The Man on the Island
NMA nominee: Fiction
The taxi from the airport to Bridgetown took forty minutes. Stepping out of the terminal into the hot, humid air had been like walking into a sauna; he felt claustrophobic in the taxi even though, turning to look back at the receding sea, he saw nothing but blue horizon and shimmering sky. Barbados was low and flat, barely above sea level. He leaned through the open window and almost put his hand out to brush the tall lemon grass growing beside the road before thinking better of it. The air smelled heavily of citronella, and he wondered about mosquitoes.
The black driver talked most of the way to the hotel. At first he could hardly make out the man’s accent, and he thought it would be a problem. He had come to write an article about the island, a travel piece, and it would be awkward if he didn’t understand the dialect. He sat back and listened lazily as the taxi curved through the flat countryside. Gradually he was able to make out some of the driver’s words, the odd isolated phrase. Beef. Cane. Something called the Crop Over Festival. From time to time he caught the man’s eyes in the rear-view mirror. By the time they arrived at the hotel they were conversing easily. He was good with languages, and, after all, the man was speaking English. He read the driver’s name on the licence posted by the rear door. Braithwaite, Calvin. Are you, he asked, related to E. R. Braithwaite, the writer? No boss, he’s Guyanese. He asked the man, Braithwaite, if he was free later in the day to take him around, show him the island. He said he was a journalist and had to write a travel piece. From Canada, yes. They settled on a price in Barbados dollars. What time, Braithwaite asked. One? Okay, boss, sure.
They drove along the coast. Braithwaite — call me Calvin, boss — talked freely as he steered the taxi through a series of small villages alive with children in clean short pants and women with narrow waists and long, flouncing skirts. They were on the lee side of the island; when the road swung close to the ocean he could see gentle swells and white sand. He hadn’t liked his hotel. It fronted the beach but most of the patrons sat around the chlorinated swimming pool, their backs to the sun, or in the air-conditioned lounge under potted palms. Calvin told him the price of sugar had gone down and some people were raising beef instead, for the tourist market. The air blowing through the open window was warm and thick. His notebook, which he kept in his shirt pocket, was damp. They stopped at Harrison’s Cave and went down into the island in a tramcar, where it was cooler. Then at five o’clock, back in Bridgetown, Calvin parked the taxi outside a café called Nico’s and led him up the stairs into a small room with a horseshoe-shaped bar taking up most of the floor space. The owner’s name was Sandra. She was a big woman who whooped when she saw Calvin and began telling him about her brother, who had been in an automobile accident. The police had found his wrecked vehicle and had called her; her brother had apparently staggered off to a nearby house to call the police, but had fallen asleep before he could make the call. Sandra was annoyed with him. Maybe he was concussed, Calvin said. Oh he was, Sandra replied. Cussed and concussed, you may be sure of it.
The next morning Calvin drove him to the windward side of the island, the side facing out into the Atlantic. Here the coast was far from flat — high sand cliffs faced a raging, blustering sea. Small villages huddled in the inlets, with fleets of tiny, brightly painted fishing boats, ochre, fireengine red, straining at their anchors in the grey harbours. Flying fish and grouper, Calvin said, raising his voice above the wind. He sat on a rock and watched gulls struggling to land. Back in the taxi he asked Calvin which side of the island he preferred. Calvin considered the question. I don’t prefer one side or the other, he said. I need the tourists and I need the fish.
He had Calvin drive him to the house of Mrs. Champion, a Canadian woman he’d arranged to meet for his article. She owned a car dealership in Toronto, Porsches and Saabs, and lived in Bridgetown while her two sons ran the business. Her house was called Queen’s Fort, and the backyard, which ran down to the white-sand beach, was enclosed in a chain-link fence. She was going to tell him about renting villas. Someone from a villa-management company also met them there, a younger woman named Mary Archer. While Calvin waited in the taxi, he drank iced tea with the two women, and afterwards was taken down to the beach behind Mrs. Champion’s house. Mrs. Champion told him that the house next to hers was owned by Lee Remick’s mother. Farther down was an even larger bungalow that was once owned, they said, by John Denver. You can rent them when the owners aren’t in residence, Mary Archer said, with or without servants. On their way back to the taxi, a guard dog in one of the yards barked at them through the fence. He jumped back. If you were coloured, Mrs. Champion said, that dog would be at your throat. Dogs here really go crazy whenever a black person goes by.
