedly the best place in all of Jamaica to watch a sunset. I was twenty-four, and on this holiday my parents had invited my fiancé, James to join us.
I had met James at a bar after a group of us decided to have a drink after work. He was a lawyer who had gone to Harvard, he knew how to play tennis with my father, and could keep up with my parents drinking. “Plenty of women would scratch out your eyes for that one,” my mother told me once after her third martini. “You’d be a fool to lose him.”
James had not wanted to visit Jamaica. He was not a tourist but an explorer. His usual trips were to exotic places like Sri Lanka or The Maldives and sometimes he sold his photographs to magazines. But I wanted him to see Echo Beach. It was part of my history, and he needed to understand that.
James and I sat on the veranda overlooking the ocean. The couple next to us from Cleveland was betting on the exact moment the sun would sink away from sight. James said 6:01 and the woman promised us a bottle of champagne if we were right. James laughed and shook her hand. He was right. The sun now was a pink sliver vanishing into a blood-red sea. The show was greeted with appreciative murmurs. A waiter brought over a bottle of champagne. We shared the bottle with the other tourists there – honeymooners, an elderly couple celebrating their fortieth anniversary. The champagne was too warm and sweet but we didn’t care. The bubbles went right to my head and I was floating.
James loved Jamaica in a way a tourist loves Jamaica: climbing Dun River Falls, bamboo rafting on the Martha Brae River, and visiting rum distilleries, where the samples were plentiful and James would always fall asleep as soon as we returned to the hotel. These expeditions exhausted me. I much preferred staying at the hotel, walking on the beach or visiting Trevor.
“I’m bored here,” James said. “Why won’t you beyond the hotel gates?”
“I like being here at Echo Beach.” I answered. Could he understand that this was not just a hotel but also a refuge for me when I was a child and an adolescent?
James he pointed to the bathroom, which could have been cleaner and shook his head. “This is not Shangri-La, Claire,” he told me, and then he threw me down the bed and proceeded to take off all my clothes. Being here in Jamaica had made him more hot-blooded and the sex was dynamic. But after it was over I felt hollow. Would his remain when we returned to Boston?
One morning James went parasailing with two other young men he had met at one of the rum distilleries. I declined to join him, and decided to visit Trevor at The Cypress Bar. He was busy serving beer to three college kids who all wore Toronto Maple Leaf sweatshirts. This was something I noticed Canadians did to make sure they weren’t mistaken for Americans. The men were all laughing too loudly and were drunk even thought it was only eleven in the morning. I could tell that their laughter bothered Trevor by the way he stood stiffly and instead of joining the conversation only nodded his head. Trevor had aged well over the years. His hair was just beginning to glisten with thin silver threads. He still stood proudly at six foot two and the mirror behind him at the bar reflected his image so that he looked even two inches taller I stood at the end of the bar, near the sliced limes and oranges, and waited for him. When he saw me, he didn’t smile as I expected.
“Claire, why are you here?”
“What do you mean?” I asked. The day was not going as I planned. I had hoped that Trevor would invite me to the kitchen for a cup of tea and speak again of his childhood in England.
“I saw James earlier this morning. He said he was off to parasailing. I assumed you would join him.”
I shook my head more vigorously than I realized. “No, I wanted to stay here. We have so much to catch up with Trevor.”
“Oh, Claire, your not a little girl anymore. You need to be with the man you will marry.” One of the Canadians shouted something. “Excuse me,” he said, and he walked away without glancing back.
Tears stung my eyes. Why was I so foolish? I should be with James. I spent the rest of the afternoon in town buying useless souvenirs. When James returned, he was sunburnt and drunk. He and his friends had visited yet another local distillery. He went to asleep as I carefully made up my face for dinner. I thought about Trevor telling me I should be with my fiancé. He may have been right. James loved Jamaica but I sense that he was jealous of Trevor and our easy relationship. “He’s just a bartender,” James had said to me after the first time I introduced him to Trevor. “You talk to him like he’s the owner of the hotel.”
