|By Joanne C. Hillhouse||
Maya watches the girl for the better part of half an hour before she leaps, as hypnotized by the girl as the girl seems to be by the ocean. Its the same girl who nearly ran Maya and David off the road in her car, as they strolled up to the bridge that isnt really a bridge at all. It has to be; theres no one else around.
Devils Bridge, as it is called, is a wide open space with fat slabs of jagged rock; some bleached white, some almost black with moss. Here, there is the steady roar of the surf as it batters the exposed rock, creating fountain-like swells that attract tourists and sea birds alike for the breathtaking water show.
Mathilda, one of the maids in their section of the hotel, had said, You-all cant leave here without going up by Devils Bridge. She said it was just past the village where she lived. She told them how there are all kinds of local lore surrounding the bridge; but her favourite is the one about slaves jumping off the edge to their deaths rather than live up under white people and dem wickedness.
Thats one of the things they like about Maddie, as they call her; she doesnt grin and smile and spin fake spiel with a faux American accent. She keeps it real; they like that. Young and liberal, they dont want to be the cliché of the ugly American tourist; dont want the islanders to be another kind of cliché grinning and shuffling and never meeting your eye as they turn your beds each morning or peddle drugs and sex at night. No, Maya and David arent into bullshit half-there experiences.
That realness is what sparked heat between them in the first place 10 years ago. Then, 10 years in, on the verge of being another cliché, another divorce statistic, theyd opted for the lesser of two evils; a second honeymoon.
They came to the islands and have to admit that, as clichés go, its an enthralling one. The sea really is that blue and clear, the sun is that hot, the sunsets are that breathtakingly colourful, the night sky is that alive with stars. The islands do have magic. Maya knew it had worked the beginnings of a mild spell on her and David when she felt his hand caressing the back of her neck, lightly, in the Puerto Rico airport en route to Antigua. He never touched her anymore. The unexpected caress, at first, caused her to stiffen. By the time theyd landed in Antigua, hed become more overt; she, more comfortable beneath the soft touch of his straying fingers, hopeful that this would prove to be more than just some island fling.
Maddie told them they would grow old together, gave them a pair of seeds the same kind theyd observed the old men at the hotel taxi stand using to play an old African board game islanders called Warri. Shed gifted them the seeds tucked into little crocheted itz-gold-and-green bags, for which they paid her US$50.
The smooth brown seeds seem innocuous, sure, but Maddie assured them that theyre potent and will hold them tight to each other. She advised them to make them into necklaces, wear them all the time. She told them she could make the necklaces for another US$50; but Maya likes the little colourful sachets and so keeps hers there. Shes not sure what Davids done with his.
When Maddie first told them about the bridge, they werent terribly interested; had had enough of the tourist spots. What they wanted to do was go somewhere like Maddies house for Fungee and okroe with cassi and fried fish; but she never invited them.
She sold them on Devils Bridge, though. Not much tourists, if you go the right time, she said. Go late afternoon round mid-week. Most people come west all them time there, fu see the sun set.
That assurance led them up the deserted east coast road to the bridge on the evening before their return home. They were on foot, having taken the bus to the village, then opting to hike up. They found that this way of travelling put them in touch with the real pulse of the island; much more so anyway than an air-conditioned tour bus or a taxi with the driver prattling off tourist brochure copy.
Each caught up in his and her own thoughts, neither heard the car coming until it was snapping at their calves like a rabid dog. David pulled Maya out of the way, forcefully but gently. He too quickly dropped the grabbed elbow, however; and they continued on, apart.
And here they are, the Atlantic breeze blowing cold.
Listen to that, David breathes, eyes closed as they sit along the jagged ledge.
But Maya is distracted by the girl.
Look at that, she says.
David opens his eyes.
That girl there, Maya responds. Shes just standing there.
So, dont you find that bizarre?
Come on, shes a local girl! When have you ever seen one of them at one of these tourist spots just taking it in? Whys she standing there?
David closes his eyes again.
Were not on a film set, he snarks; a reminder of how Mayas film school aspirations have crashed and burned in production assistant hell fetch this, get that, hold this, move that. Invisible, like a walking coat rack, thats how she feels in that world, in her life really; the life to which shell be shortly returning. Maya shivers a little; the cold shed almost forgotten seeping in.
Maya mourns the renewed distance between her and David as their time-out winds down. She turns her attention back to the girl standing as still as Lots wife.
After a time, the girl sits - slumps actually, against her sturdy blue Ford Fiesta - and Maya relaxes. Just then, David gets up as though it had all been arranged. He walks steadily ahead as Maya picks her way across the jagged rock. She feels her pulse quicken as David hesitates then dashes across a particularly narrow ledge, which seems little more to her than a tightrope suspended over a deadly precipice; and which is the only bit of this rocky mass qualifying as a bridge. The water swells around him and the wind whips at him. Its scary and beautiful; and Maya sees it as though in slow motion. Unexpectedly, she feels alive again, and he looks alive as he lands on the other side with a big, whooo!
He laughs as he hasnt since the early days of their acquaintance.
Maya notices the girls head whip around at the sound, sees her stare at them as shed been stared at moments before, is being stared at now.
Come on, David calls, still laughing, oblivious to the girls eyes on his back. Its exhilarating.
The girl goes back to regarding the ocean, as though bored with Maya and David already. She seems to be looking further, transfixed, as though seeing the ghosts Maddie spoke of beneath the rough waves.
Fresh sadness steals Mayas earlier burst of joy, as she watches the girl, as David calls to her. She cant quite put her finger on the why of it. It just all seems so impermanent, so elusive; the things one reaches for, the things one needs. All of this, the beauty of this place, the mystique of paradise. She shivers again, hugs herself against the bracing breeze.
David is laughing still, calling her Chicken! And as she watches him flap his arms foolishly, Maya wants to join the play. But she cant take her eyes off the girl, and her magnetic stillness. She sees then, when the girl suddenly stands, and with brisk certain steps, three or four is all it takes, walks to the edge and leaps. Her body curls gracefully, the waves curling up in turn to receive her. It seems like a dance. It seems like a dream. Its scary and beautiful; and Maya watches it as though in slow motion.
David laughs still, his laughter stuttering to a stop at the frozen look on Mayas face. Something, the horror and yearning in her eyes, maybe, cause him to turn to where the girl had been.
It was then, when he looked away, that Maya started to scream.
|Antiguan Joanne C. Hillhouse is the author of two novellas: The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight. Her fiction and poetry have also appeared in Ma Comère, The Caribbean Writer, Calabash, Sea Breeze, and more. She freelances as a writer, journalist, editorial consultant, and producer. For more visit www.myspace.com/jhohadli|