Flowers streamed the posts of street lights lined on each side of the street as Ameya drove out of her house, her young son snuggling in the seat beside her. With a warm smile at him, she turned back to the road ahead and grinned as she noticed a group of neighbors standing next to a naked streetlight post at the top of the hill. Slowing to a stop beside them, she peered out her window and waved. “Bonjou,” she greeted them warmly.

The three women clad in their house clothes, with bright-patterned cloth wrapped around their heads turned to grin at the younger woman in her car. “Bonjou, Ameya,” they replied together.

Two of the women, Mrs. Faluna and Mrs. Hendi were in their late sixties but didn’t look a day older than mid-forties, their dark eyes dancing with excitement for the upcoming event for which they now held a large basket with vibrant strewn flowers.

The other lady was much younger, Genevieve Faluna, closer to Ameya’s age. She beamed openly, once peering into the car at the sleeping Tomas before looking back at Ameya. “Sa ou fè? How are you keeping?” She’d asked how Ameya and Tomas were doing.

Ameya nodded graciously, considering she’d carried her sleeping child without him stirring in suspicion to the car. Today would be a long day and she had to keep him with someone while she worked. “We are going to the beach.” She would take Tomas to stay with the one man she could trust more than anyone, even Genevieve her friend.

The three women, understanding Ameya, nodded in unison and the two older women smiled gently. “Tres bien… Good,” they gave their approval before turning back to their duty.

Genevieve who was holding the basket of flowers moved closer to the car and grinned. “I heard you had a bit of a drama this week…” she whispered in English, her eyes dancing with mischief.

Ameya and Genevieve often spoke in English considering it was the language Ameya spoke without trouble and Genevieve had gone overseas for study before coming back home but didn’t want to forget it.

Ameya rolled her eyes. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she gripped the steering wheel, trying not to recall the three men who had soured her mood earlier.

“For now,” Genevieve tilted her head to study her friend’s face. “We shall talk later then? I’ll come by when you get home.” She glanced over at Tomas and grinned. “He will spend time with Old Jonas today?”

Ameya nodded. “For now. I will have to try to sell some herbs at the market.”

Genevieve snapped her fingers. “Oh right. That’s why I wanted to ask you.” She peered behind the back seat before whispering. “Do you have any rabbit meat?”

Ameya smiled at the strange folk name. “Priva lappulacea? I have some at home… For your maman?” It was an herb found in the country and often requested by most people Mrs. Faluna’s age, although Genevieve’s mother hated taking medicine of every form.

With a furtive glance over her shoulder at her oblivious mother and aunt, she nodded and turned back to her friend. “She doesn’t know yet, but I will have to sneak it in her food… you know how she is.”

The two younger women nodded and then Genevieve grinned. “Will you be helping us with the food for the festival?”

Ameya grimaced inwardly having forgotten all about the Independence Day Festival. The entire week, the town of Vieux Fort and the surrounding villages were preparing for the country’s most important festival, which explained the flowers and makeshift lanterns propped all over. “I can help…”

In her mind, she began thinking of how and where she would keep Tomas while helping. It was the main reason why she normally kept to herself, because in festivals and large gathering of people, keeping Tomas settled was often a challenge and sometimes impossible.

Genevieve barely noticed the pause. “Good. Don’t worry about Tomas. We’ll keep him busy. Oh, and bring that Papa of yours with you.”

Mesi,” Ameya replied, allowing herself to breathe a word of thanks to her friend.

“You are most welcome,” Genevieve replied with a wide grin and the two girls giggled softly, so as not to wake Tomas.

Then Mrs. Faluna finally noticed that her next stream of flowers were not available and peered over her shoulder, throwing an impatient glare at her daughter’s back.

“Your maman is calling,” Ameya said softly and Genevieve stepped away from the car. “I will have your item ready.” Releasing her foot off the brake, Ameya eased the truck down the hill, glancing at the rearview mirror to see Genevieve shuffle back to her mother and aunt to complete the decorating of the streetlight pole.

A painful twinge stirred at her heart, watching the cozy scene of her friend’s family and she quickly tamped it down, glancing at her sleeping son. “You are my family… and that is all that matters.” As if hearing his mother’s words, Tomas whimpered softly and stirred a little.

Ameya smiled gently and pressed down on the accelerator to head for the pier, where Old Man Jonas was waiting for her.

Sliding the fishing net over the edge of the boat, the old man grunted as his knee popped loudly and he swallowed a curse. A white and gray bird suddenly perched on one side of his boat and he grinned openly, chuckling as the bird began pecking at the net.