As he was getting out of the cab at the hotel he asked Calvin for a phone number or an email address, so that when he was back in Canada writing the article he could contact him, ask a few questions, verify some facts. Calvin gave him his business card with a phone number. The website should be up and running in a few days, boss, he said, laughing. The journalist gave Calvin his own email address and told him to send a message when everything was operational. Calvin took the slip of paper and put it in the glove compartment, which was already crammed with similar slips of paper, and they both thought that was the end of it.
Now Calvin Braithwaite spends a good part of his day watching his computer screen. Not at his place of work, he doesn’t have a place of work, but in the small apartment above St. Clair Avenue West, in Toronto, that he shares with his wife, Martine, Martine’s older brother Barnard Henry, and Calvin and Martine’s three children, Molly, Lucie, and little Patrick, who mercifully are in school, where they are doing well, leaving him plenty of peace of mind for the composing and sending out of his resumés. Since coming to Toronto he has composed some fifty or sixty resumés and sent them to more than seven hundred potential employers, businesses, agencies, trusts, individuals, anyone who has a website or an email address and is in a position to hire the kind of person Calvin describes himself as in his resumés. To Whom It May Concern: my name is Calvin Braithwaite and I am new to your country. In my native Barbados I was employed as a full-time gardener, or a veterinary’s assistant, or a health care worker, a nurse’s aide, a computer programmer, a newspaper reporter (sports), take your pick, references below, but since coming to Toronto I have had no luck putting any of my considerable skills to good use. I am dependable, clean, responsible, well educated, a father of three, my wife is a beautician, I have a driver’s licence and my own car. In fact, it is his brother-in-law Barnard’s car, a taxicab, but he drives it as well, in the afternoons. He doesn’t put all that in the resumés, of course. He drove a taxicab in Barbados; he doesn’t mention that, either.
Six months ago he programmed his computer to bark like a dog whenever an email arrived, but so far the dog has not stirred, not once, has not so much as lifted its head off the floor to sniff at the air or growl at a passing tramcar, has not scratched at a flea nor coughed nor drooled nor licked its testicles nor exhibited any of the normal signs of animate life, not once in six months. Every hour or so Calvin takes a break from writing resumés and checks his email himself, in case the dog has died and urgent messages have been flooding in unannounced. He had of course sent one of his early resumés to the journalist, and he is in daily expectation of receiving a reply. But there is never anything. And so Calvin returns to the composition of yet another creative version of himself, sometimes staring inertly at the screen so long that the computer gives up and goes to sleep. Whenever this happens, the screen saver appears, as though the computer were dreaming and the screen saver were its dream, and Calvin stares inertly at that.
He downloaded the screen saver shortly after downloading the dog. It is a continuing sequence of images, like a silent cartoon feature, in which a man on a desert island performs a series of Robinson Crusoe-like tasks. Some — such as waving at a passing ocean liner — are designed to get him off the island; others are just things he needs to do to survive, trying to catch a fish, for example, or to climb the palm tree growing in the middle of the island to get at a coconut. In none of these endeavours is he successful. Calvin is amazed that the man has lasted so long, almost half a year, given his lack of success at acquiring even the basic necessities of life. The program must take up a huge amount of memory. At the moment, the man is throwing stones at a monkey that has appeared at the top of the coconut tree. The monkey catches the stones and throws them back at the man. Calvin watches this bloodless exchange for a while, then decides to go out for a walk.
