Sara Bastian 

What happens when we die? Do we forget? Do we reincarnate into something else?  Were we human to begin with? When we die… do they forget? 

Heat swirls into my skin as soon as I step off the plane. I walk in with tourists. Tourists in floppy straw hats and Red Sox baseball caps, tourists in shorts embellished with tiny anchors, tourists with pre-packaged tans they’d sprayed or rubbed onto their frosty skin the night before. Tourists already moaning about the eighty-degree heat once they deboard the plane. They have prepared for everything except the sensation of heat stomping onto their skin.  

“Mom, it’s so hot. When are we going to the hotel?” 

“I know. It’s only for a while, okay? As soon as we walk inside the airport it’ll be cooler.” 

“Will everyday be this hot?” 

“Maybe. I don’t know.” 

“Why don’t you know?” 

“Because we don’t live here, bud.” 

They will rummage through their bags—hot off the carousel— for sunscreen, but sunscreen cannot hinder heat. The heat bruises them. They are unsure which bothers them most—the stomping heat or the black and blue impression of bruising it will leave. 

They sojourn to preserve. To dwell in such heat would kill them, send them spiralling. Every day they would have to run into the ocean and coat their bodies in the clear blue water—the water they marvel at from the sky. From above, their infatuation with my home reaches its peak. When they sleep in their unforgettably white hotel sheets, they’ll dream of looking down. 

“Wow. It’s so blue. Look, babe, look at the water! God, have you ever seen water so blue?” She stares down in awe, her green eyes wide and ready to wander. 

“All water is blue.” He laughs and pats the miniature beer belly that rests underneath his Patriots t-shirt. 

“Just look! This is the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen. It’s probably the best view we’ll ever get.” 

“It’s pretty blue… what a rip off, though. All of this money just to get the best view on the plane.” He repositions his shades from the top of his head to his face and grumbles, “The rum better be good.” 

It must be different from up there, but I am unsure. Up there, I close my eyes and dream of being down below. From my dreams, I place myself outside of the airport with my luggage, waiting for my mummy to pick me up and take me home.

Home heat home. As soon as I deboard the plane, heat encompasses me and caresses my back before sending me into the artificial chill of the airport. I’ve forgotten such comfort.

What happens when we die? 

The heated island will be engulfed by the sea. Other countries will mourn and blame the climate crisis. “If only, those people didn’t live near the ocean. They should’ve moved when they had the chance. Anyway, it was bound to happen. Isn’t that how life goes? …It was just their time.” 

They’ll send their helicopters to watch us bob up and down, arms flailing, begging for the heat and its caress. With each pleading gasp, we’ll swallow salty water, seaweed, and minuscule sea creatures. News reporters will wave at their cameras for attention—they must tell the world what they’re seeing. A white woman in a blood-red suit will swing slowly from a ladder, beaming up at the camera pointing downwards at her. Blurred in the background, we’ll sink. 

They’ll marvel at it all and wonder how she hasn’t fallen yet. They’ll pray for her safety. With or without prayers, she’ll be okay. The corporation’s ladders were built to hold her up, blood-red power suit and all.

Years later, they’ll come back. They’ll come back and wonder what happened. Rumors will spread about a Canadian family that survived on a hidden cay. News outlets will call them miraculous. “How lucky are they? I guess the ocean didn’t want them or the cay. …Coming up next, this year’s biggest Black Friday sales.”

Do we reincarnate into something else? 

When people ask how much longer I have left, I tell them I’ll be done in December. They inquire about my future. To be abroad is not to be psychic. “Not sure yet,” I tell them. “Whatever you do, don’t come back here,” they advise. They laugh, but there is no joy beneath it. Home is swallowing itself. Home is lamenting its own departure with the waves. The Bahamas is no place for the future. I try to laugh, but sorrow swallows me silently. How ironic. 

I have spent enough time tottering between home and elsewhere to know that sometimes it is better to sit still for a while. To breathe. But I cannot. Didn’t you hear me? Home is swallowing itself. When I return home in December, people ask me what I’m going to do next. They continue to pester me about my future. They ask if I plan to go back or to stay home. I shrug, mumble something about eventualities, and remind them of my unsureness. Homecoming is not meant to outlive the holidays. For a homecoming to be respectable, it must cease. We must leave again to seek out something better, a place where the waves will not gulp down buildings. A place where the sea minds its manners and knows not to trespass. 

