No one knew what to make of it.
One morning, everyone woke to find that all of the islands had, overnight, clumped together. Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Puerto Rico, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Martinique, Antigua, Dominica, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba, Aruba. What was once an arc of widely splayed islands had now, in one night, become clustered just a few hundred miles north of Venezuela. A Caribbean Pangaea. Carib-gaea. Cargaea.
After it happened, the Americans televised the satellite images of the whole process. Played at ten times the original speed, the islands looked as if they were being jammed together like mismatched jigsaw pieces. Or perhaps a better analogy would be that God had pulled the stopper on the Caribbean sink, and all of the islands were sucked together to stop up the drain. Tobago jumped on top of Trinidad like a hat, and the little peninsula jutting from the southern end hooked onto Grenada. Barbados mated with the mass from behind. From the north, St. Vincent and the Grenadines congealed and moved south, colliding with “TrinGrenBados”. Cuba pitched on its side and dove southeast toward the mass of islands like a torpedo, dragging Jamaica beside it. Sensing that a race was on, Hispaniola grabbed Antigua, Dominica, and Martinique, like a snowball gathering mass as it picks up speed. It followed the slender body of Cuba, eventually locking onto the side of it. By dawn, the work was complete. The resulting land mass was a giant deformed rock in the Eastern Caribbean.
There were disputes over who noticed it first. Reports came in to the British and American navies of drunken yachties and stoned Rasta fishermen claiming to see the islands underway. The reports were ignored all night, even after the U.S.S. William Jefferson Clinton, stationed off of Vieques, nearly capsized amidst hurricane-size waves. The staff at the National Weather Service ignored the archipelago that night; it wasn’t hurricane season, and the interns who had been “hired” spent the evening playing World of Warcraft. The one employee who did notice assumed that she was witnessing a glitch in the satellite feed, so she ran a diagnostic on the computer system. By the time it was done, the islands had already fused.
It ultimately became accepted that only two people both witnessed the event and actually comprehended what was happening. One of them was Rodrigo Pagan, of what was once the Dominican Republic. Rodrigo was only six years old. On the night of the “Isla Singa”, as it came to be known in the Spanish-speaking islands, Rodrigo was standing on the beach in the town of Oviedo, on the southern peninsula. His parents, Marta and Rodrigo Sr., were inside, arguing over his father’s latest marital indiscretion. The boy always knew that it was time to leave when the yelling started, even if it was three in the morning. He sleepily wandered down to the water to find Cuba steaming past like a giant sea snake. He felt the ground shift under his feet, and could see that his own island was now in pursuit. Sitting in the sand, he pretended to steer the great ship as it chased after the rogue country. Eventually, he ran back to his village, where the neighbors were restraining Marta from killing her husband with a spit for roasting chickens, the piping-hot chickens still on it. The child announced that they should come down to the beach to help him drive the Dominican Republic. They laughed at him, of course. So he ran back and continued his activity until the island finally came to a halt around sunup. By then, he had crashed his peninsula into what had once been Cuba’s northern coast. He stood up and crossed what was now the border. A poor Cuban family adopted him amidst the chaos that followed, and within a week he was being paraded around Havana with Fidel Castro himself.
The other story, much less poignant, involved a yachtie named Urg Tonesson from the Netherlands. Tonesson’s boat, the Le Guin, named for his favorite author, was docked off of St. Lucia. He awoke in his cabin just as the island was being caught up in “De Mosh-up”, as it was known among some of the English-speaking islands. Feeling something rumbling under the hull, he staggered out onto the deck to find the Grand Pitons of St. Lucia closing in on one side and the northern coast of St. Vincent (and Grenada and Trinidad and Barbados) threatening from the other. He radioed in a distress call, which later became fodder for the Internet because of his hilariously awful English. “Ya, ya,” he said, “I am in much problem here!” He explained in a shaky voice, with the crunching of the two beaches in the background, that his “boot” had “come on the beach.” “I am coming on the beach! I am coming on beach right now! Oh God!” A handful of Canadian medical students in St. Vincent, too stoned to notice that poor Urg was talking about their island, recorded his cries from their CB radio and later posted the audio online. T-shirts later appeared showing an effeminate sailor, his ship colliding into the breast-like Pitons, with a caption that read “I am coming on your beach!” Urg survived, but his boat is still where it landed: in front of a tuck shop on the northern part of St. Vincent, sort of a West Indian version of Mount Ararat. The owner of the shop renamed his business after the boat upon realizing that it had become a tourist attraction.
