Guided Tour

Mary Ellen Lives

Andru would toss the Caribbean dollar bills on the rough wooden table in their small tin-roofed house. The colors of the currency, with its pictures of schooners and Queen Elizabeth, matched the brightly painted walls of the room. His mother and sister would not be home till after they took the nutmeg they gathered that day to the co-op. Sometimes, when the trees were full, it took several hours to unload their sacks and get paid. Andru would heat up his mother’s spicy fish stew while his father napped in the hammock outside. He would hear Haro wake and shoo away the curs that roamed the streets for handouts.

“Andrew.” The tall girl pointed at the ground. “Do you know what this is?”

She and her friend stood at the verge of the path. He came up behind and looked at the gentle white flower at their feet. The athletic girl’s green eyes met his. He saw her skepticism. “Really now,” she said. “Do you know what it is?”

Andru used to tell stories to the tourists, legends of the island that he made up new every day. They listened, rapt. Some videotaped him. They would repeat these stories when they got back to their homes in America, England, and France. These stories were the truth, as they had no other. It had once given Andru pleasure to know his stories traveled where he could never go. That pleasure turned bitter with the years and Andru hadn’t bothered with his tales in a long while.

Nevertheless, feeling the alert expectation of the girls, a legend took shape in his mind. The orchid at their feet was dazzling white with a splash of red in the center. “This? This is what we call the Queen Camellia. It is very rare to find one, especially in this part of the rainforest. They usually grow much higher.”

He raised his eyes to the crest of Mt. Qua Qua. The girls followed his gaze.

“Queen Camellia was once ruler of the island.” Inspired by the lush treed mountain, Andru warmed to his tale. “The most beautiful woman in Grenada. When the British came, the captain tried to make her his own. But she refused to be dishonored and stabbed him in the heart. They imprisoned her, of course, and planned for her execution. It was to be a spectacle, to show the island people who was in charge. Queen Camellia robbed them of their victory by drinking poison. She died pure and radiant, like this flower. It is named for her.”

The petite girl crouched to touch the orchid. “That’s so sad, so sad and so wonderful.”

The tall one snapped pictures of the mountain, then knelt beside her friend to photograph the flower. They hovered over it for some time. Staring at the crowns of their heads as they knelt, Andru smiled. He would get a good tip from these two.

Tonight there would be a party at the public beach, as there was every weekend. He would hang with Mackey, and drink too much beer. Andru and the real Camellia would steal off to the old disco, the nightclub that had been wrecked by Hurricane Emily so many years ago. At the end of the beach, the building was far enough away from the hotels to be left by its bankrupt owners, falling apart bit by bit. A section of the foundation stuck out over the sand creating a cave of concrete. It was their special place, where Andru and Camellia were sheltered, yet could still hear the waves and feel the island under their bodies.

“You are very lucky today,” Andru told the two girls, “to see such a rare flower. It is a special thing to tell your friends when you get home.”

The tall girl stood, camera still in hand. Andru thought she might smirk and shake her head at his fable. Instead, she gave him a guileless smile. “You are the lucky one, Andrew, to live in such a paradise.”

Andru noticed flecks of gold in her emerald eyes and, for a moment, wished he could remember her name.

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