The four of us watched as the white man drove his truck right onto the
beach. It stuck out with its slick, red paint job as it ground its way
down, leaving ragged trenches deep enough to fall into. We’d grown used
to the little off-road jeeps that we sometimes saw climbing through the
bush, weaving their way inland to the waterfalls. Those guys knew the
space and understood the rules. None of them would have driven directly
onto the sand during nesting season.
We were regulars on
St. Madeline Bay – Junior, Keisha, Micah and me. Used to be that the
whole coastline was wild, and the only people here were the villagers
who looked after the turtles when they came to nest, a few
conservationists from the University, and us. Not anymore. Now we had to
go past the big colourful umbrellas and the picnic spreads to get to
our little corner of the bay.
On our side the sand was a
dirtier white, the sea almond trees were broad and shady and with every
step to the ocean’s edge the terrain underfoot changed. First was the
silvery dirt of the shortcut from the road, then the scraggly patches of
seaweed and sticky moss that grew on bits of sharp rock or smooth
driftwood, then a stretch of coarse sand growing deeper brown closer to
We could lie under the trees, sit with our
backs against the rough, rocky cliff face or lie on the sand. And we
didn’t need signs to tell us not to drive on the beach because it was
turtle season; we just knew. Although we were from town, and not the
little village nearby, we had long figured out how to fit into its
Micah glared at the red pickup truck and grumbled,
“White people.” He took a last drag of his cigarette and dropped the
butt into the empty beer bottle that we had stuck into the sand as a
temporary ashtray. His long, skinny body was folded up into itself,
knees almost reaching past his shoulders, back leaning against the tree
trunk, pale brown skin a fraction darker than usual.
Keisha laughed at him as her slender fingers rolled the spliff and put it aside in the Ziploc bag with the others.
“Micah, you know you white too, right?”
“I tell you to stop that shit. I not white.”
Micah’s face got a little redder despite his tan “You know is the
expats I talking about Keisha – the foreign kinda white, the rich people
kinda white. Acting like if the place belong to them.”
Keisha raised her eyebrows and Junior laughed. “Leave the man nah Keisha. You know Micah sensitive.”
I smiled and listened to them go at it like they had been for the
better part of fifteen years. Micah was the only white person we knew
that had a problem with being white. No matter how long we had known
each other, he still got heated about the joke and Keisha never stopped
making it. She couldn’t forget the way Micah’s father had looked at her
when Micah had brought her home, calling her his girlfriend when they’d
first dated years ago. Me and Junior didn’t like the way he looked at us
either, but we let it go. Plenty things in life you can’t help. Your
father is one of them.
“If allyuh going to argue…” Junior
interrupted in his slow drawl and reached over me to Keisha’s lap for
the Ziploc bag. We both knew that when Keisha and Micah got going it
could be a while. She and Micah’s on-again, off-again relationship was
just part of the landscape; it might change from day to day, but it was
When you were friends for as long as the
four of us had been there were always things you didn’t talk about,
little things you just couldn’t help – like Micah’s dad for instance –
and it didn’t make sense talking them to death. But today I wondered
about this tendency of ours. The way we talked about some things and not
others, the way the years rolled over the things we didn’t mention,
covered up in teasing.
Micah was still carrying on about people who drove on beaches where turtles nested when he let out a triumphant laugh.
“Look!” He pointed in the direction of the truck. “Stacey, look at the truck.”
I looked over. The idiot was stuck in the sand. “Yeah, well. No off road tires. Sand too deep on this side.”
“Even if he had off-road tires, he not supposed to be driving on
the beach!” Micah grumbled. He stood up to get a better look at the
truck, shaking his head every time the engine turned over and the tires
whirred, spraying sand. Any second now Micah would launch into a tirade
about people who didn’t give a damn about the nesting area but then came
turtle watching at night and posted pictures to their Instagram to show
off to their friends, like if they really cared.
glanced over at Keisha so we could roll our eyes together at Micah, but
she didn’t look my way. Instead she rooted around in the Ziploc bag then
cupped her hands around the spliff to light it, guarding it from the
breeze. Her hair had fallen over her forehead and we sat close enough
that I could see the tiny grains of sand in her curls. She took a deep
pull and slowly exhaled. The sunlight created little flecks in her eyes
that most people wouldn’t see otherwise. They usually looked plain brown
behind her glasses, but she wasn’t wearing them today and when the
light hit them, then they were hazel, even a little green.
I turned away and looked at the ocean instead. She hadn’t said a word
to me all day. We were sitting next to each other like we’d done
countless times before, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes.
“Micah!” She called him over, took one more pull and instead of passing
to me who was closest to her on her left, passed it to Micah and then
scooted backward away from me, stretched her body out on the sand,
propped herself up on her elbows and continued staring at the ocean. If
Micah noticed the breach in etiquette he didn’t let on but since Micah
hardly ever noticed anything that wasn’t right in front of his face, I
doubted it. I mean, I loved Micah, we’d been friends forever, but once
he got in his feelings about something it took a while for him to come
back to earth.