In some of his resumés his wife Martine is a beautician, in others she is a registered nurse employed at a home for seniors, or a daycare worker, or a flight attendant formerly with bwia, now with WestJet flying out of Hamilton, or with Air Canada flying out of Pearson, depending on the status of the position he is applying for. It wouldn’t do for a man seeking employment as a systems analyst, for example, to have a wife who works in a beauty parlour. The partner of such a man should be in human resources, or at the very least commercial real estate. In real life, she works in a convenience store on St. Clair, called The Store Famous, owned by a gentleman from Trinidad named Mr. Chakra Biswas. The store specializes in West Indian items, and is always full of people from the islands coming in to buy things they cannot find anywhere else. Calvin goes down two or three times a day to keep Martine company.
Before coming to Toronto he’d never seen people from so many different places — Trinidadians, Tobagonians, Kittitians, Jamaicans, Dominicans, Antiguans. Back home, apart from tourists, Martine was the first person he’d met who wasn’t from Barbados. He was driving the journalist who had come to write a travel story, and he had taken him to Harrison’s Cave. Martine had come from St. Lucia to visit an elderly aunt. At the coffee bar in the visitors’ centre, where Calvin and the journalist stopped before taking the tramcar down into the cave, Calvin was explaining how the whole island of Barbados was made from coral, how each piece of coral was made up of hundreds of thousands of little polyps, each with tiny invisible arms that reached out and grabbed plankton as it floated by. Martine had been sitting at the next table, on her day off, pretending to read a book but listening to him telling the journalist how the island’s limestone base had once been thrust up from the sea by a volcano, with the coral stuck on top of it, and now there was a foot of soil on top of that, no more than a few feet anywhere, and all the sugar cane grown on the island, all the human history of Barbados, came from just that thin layer of topsoil. Calvin had found he was talking to both of them, the journalist and this beautiful young woman at the next table who was no longer pretending to read her book. Like your hair grows only from the top of your scalp, he’d said, but underneath your scalp there’s your skull and your brains, the real person you are, and so beneath the thin layer of soil there’s this beautiful, intricate, complex system of coral caves and rivers and underground lakes, the real Barbados, and when the journalist went off to view the display of Arawak and Carib artifacts beside the gift shop she remained at her table, not because she’d found him attractive or interesting, she said later, but because she couldn’t afford a regular guide. But then she admitted that he hadn’t looked that bad and she had not forgotten what he’d said about her hair. In his first email to the journalist, Calvin told him about Martine, whom he would surely remember, and their three young children, and that they were now living on St. Clair Avenue, and asked him about the travel article. In his second, or maybe third, he mentioned his job as travel editor at the Bajan News, a newspaper now unfortunately defunct.
Martine looks over at him when he enters The Store Famous. She is busy with a customer. Under the store’s tube lights her skin looks grey and drawn. Mr. Chakra Biswas is also in the store, standing behind his cash register with a fly swatter in his hand. Once, when Calvin was working up a resumé for a job as assistant manager at Knob Hill Farms, he’d interviewed Mr. Biswas at great length about managing a grocery store, so that in his resumé he was able to say he had experience in all aspects of inventory development, computerized stock assessment, shelf loading, perishable goods management, and customer service, not to mention checkout supervision and pricing, and to list Mr. Chakra Biswas, Owner, The Store Famous, as a professional reference. He sent a copy of the resumé to thirty-seven grocery stores in Toronto. He also gave one to Mr. Biswas. “Would you hire this man?” Calvin asked him the next day. “Oh yes,” Mr. Biswas replied. “In fact, I think I will fire my present assistant and hire this fine fellow at half her wages.”
Calvin tries to chat with Mr. Biswas while Martine moves up and down the narrow aisles, showing her customer where the tinned ackee and bottles of coconut oil are shelved. But Mr. Biswas is too busy swatting flies and taking in money to pay him much attention, and soon Calvin drifts out to the sidewalk, where he stands with his back to the store looking up and down the street, as though trying to decide whether to go left to Timothy’s for an espresso, or right to the pool hall, called To Hell and Back, for a Banks, the Beer of Barbados. He consults his watch. It is already two o’clock. In one hour Barnard will be bringing round the taxi and he will have to fetch the children from their school. He goes back to the apartment to see if there have been any emails.
