Guided Tour

Mary Ellen Lives

He would have to be more careful. This one was a know-it-all. They were the worst kind. Ire rose in Andru then. Anger lay in his chest like a congestion. Tourists with their stupid questions. Had he lived there all his life? What did they think? That he traveled from the rich Caymans to give guided rainforest tours on Grenada? How old was he? Old enough to be sick of tourists. He’d been guiding them since he was a boy. He learned from his father Haro, a plodding man who slipped a lot on the slick forest floor. Father passed the job on to son. Now Haro spent his days at the mango stand, drinking beer and advising tourists on which fruit to buy, which ones were ripe enough to eat right away. They tipped him for this advice.

They tipped Andru more. He was eighteen, he told the tourists. Always eighteen. He had been given a scholarship to the University of Brighton in England. He was to leave in the fall, or the winter, or the spring. Whichever season was next. The money he made giving tours would go to buy his schoolbooks, his plane ticket, his clothes. Everyone wanted to help the island boy, "The Handsome One." They slipped him rolled-up bills. “Something extra,” they'd say, “for your trip.”

The scholarship part was true. The Commonwealth gave out several to island youths who excelled in their high school studies, England’s way of paying back generations of suppression. Top of his class, Andru was awarded one when he graduated. He imagined flying away on a British Airways jet, the island a green spot afloat in the turquoise sea. But the money he earned went to support his family. There would never be enough to pay his travel expenses. Andru could not go.

What difference did it make whether the lizard was a gecko or a skink?

The girls were in front of him now taking pictures of one another under the trees. It was bad to let a tour group get too far ahead. It meant Andru wasn’t earning his money. There were rules about these things. He could get in trouble with the Tourism Authority if there were complaints. He could be made to stop giving tours. It had happened to others.

Some things were frowned upon, others forbidden. It was frowned upon to go to a guest’s room, to have sex with them for gifts or money. This occurred all the time. His friend Mackey bedded fat women from all over the world. He said they were easy to seduce, the fat ones. No one showed them much interest and they were grateful when someone did. Very grateful. Mackey saved enough money to buy an old car. He drove it as a cab, hauling tourists to Saturday market. But that business was competitive. The hotels had to call you and the concierges had favorites, relatives in the trade. Mackey couldn’t solicit business for his taxi in front of the hotels, calling out for customers. That was forbidden. When cab fares were scarce, Mackey trolled the beach for fat women.

The girls had taken a wrong turn. They were off the path.

“Hey,” Andru called out, not able to remember their names. They stopped and turned. “This way. We go this way now.”

The tall girl indicated a break in the forest. “What’s down there?”

Andru sighed. He held out his hands, palms up. “Nothing. Rainforest. We stay on the path.”

The girls sauntered back through the foliage. They were in no hurry. Andru looked up at the heavy awning of spread leaves. It was almost two-thirty. He knew by the quality of light, the slant of shadows. It was a three-hour hike, the Seven Sisters Trail, but these girls went so slowly. They needed to head down. It was Friday and Andru wanted to get home. His father waited, tipsy and smelling of fresh mango.

“How much?” Haro would ask.

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