Shockingly, no one died as a direct result of the event. In fact, it was just the opposite: the work stoppages that followed those first few days brought about a small baby boom nine months later. This seemed fitting, since the newly formed island looked phallic even to the most innocent eyes, with Cuba of course as the shaft. Foreign observers condescendingly noted how quickly the Trinis had come up with a song about De Mosh-up and the subsequent free-for-all lovefest. While their governments tried to figure out what had happened and what to do next, the people decided to “celebrate,” as told in the words of one of the more popular soca songs:
Jah pull de plug in de drain
And de islands mosh up
Trinis and Grenadians
At last dey smosh up
Dem Trinis dem cross over
And dey want to slosh up
But Grenada gyahls know bettah
Dem say “Get yo cosh up!”
For people on the outside, everything was funny for a while. Everything was a sound byte, a t-shirt, a joke on a late night TV show. Caribia was just one of those things. One New York Times op-ed piece even described it as a “pleasant 9/11.” It was strange and drastic, no doubt fraught with major implications for generations to come, but it wouldn’t amount to big policy or cultural shifts, and nobody was going to get hurt. It would be a while before anyone watching on TV would even think about questioning this facile explanation of things. And by then it was too late.
From the Journal of Percy Neptune
Don’t make fun of my name. My great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather chose that name after he was freed because he was a fisherman, and he knew that Neptune is the god of the sea. And Poseidon would not have sounded as good. I am not a fisherman. They tell me at my vocational school that I am a mason. That is what I am studying there. My school is in Sauteurs. My life-skills teacher here made us write in journals before the Mosh-up. She is a volunteer from Canada. We were supposed to start with an auto-biography. Then we were going to write about ourselves. I never did. She could never tell me why a mason would have to keep a journal. After the Mosh-up, the teacher ran away. So did all of the other teachers. After a few days, I found my exercise book and decided that I would write in it.
I am Percy Neptune. 15 years old. I was born in Soubise, Grenada, in a blue house on stilts by the water. My parents, George and Greta, had two other children from other marriages, but I never met them. I grew up in Soubise and was smart enough to get into Saint Andrew’s Anglican Secondary School. But then my father took ill with the cancer, and I had to drop out before I could finish my exams so I could run his shop and take care of the family. My mom was pregnant, even though she was too old. She could not do all of this work by herself. So I ran the shop. My classmates from the school came into the shop and made fun of me, or just ignored me. After my dad died and my mom lost the baby, I decided to go back to school. But they told me that too much time had passed. The principal wouldn’t let me come back. I would have to take all of these exams to get back in. I kept asking why, and he kept saying the same thing. Finally, he said, ‘We are not even sure that you can handle school.’ He lives in a big, new house up in Birch Grove, and maybe he thought that made him better than me. I was so mad that I punched him the face. I hit him so hard that I had to go home and pull a piece of his tooth out of my knuckle with a pair of tweezers. No school would take me back after that, except for St. Patrick’s Vocational School for Boys, way up in Sauteurs. I have been there for the past six months, learning masonry and someday carpentry. None of the other boys have gone to secondary school. They are all thirteen and some even younger than that. I am the old man here.
I like soca, reggae, soccer and cricket. I like going to the beach and watching TV. My favorite shows are Jerry Springer and Walker Texas Ranger. Nothing too exciting has ever happened to me.
There is no one left at the school. I wanted to go home, but no one has answered the phone at my mom’s house, and now the lines are down anyway. No buses are running. Until the radios went out, the prime minister’s voice was played over and over. He said, ‘Stay where you are. Remain calm.’ I could tell that it was a recording. Even the first one.
I walked into Sauteurs. It was empty. All shops have been looted. I do not understand why. The food was still going to be there even if the islands are moshed up. But I guess people remember the last hurricane. Or they forget the last hurricane and did not learn anything from it. Too many people have bad mind here. Everyone is hiding in their houses. The only people walking around are big groups of boys with cutlasses and bamboo poles. They took the poles from a construction site at the old church. The boys must have torn down the scaffolds. They slap the flat part of the cutlass against the bamboo poles and chant all kinds of things. They chant about defending Grenada now that St. Vincent and the Grenadines are right above us.
