Richard Daybell – Novels, stories and short humor
Listen to Island in the Sun
“Have sense, Santo,” said Max-Anthony, the engineer. “You are only delaying the inevitable.”
“It is inevitable that my tree should grow,” answered Santo, refusing to budge from where he stood in front of his tree. “Grow to maturity and bear fruit.”
Santo was quite proud of his tree. It was the only such tree on the entire island. People told him an olive tree would not grow here. Actually, they told him that it might grow very well, but that without chilly nights, it would never produce olives, just leaves. Santo didn’t believe them. His tree had been growing for two years now, and it was a handsome tree. Such a handsome tree was bound to grow olives.
The tree was as tall as his three-year-old son. He wondered which of the two would grow faster, but now he would never know because Claudine had taken his son, had left him and returned to Provence. Now he had only the olive tree.
“You’re a fool, Santo,” said Max-Anthony, a man with little patience. “This hotel will be good for the island. It will create many jobs. Perhaps a job for you.”
“I do not need a job,” said Santo. “I have retired.”
He had brought the olive tree here from Provence when it was just a tiny sapling. He had kept it hidden because it was probably an illegal thing to do. Did that make him a smuggler? Provence was a very pretty place, a place he had liked very much. And he had particularly loved the olive groves. It was under the canopy of an olive tree, that he and Claudine had spent their first time together. They delighted in the imperfection of its twisted trunk, the way the light played through it’s shivering gray-green leaves, creating impressionistic patterns of light on the ground beside them. Their son had been conceived under that tree.
Pulled by the strings of young love — Claudine was young, Santo not so young — she had agreed that the three of them could return to the island, to the village of Santo’s parents and grandparents, to that stretch of beach that had for a hundred years been theirs. But Claudine soon found that she could not tolerate island life; she needed more than it could give. She yearned for Provence, needed cities like Arles and Avignon, needed to be just a high-speed train ride from Paris. She begged him to return with her, but he couldn’t. He belonged here, just as Claudine belonged in Provence.
The officials from the hotel company had come from their air-conditioned offices to plead with him as well, but Santo refused to go. “You are trespassing,” said a Mr. Alexander through pursed lips in a pallid face. He wore a suit. “This beach belongs to the Caribe Development Corporation. We will have you removed. Forcibly, if necessary.”
It had become important for Santo to be somewhere he belonged. So much of his life had been spent in places he didn’t belong — first moving from one island to another, each one bigger and more indifferent — Statia, St. Vincent, then Trinidad — cutting cane and loading banana boats until finding work as a bartender. He was a good bartender; he knew how to charm the tourists, particularly the ladies, whom he flattered unabashedly. He moved on to Caracas, then Madrid and Barcelona, Algeria, and finally to southern France — to Provence, to the olive groves and to Claudine.
He had lost Claudine and his son, and now, in the name of progress, they wanted to take his tree. But this beach was his; they would not move him or his tree.
“This beach belongs to me; it has always belonged to my family.”
“I’m not mistaken,” shouted Santo. “I have the papers.” Santo waved the papers at Mr. Alexander.
“Those papers were issued by a government that no longer exists,” said Max-Anthony, joining Mr. Alexander. “They are worthless, and you know it.”
“Can you have him removed?” asked Mr. Alexander.
“Don’t worry,” said Max-Anthony. “He will move when the bulldozer comes. No more games, Santo.”
Several days passed before the bulldozer arrived. During that time, Santo kept a constant vigil at the olive tree. During the day, tourists passing by would sometimes stop to talk to Santo. Most had already heard of the crazy man and his olive tree, but Santo’s disarming smile and his friendliness would make them wonder whether he were crazy or merely a man with a cause, which is hardly so crazy. Knowing that he remained night and day at the tree, some would bring him food and would sit and talk with him while he ate.
The young couple from the south of England shivered as Santo told them about sleeping on the dock in Trinidad after loading a banana boat and awaking to find a fat tarantula sitting on his chest staring at him. The three ladies from California gushed over his tales of Spain during the last days of Generalissimo Franco. And the young Montrealer listened until well after midnight as Santo talked of his time in Algeria with the French Foreign Legion.
The bulldozer arrived early the next morning. Santo had to shake himself awake, and for a moment, he thought he was awaking from a nightmare in which he was about to be eaten by a huge yellow monster. But even with his eyes open, the yellow monster remained, growling at him.
“Go away, crazy one,” shouted Luis Jordan from atop the chugging beast. Luis was a young man who had come to the island to do construction work; he didn’t belong on the island. He was an angry, combative young man, frequently picking fights, and Santo didn’t like him much. “You don’t think I’ll plow you down, do you, crazy man?”
“I am not crazy,” answered Santo. “Go away.”
“Don’t be smart with me, crazy man. You won’t stop me. I don’t care if you live or die. You’re trespassing. I can plow you under and nobody will say anything. I’ll take down that damn tree, and I’ll take you down with it. Believe me.”
“I believe you.”
“As you should,” boasted Luis. “Now stand aside.”
“I can’t stand aside. This is my place. It was my mama’s and my papa’s, and it was their mama’s and papa’s. Go away and leave me alone.”
“I warned you,” said Luis, grinning as though he were really happy that Santo would not move, that he would have the pleasure of plowing him under. “Good riddance to your lunacy.” The bulldozer’s engine whined, and the beast lurched forward. Santo stood his ground as the yellow monster bore down on him, it’s driver laughing. Santo closed his eyes.
The Crystal Coral Beach Club was a magnificent place. It straddled a mile’s worth of white sand beach and bathed it in grandeur and opulence. Open for the first time this season, it was an unqualified success, drawing tourists from throughout the world and remaining fully occupied. Hopes were high that it would bring years of prosperity to the tiny island.
On this day, the first anniversary of groundbreaking for the beach club, a large throng of tourists had gathered together. The story of the Beach Club’s shaky beginnings had traveled from the swimming pool to the tennis courts to the lounge and to the bright blue water and back. This was to be a celebration of that day of confrontation.
The olive tree had grown to nearly ten feet and was beautiful to behold; looking at this tree, it was hardly surprising that so many people considered olive trees holy. Santo emerged from the modest house just beyond the tree, a house flanked by hibiscus, bougainvillea, and the beach club’s 156 luxury rooms. Santo the celebrity beamed as he joined the others at the tree and shared a toast with the couple from the south of England, the three ladies from California, the Montrealer, and the others who had been here last year, the ones who had ignored the metallic whine of impending doom to suddenly join Santo in front of his tiny tree, linking their arms with his in defiance of the bulldozer.
With a grin, Santo pointed to where, even though it defied all the rules of horticulture and all the laws of botany (but didn’t surprise Santo or his friends one little bit), a single olive clung tenaciously to a branch of his olive tree.