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The Golden Age: Part 2

Author: R.T. Budhram

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During our visit to Guyana, kids never gathered by grandparents' shop. I didn't see many of them anywhere, but it was summer. I sat on the porch slurping ice cream and watching the tiny lizards skitter across the wooden beams. They were quick as lighting, but I was determined to catch one of them. Aggravation and my growing collection of their dismembered tails drove me forward. One by one, the wiggly things detached as my hand fell just short.

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I knew to take care with their bodies. In order to avoid crushing them, I needed a gentle hand. Precision and speed were also key. The only motion that had any hope of success was that of a swoop, and so I used this method repeatedly. Failure and frustration made me stubborn one moment, resigned the next.

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When my dad told me we were going to Sixty-Four Beach, I was eager for a change of activity. My breathing was shallow from excitement during the walk from the village. Images of blue water and white sand swirled about in my head because "beach" was the word everyone used. He never mentioned what we were going to do there, never said anything when he saw me in my bathing suit.

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It was near sunset, and we were walking under and overcast sky. Hints of purple persisted through the clouds. Dozens of palm trees were scattered around the earthen pathway and seemed to have lengthened the farther we walked. The angles of their growth increased as well so that I fancied maybe I could walk onto some of them and wrench away coconuts.

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The coconuts littered the ground, anyway, and were best taken from there. We'd earlier used machetes to penetrate their green husks and brown shells. I was satisfied with a small sample of the sweet water and gelatinous shavings, but my dad couldn't sate his appetite. "The coconut water at the store is processed," he said. "That shit can't compare to this." He'd spent his youth climbing these trees and eating the jelly from their fruit. He smiled when he told me these memories.

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Yet it was then I realized my dad and I have the same frown. We reached the beach, and I saw that he was crestfallen at this place so changed. Acres of mud and silt coalesced in glistening ripples. The shoreline was far in the distance and not visible from where we were, but I later found that the water was brown. Trash was scattered hither and thither, and blue and white crabs were scuttling everywhere. They were peeking up from holes in mud, waiting to make a dash to a food source I could not locate.

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We were here to meet a man with bags made of fishnet. He was a friend of my grandfather's, and my dad greeted him warmly. It was important, he said, to come at them from behind with a swoop. "They pinch hard. That's how you keep safe," he smiled, teeth missing. "Throw them in your bags, and I'll take them. Doesn't matter that they're so small and have only a little meat." I already knew that people liked to gnaw on their shells because they had give and added taste to the curry. I knew these crabs; they looked familiar. They writhed in boxes at the Asian food markets in Kansas.

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Walking around on the "beach," I didn't get pinched. The motion came easily, and I filled my bag. My breathing deepened. The fresh wetness in the air lined my lungs and kissed my skin. The smell of earth filled my nose, and I imagined that my feet were mudskippers - fast ones smacking the smooth surface, turned amphibian. I grinned knowing that my earlier practice with the lizards had not gone to waste and looked over at my dad's bag. It was half empty. He moved slowly, his mind elsewhere.

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We placed the bags in the man's truck, whose body wasted away from rust. He thanked us, hugged my dad, slapped him on the back. He shook my hand. I watched his white shirt, yellow from sweat, rippling in the wind.

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That night I caught I lizard. I put it in the decorative fish tank in my grandfather's living room and watched it the next day. It was lime green, perhaps four inches long, and half an inch wide. Among the fake leaves, it concealed itself.

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I forgot about it, and the day after that we loaded our things into the car. I didn't see that my dad told his parents goodbye and wasn't told beforehand when we would be leaving. Somehow, I believed we would return shortly. We didn't, and he apologized later for not giving me the chance to say 'bye, to hug them and thank them. I thought of the lizard I left to die but looked forward to our impending visit to my aunt. Her family lived in Barbados, where the water was blue and the sand was white. 

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DMU Timestamp: March 28, 2013 23:38

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