I WAS ASSIGNED to the Island of Saint Kit in the West Indies. Once on an inter-island plane, I sat across the aisle from one of my new colleagues, an unfriendly, overserious young woman. She was twenty-four, twenty-five . . . we were all twenty-four, twenty five. I didn’t know her much or like her. As the plane banked over the island, she pressed against the window, staring down at the landscape. I couldn’t see much of her face, just enough really to recognize an expression of pain.
Below us spread an endless manicured lawn, bright green and lush of sugarcane, the island’s main source of income. Each field planted carefully to control erosion. Until that year, Saint Kit’s precious volcanic soil had been bleeding into the sea; somehow they had resolved the problem. The crop was now being tilled in harmony with the roll and tuck of the land and the island had taken a step to reclaiming its future.
The woman peered out her window until the island was lost on the blue horizon. And then she turned forward in her seat and wept until she had soaked the front of her blouse. “Good Lord,” I thought, “what’s with her?” I found out later from another Volunteer: Two years ago, having just arrived on the island, she had been assaulted as she walked to her home. Not content to rape her, a pair of men had beaten her so severely she was sent back to the States to be hospitalized. Recovering, she had made the choice to return. She believed she could be of use on Saint Kit so she went back to coordinate the team responsible for improving the way sugarcane was cultivated. The day I flew with her was the first time she had taken a look at her handiwork from the illuminating vantage of the air. The cane fields were beautiful, perfect: they were a triumph, they were courage, and they were love.
Bob Shacochis (Eastern Caribbean 1975–76) grew up in McLean, Virginia. He was educated at the University of Missouri and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. Shacochis has been a GQ columnist and writer for numerous other national publications and is the author of — among others — Easy in the Islands, a collection of stories; the novel Swimming in the Volcano; a work of literary reportage about Haiti, The Immaculate Invasion; a second collection of stories, The Next New World; and a collection of essays on food and love, Domesticity.