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Authors: Jenelle Jack Pierre

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BOOK: A Mural of Hands
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“Yes.”

I rocked forward on my toes, feeling somewhat giddy. I didn’t want to take any chances on this date though. Maybe she might not want to do the water thing.
 

“Is there anyplace in particular you want to go?”
 

Natalie shook her head and moved toward her car. “Not really. I haven’t been to many places here to begin with.”

“Okay, let’s plan for this weekend. I’ll give you a call,” I said as I opened her car door for her.

On Sunday afternoon, I took Natalie to Shoreline’s Coral Reef, hoping she’d enjoy the glass bottom boat tour. The Rasta guide led some of the single ladies into the water to the boat, taking them by the hand, warning those wearing dresses to hold up the ends so that they wouldn’t get wet from the rising tide. I wore a new pair of green plaid shorts, along with a white polo. I wanted to make a better impression on Natalie since she’d only seen me in my greasy, work overalls. The guide moved toward us as Natalie took off her flip flops, then reached out for her and smiled.

I shot him a look. “I’ve got it,” I said, wondering if he really hadn’t seen that she was with me.

“It’s just routine,” he replied as he moved nearer to another woman.

Natalie bit her lip, and I took her outstretched hand. “You didn’t have to be so rude.”

“I wasn’t being rude.”

“You should’ve heard your voice. So you’re the jealous type?”

My big toe dug into the sand as we got closer to the boat’s ladder. “No.” I grew concerned. “Please don’t get the wrong idea.” Natalie climbed up the ladder first, and I couldn’t help but lick my lips as I watched her butt. “I was just letting him know that you’ve got someone here to take you to the boat.”

Once everyone was on board, the boat sailed away from the shore. Natalie and I looked through the solid, clear Plexiglas floor with the ocean rocking beneath our feet. “Wow,” Natalie said, staring down into the mass of bluish-green water.
 

At first, we only saw soft-shell crabs and the arms of rich green plants waving around, their roots attached to massive underwater rocks. The guide took the boat further and further out. Fist-sized, transparent jelly-fish floated through the water, their bodies bobbing down then lifting up like released umbrellas. We could hear the droning of the engine and the splashing of the water as the boat slowly glided forward. The ocean seemed to surround us with new life. Schools of silver fish darted back and forth, either looking for food or following an indecisive leader. Fleshy king fish and red snapper glided peacefully about their business, taking no notice of the hovering boat and gawking people above them.
 

“There’s an octopus.” Natalie grabbed onto my arm to show me where the huge grayish creature swam.
 

I spotted a sea turtle and pointed to it, glad that I’d decided to come to the reef in the country for the first time. This reef seemed almost untouched.

Natalie smiled at me and it was more amazing than the underwater world we’d been observing over the past hour. “Thanks for bringing me here.”

“Sure.” I turned back to the sea. “There is nothing better than nature. Ocean life is so untainted.”

Natalie squinted her eyes and her eyebrows crinkled. “I love animals. I’m studying to become a veterinarian.”

“Really?”

 
Natalie nodded her head and stroked the necklace that hung from her neck. “I think that animals and nature teach us how to appreciate the simpler things in life.”
 

I stuffed my hands into my pants pockets, even happier I’d chosen this as a date. “That’s a nice necklace.”

Natalie held it up in front of her, the pendant of a gold fish dangling. “Thanks, it’s from my dad.” She moved around me, from the right to my left. “I’ve been planning on going on one of these tours for months, but I traveled with a friend on the ship to Tobago once and the sea-sickness got to me. When we arrived at the port, we took a Maxi Taxi to the guest house, and I laid in bed until the next evening.” She scratched her cheek. “I was kind of scared the same thing might happen today, but wanted to give it a chance.”

I was impressed. “Well, I’m glad you’re doing okay.” I stroked her arm. “Don’t vomit all over me, though, before this date’s over.” I pulled at my sleeve. “This is a new shirt.”

