Richard Daybell – Novels, stories and short humor
Toussaint conned his small motorboat to the empty spot at the pier, near where Roberto lolled, dangling his big bare feet in the warm water. The boat, like Toussaint’s shirt and shorts, had the scars of a life well lived. On each side, the hand-lettered word taxi just above the waterline made it an official vehicle for transporting passengers up, down, and around the island’s seven-mile coastline.
Toussaint nodded and took up a cross-legged position next to Roberto.
Roberto grunted in reply.
“What’s the matter?” asked Toussaint.
“Nothing,” answered Roberto in a child’s whine, the kind that begs for additional prodding. “Nothing. I was at Pigeon Beach today.”
Toussaint sighed. “Man, you gotta get over this.”
“I can’t. She’s just so beautiful. She was there playing with the children again. And again she didn’t even see me. When she looked in my direction, it was like I wasn’t even standing there. She just looked through me like I was invisible, a ghost or something. Perhaps if she wasn’t so beautiful, she could see me.”
“Perhaps,” said Toussaint, turning it over in his mind. “But if she could see you, maybe she would see you ugly.”
“I’m not so ugly.”
“Of course not,” said Toussaint with a reassuring grin. “But you’re no Jean Paul either.” Jean Paul was the young man held up as an example of what young manhood was all about. The other men didn’t like him much – he was so knowledgeable and so arrogant – but they had to grudgingly agree that he was the handsomest of them all. And he paraded his handsomeness and pursued all the young women on the island, even many of the tourists. His only notable failure was with Marianne, Roberto’s young woman at Pigeon Beach, and this gave Roberto some small satisfaction. But as Toussaint tactfully pointed out, if Jean Paul couldn’t win Marianne, what possible chance could Roberto have?
“You should say something to her,” Toussaint argued. “You can’t expect her to pay you no mind, standing there like the ghost of Albert Verra.” In island history, Albert Verra had the dubious distinction of being the ultimate coward, selling out his island once to the French and once to the Spanish.
“I try, but I am afraid.”
“Maybe I have an idea for you, Roberto,” said Toussaint, lowering his voice even though there was no one within thirty yards of the pier. “You know the fine gentleman from that city I can’t remember that’s very close to London, the one who takes my water taxi wherever he goes and pays me very generously? Him and me, we’re friends now. He talks to me about all sorts of things. He’s very educated in literacy – that’s reading important books by dead people and looking at pictures and listening to music, all by dead people. It seems people who write books and paint pictures and make music become important when they die.”
“What good is being important if you’re dead? Doesn’t sound all that educated to me.”
“How would you know educated, man?” said Toussaint, just a little miffed at Roberto’s effrontery in questioning him. “His name is Herbert and he’s got two last names. Now, do you want me to help you, or do you want to spend your life on the beach staring at her with your mouth open and your brain shut until you both get old and die?”
This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines. It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.