The antiquated aircraft had been up and down at least a half a dozen times since it had rumbled into the hot, blue sky. So far none of the islands had even slightly resembled Isaiah’s childhood home. This was definitely not the tropical paradise he remembered as a kid. What had happened to the puffy white clouds? A metallic gray haze floated under the shadow of the wing. Where were the towering green mountains? A monotonous parade of shrunken atolls dotted with a few scraggly coconut palms loomed below. When had the sparkling blue water turned brown? Ash from the frequent volcanic eruptions combined with global warming had submerged the coral reefs and white sand beaches into an unappetizing soup of primordial muck.
Isaiah stared out the window at the bland scenery in disbelief. It was as if the vibrant landscape of his youth had virtually disappeared. Now he understood why island hopping, once a favorite past time of the nearly-rich and semi-famous, was no longer in fashion.
“Leewards to Windwards, Windwards to Leewards” the steward complained in a singsong voice. “Boring, boring, boring.”
Isaiah was inclined to agree. Lulled into a kind of geographic trance, he had been dozing for most of the flight. He was dreaming of his mother, when he was jolted awake by a sharp explosion. The turbo-prop stalled in mid-air and then made a violent u-turn. Though his seat belt was buckled, his body was whipped around like a puppet cut loose from its strings. His head smashed into the window with a mind- numbing crack, and the so-called present moment paused at a set of foggy crossroads. A Mystic directing traffic at the junction offered him four choices: to go back, to go forward, or travel left or right in time.
“Okay. Everyone listen up. We’re going down,” the plane’s steward announced, as if making Isaiah’s decision for him.
“Actually the way up and the way down are one in the same,” the Mystic, who was now occupying the seat next to him, declared.
“Yeah, that’s right. Up is down, and down is up.” the steward agreed.
“So, where is it?” The Island, lost in a mist of time and rain, was nowhere in sight.
“Have patience,” the Mystic replied.
“I can’t see anything,” Isaiah whined.
“The place you seek can never be found by seeking, yet only seekers find it,” proclaimed the Mystic.
“I’m seeking. I mean, I’m not seeking!”
“There it is!” exclaimed the steward.
An opening the size of a pinprick appeared in the mist. Vapors began to rotate like a whirlpool. The helpless plane was sucked into a swirling vortex. Slices of mountaintops, snatches of river valleys, and copious coconut trees bombarded Isaiah’s vision. Tropical scenery was spinning like a top. At the last possible moment, the aircraft leveled out and floated gracefully onto the potholed landing field, bouncing several times before stopping just short of the sea. Isaiah peered through the badly scratched window. It had been twenty years since he had been spirited away from The Island, but home is a place one seldom forgets.
Since he was the only person disembarking, the steward snatched up the metal steps the moment he set foot on the tarmac. Isaiah smoothed his clothes and checked his watch as the Eagle disappeared. A sense of panic rose from the pit of his stomach. Why had he felt so compelled to come back and search for his roots after all these years? What exactly was he hoping to find? Everything seemed so different. What if no one remembered him? He thought he heard familiar music as he strode in the direction of the old stone terminal. The closer he got, the more intense the rhythm became. When he stepped inside, old- time reggae tunes were throbbing off the walls. The guy at the immigration desk was leaning back on his stool with his eyes half closed crooning ‘Don’t worry about a thing’. ‘Every little thing is gonna be all right’, belted the customs officer, standing up on his the inspection table.
After a while the music stopped. Immigration coughed, straightened his cap, and rearranged his rubberstamps before signaling Isaiah to approach his desk. There was no sign of a computer screen anywhere, no scanner to read the global ID chip implanted in his palm. Isaiah fumbled nervously for his passport.
The officer finally spoke to him. “Relax, man. Where did you come from?”
“Actually, I was born here.”
“Great! What’s your name?”
“Don’t tell me you’re Rosay’s son. Remember me? I’m Spanny! We used to play together when we were kids!”
Isaiah didn’t remember anyone named Spanny.
“What about maman-ou?” Spanny inquired in Creole.
“She died overseas.”
“Élas. I’m sorry to hear that. Hey, Wallace! This is Rosay’s son. Let him use the jeep, okay?”
Unlike the nightmare Isaiah usually suffered when traveling internationally, this was like a strange but pleasant dream.
The scenic drive from the airport was like a journey back through geological and emotional time. As the bare bones jeep lurched out of the lot and turned up the coastal road, Isaiah sensed he was entering a world more linked to the past than to the present. There was no traffic. The tall palms that lined the roadside were healthy and alive. The few settlements he passed along the coast looked exactly the way he remembered them from his childhood. Music blared in obscure rum shops, and drunken old men slammed worn dominos on wooden tables with such force that it was a wonder the legs didn’t collapse. Women of all ages sat in groups gossiping and scrubbing laundry in bright plastic tubs, while half naked little boys ran behind Isaiah’s transport, penises dangling.