Before pressing the space bar to awaken his computer he sees that the man on the island is digging a hole in the sand with his hands. Calvin watches him work at it, fascinated. So lifelike. Light blue sky, dark blue water, sandy sand, green palm leaves shaking in the wind. He can almost hear their dry rattle. The man’s colour is ambiguous. He might be a white man tanned by the sun, he might be a light-skinned black man, it’s hard to say. The facial features are too roughly drawn to settle the matter. First, the man scoops the dry surface sand away, like an open-pit miner, then he jumps into the depression to dig it deeper, throwing the sand over his shoulder. What is he searching for? Buried treasure? Fresh water? Does he think he can tunnel his way off an island? Soon the hole is knee deep, then chest deep, and now the man has disappeared completely. All Calvin can see is sand flying out of the hole, then not even that. The man is under the island. But what’s he doing? Are there caves down there, as on Barbados? Like Harrison’s Cave? Where is he putting all that sand? Is he just scooping it behind him, closing in the hole as he goes farther into the earth? He should be spreading it out on the floor of the tunnel, so that he can escape if something goes wrong, if the roof caves in or he runs out of air. How deep is he prepared to go?
Now something seems to be happening in the hole. It’s filling up with water. Of course it is. Calvin has dug enough holes in the beaches along the coast of Barbados, on the leeward side, where the sand is white and raked daily (or rather nightly), to know that the holes always fill with water. Salt water. He could have told the man not to bother. Now bubbles begin to appear on the surface of the water filling the hole. Then a hand thrusts out, followed by the man’s head. He has floated to the surface of his tunnel! He is gasping for air as he crawls out of the hole, then he lies on the beach, chest heaving, beating the sand with his fists. He has failed to get off the island.
Calvin wakes his computer and checks for emails: You have no new messages. He thinks about composing a new resumé. What should he be this time? He wonders if he would enjoy retail. In Bridgetown he played cricket with a fellow who sold reconditioned automobiles for a company called Pegasus. He doesn’t have the wardrobe for it, of course, but that is no problem. To Whom It May Concern: My name is Calvin Braithwaite etc, etc. In my native Barbados I worked for two years for Pegasus Auto Sales Ltd., Spring Garden Highway, St. Matthias, where I attained the level of master sales representative before emigrating to Canada one month ago. At Pegasus I sold many makes of automobiles, including Porsches, bmws, Maseratis, Fords, and GM cars and lorries. I worked hard at this job, sir or madame, attended training sessions and sales conventions in Puerto Rico and Miami (where I met my present wife, who is a social worker; we now have two children, Molly . . . ). Two children? Can’t a used-car salesman have three children? But he has written two. Is it better for a used-car salesman to have two girls, or a girl and a boy, and if the latter, should the boy be older or younger than the girl?
While he is pondering which of his three children to jettison, the computer goes to sleep and the screen saver reappears. This time the man on the island is weaving palm fronds together to make a large mat. Perhaps he intends to make a shelter from the sun. Or a sail. Calvin wonders how the man got to the island in the first place. On a ship, obviously, or a sailboat. Perhaps he was a fisherman lured too far out by the promise of the catch of a lifetime, like that Cuban in The Old Man and the Sea, which he studied in fifth form. There is no sign of wreckage on the island, so his boat must have capsized and sunk, or else he fell or was pulled overboard by the fish, after which the boat sailed off on its own and the man swam to the island. Calvin has heard of that happening. He heard of a fisherman once from one of the windward villages who found a sailboat drifting in the ocean, sails reefed, no one aboard, no sign of anything, so he tied a rope to it and towed it back to his village. Then he thought perhaps the boat belonged to a scuba diver, and he was so tormented by the thought of the diver coming back up to the surface to find his boat missing that the next day he towed the boat back to where he’d found it and left it there, and never fished in that part of the ocean again.