Our custom before dinner was that we would have a drink at The Cypress Bar. That afternoon, with James out cold, I wasn’t so sure he would join me. But he woke up, took a cold shower, and seemed to have sobered up. Luckily the group of Canadians was gone when we arrived at the bar. Trevor had a large smile on his face.
“How was the parasailing?” he asked James.
“How did you know?”
“Claire told me.”
James stared at me in a way that made me feel cold. Trevor must have noticed because he added, “I told her that she should have joined you. More adventurous than staying here at the hotel.”
“That’s exactly right. See, Claire. Trevor knows what he’s talking about. How about two Bacardi’s.”
I could still smell the scent of rum on James’s breath.
“Do you really think we should?” I asked.
“This is our holiday,” James said. “Enjoy. Right, Trevor?”
“Righto!” Trevor let out a low whistle and brought out two glasses and a bottle of Bacardi rum. “I propose a toast,” Trevor announced. A long and wonderful life to the two of you.” Trevor poured until our glasses nearly overflowed and James drank the rum with one swift gulp. Two guests entered the bar. A woman wearing a silver turban asked Trevor to light her cigarette. A man in a straw hat was scolding his wife for paying too much money at the market. The smell of pina coladas was too sweet and sickening. James rattled the ice cubes in his glass and the sound reminded me of those blue beads spilling across that woman’s porch so many years ago.
“Hey Trevor,” James called out. Trevor was busy carefully carrying a tray of cocktails. “Trevor,” he said louder, and then whistled.
“James, stop it,” I told him in a lowered voice.
“Stop what? You’re the one who need to stop, Claire. You haven’t relaxed once since we got here.”
Trevor walked slowly to us, his eyes narrowed
“Yes, what can I do for you?” he asked, slinging a tea towel across his shoulder.
James leaned in over the bar. His nose was sunburnt and his eyes were glazed the way they got when he drank too much. “How about joining us for dinner tonight?”
Trevor seemed to take a breath and slowly exhaled “I appreciate your offer but that would be impossible”
“And why’s that?” James demanded.
“You have your dinner in the hotel’s dining room. The waiters are the only hotel staff allowed in the dining room.”
“But Trevor, you’ll be our guest. I will talk to the host. I’m sure he’ll agree. If he doesn’t a twenty-dollar bill will surely help.”
Trevor just shrugged, turned around and began to wipe the bar with the towel. I knew Trevor was right. The hotel staff was intensely competitive. Many envied his popularity with the guests. Yet it did seem silly that he was not allowed to join us for one night.
“We’ll see you at seven,” James said as he hopped off the stool. He quickly walked out of the bar, past the pool and headed toward the beach.
Trevor returned to me and gave me a glass of water. “Drink this, Claire. You don’t want to be dehydrated in this heat.”
I drank the cold water, started to speak and then stopped. I felt embarrassed and angry and desperately wanted to hide in the warmth of the kitchen and listen to Trevor’s sentimental school songs. His eyes looked away from my face.
“You better find your fiancée,” he told me.
I found James at the end of the beach, wading in the shallowest part of the sea. His shoes and socks were neatly folded a few feet away, though he had neglected to roll up his pants. His hair looked wet and fell in damp strands across his eyes. A glass bottom boat ride on a nearby dock made a sad creaking noise as it rolled upon the waves. I took off my sandals and tiptoed into the warm water.
“I love you, Claire,” James said quietly as he touched my cheek.
I knew I should kiss him but instead I moved my face away. I was angry with myself and didn’t completely understand why.
That night at the restaurant we sat at a table beneath a full moon and shimmering stars. The air was humid and the mosquitoes were particularly vicious. I wrapped a shawl about my shoulders but could still feel them burrowing beneath the cloth. Our waiter stood behind my chair, tapping his pen against his thigh. It was late and we had not yet ordered.
“He won’t come,” I told James yet again as he glanced at his watch.
“Oh yes he will.”
