The sun beats down hard from a blue and cloudless sky making it far too hot for body contact, but Thomas curls himself like a cat in my lap and lays his head on my chest. I am instantly transported to a different time, 7 years and 2 weeks ago to be precise, in this exact same place – a boat, speeding between Belize City and the Caribbean Island of Caye Caulker. I glance at the seats we sat in then, two places from where I sit now. Back then it was Claus holding the child. I don’t remember who’s; a little local who crawled into his lap. Babies and children knew. They could see straight through the tattoos to the massive, kind heart beating in his chest.
So I sit cradling our boy, my chin resting on his head, and stare hard at the wash behind the boat. Inside, I’m imploding. Like the controlled demolition of an abandoned tower block, my heart is crashing down on itself. Because it’s just. so. fucking. unfair. that a man who could so readily accept a stranger’s child into his arms never got to hold his own.
There are so many memories here that the dust barely settles between the detonations. I ask myself why I have embarked on this masochistic quest to trace our footsteps. I could (literally) be anywhere in the world. I don’t have to put myself through this….
But then I lift my head to speak to Thomas. I tell him “Your dad and I were on this boat. We sat right there and daddy held a little baby on his lap. He loved babies and babies loved him.” Thomas cocks his head to the side as he takes this new information in. He asks me questions and learns a little more about the father he never met, and so it’s worth it. All the ‘implosions’ and trying to feckin’ keep it together are worth it.
I am pleased to find Caye Caulker essentially unchanged. Sure it’s grown. There are new buildings and more golf buggies, more tour companies than I remember, even a little coffee shop that claims to be a starbucks, but it feels about the same. The people are instantly welcoming, even more so now that I have a child in tow. By the second day, people call out our names as we cycle around. “Miss Tarnya! Thomas, my man! How you doin’?”
The little boy who stuck to me like a limpit and tried to use my back as an island when we snorkeled not so long ago tells me “It’s OK mum, you don’t need to come in, I can go on my own” and splashes off into the crystal blue.
He squeals excitedly at the vibrant world below and tries to shout the names of fish through his snorkel. I’m reminded of a teacher’s comment on my report card – ‘Tarnya could talk underwater with a mouth full of sand’. I guess it’s no surprise my son is a chatterbox!
There is a LOT of snorkel-squealing and some serious limpet-ing when we enter the water with sharks and rays, but he soon finds his confidence.
Back on dry land, we cycle bare-foot on roads made of sand. We dine on local specialties (conch, fry-jacks, coconut bread!) and settle down to watch ‘vital’ (a local description) sunsets.