He took off his belt and then snapped it back shut, the click giving him a sense of relief. Cloth and metal woven together. This was protecting him. He was confident that this assembly would save his life if the Boeing crashed. The buckle would hold. The three-hundred and forty-five ton airplane would be destroyed. But the seatbelt did not settle the feeling in his stomach.
His twin brother asked him to stop fidgeting. His response was a dirty look. He continued playing with the belt. They had not yet left the runway, but he settled down somewhat when they had. The thrill of the sudden burst of speed making the plane rise quickly in the air made him feel better; but it lasted only a few minutes. The plane settled – it was still rising but not as quickly. The feeling returned.
Five hours later the plane landed on an island. Michael was agitated. He wanted to be the first off the plane so he could be the first to get away from the re-circulated air causing his nausea. But because of the crowd he did not stand. He felt better sitting, resting his head against the blue chair filled with small, yellow triangles, than standing on the blue carpet in the isle. The colour scheme of the plane. That of the air port was so different.
There was no more steel; no more plastic. The Punta Cana airport, on the island of the Dominican Republic was built of wood and marble. The structure was wooden; the roofs supplemented with straw. In an effort to become more modern the floors underneath the wooden canopy were done in marble; yellow with black shapes that looked like bolts of lightning. The airport was open; he could see through the openings in the buildings onto the runways and the fields of grass containing lone palm trees. On the other side of the building was a surprisingly large car park for such a small air port. About fifteen shuttle buses were parked. Three of them were being loaded with luggage and one of them was pulling up to where he was standing.
The shuttle bus bumped along the road. They passed small houses, most of them in dire need of paint. It was dark and there were faint lights in bars - single, small, square, structures with an opening instead of a door; with patio tables and plastic chairs outside, upon which men were sitting, smoking, and socializing. The city was fascinating to him because it was so small; so simple. The road was paved but had not been repaired for years. All of the buildings – whether houses or stores or restaurants or bars, were small, badly whitewashed blocks.
Salsa music played faintly on the bus’ radio. He tried hearing the words; discerning their meanings and looking for familiar melodies. He was sure he’d heard Spanish music before this. The driver sang along, trying to pass the time. The bus route had been navigated countless times before. For the driver, it was a route where every bump was a way of life.
An hour later the bus passed through hotel gates and the city disappeared. The roundabout in front of the open entrance was landscaped with lush vegetation made more exotic by bright, white lights. The driver and his assistant descended first, followed by the rest of the tourists, all in various states of tiredness. Some looked excited; others looked like they wanted to sleep. He tilted his wrist so that his watch caught the light; it was midnight exactly.
From the luggage compartment the two men began quickly unloading suitcases and duffel bags. There was an aggressive but polite rush to grab belongings and make it to the reception desk before a line formed. He was behind two other families waiting for one of the receptionists. It would not take very long.
“Welcome!” said the female receptionist when the line advanced. She was wearing a crisp, white shirt and a neatly pressed, blue skirt. A name tag revealed her name as Beatrice. “Four of you? Miller? Yes, room one-thirty-seven and thirty-eight,” she said in an accent that his brother, from the look on his face, found alluring.
“Mucho gracias,” he said. His brother was distracted; he received a smirk. He had tried to learn as much Spanish as possible before coming down; his brother told him they all probably spoke English. He had learned, however, only a few common words. The receptionist gave him a motherly smile. He was glad that he pronounced it correctly.
Two porters took their bags and their keys and led the way. He felt his brother’s fingers in his back when he stopped to look at a plant. There were so many of them, all around the hotel. The tropical plants were all different colours and sizes; all containing vivid greens, all looking healthy. Along the walkways they were a microcosm of a jungle in which anything from dinosaurs to squirrels could have lived. They passed a small pond; he saw a tiny frog jump out of their way into the bushes. But his brother wanted to get to the room. His brother and his parents were hungry and tired. He had been as well, but the excitement and beauty of the city and of the hotel took it away.
“We’ll meet back in the reception in fifteen minutes,” said Mr. Miller. “Then we’ll figure out where we can get some food.”
The main restaurant served snacks all night. The only hot food available were oval pieces of white bread, on top of which was placed either salsa or ham or mushrooms mixed with melted cheese. There was a machine dispensing soft drinks, but clear jugs with yellow and pink juice were sitting on a bed of ice. He tried the pink one; watermelon. It tasted as fresh as the cheese on top of the bread. The food rejuvenated him and he did not want to sleep.