James wore a white suit, reminding me of the Jamaican man so many years ago on the deck of The Lucky Irene. Irene had died but her yacht remained still moored on the dock, a vandalized ghost boat. The windows were shattered and the deck covered with broken glass. Why was it still here? It was said that during a full moon Irene’s ghost could be seen dancing to the strains of unearthly music, her long shimmering scarf blowing in the wind. Our waiter sighed loudly as the dining room clock struck ten.
“There he is,” James said in a loud voice.
Trevor stood at the end of the dining room. He was still wearing his bartender’s uniform. He hesitated at the threshold.
“I’ll talk to him,” I told James.
“No, Claire. Stay where you are.”
I watched James approach Trevor and the men conversed with their heads bowed together. Then James clamped his hand on Trevor’s shoulder and brought him over to the table. Trevor stood by his empty place, his hands clasped behind his back.
“Hello Claire,” Trevor began. “I was just telling James…”
“Sit down, Trevor,” James told him.
“As I said before, I appreciate the offer but this will only cause trouble. The waiters don’t like this.”
“And why’s that?” James asked impatiently.
“I belong in the bar. They belong in the dining room. Some would think I am here to steal their tips.”
Trevor’s forehead was wet with sweat, and his white shirt clung damply to his skin. The guests at the other tables were staring at us.
“I’m sorry. Thank you for the invite. Now you must excuse me.” Trevor walked swiftly out of the dining room. I saw several waiters murmuring.
“Waiter,” James called out. “We’re ready to order.”
“You’re despicable,” I said, standing up. “Torturing Trevor like that.”
“Sit down Claire and finish your drink,” James snapped at me. “People are staring at you.”
We ordered our dinner and finished the meal in silence. The next day I joined James at Dun River Falls but slipped on a rock and twisted my ankle. The bruise turned purple and swelled to the size of a golf ball. I spent my two days alone in the hotel room as James took sailing lessons and played tennis. The lights in my room were always turned off and the shades drawn. Though I could already hear myself tell the story later when we got home, saying with a small laugh what a shame it was that I had sprained my ankle, the truth was that I wanted that time alone in the room. I reread my favorite Agatha Christie novels and spent time in the bath. In the distance, I could hear the calypso music that still played my favorite song: “Good Morning Mr. Walker.” I realized I loved Echo Beach more than James.
One night in bed, James tossed and turned, unable to sleep. I sensed his restlessness. Finally, he clicked on the bedside lamp and turned to me. His face looked grey and crumpled in the darkness.
“I’m going home tomorrow, Claire. I don’t know why, but there’s something I can’t touch within you that is here on this island and here in this hotel. It’s getting between us. I can feel it. Please tell me you’ll join me.”
I knew in that moment that I was supposed to talk with him, beg him to stay, at least pretend to cry—but I couldn’t. James left that morning in the middle of a ferocious thunderstorm that made the island shake as if it were only a leaf in a tree. The walls of my bungalow shuddered as water trickled in a steady stream from a leak in my ceiling. Yet the next morning there was a rainbow so glorious that it brought tears to my eyes. I walked to the beach and buried my legs beneath the cool sand, vowing I could always return to Echo Beach. James was right. There was something here he couldn’t touch.
The sun was relentless that holiday and dried the grass so that it snapped like twigs. I was now thirty, single, and living in a small apartment in Queens, New York. Jamaica still looked orange to me, even though I never took off my green tinted glasses. My hotel window overlooked the sea and the bellboy had told me that sharks had been spotted in nearby waves. At night I thought I could see them; their fins flashing silver in the pearl moonlight.
The hotel was no longer called Echo Beach, but I refused to recognize its new name. Only the lobby had been remodeled as a pavilion with screens instead of windows. The screens were supposed to keep out the insects but they still made their way through holes: mosquitoes, wasps and the occasional butterfly.
