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Fully engrossed in the impossible task of extracting a live conch from its shell with a blunt, rusted out machete, I am not expecting a human being at all. After 17 days on this deserted cay in the Bahamas, living off the sea and land, the only person I expect anytime soon is Mister Pinder, from Abaco who dropped me off up the beach; he had promised to pick me up 'in bout tree weeks'.
I hear a rustling in the sawgrass over near the prickly pear cactus and thinking island rats, I stand up and throw a cocoanut shell at them. But instead, a startled head pokes up followed by two very curious eyes, followed by the rest of a small island boy. I smile to ease him and I get a big warm one back.
"You not doin' dat right' he said, pointing at the mangled conch shell.
Curious, I ask him how he got on the cay and he tells me his daddy is fishing 'roundsabout'. "He puts me here to be sure where I be." He moves towards me and says" Wan some help?"
Without waiting, the boy pulls his own machete from his belt, grabs the conch and whacks the bejesus at the pointy end, opening a slash. Then he takes a knife from his pocket and puts the blade into the slash and saws vigorously.
"Ya gotta cut where it's 'tached, see?" he turns it upside down and doesn't the lovely conch spiral its way out and plop on the sand, all glistening.
"Wan me clean it up? Have some limes here? Needs to soak some to mek it sof'." he rapid fires me.
He has lots of time it seems; daddy won't be here 'til sundown. So we sit under the causarina for shade next to my tent. Just a couple of lonely-for-conversation guys passing the day. Justin does most of the talking; seems I'm out of practice. Turns out his daddy parks him here a lot, says he's got to learn to be on his own. He calls it 'my cay 'cuz no one else uses it', and 'someday I'm goin' to live here forever'.
At sundown we hear a motor. Justin shakes his finger at the marinating conch, "leave dat alone for one mo' day, den fry 'er up!" He shakes my hand, turns and lopes off down the beach waving with his machete.
I look at the conch. I can almost taste it. But I'll do what Justin says.
A boat on the sea
gulls swoop for scraps
boy into man