A taxi took Nitin as far as the banana grove. The next leg of his trip was fit only for bicycles and pedestrians and ended at the pale yellow house set into the island’s highest peak. The dwelling was battered and filed by the elements and in a surprising state of overwhelm from an invasive plant. The Christ’s thorn jujube all but erased the chainlink fence, clawed up the yellow concrete, and pried the terracotta roof tiles. It had been a long time since Nitin came to this island, even longer since he’d visited her cottage.
“Why have you come?” The woman they called Cassandra- surely not her real name- opened her door before Nitin had taken two steps onto her walkway.
He should’ve known she’d see him coming. He wasn’t ready with his answer, thought she’d ask him to drink first. Cane rum, neat. It was her ritual, for she had no ice.
A few feet from him she halted. “I told you your words would travel the world, that they’d go farther than you dreamed, farther than you wished, that they’d birth nightmares and monsters. I warned you.”
“I don’t want this,” Nitin blurted. “I want my old life back, my small apartment. I want my privacy.”
“You want safety. And it doesn’t work that way,” Cassandra swept a lock of hair from her face, revealing a scar-a new scar- that ran from her temple down the side of her face, her neck, over her collar bone. Her black silk wrap hid the rest from view. She caught him staring. “Come. Drink with me.”
Ah, the world hadn’t changed entirely. Nitin limped to the patio that overlooked the island and settled into one of the cushioned couches.
“Why do you limp?” She held out a lowball glass
“You’re the fortune teller, you tell me.” He halved the rum in one swallow.
“You walked on thorns, thinking you were doing penance.”
His eyes went wide. “You have my attention.” For he had walked on the Christ thorn jujube that very day. The plant was everywhere. One could barely keep from stepping on it. He’d thought if he punished himself here, on this island, he’d please God and banish forever the dark and insidious forces that chased him, snapping jaws at his heels no matter where he went.
Cassandra’s smile was sad. “Penance. Man’s vaccination against despair and everlasting damnation. Its effectiveness wanes.”
Nitin waved her off. “A wise man tries for salvation by any and all means.”
Long ago, Nitin’s means was his writing. He’d come to Cassandra and, when she asked what one thing he wanted more than any other, he hadn’t said women or wealth or eternal youth. He’d asked for the opportunity to change the world with his words.
And he did.
Now Nitin wished he could take back those words, the ones that garnered him fame and fortune. And the killing eye of zealots who wanted him dead, who didn’t think it was enough to burn his books. They sought his life as well. And from them, there was no respite. All his public appearances had to be canceled. No more author signings. Nothing public. He was a hunted man.
He’d come to Bonaire to find Cassandra and get his curse reversed. When he found the jujube flower in his water pitcher, he knew he’d been pursued even to paradise. So he’d left the resort and fasted and prayed and when the jujube he’d accidentally stepped upon had drawn blood, he knew what God wanted of him.
Or so he thought.
Nitin was washing his bloodied feet in the ocean when the man with a scythe burst from the wood. It was a struggle. The would-be assassin and his bloody knife were now a feast for flies. It wasn’t the first time Nitin had to choose his life over another’s. And God was not pleased.
Cassandra made him famous. Surely she could unmake his fame.
“I tell futures. I don’t make them,” she said.
“Get out of my head.” He tossed back the rest of the rum, and she refilled his glass, higher this time. From the wood, he thought he heard the break of branches.
“Quick, give me your hand.” She searched his palm. Her touch sent bees crawling over his skin. Only with great will did he allow her to trace the lines on his palm and fingers. She ran a finger along his arm to the elbow.
He pulled it back. “Do you hear that?”
From the wood, the crack of bonish limbs, and green and wiry plants whispered that something or someone approached Cassandra’s home from below, clawing and scratching against gravity to break into Nitin’s last refuge. He rose abruptly and shook out his flaming palm.
Her voice was maternal. “You know I hear everything, take heart.”
Closer and closer came the sounds of footfalls.
“But your scar…you can’t stop everything.”
“You should see the other guy,” she flashed him a wicked smile and pulled a jeweled switchblade from the folds of her robe. “And I’ve read your palm. You’ve a long life ahead of you.”
True: Nitin walked on thorns as an act of penance. He writes intense and thought-provoking essays and poetry at Making Sense of Everything. He wanted a happy ending, and who wouldn’t dig Bonaire with a glass of cane rum and a knife-wielding clairvoyant?
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