At the turn off for the gateway to the interior, he pushed his sunglasses to the top of his head. He had not come back to The Island to hang out by the coast. He was headed to the interior where the rivers ran cool and clear. As Isaiah cruised up through the margins of the shady gorges of the valley, he felt absorbed by The Island’s increasingly lush terrain. Welcome home, the towering trees seemed to say. The higher he went, the better he felt. The clear mountain air was working on him like an elixir. By the time he shifted the transport into low gear and started to scale the steep, narrow road that wound into the heart of The Island, he had already begun to melt back into the green, uncomplicated world of his youth.
Isaiah pulled over at a bend in the road. Humid, oxygen-laden air engulfed him as he stepped out of the transport. Planting his feet carefully on the edge of the precipice, he stared out over his homeland, slightly bewildered. Living abroad had never been real for him, but from the moment the plane had been sucked into the vortex, he had had a sense of entering a world that was equally unreal.
They say you can never reclaim paradise. Yet as Isaiah turned off the main road onto the cobbled track that led towards his childhood home, the scene appeared unchanged. Masses of colorful flowers sprang away from the overgrown driveway as he approached the vine-covered house. A squadron of noisy Jacko parrots flew up from the old grapefruit trees on which they were feeding, and the elusive Mountain Whistler caroled from the heights. Physically the place looked the same, but where were his people; the farmers and the Rastas, uncles and aunties who cultivated the fertile ridges and ravines of The Island?
Isaiah swept out a corner of the veranda and pulled a string hammock out of his bag. The hooks attached to the posts were old and rusted, but they held fast as he climbed in. He settled down to contemplate his life so far. Loss, he decided, was his Karma. He had lost his home, and shortly after wards lost his mother. In some ways, his life overseas had been easier than his childhood, but now he was back to reclaim his roots. He planned to take his time and make a positive connection between his past and his future. Then he hoped he could move on. So why, then, was he plagued with such an uneasy feeling? Isaiah was still wondering what was wrong when he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Before heading into the forest the next morning, he stuffed himself with mangoes. He wanted to spend the entire day doing things he had done as a kid. As he passed along the ridge, Isaiah stopped often, focusing his binoculars in the treetops. Birds flitted through the under story, some so near he felt could reach out and touch them. Parrots chattered in the canopy as he picked his way among the moss-covered boulders and tree ferns that dotted the path. He was looking for the waterfall and the pool he had bathed in hundreds of times before. He could hear it somewhere in the distance, but the deeper he traveled into the forest, the more confused he became. Even though he had been walking for quite a while, the sound of falling water wasn’t getting any closer. A feeling of helplessness suddenly overcame him. He was slumped down on the forest floor feeling foolish and hopelessly lost when the Mystic, dressed all in white, stepped lightly from behind a stand of bamboo.
“Sometimes forgetting is a blessing,” he said. “And since not even I can predict the future, the present moment is all that really matters.”
Isaiah looked up and rubbed his eyes. “How did you know where to find me?”
“I had a feeling you’d be here,” said the Mystic.
“I was just looking for the waterfall, to bathe, I mean,” Isaiah stammered.”
“Listen,” whispered the stranger.
When he did, Isaiah heard gallons of water falling somewhere below him.
“How do I get there?”
“Follow your heart.”
Isaiah stood up tall and continued on more confidently. A hundred foot falls roared off the top of the cliff and thundered into an emerald green pool just around the bend. The sun was shining, and a rainbow had formed around it. He stripped down to his boxers and dove in without a second thought. The cold water caused him to shout like a little boy. After splashing around for a while, he emerged from the pool thoroughly refreshed. His mind was clearer than it had been in years. He sat down on a large flat stone and dried himself wondering which path would lead him back home.
“You already know the way,” the Mystic reiterated.
That night Isaiah dreamed of the volcano. His mother was peeking boldly out of the dome. Her eyes were radiant with fire, smoke rolled out of her ears, and lightning flashed from her nostrils. When tiny, rainbow colored shards of glass came streaming from her mouth and fell like candied rain, Isaiah was delighted.
“Good trick, maman,” he clapped happily. “Do it again!”
But as he pushed out his tongue to taste them, his mouth began to bleed. Isaiah rubbed his tiny fists around his grimy face causing his tears to mix with ashes and pieces of glass. Now torrents of molten lava gushed from his mother’s lips. Although he tried to outrun the flow, his feet were cemented mid-stride. His screams were drowned in a bowl of magma soup as the lava engulfed him.
Birds were chirping hesitantly when Isaiah awoke. As he lay in the pitch darkness waiting for daybreak, he wondered about the meaning of his dream. Obviously his mother wanted to warn him about something, but he was having a hard time imagining what it was. The Mystic would probably know the answer. Isaiah downed his cup of cacao tea and set out for the waterfall. But when he arrived, his mentor was nowhere in sight. He glanced at his watch, which still showed the same time as when he had landed at the airport.
“Sorry if I’m late,” the Mystic apologized, appearing out of nowhere.
