midnight and indigo literary journal for black writers
Photo credit: Chelsea Victoria

“Curse this damned place. I don’t want anything to do with here.” Holson, my best childhood friend, slammed the door and headed off on foot to the nearest mechanic. He just wants to be nobody in a big city. He wants time to move at its regular pace and make it from point A to point B without interruption or detour. I’m okay with here. I’m okay with things interrupting the present.

The smell of sweet, deep-fried goodness wafts over from the nearby snack truck. Most of the roosters have stopped crowing, but now and then you’ll hear one. I haven’t seen a wild animal in almost forever. Today I saw five horses, one iguana, two goats with matted coats, and a dead rat.

Something’s out of place. I’m someone out of sync with the island’s natural rhythm. Small communities have a way of being stuck in a slow, drip-dragging time warp. I love it. I hate it. Seems like when I’m here I only live in the memories of it.

Microbeads of sweat appear on my upper lip. I always do this: sit in cars with the windows turned up because I underestimate the wait. Opening the car door, I expect a cool breeze to rush in but there’s just nothingness. Stepping out, I breathe in the warm, mid-morning St. Maarten air. In about two hours this island will be unbearable. After one o’clock, it will be too hot to function. The high smell of gasoline and car exhaust drags my attention away from the green hills down to the murky potholes.

Holson’s tiny yellow car sits blocking an intersection. It died as we were making a turn. I’m barely able to recline my seat because he has so many things. Truthfully, sitting in a forward lean created a bit of pain in my abdomen. Holson thinks I’m too complacent; people with similar pains wouldn’t put up with what I do: sitting in hot cars, staying in stagnant romantic relationships, and never volunteering for more work responsibilities. What can I say, it’s the relaxed Rasta within me. Caribbean professionals confuse me. How in the ninety degrees of hell isn’t anyone bold enough to speak out against Western standards? Our business dress code should change from suits and ties to loose-fitting guayaberas. I guess they’re all like me; not pained enough to change their situation.

We grew up on this intersection. Holson’s family immigrated here. Mine has been here for generations. We often wonder how we walked the same street daily but never met until high school.

I’m always thinking about the delicate dance of chance and fate. Always thinking about the ripple effect of small change.

A bus driver honking pulls me back to the present and this busy intersection. I wave my hand for him to go around.

Holson’s car is clean and in moderate condition. Like many cars on the island, it’s from a different period – or is it from the present period? I try to form opinions on design, fashion, and how it relates to Caribbean aesthetics. I don’t know anything about colors and shapes. Toes pointed down, I rotate my ankles and flex my toes. We didn’t need a tow truck. With Holson’s help, we could have pushed the car to the parking lot between the horse stable and hardware store. Then, when my mom got off from work, we could have transported his stuff using her Jeep. I didn’t push the matter because I’d learned that people only follow plans that they perceive as originally theirs.

Toes pointed down. The top of my hill was always steep enough to make me worry about tumbling forward. In all of my eighteen years, I only fell once.

I have this reoccurring memory where the overgrown grass is almost up to my armpits, cleared just enough to make a winding dirt path. I skip, arms stretched, down the hill. High saturation. The colors from my childhood memories always come to me in high color saturation. As I skip down the hill, I break into a run. Just before reaching the end of our neighbor’s lot, I begin flying. To stay elevated, I keep my toes pointed. This is how a young me believed aerodynamics worked.

Thinking about running down the hill always triggers this particular memory of a daydream:

I’m in the third grade. The entire student body and faculty are assembled in the small, wooden chapel for worship and announcements.

What a mighty God we serve,
What a mighty God we serve,
Angels bow before Him,
Heaven and Earth adore Him,
What a mighty God we serve!

A house of musical worship. Children wave their hands and play tiny instruments while combining their various island accents into glorious praise. I love when we sing a twenty-minute melody. I rock my body in a rhythmic side-to-side motion while keeping my eyes locked on the clock.

Countdown to self-hypnosis.

Where did I come from? How did I get here?

I used to go to a different school. A Catholic one. The assembly was never live like this. I’d always worry about which parts of the service to participate in and which parts to skip.

Where did I come from? How did I get here?

