They dab suntan lotion on their body. Lots of lotion. They dab it on their arms, legs, shoulders, backs, noses, cheeks, and other parts they want to expose to the sun. The sun, they cannot get enough of it. How they love the sun. How they fear the sun.
They read, swim or play ball, but mostly, they recline in their beach chairs or on their beach towels, sipping colorful cocktails with colorful umbrellas, staring out at the blue that sprawls before them. Sometimes, they lie on their bellies. Women unhook their bikini bras, exposing the white line dividing their freshly baked, freshly brown bodies.
Every once in a while, they rent kayaks, windsurf boards or stand up paddle boards, and go deeper into the ocean. These cost way more than renting a beach chair or a beach umbrella. They don’t indulge in water activities often. They are here on vacation; they want their money’s worth. They are determined to do nothing. So they dab more suntan lotion on their bodies, hopeful for the right shade of brown, one that screams beach vacation once they return to the gray and the cold.
The carefully monitored brown here at Kreol Sun Resort is different from the brown there, at Ile Biche, an islet converted into a luxury resort, east of the Island. There, they rarely sunbathe, rarely read naked by the beach. There, the beach waters are full of water bikers, windsurfers, scuba divers, snorkelers, kayakers, parasailers, and more recently, reef walkers. There, they’re on vacation too. There, they want their money’s worth too. They haven’t come all this way to do nothing, to lie on the beach, sunbathe and read. They’ve enough sun back home. Last thing they want is to get any browner than they already are.
“They stop by the food carts noted in their Lonely Planets, and help themselves to chicken briani, boulettes, di pan frire, gato pima, dholl puri, or sugarcane juice.”
Sometimes, both brown parties, the natural and the artificial, hang out at Port Europa, Island’s capital. They’ve taken their resort buses to go out and experience local life. They walk around Olympia waterfront and take photographs under the statue of Baudeloque, firangi poet who made Island famous across the world. They go to the market, haggle over export rejects of Ralph Lauren and Christian Dior, titillated to score 30 percent discount. They stop by the food carts noted in their Lonely Planets, and help themselves to chicken briani, boulettes, di pan frire, gato pima, dholl puri, or sugarcane juice. They proceed to buy beach baskets, mostly imitations of cane from China, essential oils of cayenne, anise, eucalyptus, organic soaps, vanilla tea, and dark rum. Exhausted, they return to their resort buses, recline in their seats, and stare out at Olympia waterfront where local college kids, rich ones mostly, are hanging out, flirting, people-watching, taking selfies, munching slices from the newly-opened Domino’s Pizza.
If they were to sit upright and look on the other side of this depot made exclusively for tourist buses, they would see beyond the commercial towers in the distance, an ocean that isn’t quite blue. The water here is more like a smoky gray from cargo ships docking from across the world, a gray that complements the soot covered roofs and windows of dilapidated two storied buildings nearby. I live in one of these buildings along with the janitors, cooks, laundry staff and gardeners who work for Kreol Sun and Ile Biche resorts. I’m the one without a job though, the one without a government identity card. We’re all brown too, but the darkest shade of brown found on this part of the Island. We live in those soot covered buildings, owned by the Island’s government who evacuated us from our islets, one sunny day. My widowed mother died while giving birth to me on the boat that spewed us out here.
If they continued staring northward at the gray of the ocean, they could imagine our islets out there, on the Indian Ocean’s turquoise carpet, arching in opposite directions like bindis on the forehead of a Hindu bride. Our archipelago is now closed to the world and serving as a military base. For America, England, or France — no one tells us for sure, different rumors each month. Some say, our islets will be used to bomb the Middle East, others, to compete with Diego Garcia, and yet others, to lease gas and oil rights to China.
“If they continued staring northward at the gray of the ocean, they could imagine our islets out there, on the Indian Ocean’s turquoise carpet, arching in opposite directions like bindis on the forehead of a Hindu bride.”
But they’ll not see any of this. They’re exhausted from their day’s trip into local life. They recline in their bus seats, their shopping bags on their laps, under their feet, full of beach sarongs, beach baskets, essential oils, organic bath products, tea, rum.
Both buses will leave Port Europa soon; they’ll exit the city square, the market, the financial district and enter the well-maintained country roads that will morph into the other side of the Island’s coast, home to tourist resorts and ferry station to Ile Biche. En route, the buses will slither through an endless expanse of sugarcane fields. The sun will set outside, its ray shower will hallow the sugarcane pods with a golden aura. A double rainbow will connect purple mountains in the distance; it rained earlier by the mountains today. And maybe, it’s in surreal moments like these when the Island wears a golden green and violet cloak, sashayed with double rainbows that it comes closest to resembling what Baudeloque called once — a tropical paradise. It’s in moments like these that the Island becomes my home too.
But they’ll miss this version of paradise, reclined in their bus seats. Another paradise awaits them on their return to the resort, an all-you-can-eat buffet that will include grilled shrimp, crabs, lobsters, coconut and lychee punch, along with a live sega performance. Many will return home tomorrow to the cold, to the heat, to the pollution: Australia, Sweden, France, Italy, Dubai, Bahrain, India. So they nap, they snore, they reenergize themselves for a last taste of paradise, happy with their sneak peek into local life. They nap, so tired, so happy.
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Namrata Poddar writes fiction, non-fiction, translates Afro-Asian diasporic writers, and teaches in the English department and Honors Collegium at UCLA. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Jaggery, Literary Orphans, Sociopoética, Necessary Fiction, The Feminist Wire, The Margins, Transition, Literary Hub, The Caravan, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She holds a Ph.D. in French from the University of Pennsylvania, UCLA Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Transnational Cultures, and MFA in Fiction from Bennington College.