The edges were jagged, somewhat like a child’s drawing. Yet, the incisions were deep and required strength and accuracy. He was diligent in his work; his face emotionless except for the remnants of tears under his eyes. He peeled back layers, cutting away the remaining obstructions before reaching in to pull out the prize. His prize. With trembling hands, he gingerly lifted his prize to the heavens. But God had already turned his back on him and his tribute. A sudden laughter wafted in from outside and disturbed the solemnity of the ritual. Not knowing where it was coming from, he walked to the window to see the cause of this irreverence. He looked out at the beauty that could only be called his homeland.
It was the middle of January but, unlike the place he had just come from, the temperature outside was hovering around eighty degrees. The light breeze kept the branches of the Julie mango tree swaying to the beat of a Bob Marley tune. He remembered playing under the mango tree as a child, then running behind the breadfruit tree next to it. His parents had bought the land for him when he was too young to know about property or ownership. The breadfruit was bare now, but once it started bringing fruit it could feed a family of a hundred. The same way the worms were feasting on the fallen mangos they would also enjoy the breadfruit. It was the cycle of life. He turned away from the window with the laughter still echoing in his head.
He walked around the room taking in its majestic beauty. It was a large room — twenty feet by twenty-five-washed in sunlight that poured in from the large and plentiful windows. This was a different world from the cramped basement apartment in Brooklyn where he shared a tiny house with four other people. His was the life of a man that had migrated to the States to make a living so that he could live a life of leisure in the islands. Here, he has a huge walk in closet and a grand master bathroom with a double marble sink. And, this was only one of the four bedrooms in a house overlooking the bay. When he had told Cosbert Henley, a co-worker, of the house he was building, Cosbert laughed and said only rich people have houses like that. And he said to him, “You, Richard Mustard, ain’t rich.” But he tried to explain to him that in the West Indies you don’t have to be rich to live comfortably. Unlike New York, space is not equivalent to money. A comfortable place to live, a good woman and a little business to bring in some spending money is all one needs to have happiness in any dimension.
He knelt down and felt her face. It had become as cold and lifeless as her eyes. The towels he had spread on the floor beneath her had blotches of red. Her body was still. The gaping hole in her chest was a sign that something had gone terribly wrong. He ran his hands over her face. It was angelic in its passivity. This is his love. A love that should have transcended time and space. A love that had become an occupying force in his heart, one that he relied upon for breath, warmth and food. It was a love that meant more to him than his own life or any other life on the planet. Even as words of anger and pain traveled over oceans and land, a picture of her in his mind’s eye dissipated the hurt.
Looking back at their history, the cold body that was once hot with their fire would be no more. It was three years ago, after making love for hours, that she drove him to the airport. Her red and white polka dot summer dress would expose her perfection with every change in the gear on the winding road. It had been about eighty-five degrees and the sun beamed down on them at the hour of two. He didn’t want to leave. He wanted to stay with her forever. She was his jewel in paradise. He held onto her for what seemed like hours, burning her scent into his memory, making her touch his and only his. His blood, her blood, a oneness that could never be divided by time. When he had finally released her they had both gasped for scented air of the tropics. Again he convinced himself that he had to leave: a man has to take care of his family. With tears in their eyes a temporary detachment was made with promises that the big bird will bring him back every two months or so.
Working in the states was harder than he had ever imagined, and the jobs were not waiting for him as he once was told. His first construction job came three months after his arrival and it was in the middle of winter. The work was daunting, and the winter was unforgiving. At four hundred feet in the air, the wind chill compounded the cold, and the hammer he held in his hand vibrated with every touch. Life in his sister’s house wasn’t good either as she knocked on the door every month with a complaint that things were tight and he needed to contribute more. It wasn’t long before he bid his sister goodbye and walked out into the land of over eight million lonely souls. In his letter to his love, he didn’t write about the savagery of a foreign land. He did not say anything about the hard times. He would persevere through it all. And with each check he received for his toils, he bought only the essentials for himself and sent the balance to her for the building of their house and the saving for a business of their own. In America he would take advantage of the land of opportunity so that one day his love and their offspring would live well in paradise.
