Thursday, June 10, 2010

A coming of age story of my St. Lucia trip as a Cub Scout (Pt. 3)

           Gros Piton and Petit Piton: The Pitons of St. Lucia

It was hot in St. Lucia. The Pitons stood tall in the distance. Gros Piton and Petit Piton we were told are St. Lucia’s treasures.  They certainly looked beautiful like two green ice-cream cones turned upside down.

Much of what we saw on the drive to the school looked like what we saw every day in Trinidad. Children were running, playing football and cricket, and walking to get water. Vendors were selling mangoes, bananas, plums, and all sought of other fruits and vegetables.

The sight of all the food vendors reminded us that we had not eaten since breakfast and some of that food was still lying on the floor of the plane or soaked into the clothes of some of the boys. It was lunch time and we were hungry.  

Just when I was going to suggest to Mr. Orosco to allow the bus to stop and get something to eat, we turned onto a road that twisted up a slightly sloping hill which emptied out into a clearing behind a row of trees. Before us was the school.

It was a brick u-shaped one story structure. A gravel-paved parking lot sat in the front of the school. There was a building off to the left side of the school that had a sign on it read “latrines and showers.” The two edifices were not connected.

We got out of the vans, grabbed our bags, and waited for Mr. Orosco to direct us on what to do. A man came out of the building along with two ladies and greeted us. The man had very dark skin. He wore black pants with a white guayabera and sandals. The two middle-aged ladies looked like they could have raised several children. They wore bright colored flowery dresses with slippers. But what Joseph and I noticed were the white aprons that they had on over the dresses. Food, we thought. They had been cooking.

After a brief greeting, we walked across the concrete path to the front doors of the school. We walked into a huge room – easily the size of a quarter of a football field. There were cots lined up in rows on the right side of the room. At the end of the room to the right was a stage with a piano. Joseph remarked about there being no desks and chairs.

To the left and at the end of the room was a cafeteria with long tables and benches that easily could have seated 40 children and adults.

We were asked to grab a cot and that would be ours for the rest of our time in St. Lucia. Joseph and I walked over to the cot area and decided on two next to each other. We were told to secure our bags, use the latrine if we wanted, and come back and have a seat at the tables for lunch.  

Both Joseph and I decided to go to the latrines along with some other boys. As we went outside, we saw that a few boys and a girl in a white dress had gathered in the parking lot - no doubt alerted by the commotion of the vans arriving with potential new playmates.

“Hey, where are you all from?” called out one of the boys who stood with his right hand on his right hip and all his weight resting on his left leg. Joseph and I stopped to answer as the other Cub Scouts went to the latrine.

“We are from Trinidad. We are Cub Scouts.” Joseph said in a friendly tone as we approached the group.

“You all are staying there?” The same boy asked with some sarcasm in his voice. Some of the other boys started snickering as the boy finished his question.

I looked at Joseph and he looked at me. We looked back at the group. The girl was the only one who had not snickered. In fact, she had no emotive expressions on her face.

A couple of Cub Scouts had walked up during this exchange. Kevin, a young boy from St. James, heard the question and replied, “Yes. We are staying here for about a week. Why?”

The young St. Lucian boy said, “You all better be careful. That school is haunted. A little girl died there in those latrines.” He pointed to the very latrines that we were about to use. “And she still comes around now and then but mostly at night.”

“How did she die?” I asked.

“No one knows. They just found her body there one morning. People say she is still walking around trying to figure out how she died. Some villagers hear her at night crying or laughing sometimes.” He explained with a straight face.

“Do you all go to school here?” Joseph asked.

“No! Parents stopped sending their kids here. The children were afraid.” The boy who initially started the conversation said.

I could not stand to hear any more. I turned and walked away towards the latrine. I had to pee real badly. Joseph followed. “Where are you going?” he asked - kicking up gravel as he rushed to keep up.

“In there.” I said pointing to the latrine as I walked swiftly to the door. “I am going to pee and then go inside and eat. I am hungry.” I turned towards the opening and walked in. Joseph did not follow.

The latrine was an open air building with a galvanized steel roof. As I entered, to my right were sinks and to my left were latrine stalls. In the back and at the end of the hallway were the shower stalls. I stood there for a moment trying to capture every detail inside the building.

I hopped into the stall closest to the door. The latrine was well lit from the sunlight beaming outside. I quickly peed, washed my hands and walked with a speedy gait to the exit. Joseph stood waiting outside as I exited the building.

“You don’t have to pee?” I asked.

“Yes and I did already.” said Joseph.

“When? Where?”  I asked.

“I peed on the side of the latrine when you were in there peeing. I am not going in that latrine.” Joseph said shaking his head and pointing to the open door of the latrine.

“You peed on the side of a latrine that works?” I said shaking my head. “Suit yourself. Not going to the latrine will make your bowels block up and then you will have to drink some of my grandmother’s bush tea to get diarrhea. Wait till your bottom explodes.” I explained as I walked towards the school.

Kevin and some of the other Cub Scouts were still talking to the St. Lucian youth. The girl in the white dress was gone. I panned the grounds in search of her – but did not see her.

We went in and sat at the tables. The ladies had made some sandwiches. I devoured mine in a hurry. We had some orange juice that tasted very good better than I have ever tasted in Trinidad. I asked for another sandwich and devoured that one faster than the first.

After eating we went to explore the building and the rest of the surroundings. On the opposite wing from the eating area were chairs and desks stacked high - apparently stored to make room for us. Maybe the boys were fibbing about students not attending school here. I decided to ask the man who first greeted us.

I went back to the kitchen area and asked the man who at that moment was pounding a nail into a piece of wood, “Excuse me sir? Do kids attend school here? And did a young girl die here? Is this school haunted?” The questions came out in rapid succession.

He gave me an amazed look like I had just said something that I should not have known about. After a slight pause, he said, “Yes kids go to school here. Yes unfortunately a little girl did die here. Well not here but in the latrine. And no, this school is not haunted? Who told you this?”

“Some boys outside. Oh yeh, and there was a girl with them.” I said

He stopped and paused for a moment. Looked to the window and then back at me. He got up off his knees, walked over to the two large glass pane windows, and peered outside. I followed his every step and stood next to him by the window.

The boys were still outside talking to some of the Cub Scouts.

“Those boys live in the village. They probably are just curious as to who you all are.” He said. “Where is the girl you were talking about?”

“She was gone when I came out of the latrine.” I replied.

“Hum.” The man said bringing his hand up to his chin rubbing it as if trying to figure out a puzzle. “What was she wearing?” he went on.

“A white dress.” I said not knowing what to take from his additional question about the girl.

“She is probably from the village too.” He said as he walked back to resume pounding nails into the board.

I said thanks and walked away to meet up with Joseph who was fiddling with his suitcase that lay on his cot. I explained to him my conversation with the man and highlighted that the man appeared curious about the girl we saw with the boys outside. Joseph did not think anything of the man’s curiosity.

However, I did.  And that night, as I sat on my bed contemplating whether to wake Mr. Orosco to ask if he could accompany me to the latrine, I was about to meet that girl.  

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