Trevor was surprised to see me. I was relieved he was still there. I had feared he would have moved on, a fear that went through me each time I returned to Echo Beach. Six yeas had passed since I had last seen him. I stood behind the door for a full minute before I had the courage to walk inside. The bar still smelled of sweet pineapples and coconut juice. A neon sign hung over the counter and the television set was tuned to CNN news. The bluish light from the television made the faces of the people at the bar look cruel. A skinny teenager wearing a t-shirt with the face of Bob Marley refilled the peanut dishes. Trevor was talking to a group of men wearing skimpy bathing suits and gold chains around their necks.
Trevor turned to refill a glass when he saw me. He seemed had not aged at all except for a slight stoop to his shoulders. I watched his eyes squint slowly and then he grinned.
“Hello Trevor,” I said.
“Hello dear Claire.”
I was so relieved he had recognized me. He walked over and clasped my hand in his own.
“Dear me, I never thought I’d see you again, love.”
“How are you, Trevor?”
“As well as can be. And your mother and father?”
“They both passed away.”
Trevor lowered his eyes and was silent. Then he placed his hand on my shoulder. “I am so very sorry,” he told me. “May God be with them.”
Someone called out Trevor’s name and he told me he would be right back. I sat on a hard stool and ate damp peanuts from a glass bowl. The boy in the Bob Marley t-shirt stared at me. Strong gusts suddenly blew in from the sea and knocked over several empty glasses.
“Jimmy,” Trevor shouted to the boy. “Close that window!” Trevor returned to me, his head turned to the side as if looking for someone. “Where is James?”
“I haven’t seen him in years, “ I told him.
At that moment, a red butterfly fluttered in. It blew in suddenly and landed on top of a beer glass.
“It’s lost,” said Trevor, cupping the butterfly in his hand. “We don’t have this kind of butterfly here in Jamaica. It must be somewhere across the sea, far away.”
The boy was having difficulty with the shutters. Trevor shook his head and went over to help him. “Jimmy,” he told him. “Why don’t you go and serve that lovely lady a drink.”
“Yes sir. The boy’s accent sounded like poor imitation of Trevor’s own. He even snapped his fingers the way Trevor used to long ago.
“What will you have Miss?”
The boy began mixing my drink, whistling shrilly through his teeth. Trevor came over at several points, showing him the correct way to make the cocktail.
“How much do I owe you?” I asked Trevor.
“This is on the house. Always has been, my dear.”
I finished the drink quickly and asked for another. Trevor looked at the empty glass and lifted his gaze to my face.
“It looks as if you had a few before you even came in, Claire.”
“Please, Trevor. I’m not fifteen anymore.”
“Why don’t I bring you a nice cup of tea? You always liked the way I made tea.”
I laughed. He was right. I did have a few drinks on the airplane, and seeing the new sign on the hotel had been upsetting, and made me want more alcohol.
“Tea? In this weather? Oh Trevor, you’ll never leave England, will you?”
“Then I’ll just make tea for myself,” he said lightly as he quickly turned and walked toward the kitchen.
I wanted to apologize but it was too late. Of course I wanted the tea and also the chance to be alone with Trevor. I wish I could take my words back.
The bar was getting crowded. I shivered even though it wasn’t cool and placed my sweater over my shoulders. Behind me, something bumped and I quickly turned around.
“Would the missis care for another drink?”
Jimmy stood so close to me that I could smell the tobacco under his breath.
“Another Manhattan,” I said, hearing myself stumble over the words.
“Very good,” he murmured.
I felt the need for a cigarette and reached behind my chair for my bag. My Marlboro pack was gone. So seemed to be my wallet. I swore under my breath. There wasn’t much money in the wallet and my passport was stored safely in another bag. But the photographs of my parents were important to me and there were credit cards and a driver’s license in it that would be difficult to replace. I was certain I’d had it when I walked into the bar. I turned my bag upside down and began sorting through the contents: tissues, lipsticks, coins, and a luggage receipt.
“Is anything wrong Miss?” I heard a voice say. I looked up and saw a tall security guard staring at me.
“I’m sorry. I can’t seem to find my wallet.”
“Were you just talking to that boy over there?” The guard pointed over to Jimmy who was standing by the entrance, helping to sort through luggage.