Natalie suddenly clutched her stomach, her shoulders jerking forward. I stepped back, afraid I’d spoken too soon. Natalie dropped her arms and laughed. She inhaled the salty air.
 

“Ah, you got me for a moment.” I smiled.

“Only for a moment?” Natalie tilted her head.

“Are you flirting with me?”

“Yes.”

I took Natalie’s hand and was relieved that she didn’t let go or show any signs of awkwardness as the boat sailed back toward the shore. Though she’d told me that she lived at home, somehow being with her felt like one of those two-week summer romances, where someone had to leave at the end.
 

I tried to get the anxiety out of my system with the thought that maybe it was just because I wanted to know more about her. We continued to watch the ocean life and when the tour ended, I decided to ask Natalie out again. I stood there, waiting nervously, until she agreed.
 

Back near the water’s edge, tourists chatted in thick British, German, and American accents. Digital cameras hung from their necks while they talked about how great the experience was, vowing they’d tell all their friends about Trinidad when they flew back. The guide signaled to his buddy on the shore to come help the women, then thanked us, and told us to come again. A couple feet away, another group of eager patrons lined the sand, waiting for their sightseeing excursion. The distant horn of a conch shell being blown was faintly heard; fishermen had pulled in their day’s catch.

Natalie walked a couple steps ahead of me and swung the pink Keds in her hand, her Capri pants dry. The water and sand felt cool beneath my feet, and I was happy to be out in the sun with this woman. I walked up onto the hot sand, before bending down to wipe some of it off each foot.
 

“NAT-a-lee,” called a voice. I glanced up at Natalie, who was making an attempt to get the sandy grains out from in between her toes. She looked up then to see who’d called her.
 

“Margorie.”
 

“Hey, girl.” Margorie left the line of people who were waiting to go on the next glass bottom tour and strolled over to Natalie. “You’re actually out today, not stuck in the house.” Something about her resembled Natalie. I examined her features closely.
 

She had a high forehead, faded caramel skin, full lips. And her nose. That was it. They both had this slight pointy thing going on at the tip. She wore a large, wide-rimmed hat and big sunglasses.

 
“Thought it was a nice day to go out,” Natalie replied.

“And by yourself?”
 

I straightened up then and walked over to Natalie, who looked at me. “I’m not alone. Antonio brought me here.”

Margorie glanced in my direction, and I noticed that her smile grew tense. She turned back to Natalie. “Oh.”
 

Natalie scratched her wrist. “Antonio, this is Margorie,” she said. “We’re cousins.”

“Hello.” I gave a short nod.
 

“Nice to meet you,” Margorie replied. I stretched out my hand, and we greeted each other. Her diamond bracelet shone in the sunlight. “So, what kind of friendship is this?”
 

I grimaced, wondering about her question and why she had asked it. Maybe she guessed that I wasn’t rich enough.

Natalie swatted her playfully on the arm. “You don’t have somewhere to go?” She raised her chin up, in the direction of the water. “Look, almost everyone’s already on the boat.”

Margorie spun around. “Gosh, boy. They’re loading people fast today. Later.” She hugged Natalie. “Nice meeting you, ahh...”

“Antonio.”
 

“Ya,” Margorie replied with a shrug, running off toward the boat.
 

I felt she’d been a bit snobbish and I couldn’t help but quip, “
She’s
friendly.”

Natalie grimaced, but kept her eyes on Margorie’s diminishing back. “You’re not like the guys I usually date. She was just being difficult. Sorry.”

Frown lines formed in between my brows. “What kind of men have you dated?” I looked down at the sand as we walked. I felt uncertain of my reaction to Natalie’s answer.

She stayed quiet for a time. “They’re normally guys from families that my parents know,” Natalie finally replied.

