Two girls stood at the edge of a mossy cliff above the forth of seven waterfalls in the Grand Etang Reserve. Andru waited behind them, studying their figures. They were good looking: one a petite longhaired brunette, the other a tall sporty girl with short cropped curls. Both had nice butts. Americans. He knew right off from their accents and the way they carried themselves, like they watched a parade, the world marching by for their enjoyment. Brits postured like they were the ones parading. And the French? They seemed to lounge on the air as if it were a banister.
The sound of water was all around. Vegetation, jade green, and dripping wet, exhaled a thick verdant scent. Mona monkeys chattered in the canopy of virgin forest. The athletic girl made pictures with her digital camera. That was the same with all tourists, no matter where they came from.
Andru had been dozing in the cultivated groves of banana and nutmeg trees that skirted the inland mountains when the cab with the girls pulled to a stop.
“What are your names?” Andru asked at the trailhead.
“I’m Allison,” the tall girl said, “she’s Beth.”
“Allison, Beth.” Andru repeated each name to get familiar. You got better tips if you were familiar—a little brother to the men, a flirt with the women. “Beautiful names for beautiful American girls.”
The small girl blushed and stammered a gracious thank you, but the athletic girl’s eyes narrowed. He could see she was a tough one.
“My name is Andru,” he said, “like the Prince of England, but it is spelled different. Grenadian spelling. And we say it the island way with the stress at the end.”
“How much do you charge for a guided tour, Andrew?” the tall girl asked, mispronouncing his name.
“For the Seven Sister’s Trail? Twenty dollars.”
The girls gave each other a wary look.
“That’s Grenada dollars,” Andru added, “not American. Very cheap.” He closed one eye and squinted at the azure sky. “About…seven dollars to you.”
“Could we go alone?” the tall girl asked.
He puckered his full lips. “It’s better with a guide. The path twists. You could get lost.”
The longhaired girl shrugged at her friend. It gave Andru hope. “I can tell you names of plants and animals. I can tell you the stories of the island.”
He tucked his chin and gazed at them through his long lashes. He knew this was an attractive expression. It complemented his large brown eyes and heightened his cheekbones. “The Handsome One,” his mother called him. Though a tease, he knew it to be true. A chance breeze ruffled his unruly hair, blowing strands across his forehead. He had them then. He saw it in their eyes.
“What is this called?” At the periphery of the waterfall, the petite girl stared at a brown animal clinging to a volcanic rock.
“Oh, that?” Andru said, “we call that lee-zard.”
The petite girl studied the animal. The tall girl laughed. “Lizard? Funny, that’s what we call them, too.”
She rolled her eyes at her gullible friend and started walking.
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.
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.