- The Dragonfly's Tale
Weeks before Christmas, in the hills of a Caribbean island, a boy disappeared from home. He was fifteen years old. His mother, Petal Nunes, called on the Orisha gods and prayed to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things. Her son was not yet a man and she knew that made him both more dangerous and more vulnerable. On the first day of his absence, she drew a thick black line through the almanac hanging on the kitchen wall. On the third day, a black Friday, she dressed in her best clothes and called a taxi. When she passed through the village, sitting in the back seat, some people raised their hands in gentle waves while others stared, their arms still. The village had lost hunting dogs and caged parrots, but never a boy. Even the ageing white French creole, who had never spoken to her, and old man Lum Fatt, who still dreamed of China, came to see her drive down the winding road towards the police station.
Petal was not naive. But weeks before, when her two other children had come to the house to talk about Daniel she'd turned her head and raised the volume on the radio. First Jenny had come and then John. But it was only after Daniel had raised his hand to her, the hand moving from his side with lightning violence, that there was talk of sending him to John in town. Send him, Jenny had said, send him so that John could teach him about respect. He'd stayed with John and his wife for less than two days. Oh God, Petal thought, after John called to say Daniel was heading home. [End Page 223]
"You can't talk some sense into him?" she had asked John, her voice echoing down lines of telephone wire.
"I have Lilla to think of, Ma. She's afraid of him."
Most of the young boys made their money growing weed in the back fields, ducking and hiding from the police helicopters which swooped like clumsy dragonflies before chop-chopping their way back to the city. That's all it was, she thought, nothing the other boys weren't doing.
To keep him at home, Petal showed him how to curry birds: chickens, ducks, pigeons. Cutting, chopping, stewing, frying. She held a plucked duck over open fire, singeing the skin; she cut the fat gland off the end of a chicken, and killed a pigeon quietly without breaking its tiny bones. She showed him how to add pimento pepper and ground ginger, as her mother had taught her.
"South boys work in oil and town boys working in banks," said Daniel as he watched her cook, "but what happened to the village boys?" He spoke to the duck, sitting cold and pimple-skinned on the counter, not to her.
"You think any tomato or christophene could ever compete with that black gold? And those south boys born into that. It come like they own that fountain of oil. And town boys only eating sushi and managing money market."
The duck was in the pot, its skin sizzling and browning, mixing with the seasoning, flooding the kitchen with such a good scent that it was as if he were saying something that she wanted to hear, something happy. When she looked away from the pot, Daniel's topaz eyes were on her, baleful and sly, and she tamped down the doubt that she'd grown this child. Looking away he shook his head, a quick move, like a dog trying to get water out of his ear. Sometimes they worked from a small base on the scruffy, offshore island that once housed nuns and lepers, and he saw the women, dark silhouettes on the pirogues. They'll kill me if they know I talk, he told her later that night. They tell me so all the time.
"Who is 'they,' Daniel?" she had asked. "Who is 'they'?"
But he was too busy eating his duck to answer her.
That night she looked up the word sushi in the dictionary, but it was not listed in her...