He hears the downstairs door open and soon Barnard comes into the apartment. Barnard drops his keys on Calvin’s desk and stretches out on the sofa with his shoes on, sighing wearily. He has been driving the taxicab since midnight, and now he will sleep until eight, have a plate of food, and then go down to the pool hall to play dominoes until it is midnight again. Until then, the cab is Calvin’s. In a few minutes, Martine will come upstairs and tell Barnard that he must not lie on the sofa with his shoes on, he must get undressed and sleep in his bed like a proper man. This isn’t a chattel house, she will say. Then she will begin preparing their tea, still yelling at Barnard, who will not have moved from the sofa, while Calvin fetches the children home from school in the taxi. The apartment will be full of tea and bedlam until Barnard leaves for the pool hall and the children go to bed, so from four until eight is a good time for Calvin to do his driving. Then he will come home and resume his resumés.
“What that crazy fool on the island been up to today? ” Barnard asks, his eyes closed and his arm draped over his forehead. In St. Lucia, Barnard owned a travel business. For complete guided site-seeing, transfers, shopping, tours of St. Lucia, his card read, call Barnard Henry (Proprietor), Barnard’s Travel. He had one taxicab, two buses, and a storefront on Bridge Street in Castries. Martine had been his dispatcher until she went to Barbados to attend to her ailing aunt and met Calvin at Harrison’s Cave with the journalist. Calvin returned to St. Lucia with Martine and drove Barnard’s cab and his fourteen-seater transit bus from the airport to Castries, and he and Martine were married in Castries’ Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, even though Calvin was Anglican. The priest was a tall, thin, bearded man, white but dark skinned, like the screen saver man. He wore long white robes, and he read the service from a large book held up like an umbrella by a small black boy in a red cassock. His boy Friday, Calvin thought.
“He’s making a sail,” Calvin says. “But I don’t see any boat.”
“No boat? Perhaps he’s going to use his body as a boat. Bodysurfing, you know.” Barnard takes his arm off his forehead and swings it in the air, as though he isn’t lying on a sofa in Toronto but floating on his back in the warm salt water off St. Lucia.
“He’ll drown, then,” Calvin says.
“I don’t know why he want to leave that island anyway,” Barnard says. “He got everything he needs right there.”
“He has nothing on the island. What are you talking about?”
It had been Barnard’s idea to emigrate. He sold his travel business, telling Calvin and Martine he wanted to build a big house on a hill, with a fine view of the ocean and cool breezes at night. He had plans for the house all drawn up, he said, and now he had the money, if only someone would sell him a hill. But no one would. All the hills were taken. The tourists he had shown around the island in his taxicab had bought them all up. Remembering the journalist, Calvin had suggested they go to Canada.
“He don’t need anything,” Barnard says, “except maybe a woman for company. But you say there is a monkey in that tree? A monkey can be good company.”
“No food. No water.”
“He can fish. He can eat coconuts. He can cut the bark of the coconut tree and drink the juice.”
“He doesn’t have a knife.”
“No bills to pay, no sister telling him to remove his clean shoes from the sofa.”
“No taxi breaking down every second day.”
“The Flying Fish break down again?”
“There’s a case of oil in the trunk. Every time you fill up with gas, put in a litre or so.”
“I doubt that I will fill up with gas.”
“Petrol then, boss. Just don’t forget the oil.”
Calvin gets some of his ideas for resumés from the fares he picks up in the taxicab, especially on the longer trips, for example from downtown to the airport. He quizzes his customers shamelessly. Are you here for a conference or what? What line of work are you in? How did you get into it? Do you find it interesting? What things did you talk about at this conference? You gave a talk, man? About what? I’d like to have heard that, you have a copy of it I could read? Sometimes he is stonewalled, but more often than not the fares are flattered by his interest. Sometimes, if they are leaving town after a conference, they will unload whole stacks of papers on him — No, no, keep it, happy to be rid of it — which he takes home and studies until he feels knowledgeable enough to compose a new resumé. The papers also contain websites and email addresses of people to whom he can send the fruits of his labours.