Junior was a different story. He glanced at
me and then his eyes flicked in Keisha’s direction. He was usually
quiet and seemed slow to process, especially when he was minding the rum
bottle, but nothing got past him.
“Here, Stace,” Micah reached over and passed the spliff to me and whatever Junior might have said was lost.
We sat in silence. The truck man was taking turns surveying his
tires that were halfway deep in sand and jumping in the driver’s seat
trying unsuccessfully to get some traction going.
wait and see,” Micah said, “It will be us he going to ask to help him
push his truck out of the sand. Lemme see how long it take for him to
figure it out.”
Micah lit a second spliff while the rum
bottle made the rounds. Junior had joined Keisha and was now lying on
the sand, his head resting on a rolled-up towel. I was the only one on
edge, glad that the truck man’s predicament and our buzz provided a good
cover for my mood.
I was sure that Junior had picked up
on Keisha’s coldness toward me. He’d kept looking at me on the drive
over too when Keisha let him sit in the passenger seat while she sat in
the back with Micah. Keisha usually rode shotgun because she liked to
control the music selection. But today she’d made a beeline for the
backseat and said nothing about the tunes. Even though he was in relax
mode laying on the said, I imagined I could feel his eyes boring into my
back. Junior had a way of looking at a person with that calm quiet that
made them want to spill all their secrets and I didn’t want that gaze
turned on me now.
We were all high, drunk and splayed out
in the sand when from behind us, came the unmistakable sounds of another
vehicle ploughing its way through the bushy short cut. “Let’s hope it’s
another pickup and they have rope” drawled Junior, “Truck man is
It was a large, dark navy SUV, windows tinted, no
plates, and as it approached the driver rolled down the window. A
clean-shaved, bald-headed man squinted at us from the driver’s seat.
We knew better than to scramble. Keisha
imperceptibly passed the Ziploc bag to Junior and he stuffed it under
the driftwood. Micah pulled himself up making him the most visible one
of the group.
The front door of the SUV creaked open, but
the man remained in the driver’s seat, looked at us and deliberately
shifted his body just enough so even from where we sat we could we see
the piece tucked in his waistband. A second later the back door opened
and two giggling girls in bikinis came stumbling out, one clutching a
bottle of puncheon.
The man climbed out of the front seat
and the group of three crossed the berm and walked out onto the sand
near to our tree. He was big and tall with a high, round belly.
Everything about him just screamed ‘officer’. He could have been my
dad’s age and the girls with him looked way younger than we did. He
looked at Micah and Junior and they nodded in the mysterious way men nod
at each other.
“What going on over there?” he asked,
pointing with his chin to the truck with the geyser of sand now spraying
into the pickup’s cargo tray.
“Stick,” Micah replied, “Idiot was driving on the beach.”
“But them is not off-road tires.”
“Same thing I say.”
The air around us eased. We were obviously high, and he was
obviously an armed, on-duty officer with two under-aged girls in his
police vehicle. All cards face up; everyone could relax. Micah and
Junior got up and the guys walked off and stood together staring in the
direction of the truck, discussing off-road tires and traction and the
depth of sand. The two girls didn’t approach us but stuck to themselves,
leaning against the SUV trying to look cool. I wondered if we had ever
been that young.
Keisha and I were alone under the sea
almond tree. She sat up and scooched closer to me. I had been sitting in
the same position so long trying to avoid looking at her that my back
hurt, but I didn’t dare move. The drama of the truck, the policeman, the
girls, even the boys faded into the periphery. All I could hear were
the waves and my own breathing.
“So, we ever going to talk about what happened?”
didn’t turn to look at me as she spoke. She kept staring in the
direction of the boys. The driver had finally realised he wasn’t alone
and began the long walk over to ask for help.
“I didn’t think you wanted to talk about it. I called…”
“You called to ask if I needed a drop by Junior.”
“Yeah, but I called. I didn’t know if…”
I didn’t know what else to say.
Keisha sat cross-legged, her hair surrounding her head like its
own black sun, her face in shadow. She flicked the lighter off and on
watching the flame die in the wind then reached over again for Micah’s
bag, took out his cigarettes and lit two, one for me and one for her.
She finally turned around properly to face me, handed me a cigarette and
leaned in to light it. It was the closest we’d come to each other all
day, and as she leaned away from me to light her own, the smoke curled
in the space between our faces until the breeze snatched it away.
“Listen, let’s not make this a big thing, ok?” she said looking
off toward the ocean “If you want to forget about it, cool. We were
“Well, whatever it was. If you want to forget it…”
I couldn’t read her face. Did she want to forget it, or did she just think that I did? “What about Micah?” I asked
“You and Micah still have this… thing. You always on his case and
he looks at you, you know, still. And he’s my best friend too.”
She looked away. I put the cigarette out in the sand.
