5 min read

The Boy in the Sand

The Boy in the Sand

The boys played shirtless in the rain as the wooden boats of the local fisherman headed back to shore. It was a little after lunchtime in Juan Dolio, an hour’s drive from Santo Domingo, where I had landed by airplane three days earlier. Max and I had driven there together, and we sat together on the sand as the clouds overhead darkened and the warm rain dripped down our faces in rivulets. Beside us, a dark-skinned boy in tattered jean shorts sat looking out at the blue waves as they kissed the shore.

A hundred yards away, a boat sped forward, crashed with the waves onto the beach and settled. The fishermen jumped out. They pushed the boat deeper onto the beach, and the shirtless boys ran over, joined by a group of others who were drinking rum under the palm trees, to see the catch and make offers before the older men from the stores bought up all the fish.

“Let’s go see what they got,” Max said. “I bet you’ve never seen fish like this in the States.”

Max was right. He had come to the Caribbean six years earlier, first to Haiti and then to the D.R., to teach wealthy kids in international schools where qualified American teachers typically found easy employment. Life was freer than in New York, he had told me. “It’s just a carefree vibe, man. People don’t stress out about the little things like we do.”

I put it off for a while until Jennifer left in August. She had sent me a text while I was away working in Denver. “I’m sorry, but when you get back, I’m not gonna be here.” She took everything except the wedding dress she left hanging from the closet door in the bedroom and the dogs, which were at a friend’s house. “She was always one for drama,” Max told me over WhatsApp that night. “You need to come visit me for Thanksgiving.” He sent pictures of gold-sand beaches and dark-skinned women drinking rum from small plastic cups. In the pictures, he stood in the middle smiling. “It’s going to be freezing in NY anyway, and here it’s still basically summer. You can take pics to throw on Tinder. Girls love a guy who travels.”

I booked the trip in late October.

It was overcast the first two days in Santo Domingo and rained hard. By the third morning the skies had cleared a little. We got in Max’s rental and followed the main highway east along the shoreline. We stopped for plato del dia—rice, beans, platanos, and chicken stew—at a small corner restaurant. Two businessmen ate at a table in the corner and drank ice-cold jumbos of Presidente beer from plastic cups. Max bought a bottle for the road. Back in the car, we passed beach resorts until we found an open stretch of beach. “Usually there’s guys waving flags for you to park and spend money at a restaurant or something,” Max said. But, it was only us, the shirtless boys, and the fishermen.

Max pulled out the Presidente beer from the cooler with two cups, and we walked over to sit by the ocean and drink. He had hardly mentioned Jennifer; neither had cared for each other since senior year of college, when she made her way into my life, first a friend then a girlfriend and years later, as much out of convenience as anything, my wife. She had refused to come to Santo Domingo. “What the hell are we going to do with Max?” she had said. “Your friends don’t even like me.”

“If you tried, they might,” I had told her. “You don’t try. You don’t adapt. It’s like we’re always having to make things right for you, but it can’t be that way.”

Jennifer and I hardly fought. She couldn’t take the yelling. So just before the point when it would rise from her throat, she’d stop talking then sleep on the couch where she’d watch TV alone for three nights straight. Eventually, when I’d be at work, she’d text to ask what I wanted her to make for dinner or if there was a new show on Netflix I wanted to watch, and everything returned to its earlier state, unresolved yet pleasant enough.

The sky was dark again and I could feel the drizzle coming down from the clouds. “It’s gonna pass, dude. It always does this in November.”

“It’s not a big deal,” I told him. “It’s warm here anyway. I don’t mind the rain.”

We had watched the waves for a few minutes before the fishermen arrived on the beach, then we got up and walked over as the dark-skinned boy remained stoic looking out at the ocean. As the drizzle turned to downpour, a tall, skinny boy approached me to show off the fish he was selling.

“It’s loro,” he told me. “Parrot?” I asked him. “No, it’s a fish. It just looks like a parrot. Can’t you see that it’s a fish?” He laughed.

The size of an American football, the fish’s skin was turquoise with pink and yellow lines running along its mouth and body.

“It’s a beautiful fish,” I said.

When he realized we weren’t going to buy his fish, the boy and the others with him left us alone. Instead they ran over to their friend in the tattered shorts and shouted at him. “Enrique, come play with us!”

He turned away from the group. From behind him, a larger boy put his palms on the sides of his head. “Enrique! Enrique!” he shouted in a sing-song voice, shaking Enrique’s head like a rattle. The others danced and kicked up sand. The rain slid off their bodies. The rain was so strong now we accepted it that way rather than trying to cover up.

“You’ve got to love these Dominican kids,” Max said. “They’re so happy.”

The tall boy with the dead loro stuck his tongue out at Enrique.

“Get up, Enrique, get up,” he shouted. “We’re going to see Doña Maria.”

Enrique raised his voice. “Porque no me dejas en paz,” he said. Why won’t you leave me be?

Eventually, Enrique rose, blinking away the water in his eyes. The boys ran off, and he followed them from a distance not turning back again to look at the ocean. The fisherman were off to the stores to sell their catch and it was just Max and I standing there.

“It’s gonna clear up in a few hours. We’ll head back out tonight,” Max said. “There’s this bar in Viejo Santo Domingo where you can dance with the bartenders. That’ll make for a good Instagram post.”

“It’s fine,” I said. We walked back to the car and as he pulled away I looked through the window at the rain drops resting on the glass and beyond them to the ocean where the waves rippled. The beach was now empty.