Laura’s nickel tour:
The harbor, a milky turquoise bowl reflecting painful shards of light. Sky searing blue, with one puff of cloud. Hills stretching steep green arms above the water, freckled with red-roofed white houses.
Stink of ripe sewage and engine exhaust choked the harbor drive. Cargo boats dipped and tugged on lines at the cement causeway, unloading banana bunches, crates, passengers, beer cases, a donkey wearing a straw hat. Beside the boats, shirtless black men whooped and gestured over the slap of dominoes as a pelican fumbled up in a clumsy climb, soared, crashed in bright spray. I winced at the sun dazzles, panting under the pressure of heat and humidity.
“It’s a duty-free port. Here’s the shopping area.”
We turned onto a side street and threaded cobbled lanes with tourist-packed sidewalks and shops in converted brick warehouses. Another turn, and we were sucked into the traffic crawling past dilapidated buildings and an open-air market. Laura waved a hand, gold glittering. “Our claim to fame. The first slave market in the new world.”
Broken-shuttered windows frowned over graffiti. Sun struck colors from piles of fabrics, along with coconuts, pineapples, twisted brown roots, and hairy fruits, stirring up sweet and pungent smells. Waves of dark faces ebbed and flowed around us, hair crimped and rolled and braided in corn-row patterns with beads, or long and dreadlocked, or piled in hivelike knitted caps. The voices were a sea roar, slurring syllables into an almost-foreign patois.
“Watch it in this neighborhood, and don’t set foot in Jungle Town over there.” She pointed. “Suicide for Continentals, and that goes double for a chick.”
We lifted away from town and onto a bumpy road running straight up the side of the steep hill. The car knuckled down to pass a Jeep and an open-air tourist bus wheezing up the grade. The houses clinging to the lower hill gave way to lush foliage.
Laura ran out of guide patter as we turned and climbed and turned again. A breeze hinted at coolness, wafting flower scents. Palm trees, vines, and bushes with red and purple blooms spilled over the road. A bird trilled.
Laura accelerated, soaring over the crest and down the other side of the mountain. She was driving way too fast for the tight curves and narrow, pitted road, her lips pulled back in an intent grin. Greenery streaked past as she gripped the wheel, panting. We squealed into another skidding turn.
Thrown sideways, I grabbed the door frame. “Hey!”
“Here comes the best part!” She flashed a challenging grin and accelerated. We shot like a chromed bullet down a straight plunge beneath a mad flicker of sunlight and dark green boughs. The car hit a dip at the bottom, skidded, and bounced up the other side, my stomach flopping like the one time I’d been crazy enough to ride a giant roller-coaster. A car rounded the curve approaching us.
Laura kept her foot to the floor.
A blur of greens, blue sky, dark road. Laura’s hands gave the wheel a sharp pull, swerving us deliberately to the road’s center as the other car flew closer.
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