Another fisherman’s boat, larger and wider than his slid beside his and he rolled his eyes as a younger, more burlier man peered over at his, grinning with open amusement.

“Old man,” the man said in their native tongue. “When will you let this boat go?” His voice sounded sincere, as if caring that the dilapidated boat would give in at any moment.

Surely, under the bird’s weight, the older and narrower boat creaked noisily, causing the younger fisherman to chuckle louder.

The older man clucked his tongue in annoyance and he tugged at his long, grey beard, not even giving the younger man a glance. “When you let yours go, I will consider it,” he groused in response, tugging the net and causing the alarmed bird to flap his wings and hover over the boat. He scowled as the bird returned to its position and the younger man laughed at the scene. “Don’t you have something better to do?”

“I am off to catch great big fish, Old Jonas,” the younger fisherman said proudly, puffing his bare chest. “Want me to bring you some?”

Jonas clenched his jaw as the fisherman eased his wide boat away and toward the great big sea in front of them. “Foolish idiot,” he muttered, rolling the sagging net with holes in them while staring forlornly at his bucket, with only three fish and some cretins inside. So much for getting a big catch today and what a terrible day to be off his streak. The girl was bringing her boy to stay with him and what would she say if she knew how hard it was these days to keep up?

Growling, he wiped the sweat off his balding head and tossed the rolled-up net over his shoulder before pulling at the rope to tie his creaking boat to a anchored post by the shore.

As he trudged up the hill to his house, the light bucket swaying over his shoulder, Jonas couldn’t help but think about the last time he’d stumbled on the biggest catch of his life. It’d been before he caught the girl. Almost twelve pounds of sea’s treasures in his net, he almost broke his back pulling the catch onto his boat. That was almost nine years ago.

Remembering the good old’ days made Jonas smile. No matter what the girl said, he was still as sharp as a shark’s fangs. He could picture the glistening scales of the fish that wriggled in his net, their vibrant eyes begging to be released back into the sea. He could still recall the weight of each in his hands as he counted the treasure he’d found. Almost fifty fish was the best he’d caught that year, and the probably the last.

He frowned, slowing to a stop. Ever since he’d found that girl, his fishing streak had never been the same and his comrades would not let him forget it. They said she was his bad luck charm, the moment he pulled her onto his boat after finding her one day on the banks. His frown deepened, remembering her frail shoulders and dirty, bleeding cheeks from lying face down on the mud and rocks.

Shaking his head that he would even consider what could have happened if he’d ignored her just for another opportunity to continue his fishing streak, Jonas grunted and continued up the hill. As he reached a milestone embedded deep in the hard ground, he glanced up to see a truck parked a few steps from his home.

“She is early,” he mumbled and continued his trek to the shadowed cottage underneath a thick, large oak tree.

Before he could take one step to the door, it flung open and a young boy stepped outside. “Papa Jonas!” the boy squealed with delight and started sprinting toward the older man.

His brow eased and a smile split his frowning lips as the boy stumbled toward him, his thin arms flailing. Jonas chuckled and walked to meet the boy, grunting when he slammed against his legs. “Easy,Tomas,” he mumbled, bending at his sore waist to wrap his arms around the boy.

Ameya stepped slowly out of the cottage, a smile tucked in. She wrapped her arms around the post near the door, watching the cozy scene of her son embracing Old Man Jonas, the man who had saved her life more than eight years ago. Her heart stirred again, just like it had when she watched Genevieve approach her mother and aunt, and when that tourist woman had grabbed her hand tightly.

She shook her head at her foolishness. There was no need to feel jealous or longing for family. Even though Old Man Jonas was gruff, he was the next best thing she had for a family. He’d saved her life, he’d taken her and Tomas in without much grumbling and for eight years, they would meet like this… Giving her son the warmest embrace and the love she wanted for her son. He was her father, in every sense of the word and she was grateful for him.

As the old man peered over Tomas’ head, he eyed her from head to toe. “You look tired… and too skinny.” He reached for Tomas’ hand and led him back to meet Ameya.

She chuckled, shaking her head as the two of them approached her. “That’s why I’m here, Papa. To eat what you’ve caught.” She noticed a glint in his eye but ignored it. “And of course, what I’ve brought for you.” Hooking an arm around his own thin arm, she led them into his cottage, though shabby and often dusty. But it was still home.

They closed the door behind them and soon, both Tomas and Ameya laughed in delight at Old Man Jonas’ grumbling of his day at the pier.

<<Part 7 || Part 9>>