First, I envision myself exiting the row of foldable, metal chairs. Invisibility is my superpower. I walk about fifteen rows before crossing the sanctuary’s threshold. Tan. Brown. Orange. Dark brown painted woodwork frames the church’s dirty tan walls and tiles. The playground and the parking lot are a fascinating hue between orange and brown. Although I trust my invisibility to bypass the teachers in the temple, I always press against the dirty wall and inch my way toward the big gray gates.

Three. Large. Steps. I hide from my classmates behind the other wall. Now, I’m exposed to cars passing on the main road. While I wait for the cars to pass, I stand by the gate pretending to be on my way to school. Once the street is clear, I dash to the dumpster. I can’t trust adults to not rat on me. At this point, I’m dashing between houses and businesses. There’s water on the street and random patches of grass growing between cracks in the pavement. Rarely did I ever make it home. Between my home and school was a maze of warehouses. Unfortunately, because I liked to experiment with the routes, I was never able to memorize a path out.

The song melody ends. My soul snaps back to the school’s church where my body sways on rhythm. I’m back between the crowds of singing children.

I believed that if they’d chosen a long enough melody, I could hypnotize myself, transport myself home, and stay there for the rest of the day. But I had to make it home for the magic to work. In high school, I try self-hypnosis, but the whirr and wobble of the ceiling fan are never enough to transport me beyond the walls of the classroom. Maybe it isn’t about fans or melodies. Maybe being a teenager locked that part of my brain.

The pain of the sun coming down on my leg returns my thoughts to the present moment.

The intersection is busier – more people stare at me. I’m glad to have my sunglasses to use as a shield from their glares. How long was I gone? I check my watch. Fifteen minutes. It’s been a while since I’d spent that much time in the past. I recognize a man waving at me from across the street. What is he saying? “Oh hey! Yeah. Yeah. I good. Yes, I’ll tell my mother I saw you.” I have no idea who that is. He lifts the handles of his wheelbarrow and continues on his way.

I feel powerful. Reaching into the back seat, I grab one of Holson’s polos. This should be a good defense from the sun’s burning rays. I breathe in deeply and focus on the tick-tock of his navy blue clock. Toes pointed down, I rotate my ankles and flex my toes.

Tick. Flex. Tock. Flex. It was always easier to remember the path from home to school or work. No matter where I lived – or how long ago I’d lived there – I could easily pull up these memories. The trick to quickly descending my hill is to angle your body sideways. But if you want to fly, keep your toes down, lock your knees, and dare gravity to do its worst.

Around the middle house – fifth from the top and bottom – things even out. I can walk and run down the hill without hesitation. The first and only structure on the right side of our hill was my grandmother’s childhood home. I always slow down as I pass the rock and mud building.

Partly to be reverent.
Partly to steal a look.
Partly wondering if her dreams exceeded her life accomplishments.
They must have.

I often think about what she thought as we would drive by that small rock home. I don’t remember her ever officially acknowledging it. Was she sad that her siblings and their children had allowed the place to become dilapidated? How could her mind not be blown? In her lifetime she’d gone from a dusty girl in a dirt-floor home to driving in an air-conditioned vehicle, flying in an aircraft with a television, and vacationing in the homeland of Christ her Savior.

This roofless, unpainted, rock and mud structure holds stories I’m desperate to unlock. The seed of future generations and the ghosts of ancestors past constantly, unknowingly passing through each other.

If my soul is ever successful at splitting time, would I meet my grandmother on this hill for a play date?

A wild Kiawe tree grew until its branches stretched beyond the window and door frames. My great grandmother had nine kids. I can’t imagine eleven humans living in this one-room shack. There had to be more. More rooms. More proof that a young girl who shared my eyes lived here. Too afraid of the Kiawe’s thorns, I never explore. Instead, I stand, having a moment of silence on the unpaved road.

Partly to be reverent.
Partly to steal a look.

Partly hoping that this intersection of present and past would unlock a portal to commune with my ancestors.



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Onicia Muller

Onicia Muller is a Caribbean-born comedic storyteller currently freezing her buns off in Chicago. Her weekly humor column 'Just Being Funny' is published in The Daily Herald’s Weekender. She received IGNITE Caribbean's 30 Under 30 Caribbean American Emerging Leaders and Changemakers award for her work as a cultural influencer.