The illusion of relaxation, of paradise that did not exist outside of their resorts. Paradise existed because it had to; because it funded the people.

The descendants of these tourists will not fly onto our land that they once believed was theirs. They will float their way into our waters, the waters their ancestors coated their bodies in when the heat was too much, when they feared they would be blackened and blued. They will float on devices that resemble land—devices that can be both land and claimants of the sea (and its people). 

The sea sprouts seashell spawns of soon-to-be spectacles. There will be tourists waiting above water to behold our gills and fins passed down to us by the miniature sea creatures we swallowed and swallowed until we sank. The news reporters will have told them we perished with our land. No memorials will have been held. The tourists will have instead reminisced about their time on the island. The food. The poolside service from blurry-faced waiters they would’ve quickly forgotten. The illusion of relaxation, of paradise that did not exist outside of their resorts. Paradise existed because it had to; because it funded the people. The clear blue water. So clear that after we would have drifted below the surface, they won’t bother to search, to excavate. There is no more land… what else would they take?

The Canadian family will be rescued by the Royal Canadian Navy and they will tell a tale of a magical Negro mermaid who saved their child from drowning. Anthropologists will return to the sunken island on their boats and submarines. Billionaires will follow with natives who fled before the crisis struck. Out of curiosity and the promise of money, the former natives will agree to test new pills that allow them to sprout temporary fins and gills. Most of them will drown. Not in the way we will have drowned. The ocean will spit them back up and they’ll float above us like buoys with their rib cages emerging from skin and fins protruding from the back of their necks. The water around them is nowhere near blue. 

Edouard Duval Carrié. Birth of Aqowe 53 x 55” Acrylic in artist frame, 2010

The Billionaires will try again until it is foolproof. They’ll sell the “Ariel Pills” at Walgreens and CVS. The tourists will return. They know the water well— their ancestors would have told them about it and how clear it was and how much better it was now without the heated land. How beautiful it was. Our dwelling will not dissuade them from entering. They have the same abilities as us, only they are able to control when they wish to swim with fins or with feet. Somehow, they are always able to be both tourist and native, but not our kind of native—their kind. It is an unfathomable power. 

Anyway, it’s sweltering. They cannot stand to sit on their yachts and cruise ships all day. They will dive into the sea—their never-ending, consistently cooling escape. 

Were we ever human to begin with?

Around town, I spy with my bleached-by-abroad eyes, something that is brown. Something that is black. Soon, the bleach falls asunder. I spy with my brown eyes, something … familiar. Bodies that belong in the sun. Bodies that belong to the sun, to the sea. 

They’ll swim and stare. At first, the tourists won’t get too close to us. Unable to communicate with one another, they’ll swim with glow sticks. (I wonder if they’ll know about our ability to wash out bright, white lights).

 Down there, we won’t ever need them. We’ll communicate telepathically and the ocean will whisper directions. We’ll listen to Her. She’ll tell us that we’re not bound to this area of the world. We’ll tell her that our ancestors are here. Besides, anywhere else, would be too cold or too unfamiliar. 

Over time, the tourists will swim closer and closer. Many of us will insist on staying. Others will leave to a more desolate area or wherever the ocean leads. Every time the foreign children tug at my fins and fish their fingers into my gills, I’ll contemplate leaving. 

But then, the sun will peek through the water and shine onto our sunken island and I’ll hold on. I’ll remember the warmth. The heat.

We’ll all hold on. Just a little too long. Before we know it, we’ll be people of the sea, hooked and reeled onto yachts. Before we know it, our gills will be split open and our fins will be plucked. Before we know it, the remainder of our bodies will be tossed into the ocean. We’ll sink, again, onto our already sunken land.

I never forget the cold in contrast with the sun. I curse it. I call it mediocre. I call it an abomination. I always forget the sun in contrast with the cold. I grieve. I yearn. I forget. 

When we die, why do they forget?

Sara Bastian is a writer from Nassau, Bahamas. She’s a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, MA.