Talking Story

caneIf I close my eyes, I’m not middle-aged and riding in a taxi van through the foothills of Barbados, I’m nine standing on the kickball field at Kahului Elementary School on Maui, Hawaii, watching black snow fall from the sky.

The air smells like burnt marshmallows and little curls of fine black ash are drifting like snowflakes to the ground. Like spring snow, they mostly disappear when they touch the earth. In the distance black smoke rises like a fog over the burning sugarcane.

Oh, look, a brush fire, someone from the cruise ship says.

No, I say, that’s cane.

How horrible, how terrible, they really shouldn’t do that, murmurs bleat like sheep through the van.

I catch the driver’s eye in the rearview mirror and we shrug. We could explain all the whys and hows and what fors of sugarcane burning, but it’s really no use. Tourists always know best whether it’s how to manage a beach park or open a coconut. They come prepared with all the answers and are more than willing to share their expertise with anyone who doesn’t ask.

When your gas money, food, and rent comes from the tourist trade it’s best if you can lend a deaf ear at times. Even half-way around the world on an island in the middle of a different ocean some things never change.

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