“My Mother used to say nothing happens before time,” Isaiah sighed. “But it seems like my watch has stopped.”
The Mystic smiled. “The sun comes up and goes down again. It gets light and then it gets dark. One day passes like the next. That’s island time.”
“Maybe it needs a new battery,” Isaiah persisted. He laid back and stared up through the fluttering foliage of the bamboo. “Even though I was born here, sometimes this island seems like one big riddle to me,” he said. “I remember a game we used to play when we were kids.”
“You want to play?” asked the Mystic.
“Sure! Tim Tim.”
“How many coconuts can you put into an empty sack?”
“Hum. Only one, because after that the sack’s not empty.”
“Hey! You’re good! Now it’s your turn.”
“Three big men were standing under a small umbrella, yet none of them got wet. Why?”
“Because it wasn’t raining!” crowed Isaiah
“You’re not so bad yourself.” the Mystic roared.
“I’m glad to see you have a sense of humor,” smiled Isaiah.
“Believe me, in my line of work, I need it.”
Just then the image of Isaiah’s mother’s face came shimmering up from the gravel bed of the pool. Rays of blue and green light streaked from her eyes, and silver bubbles poured from her lips. She must have been trying to speak to him, but no matter how hard Isaiah tried to understand, her words were unintelligible. Why did she have to die so young? If only he could hear her now, maybe she would be able to help him make sense of his life. But instead maternal enlightenment, the pool began to ripple and stones started showering down from the top of the falls.
“Earthquake!” Isaiah shouted.
Isaiah tore off through the forest at full speed. As he raced along the bank of the river, the leaves on the trees were dancing a crazy jig and the ground beneath his feet was buckling. He knew he needed to get out of the ravine. But as he scrambled up the cliff, the gravel crumbled, letting loose an avalanche of rocks. One hit him squarely on the head, causing him to lose consciousness.
“Looks like your mama is trying hard to make a point,” grinned the Mystic.
The air was thick with ash and the putrid smell of sulphur when Isaiah woke up. As he clawed his way back up to the house, electricity flashed through the super-charged air. The plume of smoke pouring out of the volcano changed from dirty white to bright pink as he watched from the veranda. Then a huge bolt of lightning arched high across the valley setting off a shower of phosphorescent sparks. In the shimmering light, the mountains that surrounded his childhood home were tinged with the ominous outline of crimson colored lava.
Déjà vu all over again, Isaiah thought, as he stumbled towards the jeep.
He raced down driveway and onto the main road. As he careened through the valley, sharp blasts from the volcano caused all four tires of the speeding vehicle to leave the pavement. The lush mountain landscape turned psychedelic. Sprays of brilliant lava and hot yellow gases shot high into the halo of green clouds. Broiling pyroclastic gas would overtake him within a matter of minutes.
His heart was beating wildly when he turned into the airport parking lot. The terminal was deserted. Isaiah ventured out onto the runway, threw his hands up to the sky, and prayed for a miracle. He didn’t have to wait long until the same beat up turbo-prop that had deposited him on The Island sputtered through the thick cloud of ash. He took off his jacket and waved. The plane zoomed over once and then circled back around. As it dipped dangerously close to the ground, Isaiah flatted himself on the hot runway.
Isaiah squeezed his eyes shut. He could hear the hissing of molten lava as it crept steadily onto the tarmac. But next thing he knew he was on board the plane, buckled in the same seat as before. The steward was standing over him looking concerned.
“What happened?” Isaiah asked, baffled.
“You had an accident, dude. Major turbulence caused you to hit your head on the window as we passed over The Island. Since you were the only passenger scheduled to disembark, we never landed. We’re just heading back up north now.”
“But I was there,” Isaiah insisted, pointing downward.
“That’s impossible. No one got off the plane. Besides, looks like that place is history.”
Glancing out the dirty window, Isaiah noted that The Island was nowhere in sight. Was his trip home simply a dream resulting from concussion, or was it real? Scratching his bandaged head, Isaiah checked his watch and was relieved to see that time was once again passing. He was getting ready to recline when he became aware of the Mystic seated beside him.
“How was your trip?” the fakir inquired.
“According to the steward, I never got off of the plane.”
“Maybe not physically, but mentally you were long gone.”
“I dreamed I went home,” said Isaiah.
“So what did you learn while you were away?”
“Someone who looked a lot like you advised me not to worry about the past or the future, to follow my heart and live in the present moment. My mother spent a lot of energy making sure I got the message. ”
“Tim Tim,” the Mystic challenged.
“Bwa Chès,” Isaiah retorted.
“Why is it that when you lose something, you always find it in the last place you look?”
“Because once you’ve found it, it isn’t lost anymore,” Isaiah beamed
The Island would always be alive in his memory, but from now on he was confident he could find his own way home.
Kristine Simelda is the author of two adult novels, a children's novel, three novellas, a collection of short stories for young adults and numerous poems and other short fiction. Born in the U.S., she has lived on the island of Dominica for the past nineteen years.