Within the slums of a small Caribbean village, a girl called Keinah grew. By the time she was roughly the age of six her life began to shape. She had twelve elder siblings who were either married off or joined the militia by the time she was born. When she was two-years-old, her mother died from hard child labor with a set of twins. Her father became betrothed to a wealthy woman who had no interest in raising a child, not of her own. Four years later, Keinah went to live with her maternal grandmother in another province by the sea, far from where she was born.
For Keinah, it was easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the living. She dwelled in poverty, ignorance, and neglect. Without her knowledge, her pure soul could drift between the living human world and that of the spiritual realm. She did not know the difference. The summer heat made it too hot for work in the mid-day. Grandmother often sent Keinah to their hut to rest on the floor. Many heatwaves caused her to lose consciousness.
Keinah did not like to leave Grandmother’s side, and she hated going back to the hut to rest. She often pretended to sleep, and when no one was watching, she would head to the shore with a flask of fresh tea and the remaining breadcrumbs from supper.
One day, after she had already prepared a meal for her basket and bucket for collecting shells, she planned her escape. The other frail children from the village had already fallen asleep inside the one-room shack. There was a senile old nursemaid who was often chastised for neglect in tending to her chores. She rested on a wicker rocking chair in front of the main entrance. Keinah rolled her raggedy sleep mat to use as a rope to lead her out of the only window in the room. Once she hit the trail, she made haste towards the shoreline.
She merrily skipped and hummed along. Before she knew it, she had reached her destination. She arrived at a deserted black-sanded beach that ranged for miles, lined with an enormous amount of palm and coconut trees. The ocean was a beautiful, deep, bluish-green sea.
Without her knowledge, a presence had been watching her every single time she made the trek to the ocean shore. It noticed how tiny and sickly she always looked. She wore the same dingy blue tattered dress that was nearly a size too small for her body. Her black braids laid matted, and her dark ebony complexion was smooth, but ashy from dryness. The Presence had also noted how free and at ease she was as she played in the water and collected shells from the beach. Not even the sand in her hair caused her to fret. She hummed a simple tune and seemed to be uplifted by the sound of the waves.
Suddenly, Keinah stopped in her tracks and looked over her shoulder. “Are you going to stand by and watch me?” She asked.
The Presence paused. “She can’t be speaking to me, can she? There is no one else around. She definitely has addressed me at this moment,” It thought. The Presence took pity on her, knowing that she was that much closer to death because she could now sense it. “I must introduce myself, but in a manner not frighten her,” It decided. The Presence disguised himself as a human boy with straight long silvery-white hair that hung halfway down his back, piercing green eyes, and a bronzed skin tone. He appeared to be around ten years of age.
The Presence made his way down a coconut tree and stood before Keinah. She gasped at first, from shock. The Presence did not know if his appearance was pleasing or a terror to her. He quickly checked his attire to ensure his swimming trunks fit him presentably.
She softened her disposition and said, “My name is Keinah; how do you do, Sir?” She stuck out her hand to shake his. He shook her hand but did not speak. “Do you come here a lot?” She inquired.
Again, he did not speak. She smiled and included, “This is my most favorite place in the entire world!” His silence gave her a frosty chill of concern. “What’s wrong? Are you mad or something?” She paused to study his unreadable expression. “You don’t like me much, do you?” In that moment, she concluded that she had been rejected by the strange boy. “ That’s Ok. I’m used to it,” she sniffled and sauntered away in defeat.
The Presence became alarmed and stuttered until he could finally speak.
“Please, don’t go,” he shouted. The Presence reached for her arm to turn her around towards him, then looked into her big brown eyes. Her eyes were swollen with tears.
Her somber mood crushed him as hard as the waves that crashed against the rocks at the edge of the shoreline. During all his observations, he had never seen her in a distraught state. It did not sit well with him that he was the reason for her discontent.
Keinah snatch her tiny arm away and bawled, “If you’re going to be mean, then don’t pretend you want to play with me.”
The Presence stood shocked and taken aback. He had not intended to cause her any distress, and in fact, only meant to bring comfort.
“Please forgive me, Keinah. I did not mean to make you cry,” he calmly explained as he pulled her into his embrace. “ Of course, I will play with you,”
Keinah dried her tears with her dress and she looked up at him with a half-smile.
“Are you hungry?” She asked, remembering her basket. She broke away from his arms and ran to fetch it. Then, she unrolled her raggedy sleeping mat. plopped down, and opened the contents of her basket.
“The way she proudly brought her goods over, one would think it was a feast fit to serve a banquet of guests,” he chuckled to himself.
Keinah pulled out the flask of tea and handed it to her new friend. At first, he did not want to drink but also did not want to risk another offense. The Presence took a small sip from the flask. His reluctant eyes met with hers, as she eagerly sought approval.
“I made it myself, with some tea leaves I stole from Grandmother’s garden,” she said.
“It is very refreshing,” he said with confidence.
Next, she handed him a napkin with breadcrumbs inside. “Don’t be shy, I already ate some on my way here,” she giggled. The Presence hesitated for a second before scooping a handful of crumbs into his mouth. He smiled back at her elated face.
After eating, the two cohorts walked hand in hand along the beach. Keinah merrily hummed her tune, as the Presence took stock of the glorious occasion. The sun hung low over the horizon to make way for evening. He sighed and gently scooped her up in his arms, as he was ready to take Keinah with him to the other side of the sea.
“She is happy and content. There could be no better time to take her away from her suffering.” He thought.
Just as he was about to make his plans known to her, a faraway voice bellowed over overhead, like a dark cloud. “Keinah! Come now, Keinah!”
The pair froze for a moment, then took a seat in silence on a large moss-covered rock.
“That is Grandmother calling. I have to go now.” Keinah mustered with a whimper.
The Presence realized that Keinah was still within an inch of her life, which meant it would not be the right time to take her.
“Will I see you again?” She asked, with a blank gaze toward the water.
He gently kissed her forehead and whispered, “I will be here waiting for you to come and go with me.”
She smiled, kissed him back on the cheek, then hopped off the rock. “Before I go, you must tell me your name?” She asked.
The Presence paused for a minute to stare hopelessly at the prized child. “I will tell you my name on your next visit, which I am certain will soon be,” he replied.
Within a blink of the eye, she vanished before him
Ch. 1, The Far Side Hereafter