I followed the group of boys to the shore. It is not a shore anymore, though. You can see where our beach smashed up against a next beach. There is a town over there. To the east, there is a very dry island. The boys argued over whether it was Carriacou or Bequia. They decided it was Bequia and started their chants again, and slapped their cutlasses against their bamboo sticks. There was a group of people on the other shore who yelled back. I could not tell if it was serious or not, because sometimes they would scream, other times they would laugh. ‘We crash into you!’ someone would say. ‘No, is we crash into you!’ Then some older people on the beach told the boys to shut up, because they were yelling at their fellow Grenadians in Carriacou, our sister island. The other island was St. Vincent, they said. So the boys started yelling over there now. ‘How you like to mosh up so?’ People screamed back from their houses. There was a woman over there, a skinny black-black girl with no teeth. She must have been old or retarded. She was collecting waternuts from a tree and ignored everything. She looked up at me, and waved, so I waved back. She didn’t seem to be scared by any of this. Then the boys started making fun of me. ‘You like her, eh?’ ‘Woy-yoy-yoy, he like the dummy!’ I walked back to the school after that.
Food finally ran out today. I ate the last piece of bread. I had to scrape off some mold. I packed everything up and went on the road to hitch a ride to Soubise. I was going to walk, but the Executive Director, Mrs. Urban, told us not to try to walk too far. There were too many bad people on the roads. She said it would be best to wait at the school if we were not sure about where to go. Then she got into her Land Rover and drove away and left us here. The other boys left the next day. I do not know where they went.
I started walking and saw some people out on their porches. They said hello as I walked by, no problems. I thought everything was going to be okay until I saw Poom-Boy come from the hills toward me. He is the crazy man around here. Every village has one. Soubise had a guy everyone called the Green Goblin, because he dressed in a long purple hat and rode around on a skateboard he made himself. He looked like the bad guy from the Spider-Man film as he rode around, laughing like crazy, talking to people who were not there.
Poom-Boy is the guy in Sauteurs. He smells like shit, has two teeth, and has worn the same shirt and pants since I moved up here. Some days he is very friendly, other days he asks if you have money and tells you to go to hell if you say no. One day, he was following me around the street because I ignored him when he asked for some change. ‘Get your cunt back here!’ he kept yelling. The people on the street knew that I had just started at the ‘bad school’ (that is what they call it), so they were telling him to leave me alone. He started arguing with them. Finally, one of the big men, a guy who drives a truck, shoved the man away from me. He said, ‘Here, you stink-boy, this will make you smell better.’ And he turned his ass toward the man and let out the loudest poom I have ever heard. Everyone on the street was laughing. Ever since then, they have called him Poom-Boy, and he has held a grudge against me.
So I saw him coming from the woods holding a cutlass. Everyone seems to have a cutlass in their hands since the Mosh-up. I must get one myself. He said, ‘You is de dumb boy over at the dumb school, ent?’ I ignored him and kept walking. I started looking over my shoulder for someone to hitch a ride with. I felt something tapping on my backpack, and saw that it was Poom-Boy, slapping at my bag with the cutlass. ‘I talking to you, boy!’ I asked him what he wanted, and he said that he needed money. So do I, I told him. Some people yelled at him from their porches to leave me alone, but they did not bother to come down to stop him. I started to back away, and this just made him more vexed. He began swinging the blade so that it would just brush my face, sending a little breeze as it passed. ‘I know you have something for me,’ he kept saying. I saw a dump truck coming up the road. I put out my hand to show that I needed a ride. Poom-Boy started running his hand over his throat to tell the driver to ignore me. The truck stopped and I put my foot on the fender and then lifted myself up into the back. Once I was in, there was an awful stink that hit me, made me want to vomit. Poom-Boy whacked the side of the truck with his cutlass. I thought that he was going to give up. But then, just as the truck started to move again, he leapt up into the back in one movement. He was that strong.