But hardest of all were his nights. They were a nightmare without her. The only bright spot was a woman of twenty-two or so who found his life exemplary. She too was like him, having left a love to find opportunities in a foreign land. Her tale, however, had ended in sadness when her intended told her time and distance had shattered their love. Unlike the others, he told her to keep the faith because sometimes you can find a jewel among the nuggets. Sometimes he would spend hours talking to her about paradise and man’s search for love. He had tried turning to the church for sustenance in America. But it was a disappointment. Instead of solace, he found hypocrisy in people that invoked the Lord’s name after they had satisfied their wicked ways. He found the women in America bold and beautiful. Some wanted to spend sleepless nights while others wanted to ride off into the sunset. When he told them that he had a girlfriend at home, they laughed finding him naive, almost idiotic. They couldn’t comprehend having a jewel in paradise. In America they were just hoping to get a nugget. “You are a good man,” they said to him, “I hope my next man is like you.” Instead he wrote sonnets about his love. He took comfort in the images of her. In her letters back to him her essence reached through the pages telling him of her yearnings for his touch, his voice and his spirit. Paradise was a lonely place for her without him.
The first opportunity he got to visit her was during the holiday season. After a year of sweat, tears, and dreams, he was happy to fly to paradise. His first flight from New York was uneventful, yet his eyes remained in a dream like state. He had even left his coat with his friend, Ian, wanting no reminders of the hardship of New York. Unlike the enclosed tarmac that greeted customers exiting the planes at JFK, in Grenada you have a long outdoor walk to the terminal. The sun felt good crawling on his skin as the island breeze welcomed him home. His long gaunt shape blended perfectly with the island male population that spent most of their lives working outside. The constant hammering, climbing and lifting had kept his muscles functioning at peak performance. Even though the coldness of the winter had lightened his shade a bit, he had still maintained that beautiful dark complexion. His steps were quick and powerful, a man on a mission of ultimate importance. His heart beat at an accelerated pace as he picked up his baggage and headed outside the terminal. For the next five minutes his eyes roamed the airport, registering the excitement of a return and the sadness of a departure. He checked his watch, a rarity in an age where cell phones served as watches, calendars and even cameras. It was ten after two. He had told her he would be in by 1:45. His face began to droop as if aging years in seconds.
First his nose tingled, then his blood raced, excitement caused a shaking in his body as the smell of her perfume intoxicated his soul. Then he felt her embrace from behind, bringing the beauty and happiness to his soul. He could feel the metamorphosis as his body responded to her smoothness, her sexiness. Aah, her womanhoodÃ‰ He didn’t know whose mouth found whose first, as in cases like that no one cared. Their exchange was not of body but of spirit. For the next six days, they melded like the salt in the blue water that surrounded their island. On the seventh day, at sunrise, as her eyes fluttered open, she saw him on his knees offering her a small gold band with a diamond in the middle. It was a promise that he made to her and she to him: That their lives belong to each other. He promised to return in two years to receive the blessings of the church in their union.
But human emotions can be as changeable as zephyrs or tropical storms. Even a bridge with all its steel and concrete elements can sometimes be weakened and made brittle by nature. This is especially true of bridges built over corrosive salt water. If untended and left alone too long, the foundation starts to erode until a push can lead to its collapse. What was once strong can become weak. Time apart is a lover’s true prison sentence. How long can we humans be separated from our true love? When we stop we die, but when we move we change. It is a curse and a blessing that man will never stand still. Time is the biggest foe of love, yet it is what strengthens it the most. The trick is to forge the changes together to make sure you still complement each other in the end. His calls received short quick responses with little or no time for a conversation. “The Magic Jack wasn’t working anymore,” a claim the manufacturer said was an impossibility. His texts went unanswered because there was no credit on her phone. In his letters he wrote about their love. She responded about her realities of living on the island. Then, slowly, his calling cards started to accumulate minutes at the end of the week. She was angry with him because she didn’t know what was going on in the States. No matter how he tried to assure her that his heart was still with her, she had her doubts.
