“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.”
Listen to Island in the Sun
“Island in the Sun” is one of 15 stories in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.