Knowledgeable, that is how he likes to feel. Like with the journalist. One day last week he took a professional photographer to the airport, and on the way he asked the man a number of questions. An ace photographer is called a “shooter.” He does not “take a picture,” he “shoots an image.” It is all about lighting and composition. That night he wrote one of his most inspired resumés. To Whom It May Concern: My name is Calvin Braithwaite. In my native Barbados I was a professional photographer, having sold numerous images of Islands life to such publications as Condé Nast Traveller, Australian Geographic, France l’Est, etc. etc. A Barbadian postage stamp, depicting a zebu cow with an egret standing beside it, is from one of my images. As a shooter, I am fascinated by people first, how in certain light the composition of their faces reflects the stories of their lives, however mutely. But I am also interested in nature and scenics. I have a vast stock of images of people and places of the Caribbean community, mostly 35mm slides (Fujichrome Velvia — great reds!) but also many high-resolution digitals on CDs. Since moving to Canada one month ago I have been shooting images of Caribbeans in Toronto. My portfolio is available on request. The photographer even gave him the names of the art directors at certain local magazines and told him about tourist agencies, government libraries, provincial archives. He sent this resumé to one hundred and fifty-six addressees, including the journalist. He is still extremely optimistic about that one, it has kept him buoyed up for days, although so far nothing has come of it.
Still, that’s the feeling he craves, of being ready, of being knowledgeable, on the brink of some exciting possibility. As a boy in Barbados he used go to the movies, especially the Saturday matinees at the Globe Cinema on Upper Roebuck. After the harsh sun and the noise of Broad Street, the piles of fresh fruit on the sidewalk in Cheapside, the yams and mangoes and plantains and the little bottles of aloe oil, it was the darkness at noon that he loved, the unnatural light of the projector in the unnatural darkness of the movie theatre, so soothing to his tingling nerves. Everyone looking at the same thing with their mouths shut for once in their lives. He went to all the James Bonds. It felt like patriotism, because Bond was British and Ian Fleming had owned a house in Jamaica. Leaving the theatre in the afternoon, walking out of that cool darkness, he would feel like a spy. Trained to kill. His masters were M and Miss Moneypenny, his enemies were everywhere, that man lounging in front of the R & J Roti Café, what was his business? Who was that one who just stepped into Buddie’s Come-and-Get-It? Was that a flicker of movement atop the Mount Gay Building? He felt the reassuring weight of his Smith & Wesson under his left armpit, he kept his fingers rigid in his jacket pockets for the instant karate chop and sized up walls for their scalability. Always be aware of your escape routes. In a pinch a ballpoint pen is a lethal weapon, or a key ring clenched in the fist, the keys jutting out like spikes between the fingers, take that, and that. As soon as his wisdom teeth came in, he would have one hollowed out and filled with poison.
It is the same after writing the resumés. All this week, for example, he has been a professional photographer. He looks at things differently, not like a grocery store manager, not like a taxicab driver. He is constantly composing images in his head. Peoples’ faces do reveal their lives; he’s never noticed that so particularly before. Mr. Chakra Biswas’s face, smooth and shiny like a wax Buddha, yet the eyes hard as glass in their pudgy little sockets. Martine’s features in repose, when she sleeps or when there is no one in The Store Famous except him, they look sad, as though she is thinking of all the unfulfilled dreams she has ever had. He would like to shoot that image of her, let her see herself. It would be his gift to her. And the three children, Molly, Lucie, and little Patrick, lined up so sweetly on the back seat of the cab. He can see them in the frame of his rear-view mirror. He notices the peculiar choice of posters on the plywood hoarding where the Cave Shepherd Clothing Shop used to be: Bob Marley and Banana Republic, Marshall McLuhan and the Gap. The interplay of blues and reds, the pattern where a poster was torn off, like a jagged seashore seen from above. The way the sunlight picks out the imperfections in the window glass in Timothy’s, like tiny insects embedded in liquid sugar.