A small crowd had gathered across the way. A few more people had
come walking down the beach, observing the commotion. It seemed the
truck was about to get moving after all. Junior, Micah, the officer, the
driver and a few of the newcomers were fiddling around with rope and a
hook and gesturing from the pickup truck to the police vehicle. Finally,
the engine revved and they all heaved. The truck rocked in place. They
tried again, and the truck rocked a little farther. Then with one last
mighty push, the truck dislodged from the deep impressions it had made
in the sand and slowly, slowly reversed until it was pulled to sturdier
Junior and Micah came back, chatting about the
truck and the police and his girls. Keisha began packing things into her
bag and I followed her lead looking around for bits of trash, butts,
bottles, anything we might have left. I was never so glad that the rum
was done and that we’d be getting on our way soon.
“What’s that smell?” Micah asked suddenly, “Sun raise something nasty in the bush boy. Smell like something dead.”
He looked around and sniffed the air. I could smell it now too.
Something about the smell was different though. It was rotting, yes,
like something that had been dead for days – strange that we hadn’t
smelled it before – but it also smelled like the sea.
“Look” Junior said softly and pointed out to the ocean. Something was
floating out there, still a long way off but coming in to the shore. It
looked like a boat, but it didn’t bob about lightly like an overturned
pirogue would. God, was it a man? Maybe bloated and swollen till it
looked nothing like a man at all. We started walking up the beach for a
better look. The truck driver and the other people that had helped him
had noticed too and were pointing in the same direction. They too began
walking toward the thing that was floating in the sea.
More and more people gathered, this time from even further up the
beach. Small children hung on to their parents who stood looking out at
the thing. People covered their noses with towels. The smell was worse
every time the wind shifted. What was it? And then the answer hit me. At
the same time, it seemed to hit a few other people in the gathering
crowd. I could hear the word being murmured all around.
was a giant leatherback turtle, dead and floating toward the beach in
the ripe heat of the afternoon. We stood together, Micah, Keisha, Junior
and me watching the grisly sight, all of us wanting to leave but unable
to look away. All was forgotten – the arrogance of white people, the
corruption of police officers, the heat of the day, even the way my
heart hurt when I thought of Keisha and Micah together, all that was
left was the dead thing floating inexorably closer to shore.
There’d been a night, years ago just before we had all gone off to
University. We had come here together to St. Madeline’s Bay to watch the
turtles lay their eggs. Micah had been really into the turtles even
then and he’d dragged us along, swearing that it was going to be one of
those unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime things, circle of life and all
that. The four of us rode in the back of the maxi, stoned out of our
minds, shrieking with laughter at the flattened hair of the girl that
sat in the seat in front of us, the terrible gospel music played by the
driver and Micah’s futile attempts to get us to quiet down and take the
whole thing seriously and read the guide book before he collapsed in
We walked along the beach huddled in our
jackets against the chill night air and stuck close together. I held on
to Junior – he had the flask and the most body heat – and Micah and
Keisha were wrapped up in each other like they’d always been. We
couldn’t hear a word the guide was saying so we just followed along with
the group and awaited the arrival of the turtles. Micah said they’d
been coming to this beach every year for thousands of years, following a
rhythm agreed upon between their turtle ancestors, the waves, and the
We waited and waited. Hours passed. The moon rose
high and then dipped behind a bank of cloud, but no turtles came. It got
colder, and the flask got emptier. Junior was calm as ever, but Micah
seemed to be irritated that the outing was not going according to plan.
Then there she was. Her back was a black dome in the moonless night. She
moved through the surf, making her long, slow way inland through the
gentle rolling waves. Micah was thrilled. He abandoned us and bounded
away to stand close to the tour guide. Junior had had enough. He sat on
the sand, bundled up in his jacket and promptly fell asleep.
But I remember feeling suddenly very young, very silly and very sober.
I looked over at Keisha then and saw the same expression on her face
that was probably on mine. I couldn’t explain it, not even then. But I
guess it was a kind of sadness, an awareness that in the face of
something that was so old, we were smaller than we could ever have
imagined. In the grand scheme of things, we really only mattered only to
each other and sometimes even that was very little.
sun beat down on us and the smell of death rode the air. None of us
wanted to be there when the corpse reached the shore so we turned away
and started walking back up the beach. I wondered if anyone else
remembered that night years ago when we’d seen the most magnificent
creature that ever was.
The boys walked on ahead, and Keisha quickened her pace to catch up with them. I watched her go and then called to her, “Keish…”
She paused but didn’t turn around.
“This could change everything, you know that, right?”
She still didn’t turn but I knew she was listening.
“We could fuck everything up, you and me. The four of us, everything could change.”
waves continued crashing on the shore, but Keisha stood silent. I took a
deep breath. It was a bad idea; the stench of death was everywhere.
Somehow it made me brave. Maybe it made me reckless.
“I don’t want to forget it happened.”
She finally turned around and looked up at me, her face grave and unsmiling. We fell in step with each other and walked on.
Ayanna Gillian Lloyd is a fiction writer from Trinidad & Tobago. She received the second-place prize in the Small Axe Literary Competition and was shortlisted for the Wasafiri New Writing Prize. Her work has been published in The Caribbean Writer; Moko Magazine; Small Axe; Poui; PREE; and Callaloo. She is a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, and is now a postgraduate researcher in Creative-Critical Writing at UEA. She is at work on her first novel.