Fiction in response to Life On Land
By Grace Muresan
“For generations, our people have lived on these islands in the Caribbean. The forests have always been there for us, to provide shelter and food in the darkest of times, and now these large companies from the mainland want to take them away for profit!”
“These forests, the ocean, the landscape, it is our way of life, and nobody will take it away from us!”
The hunters and warriors standing by our leader’s side raised their spears and gave a rowdy “Hurrah!” Our people broke out in a cheer.
“We will fight!” The Chief continued. “We will fight for our island! Our people! Our culture!” She coughed a little, suddenly reminding us how many times she had given this speech in this clearing, with a slowly decreasing audience. But louder still, with the same enthusiasm as the first time, she shouted, “We will fight for our forest!”
I felt a tug on my arm. “Let’s go, Joseph.” “But Mama-“ I stopped at the dangerous look she gave me.
“There is work to be done at home. Rabbits to hunt. Chickens to feed. Fruit to pick. Water to carry. And don’t get me started on the sugarcane harvest in a month.”
Her determined but tired face on, she shouldered her way out of the crowd, my little brother Judah and I in tow. Meetings on the topic of our forests getting illegally harvested happened once a week in the clearing. Our Chief Mary could not stop them completely, but she rallied most of us to take action against it. We did not buy palm oil. We never cut trees unless they were dying and we needed to, and a number of us planted trees around our house.
A few times I had seen people with chainsaws and machines cutting down trees. Most of the time I didn’t get involved, as they were big, scary men, but sometimes when I was far enough to run away and recognized them I would shout, “Traitor!” Since the first fallen tree and the promise of money, people haven’t stopped trying to make money that way. One side of the island once drenched in the forest was barren now, the land coated with a layer of ash and the trees burned and taken away. These men that cut the trees think only of their profit, that they can make money this way, but they do not realize -or maybe don’t care- about the dependent culture and intricate ecosystems that they put in jeopardy with a flick of the wrist for a check.
”Joseph!” Mama calls out to me. I had drifted behind her and little Judah as we walked. “Coming Mama!” I hurried forward to catch up.
Our home was on the left of a quiet, dusty little road. We were not rich, but Papa, who was originally from America, bought half an acre of land with inheritance to grow sugarcane and raise chickens as a living. After feeding the chickens and tending the crops, Mama goes inside to do other business like tidying the house and cooking and taking care of my baby sister, Peggy, named in in honor of my late Grandmother, while Joseph and I go to the market to buy things we need or to the edge of the forest to pick berries and fruits or to the river to get clean water from the community fountain or to the coast to play. Mama says when Peggy grows up and is old enough to work, she and Judah will be doing all that while I take care of manly stuff with Papa, working in the fields, hunting, fishing, and working at the market or for richer people.
Today was not my day. Judah and I had to carry water from the fountain in the community, almost a mile’s walk from home. We would pass a stretch of homes and a clot of forest, almost a perfect acre. We set off in a good mood, but little did we know of the horrors we were about to witness. The road to the forest was quiet. Mothers running little errands, children playing on the stoop, men who had later jobs hanging around or departing or getting ready to leave. But it is quieter than usual.
With my pot to fill with water balanced on my hip, I walk towards Moses, a friend from school. “Moses! Where has everyone gone to?”
He squinted. “You didn’t hear? The mayor herself said a new attack has been put on our patch of forest, just up ahead.”
Judah put in, but I was too stunned to reply. “And she added in a second meeting only a few hours ago that we need the profit to help fund a new town hall, maybe more fountains.”
I was shocked. “You mean that she’s letting herself be bribed by money to give one of our most valuable resources to our enemies?”
Moses frowned. “She’s doing what she thinks is best for our island.”
“Oh no, no, no, no.” I put down my pot. “Judah, stay with Moses!”
And I raced to my favorite patch of forest on the whole island. When I arrived, I could see I was almost too late. The mayor and a group of townspeople were there. But for the first time, the people of our island were visibly split. The mayor, whom we had all once respected, stood among some loyalists. But the rest of the people stood apart from her in a group, either too horrified to do much or shouting things along the line of, “Traitor!”
Suddenly I felt compelled to do something, standing at the edge of a crowd, fighting our loved ones and the woman we had always listened to, as they stood manipulated by money and men who had come to steal our trees and land. Just as she made the movement for the men to begin cutting the trees, I screamed, “Stop!”
The Mayor turned to me. Her hand fell to her side. She knelt to my height. “Joseph, young man, I don’t think you understand.”
“What about our forest, the huge number of speeches you gave in the town square, all the rallying and convincing, only to turn on your own ideas? What about our forest?!” my voice cracked and rose almost to a wail.
“What about our people’s well-being? Imagine all the things we could do with this land now that the forest is gone. And the money! Do you know how many people toil every day to make a feeble living, the bare minimum, when all they need is a good forest contractor?”
I froze, thinking which is more important, protecting the trees and the forests and the land, and leave them be; or protecting the people and the community and ‘work’ the trees and the forests and the land to get money?