The stories my mother told me werent the ones I wanted to hear, stories about the man she said was my father, stories that seemed to come not just from her but upon her, unguarded and effusive, or as we say in Jamaica, Mouth open, story fly out.
I loved stories about the pirates who used to rove among these islands. True Accounts of Sea Robbers, Treasure Island - these were the books I read over and over again until I knew whole passages by heart. And then at some point, with all those lofty phrases in my head, I began making up my own story. I called it Treasure Cove.
That was also the name Id given to a place here on the island, a cove where a coconut tree leaned out crookedly over the water. You could sit on the tree trunk and imagine it was a ship at anchor. A white bougainvillea grew on the slope above, and I used it as a landmark -
She can see it all from the veranda - the cove and the white bougainvillea that once served her so well. For a moment she sees herself too, a boyish-looking girl running across the lawn to the sea.
The lawn is overgrown now and nameless bushes have sprung up around the bougainvillea. Lizards have taken over the garden and the derelict tennis court. Even here on this upstairs veranda they no longer run away from her.
At twenty-six, May is a tall version of the girl she used to be. She still keeps her straight brown hair very short, and she has the same valiant curiosity she had at the age of ten. Gold hoop earrings and numerous bangles help to feminize her. Shes become what people call a handsome woman.
Shes spent most of her life here on Navy Island, a place so small its not on any map, not even maps of the West Indies. Its an islet really, about a mile off the coast of Jamaica (a piece of Jamaica that drifted away, she used to tell people).
Every day she sits at the wrought-iron table on this veranda, typing on an old manual Underwood. Shes not sure why. She could say, like the hero of Treasure Island, that someone persuaded her: My dear friend Nigel Fletcher, having asked me to write down the events that occurred here from beginning to end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen. . . . She knows that she wants to do this now, not wait until things have become memories of things - nutmeg-smelling rooms, the rasping sea, how quiet it is on this veranda after a downpour.
Her father, the man who is said to be her father, bought the island when there was nothing on it but trees. People say he won it in a poker game, but her mother, Ida, remembers him paying cash, the money he made starring in The Adventures of Don Juan (He had to take that money out of America quick-quick before the first wife found out about it; he wanted a house pink like the sunset, Ida said). He built the house, pink with white jalousies and white railings, and named it Bella Vista. A good name, shes always thought. Bella Vista is a ruin now, a desecration; theres almost nothing that isnt broken or torn, but she can look out at the sea from every room of the house. From this veranda, she has the best view of all - the sudden descent to the whitewashed boathouse, then the turquoise water fluttering between the two shores.
Jamaica, or land, as they say, is ten minutes away by taxi-boat. She can see the harbor town of Port Antonio across the water and, beyond its Anglican steeples and corrugated rooftops, the Blue Mountains. Sometimes she hears music from the town across the water, reggae pounding from the rum shops and passing cars. But it has been quiet of late because of the curfew and the soldiers and the fear: it is 1976, and Jamaica is in a State of Emergency.
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