At eight o’clock, when he gets back to the apartment, the children are in bed and Martine is lying in the dark on the sofa, watching television. He tiptoes into the children’s bedroom and kisses them lightly on their foreheads, each in their turn, Molly, Lucie, and little Patrick, then goes into the living room and sits at his desk. Martine says “Calvin,” without removing her eyes from the television, one of those reality TV shows she has been following. Coloured light from the television screen plays over her face. You’d need 1600 asa film to capture that, he thinks, but it would be a beautiful image. A bottle floats close to the island, and the man runs out into the water to collect it. Excited, he hurries back to the island, drops to his knees in the sand and uncorks the bottle. It looks to Calvin like a bottle of Banks, the Beer of Barbados. Something to drink, at least. But instead of beer, a scrolled paper falls out. The man unfurls the paper and a balloon appears on the screen above his head. “Please send help,” the message reads, “I am marooned on a desert island.” The man drops the bottle and covers his face with his hands. Calvin wakes the computer up to check his emails.
“The dog didn’t bark,” Martine says.
“The what?” Calvin says, still distracted.
“While you were out driving the taxicab,” Martine says, getting up heavily and going towards the kitchen. “Your computer didn’t bark. Do you want something to drink? ”
Calvin looks at the television. Two young people, a man and a woman, both wearing very little clothing, are sitting around a fire on a beach, poking at something with a stick. A rat. They are cooking a rat in the fire. The camera zooms in on the rat, sizzling on a flat rock. That’s a mistake, Calvin thinks. The two young people are supposed to be alone on an island somewhere, eating rats, but there is a camera watching them all the time. Several cameras, in fact. How can they be alone, reduced to eating rats, if there are cameramen and production crews all around them all the time? How can this be reality TV ? They are not like the man on the island. Even though the man on the island is a cartoon, Calvin thinks, he is more real than these two kids poking at a fire with their sticks. Martine comes back from the kitchen with two cans of soda, one of which she places on the desk beside Calvin.
“Why don’t you make that thing sound like a parrot or something? Something less likely to scare a five-year-old half to death,” she says, returning to the sofa. “You know Patrick’s afraid of dogs.”
“I forgot, I’m sorry,” says Calvin. It’s curious how dogs make him think of Canada and Barbados at the same time. He and the journalist drank coffee together and talked about their families. After Harrison’s Cave and his meeting Martine they went to the house of a Canadian woman, Mrs. Champion. The journalist went inside to have a cool drink while Calvin waited in the taxicab, listening to cricket on the radio and watching a troop of green monkeys in the trees above the house. Once he got out of the taxi and went over to pet Mrs. Champion’s neighbour’s dog. After a while the door to Mrs. Champion’s house opened and three people came out: the journalist, Mrs. Champion, and a woman from the agency. As they passed the neighbour’s yard, the dog barked furiously at them. The journalist jumped. The two women looked angry, and Calvin felt sorry for the journalist, who was not used to Barbadian dogs. They took the woman from the agency back to her office and on the way back to the hotel the journalist said, Let’s go to Nico’s, I’ll buy you a beer. And the journalist had given him his email address. He wonders if that’s why he had suggested coming to Canada, because of the address.
Calvin stares at the computer. Martine watches him expectantly, then turns back to the television. After a few minutes Calvin shuts the computer off and the screen goes dark. Then he gets up from his desk and walks across to the sofa, settles down beside his wife and watches the show with her. After a few more minutes he puts his arm around her, and she rests her head on his shoulder.
But he is not thinking about the television show, he is thinking about the man on the island. At the base of the palm tree there is a small hut, little more than a shallow trench dug in the sand, covered by a tent of woven palm fronds. It looks shaded and cool in there, away from the relentless sun. Outside the hut there is a small pile of driftwood. The man has broken the bottle and used its thick bottom as a magnifying glass to start a fire. The monkey is gone. The coconuts are gone. The man is sitting at the top of the tree with his back towards Calvin, gazing out over the empty, limitless sea.