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It's a Sunday afternoon. My toes slip through the soft sand as the wind rustles my hair. I scoop up a pile of change from inside my bag and begin to walk. As I venture down the seashore, an old lady wearing a purple bathing suit mounts her surfboard. What a firecracker, I think as I sit to watch. She paddles out until she is a just a purple blur floating on the water.
I walk close to the shore where the ground is firmer, and my feet leave their prints in the wet sand. I wonder how many thousands of years those precious grains of sand have floated around the earth and what they have seen - a first kiss, a child's first step, a sailor’s death. My mind wanders as my feet carry on. A man awakes me from my dream, "Hola Miss, hola Miss, you'd like to buy?" He displays a box full of necklaces and bracelets made from shells. I know he has a family, I know he needs money, and the change I have in my right hand is burning; but I clench it tighter, shake my head and continue on.
The sights on the beach begin to bore me: an old man in a florescent Speedo fawning over his twenty-year-old girlfriend, a child playing innocently, a beseeching vender. I take a turn off the beach, following a little trail, sharp with twigs, mysterious green foliage reaching up past my head. After five minutes, I arrive in a small town; all the shops are closed and there is not a soul to acknowledge my presence. I look to my right and see a winding dirt rode; something urges to take it.
I shouldn’t go, tourists are killed here, one murdered in this city less than three months earlier. I know I should turn around, but I numbly continue forward. There is no sound but the ominous crunching of rocks beneath my flip-flops. I begin to hear voices through the trees and slowly a concord of Spanish fills my ears. My brain tries to keep up, tries to translate everything they are saying, but it is too much and I give up. I finally come across a group of natives, sitting outside their hut. I begin to walk faster and faster, quickly stealing a glance at them, narrowly avoiding eye contact.
I continue on the road, still unaware of where my feet are taking me. The voices die off and I hear nothing but the occasional lowing of cattle. Then a motorcycle comes roaring down the side of the narrow road and I jump a mile, my heart beating like a racehorse. I catch my breath and continue on. The road is steeper than I anticipated and it’s hot; I have no water and I should go back home. But my feet carry on.
There is green wherever I look, an occasional donkey, a lost dog; but I am essentially alone. Then I hear music. I follow the sound. The music comes from a gas station where a group of teenage boys is messing around, their prized boom box blasting what I’m sure is the trendiest music on the island. They spot me. I stick out like lint on a black silk shirt with my light hair and skin. They slowly walk to the fencing around the gas station and shake it, hoping to get a reaction out of me. They yell Spanish at me and I manage to catch a few words. I should have turned around, I should go home, I should’ve told my parents where I was going.
In my mind I’m safe however; in my mind I am not a homicidal statistic. I keep walking up the mountain passing another donkey, another cow, and another dog. I come to a green shack with a tin roof and a vender’s stand out-front. I think it’s someone’s home and they are selling meats. They are certainly not meats that are familiar to me. A man is working at the stand, his pants ripped on one side and the buttons on his shirt mismatched. I wonder if he has ever smiled. He calls out to me, hoping for business. “No dinero,” I shout as the coins press against my palm.
The area becomes more populated and there are now huts on both sides of the road, about five feet apart. People notice me and silence falls; tourists don’t come to this part of the island. Ahead of me is a large hill, about 300 feet high. At this point my head is light with dehydration and I feel like I am walking in slow motion, falling backwards.
I reach the top of the hill. There is a child standing there, all alone with no mother, no father, no adult. She seems lost and scared and she has tears in her eyes. Her pink dress is torn and dirty. There are no huts around, just fields. I walk up to her. “Como te llamas?” I ask but she just stares at me, straight into my soul with her diamond black eyes. I feel the change in my right hand. Then I take her hand and place the change in her palm. She jumps up and down, smiling, looking at me like I am a queen.
“Thank you Miss! Thank you Miss!”
I smile back at her and walk away, heading towards home. When I look back she is sitting on the side of the road, admiring the mysterious, shiny coins. I walk down the hill, wiping tears from my eyes but with a sense of fulfillment in my heart.