There is something about the heat and fecundity of the tropics that makes the natural world supernatural. Unexpected downpours become providential punishments; languid hillsides become mocking observers. In literature, it’s called magical realism. On my Caribbean rock, it’s called real life.
The events I’m about to recount truly did happen to me one Saturday in early November. I will endeavor to describe them as exactly as I can. But even now, as I write, the trade winds are blowing Saharan dust across the page and my words twist and shimmer before my eyes.
That November was particularly lovely on St. John. The rains had started and the brown hillsides were regaining their verdant fierceness. I was enjoying a lazy Saturday on my couch, windows open to welcome the return of the winter trade winds. The angry crunch of tires moving too fast over our unpaved road disturbed my peaceful reverie.
“Hear that,” I called to my girlfriend. “That’s those huge SUVs I told you I’ve been seeing driving too fast up and down our road all week.”
A strong breeze came through and lifted all of our shades up and down as if the house sighed. My ire drifted out with the breeze and I settled back down into the small sounds of Saturday – a fan humming, a bird trilling, a distant water truck’s honk. Time hung lazily in the air.
And then, without warning, the wind picked up. It howled up the valley, roaring through the tree tops. It charged through our front porch and lifted half-read newspapers off the table. Before I was able to collect the fluttering pages, an awful gale of sound tore through the house. It sounded like every stone on the hillside above was about to come crashing down on us. We rushed outside to see what this wind had wrought.
And there, where once a turpentine tree’s bark peeled red skin and a guavaberry tree stood fruitless in the recent drought, sat something no Caribbean garden should ever have: a huge, black SUV, engine still humming, was wedged on its side between two tenuously remaining trees. It thrummed and vibrated and strained against its captors just feet from our house.
“Turn off your engine!” I heard my girlfriend scream but I was mesmerized but what was happening to my garden’s newest addition. Unlike anything I’d transplanted, it was already starting to bloom. For out of the tipped-over car the most delicate blossoms were climbing: one after another, ladies in pink satin and lace, pearls at throats, pointed shoes on feet, were scrambling and slipping and stumbling up the hillside away from the wreck. As I watched, more continued to emerge until my hillside garden was filled with shades of coral and salmon outshining my meager bougainvillea.
And then, from deep inside this botanical marvel, a flower came unlike any other. She was draped in voluminous white that billowed like a sail when she walked. On her head was a sparkling diadem. From her finger shone a stone that rivaled the sun. The wind swirled her veil ever upwards until it reached behind her like a pair of wings. Behold!, my beleaguered trees cried, The Goddess of the Wind!
She floated across my uprooted yard, collecting pink blossoms around her. And then they started to rise, up and away, disappearing up the road from which they had crashed.
“Wait!” I cried, “The car! My trees! My house! The police report!”
The white goddess turned back at the top of my ruined driveway. When she opened her mouth, the air of entitlement blew coldly on my face.
“It’s my wedding today. These are all my bridesmaids. We have to get to Trunk Bay for pictures right now! There is no way we can stay and deal with this.”
But I grasped and I clasped and I clawed at the rising layers of silk and spandex until the driver, truly a Maid of Honor, consented to stay to wait for the police. And they came (True! All true!), and a police report was made, and a wrecker was found, and a mere four hours later my garden’s latest unwelcome addition was lifted up and away and disappeared up the road from which it had crashed.
By nightfall, only a scarred garden remained. The valiant trees which had saved my house finally laid down to permanently rest. The valley was quiet, not a leaf stirred across the hillsides. And, despite the odds, even the Maid of Honor made it to the wedding on time.
So now, when I hear the rise of air across the tree tops and when I see my palms sway to and fro, I brace myself. One never knows what the trade winds will bring.