We both remained silent until it seemed almost awkward, and I thought maybe I shouldn’t have asked. Natalie’s answer made me feel weary, like she’d left out something. She’d probably dated guys from families with money and the thought alone made my palms sweaty. What if I met her dad and he dismissed me automatically, not only because I didn’t have a degree, but because I couldn’t even afford to take Natalie to a nice restaurant like The Verandah if I didn’t work overtime? Unless I dug into my savings.
 

The silence grew until Natalie broke it, mumbling that she didn’t think much about her old relationships. I nodded to show her that I’d heard, but was unsure whether she was being honest.
 

Natalie took my hand, and I led her back to my car. When we reached her house, she unbuckled her seatbelt, and I opened my arms for a hug. She leaned into me and told me goodbye.

Over the next few weeks, my days were consumed with working, talking on the phone with Natalie, and our weekly dates. I put in an extra day whenever I could, so that I could afford to take Natalie out without going into my savings. Living in Trinidad was like living on any other third world island, I’d heard; everything was expensive, unless you could pick it from a tree or pluck it from the earth. And, it was a sacrifice to give up a day off, but being able to put down money whenever we went out, and seeing that Natalie enjoyed herself gave me satisfaction. Often, we’d bump into some of my buddies. They eyed Natalie whenever I introduced her. A nice looking woman does that to men.
 

Natalie, though American in dress and certain mannerisms, was always friendly toward them, incorporating herself with ease into my social life. Occasionally, she told me that she didn’t understand a word of what a friend was talking about, and I let her know that some accents were stronger depending on the household.
 

One evening after we watched a movie with two of my friends that I’d known since childhood, Natalie and I told them goodbye and headed for my car. She told me that college would’ve helped one of them, and I had to remind her that not everyone could afford to go.
 

“That’s an ignorant thing to say anyway.”
 

Natalie had rolled her eyes. “What do you mean ignorant?”

“Going to college isn’t going to cure anyone of his accent. I told you before that some people talk like their family. That’s who they’re around most of the time.”

“I still think that college would have helped him.”
 

“Yes, it might’ve helped him learn his subjects, but not necessarily talk better.” I turned to her. “And what does that mean, exactly? I’m sure there are many people in the States who’ve been going to school all their lives who have accents. Their accents might not be that strong, but they are still there.” I shook my head. “For a girl getting a college education, you should know better.”

Natalie gave me a hard look, but held her tongue.

After our argument, I noticed that we didn’t talk on the phone unless I was the one who called. But by the following week, Natalie had thawed.
 

We decided to meet at Clyde’s, a little hideaway restaurant wedged between a spa and a dental office, arriving right before a heavy rainfall. I ordered a glass of sweetened ginger beer with pillou, and Natalie did the same, after I explained it was a rice, chicken and mixed vegetables dish. We took our time eating our lunch, and then I ordered two slices of rum cake. We devoured that too. By the time we went outside, the sky was cloudless although, an hour ago, rain had fallen. Water blanketed the rich, brown soil on our path, and I glanced back and saw the exposed footprints of our shoes. When we reached the concrete pavement, rain water trickled down the sidewalk, spilling over its edge, joining the wet street.

We decided to walk a bit before I took Natalie home. She stepped close to me and our shoulders bumped. I smiled, taking her hand, and she smiled back, examining how the shade of our skin blended together. “We look like café latte and dark chocolate.”
 

“We’d make some beautiful cocoa babies,” I replied without thinking.

Natalie gave a strained smile and let go of my hand. “How far are we walking?”

“There’s an old abandoned building that used to be a post office about a mile from here,” I replied. “We can turn around there. By then our food should be settled.” The sun beat down on us and the muddy ground began to dry. The long leaves of the palm trees between the sidewalk and the nearby beach swayed in the wind.
 

Natalie cracked her knuckles before asking if I had any other interests that I hadn’t mentioned. I smiled, flattered, and told her that I enjoyed parasailing, because I felt so free gliding through the sky. She listened, then fanned her face with her hand.
 

BOOK: A Mural of Hands
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