Grenada, post-invasion, 1984. Twelve degrees latitude. Thirty degrees centigrade and humid. Steel bands evoke primitive rhythms, caveman magic, and sunburned tourists in tiny bikinis fall prey to Rastas on the beach. Rainy season is making a comeback after four months of dry weather during 'the season’. Squalls build and rush from the rainforest mountains of the interior to the coast in thick black haste, dumping more rain in minutes than many cities see in a year. Warm rain, the temperature of blood. The local people drift slowly through the rain and laugh with very white teeth at small, incidental events. The streets boil with overflow for an hour, then the sun comes out again, steams the hills and stills initiative dead in its tracks.
This is Graham Greene country; stamping passports has been elevated to an art form, a complex task performed with exquisite lethargy. Bureaucrats regard you with suspicious red-rimmed glares reminiscent of Africa and the Middle East, then laugh shyly and invite you to tea. People are Old World charming but drive like lunatics.
You learn to shrug.
It is dead calm and hot between rain squalls. The weather is either an incoming tropical wave or the lack of one. The temperature remains much the same regardless. Striped dengue-fever mosquitoes circle like bloodsucking helicopters. We find ourselves rooting for the bats which swoop at them like flocks of hideous hummingbirds throughout the evening. Despite their diligence the bats haven’t put a dent in the mosquito population. An old Grenadan hunter and his pack of mongrel dogs pass by our cottage early most mornings, headed slowly up the hill. He wears the remnants of ankle-high rubber boots and ragged khaki shorts. His face is lined and his eyes are bright, focused on his task. He sucks at his inner cheek with old man noises and traverses the hill like a skier in reverse, angling slowly upward from side to side. His black legs are as hard as diamonds, etched with scars and scabs along ropes of sinew from thigh to calf. He has a wickedly honed cutlass forever in his hand, an extension of himself. He hunts local wild meat in the mountain forests: opossum, iguana, monkey, small birds, mongoose... the dogs run the animals down and he comes in for the kill with his cutlass, swatting the baying dogs aside with the flat of his blade. The meat is sold to local restaurants where a fillet of iguana accompanied by breadfruit dumplings is considered a fine delicacy. I wonder if he saves the tenderloins for himself? Our Border Collie and Golden Retriever whine with a certain atavistic yearning when his dogs troop by our cottage; they recognise the primitive connection between the hunter and his dogs; they sense their bloody purpose.
The onset of the rains has been accompanied by an infestation of ticks. Our dogs are covered in them. Little grey rubbery blips that burst when you pinch them, like a kind of vampire bubble wrap. A vibrant pair of black and yellow bananaquits have taken up residence on the verandah, and they cock their heads in wonder as we de-tick the dogs. We leave little piles of ticks on the balustrade for them to swoop down and pick up. There must have been a hatch of tree-frogs as well. Our Siamese kittens have brought in four dime-sized peepers already this evening, and a great feline torture fest is in progress. Our daughter rescues the little guys as quickly as she can and returns them to the trees. The kittens stare wide-eyed and flag their tails with serious intent, then follow her into the dark for another exciting round.
A tropical wave is poised to pass through the islands. Stiff gales blow dog hairs into pretzel shapes and gather them in bristling loops on the west end of our verandah. A pair of screech owls are attempting to mate in the dying tree above the cottage, and the evening is filled with soulful ‘owl-wanna-screw’ noises. Goat droppings pellet the track to the beach, something to avoid barefoot.
The rains have yet to repair the damage done by the dry season. Dennis’ shack is lamentably visible through the dried out foliage below our cottage. His goats have birthed and the kids dodge minivans on wobbly legs. Dennis is a fixture here; he’s been with the property for over twenty years. He lives in a tin and tar-paper shanty down the slope from us, beneath the canopy of a crimson flamboyant tree. His goats and chickens forage hardily through the mangroves near the beach, competing with the land crabs for food.Dennis observes all from the shade of his tree. He looks up and waves sometimes, a wide white grin splitting his face. His palm is pink and vigorous in its wave, side to side from the wrist, rather old-ladylike and shy. I always wave back.
I’m in the grip of island fever, in need of rescue. The world gone to hell, Moonies selling malathion instead of roses, gypsies in suburbia camped out in their back yards around small fires with no hope of the open road, wanderers listlessly restless instead of joyfully reckless, huckster spin and false bravura taking the place of action and wild doings.. where are the aliens with their bright ships and their almond eyes?