“Yes,” I began. “But he-“
“You!” the security guard shouted. Jimmy walked over, his hands in his pockets.
“Who are you?” the guard asked him.
“My name is Jimmy Hughes,” the boy said. “I started just last week. I help Trevor in The Cypress Bar.” Jimmy looked nervous. Sweat dotted his forehead. “He’s teaching me how to bartend.”
“I need to search you.”
“Please,” I told the security guard. “I’m sure I’ll find it.”
“We need to search this man”
““I’ll—I’ll talk to Trevor I said falteringly. “Wait for him. He’ll sort it out.”
But the guard had already taken the boy by the arm and disappeared down a hall.
I returned to the lobby and stood next to a large potted palm. My heart was racing. What had just happened? If I hadn’t had so many drinks, I could have handled the situation better. A small calypso band had been set up and several couples were dancing around the steel drums. The tune was bright and fast and it wasn’t until the refrain that I recognized it. But it didn’t sound the same as I remembered. The words seemed different and the beat too fast. Yet the song moved something so deep inside me that I had to lean against the wall to catch my breath. For a brief moment I forgot about the wallet. Nothing mattered except I that was here at Echo Beach.
After a few minutes, I saw Trevor walking toward me. His eyes were lowered to the ground, and only when he stood in front of me did he lift his gaze.
“Listen, Trevor,” I said, slightly swaying the music. “Listen to what they’re playing.”
“What are you talking about Claire?” he said angrily. I had never heard him raise his voice before and I flinched. His shoulders were shaking. “Do you realize what you have done? You’ve made a terrible accusation that has ruined the boy.”
I stood there in shock. “But I didn’t say anything. The guard…”
“You’re a white woman saying that her wallet is missing. You should have found me and told me. I know that boy’s parents. They are good people.”
“I will find that guard, “ I told Trevor, standing up. “I’ll tell him Jimmy is innocent.”
“Whether it’s true or not, they have fired him. He will not find work at any of the hotels here.”
“Oh Trevor, I’m sorry,” I said, trying to keep my words steady. “Maybe I did leave the wallet somewhere. I just want to be here. At Echo Beach. With you. That’s all that matters.”
“With me?” he asked, jabbing a finger at his chest. “You know nothing about me!” I had never heard him raise his voice before. The whites of his eyes were gleaming. “Have you ever asked about my family? My wife? Have you ever met a Jamaican who wasn’t here to serve you? To serve all of you? What do you know about this country? The people here? How long are you even here in Jamaica? One week every few years? My God, Claire, you are trying to find something that is not real. The hotel is not even called Echo Beach anymore.”
“I know,” I turned around because I didn’t want him to see my tears
“Go home, “ he said calmly. “There is nothing for you here. Go home, Claire.”
Watching Trevor leave, I noticed that his back was very stiff and straight. The noise from the steel band made my head ache and I walked out of the lobby toward the beach. The sun stunned my eyes. I wiped my wet face with my sleeve. I reached into my purse for my sunglasses and froze. My hands had touched my wallet. It was hiding beneath my boarding pass. I felt its smooth leather.
I looked out at the ocean and felt the blood in my face. I would find the hotel manager and demand that Jimmy not lose his job. But would they listen to me? I was just a tourist – a silly ignorant visitor to a place that could never be my sanctuary. I remember that little boy I had followed on the beach who had been slapped. That was my fault. Trevor had told me that the boy’s family could be in trouble with the police. I had done it again with Jimmy. There was no place for me here Echo Beach had always been an illusion. I would leave tomorrow.
In the haze I thought I saw that ghost vessel, The Lucky Irene, still tethered to the dock, restored to its previous glory. Torches of light shone on the deck and I could hear peals of laughter and the clinking of glasses. And then I saw him. The man in the white suit. Irene’s “friend.” He had not aged at all. His suit fit him perfectly and he still wore a slender gold watch. That watch glittered in the light as he slowly waved to me. His mouth moved but the ocean was too noisy and I couldn’t hear if he said hello or goodbye.
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