During that month of waiting for school to start I began walking the beach between the school and my residencia. I grew to love that stretch of sand. If I walked its entire length, a mile or more, I would end up in front of the El Caribe. Most evenings, the sun sinking below the horizon, the sky turned a bruise of yellow and purple and blue, and shafts of final sunlight would fan the sky and then fade. The sudsy, scalloped waterline was dotted with small hermit crabs running back and forth and then disappearing down small holes. The trade winds blew steady, heavy with the odor of salt and drying seaweed and damp wood. White seabirds rode the wind currents, and small gray sand pipers ran across the wet sand, darting into the foamy water on delicate, pink stems, their long, sharp beaks searching for small shrimp.
On one of those languid, late afternoon walks, as I neared a park some blocks from my residencia, I stopped. In the distance not close, but not far I watched several young men running out of the surf, a young woman being carried and pulled toward shore. There was a sense of desperation about the men as two of them laid her on the sand. I hurried toward them. One grabbed her by her shoulders and shook her vigorously, his cries of despair carried to me, heavy with panic and pleading.
As I approached, I saw that the girl lay very still, her arms and face covered with sand. She was wearing a white blouse and black shorts. Without thinking, I kneeled down at her side then glanced up at the three looking at me intently. “Can you do something?” asked one of them. “I don’t know,” I said. “I’ll try.”
I leaned over her, seeing her eyes half open, vacant, her lips parted. I grasped her nose and placed my lips over hers and exhaled. I did this over and over. Each time I blew air into her lungs, her chest would rise and the men and the small crowd that had gathered became hopeful, saying, “She’s breathing. See. See.” And so it went. The minutes passing. I heard a siren in the distance and kept pushing air into the girl, waiting, and trying again. One of the men walked away and dropped to his knees and leaned forward, his forehead touching the sand, his fists clenched.
Finally I was aware that a doctor and men in uniforms had arrived and they took over, and I grimly stood up. A stretcher was brought down to where she lay, and I watched as they took her away.
The next morning I went to the hospital and asked about her, already certain that none of it would have a right ending.
A nun in black and white robes, sitting at a large desk covered with papers and stamps, looked at me and shook her head. “When she arrived at the emergency room, there was nothing to be done,” she said. “It was too late. You knew her?”
“No, madre, I didn’t.”
I still walked the beach after that, and often thought of the young woman, seeing once again that afternoon and the three men pulling her out of the surf. I thought of this place, its people, and turned and looked back, toward town, and saw lights blinking on, a gloaming glow settling over the rooftops. and I listened to a dog barking in the distance, and a woman calling out to someone and a door slamming.
And then I breathed in the warm air and looked toward the horizon and walked on. Still I didn’t know. That would come later. But it was a beginning.