“I’m going to walk around for a bit,” he told his family.
The concrete pathways wove in and around patches of plant life and ponds. Some areas had pot lights, lighting the water or the greenery; others were in complete darkness. He discovered a pattern to the paths. They took him to the pool, the disco, the stage, the restaurants and the bars. From outside the disco he could hear the heavy bass of the music being played inside. He recognized the song; it was new, something his brother played often. It was not a song he cared for so he continued his walk.
But he noticed a small, red light in the shadow of a tree. He suddenly felt like smoking but he had left his cigarettes in his suitcase. He walked up to the light, somehow unable to make out the figure. The lights were coming from behind, creating a black hole directly in front of the tree.
“Do you have an extra cigarette?” he said to the phantom.
“Sure.” The voice was male, it sounded like it had broken recently. He did not hear any rough edges. A hand extended from the shadows into the light; a cigarette resting on the palm, slightly curved fingers keeping it steady. He gently lifted the long, white stick and the hand withdrew.
“A lighter, by any chance?” The palm returned and he took the lighter. While he was lighting his cigarette he glanced up with his eyes only, not moving his head; still no glimpse of the person. “Thanks.” He reached his own hand forwards to return the lighter. It was taken out of his grasp.
He turned around to walk away when he felt the touch of two fingers on his shoulder. He turned around, and the smoker was no longer concealed in the shadows.
“My name’s Cameron.” The palm, this time sideways, reached out.
“I’m Michael. It’s nice to meet you. You can call me Mike though.” He had not emerged completely from shadows. He was tall and built well. Both boys inhaled more smoke.
“So how long ago did you get here?”
“About an hour and a half.”
“Oh. So you’re a big club person? Came straight here?”
“No, actually. I was just taking a walk to look around. I didn’t feel like sleeping.”
“Have you seen the beach yet?”
“Want to? It’s really nice.” Michael nodded. “How old are you by the way?”
“Me too. But it doesn’t matter here, they let you drink anyway. Want to grab one first?”
Cameron had already been drinking that night, but he liked the brand of beer he could get nowhere else. El Presidente. Michael was trying it for the first time. It was stronger than the beer he was used to drinking; but he liked the flavour better.
He wanted another. He usually did not drink more than one beer when he went out. The first time he had drunk too much, the pain of the hang over forced sobriety on him. The promise he made himself from the pain was broken, but one beer at a time. There was no point in stopping. He was on vacation; the alcohol was unlimited; he could see the beach later, in the sunlight.
“Trust me, there’s a point,” said Cameron. “When you see it at night, especially when there’s a full moon, it’s indescribable. But we’ll get loaded first. It’s more fun that way.”
Cameron made the transition between the concrete and the sand an easy one. He removed his sandals and picked them up in his hand. Michael took off his shoes, forgetting about his socks until they stepped into the sand. Cameron kicked some more sand onto them and started laughing.
They were stumbling along the shoreline, leaning on beach chairs when they needed to laugh. They had walked almost the entire length when Cameron collapsed into the sand. Michael attempted to sit, but fell beside him. More laughter. Cameron pointed upwards. “See. The moon. The stars. They make the clouds look silver; they make the ocean look silver.” The moon was hanging very low over the ocean, as if looking for a place to land in between the waves. “La Luna hace que tu piel se vea plateada. Eso nunca pasaría durante el día.”
“You speak Spanish?” Michael said, turning towards Cameron who was no longer pointing at the sky, but at Michael’s neck.
“Si, mi amigo.”
“I said, ‘yes, my friend’.”
“What about before that?”
“The moon is making your skin look silver.” Michael did not understand.
“Your skin. It looks silver in the moonlight.”
“Oh,” said Michael. There was silence as Michael turned back to stare at the moon. A long, thick cloud was passing by the bottom half. The cloud was lit by the sun’s reflection. Michael felt something on his left shoulder. He turned. Cameron was lying in the sand, his silver finger caressing Michael’s skin.
Michael dropped into the sand as Cameron withdrew his hand. “Do you have another cigarette?”
“Later.” Cameron’s arm reached around Michael’s head and pulled it closer. Their lips met. His mouth had never before felt such warmth. The feeling caressed his body, taking over the effects of the alcohol and the moon.
Cameron turned onto his back when the kiss was finished.
“Ever counted stars?”
“Waste of time. Impossible to get them all. Want to try?” Michael began laughing uncontrollably at the contradictory game.