The rumors rumble through the tight knit West Indian community of a fool in love in the States while legs were spread in the tropics. On the rare occasions when they were conversing over the phone, he heard a voice in the background and inquired about the origin. She quickly responded that it was a cousin who had come by to make a delivery. In time, that added to his worries and he started to make mistakes on the twentieth floor of a condominium development. Twice the rope caught his mistakes and soon the foreman sent him home on an extended holiday. He faced the pain in his heart and tried to find a diversion with an American woman. A date was arranged with the most optimistic of expectations to enjoy a candlelit dinner. The fragile beauty before him would make any man covet a neighbor’s wife but his vision was blurred by his aching heart. Needless to say the evening ended with a polite “thank you” and a parting of the ways. The realization was made clear to him then that his life will be worthless unless he had her.
He wrapped her heart in a white silk scarf and tied it next to his own heart. He lay down next to her body, and the faint smell of her perfume giving an unwelcomed rise to his manhood. The scent lingered cutting out the stench of her excrement that had just begun to absorb the heat of the passing day. He smiled and with his hand he fanned off the flies that were insects of opportunity. He didn’t want anything touching her. She was his and his only. She held his lifeline in her finger. He had lifted the hand that wore the ring and put it on her leg to avoid the splatter of her blood. He had taken two of her dresses, his favorites, and tied them together making a noose at the end. He hung the rope from a cross beam in the ceiling. He placed a ladder underneath the noose. On his MP3 player that he had hooked up to some portable speakers he pressed an endless repeat to Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry.”
In their last conversation, just moments ago, he remembered her unrelenting tone and her unyielding eyes. No she didn’t love him anymore, and yes she had found someone else. He stood there speechless. His heart was in his mouth. No, she didn’t want him in the house. There was nothing for them to talk about. Is there any place for him in her heart? He was a parched man grabbing at droplets from a waterfall with his bare hands. No, another man had taken his place. But what happened to promises made and feelings of the heart? She told him in time he will get over whatever he was feeling, but right now he had to leave. There he stood in the middle of the house he had paid to be built and from which he was now being evicted. She continued speaking without apologizing for the crime she had committed against his heart. Then she made the move to usher him out the door. He resisted but became intoxicated by her closeness. He held unto her. Angrily she pushed him away and headed to the phone to call the law. “No!” he shouted, but she picked up the phone. It was then that things began to swim in his head and he reached out and gripped the steel bar. To his surprise, it didn’t feel like a steel bar. It was warm and soft and throbbed with venom. He kept squeezing it until all the movement suddenly stopped. After she had stopped moving he released his hands from her neck. She slumped down in front of him reminiscent of the way his heart had fallen when she stopped pumping blood into it. A few seconds later he fell with her, sobbing as he held and rocked her gently.
He left the room and walked down to the basement, where he found the kerosene that West Indians kept in case of electricity interruption. The telling scent stung his nostrils as he brought it upstairs with him and sprinkled it throughout the room. He knelt down next to her and gave her a kiss on the lips and in the middle of the forehead. Once more he walked to the window and looked out at one last glimpse of paradise. He closed the window and walked back to the ladder. His face showed no emotion. Sadness and happiness no longer existed in this void. He took a cigarette from his pocket and lit it as he climbed the ladder. When he reached the top of the ladder, he thought about her heart against his chest. It made him feel good inside. He put the noose around his neck and took one last look at the life contained in the ring. There was nothing there. He took a draw string from his pocket and put it over his hands reaching up to pull it tight with his teeth. The cigarette fell to the floor and a fire was started. He rocked back and forth until the ladder fell down and the noose tightened ever so slowly around his neck.
The inspector came to review the charred bodies and found no life in either one of them. However the woman’s chest was missing a heart. He made a note of that and hoped that this wasn’t the start of some organ stealing craziness. They didn’t have the manpower to deal with that in such a small country. They would have to call the American. He had heard talk about this man in America that was supporting a woman living here with another man. But in the Caribbean you always hear that kind of talk. It was a running joke. He didn’t understand why people do the things they do. He took one last look at the jagged edges and gaping hole in her chest and wondered if they will ever find her heart.