Now he was facing me with the cutlass raised over his head. My back was to the cabin. I put my hands out, but I did not know what to say to him. Just as it looked like he was going to give me planas, his eyes got big big and he jumped off the back of the dump truck. I saw him roll on the street for a little bit. He ran away, as if the truck was going to turn around and come get him. I turned to see what he was looking at, but only saw a big blue tarp. Sticking out from under it was a shoe, and I saw that the shoe was on a foot, and the foot was on a leg that went under the tarp. Then the truck hit a bump and the tarp bounced upward, and I saw everything. There were maybe five or six bodies under there, stacked like logs, their clothes all covered with dried brown blood. I almost jumped off of the back myself, but we were going too fast now. I did not want to ask the driver to stop. I sat as far from the bodies as I could and cried and prayed to God to get me out of there. It was the first time I had prayed since my father was still alive. The whole time, the man was blasting his radio with some new soca song about the Mosh-up. It went like, ‘Dem Trinis dem cross over and dey want to slosh up.’ And then it said the Grenadian girls wanted money from them before they did anything. He played it over and over. Maybe it was the only song the radio station had. Maybe the DJ just left the CD player on repeat and ran away.
I could not tell where I was. I was crouched down, and could only see the trees passing overhead. There were no more cars on the road. Eventually, the truck stopped and the driver opened the door. I got up slowly and recognized that I was in Crochu, a few villages over from Soubise. I could tell because we were by a bridge that is painted green, yellow, and red, the colors of the flag. I was so distracted that I had not realized that we had actually passed my house. No one was around. The man walked over. He was older, maybe fifty. He did not smile. ‘Did you look under the tarp?’ he asked. I said no, then yes really fast. ‘Trinis,’ he said. They had crossed the border in the craziness, tried to break into a girls’ school where a bunch of teachers and students were hiding, up in River Sallee. The men in the village heard screaming and came down with their farm equipment and chopped them up. This man was taking the bodies to the police in St. George’s. Is town still there, I asked. This was the first sane person I had met since the Mosh-up, and he was driving around a truck full of dead people. Up until then, this had seemed to me kind of silly, like another bus strike. But this was more serious.
Town was still there, the man said, but in the Mosh-up it had gotten wedged into Port of Spain, like all the islands had been put into a cup and shaken around by a giant’s hand. The cops from Trinidad have machine guns and tanks and bombs, but our police have only batons. The prime minister’s guards have old guns that probably do not even work anymore. People were walking across the border. At first it was weird and almost fun, the man said. Work stopped for a few days, and there were parties and dancing like a Carnival. But then some gang came in from Port of Spain in the middle of the night and went on a rampage. The Grenadian police tried to stop them, but then the Trini police saw this and thought it was us attacking, and now both cities are under martial law. The prime minister is gone, so the head of the police department is in charge, but not really, because everyone knows the Trinis can just walk right in and take over. There is a wall of barricades and barbed wire on the Carenage, where the sea is, or used to be. It only took a week for things to go bad.
I thanked the man and walked up the road. Everything was quiet except for a family on the side of the road barbecuing. They looked like they had been walking for a while, and that this was their first meal in days. They glanced at me once and then returned to their food.
I arrived at my doorstep and knew right away that the house was empty. There was something still about it. I went inside. No one was there. The refrigerator was empty, with the doors hanging open, like someone had just robbed it. Maybe it had been the family outside. I shut the refrigerator door and saw that my mom had written a note in giant letters with a magic marker:
I HAVE NO HEARD FROM YOU IN SAUTEURS. PHONES DOWN, POWER OUT, ROADS BLOCKED OFF. GOING TO TRINIDAD TO YOUR AUNT CAROL’S IN SAN FERNANDO. SOME STREETS UNSAFE, BE CAREFUL IF YOU STAY OR IF YOU COME FIND ME.
There was no ‘Love, Mom’ or anything.
I went outside again and picked some soursop off my neighbor’s tree and ate it with a spoon. I sat in my mom’s couch for hours, until the sun went down. I thought about going outside, thinking that Soubise had to be calm even if town was going crazy. But then I heard a group of men marching down the streets. They were carrying torches and cans of hairspray that they ignited with lighters so that they were like little flamethrowers. I thought that maybe they were the same people who had chopped up the Trinis, or they were the Trinis. They sang that soca song again, the one from the truck. I froze. I thought that maybe I could tell them that this was my house and that I was a Grenadian. But then I thought it would be better to stay where I was. They passed by, but one of them walked close to the window and looked in, looked right at me, but did not see me in the dark. All he had to do was point his torch toward me and he would have seen me sitting the in chair with my soursop. But he kept walking. Soon, I could not hear them singing anymore. I fell asleep.
Nothing much to write today. I have already wasted too much time sitting at the school, waiting for someone to tell me what to do. I am not going to do that again at my mom’s house. So I am going to try to find her in Trinidad. I am going to start walking as soon as I close this book.
I need a new map.