“A Mile from Land”
By. Lee McQuinn
(note: all names, locations, and identifying information has been changed to preserve privacy and respect.)
16 February 2017 – Timeline: 1985
We docked at the end of the pier for the Islands of Trinidad and Tobago. It was a wide, steel pier that led into the Island between two large warehouses. The reek of fish was worse here than at any other port-of-call we’d been to. Still, I was excited.
There wasn’t a medical mission at this port, so we were free just to be tourists. My first stop would be the bank to transfer some of my pay to local currency. My second stop would be the market. I needed a new shirt and skirt to fit my new size. That was my intent. but, as they say, intent doesn’t get the job done.
The bank… It was full of armed soldiers, outside and in. Each teller had an additional two soldiers guarding them. I began to wonder whether or not I really needed to make an exchange at all. The week before, Captain Merk had shared with me his extensive collection of foreign monies. Some of it was so very beautiful. So, I thought I might begin my own collection of foreign money.
Coin collections… My Dad had one before he died. His collection was the only thing Mom wouldn’t (or couldn’t) sell for drugs. One day, I knew that collection would be mine. But, for me, I was more fascinated by the art on the bills. I’d never seen money you could hold up to the light to see an image within an image before. Oh, and it was so brightly colored, too. Ah, but I digress…
The Bank of Trinidad… An armed fortress. Today, Ian wasn’t my buddy, Stephen was. Stephen was huge, not like Dr. Stephen was thin. No, Stephen was like an armored tank in size twelve shoes. He also didn’t stick so close as did Ian. So, as I stepped up to the teller, Stephen waited on the bench beside the front door.
I handed the teller several two dollar bills, United States Dollars. Almost instantly, I found myself shoved down to my knees, machine guns pressed to my head, back, and chest. my hands were yanked to my head.
I was terrified.
I didn’t understand a single word they were shouting at me. Behind me, I heard a voice, not Stephen’s speaking to the soldiers. Then, he spoke to me.
‘Just don’t move, Ma’am. They think your money is counterfeit. They’re checking it out. Just be as still and calm as you can be.’ His voice was confident, strong, and American – New York, Brooklyn accent.
It seemed like forever. Everytime I swayed, the guns were jabbed into my body hard. Tears rolled down my cheeks.
‘You’re doing okay, just keep being still and silent.’ The voice encouraged.
Where was Stephen? He was supposed to be protecting me. Where the hell was he? I was terrified beyond terror. Had I come so far only to die over a simple two-dollar bill? And my baby?… Oh, Dear God, don’t let them kill my baby.’ I prayed.
I was held there, on my knees, on the cold granite floor for what seemed like multiple eternities. My mind was on Phillip, it was as if I could hear his voice and feel his arms holding mine up. I continued to pray for my baby’s life. Mine, well, I already considered it to be expendable.
Then, just as suddenly as I was driven to my knees, I was yanked to my feet. The soldiers went back to their posts as if nothing had happened. I covered my mouth with my hands to hold in the sobs.
‘Here is your exchange, Ma’am.’ The teller handed me some local currency. ‘Have a nice day.’
I blinked, frozen by fear.
‘You’re okay, Ma’am.’ The voice behind me spoke. ‘I’m pretty sure your companion is right outside waiting for you.’
I turned, and the gentleman smiled.
Seeing his face… his eyes… I could have sworn it was Ian. But, it didn’t look like him, or did it? Then, he winked and quirked the corner of his lips. It was Ian. I was sure of it, now. I was about to speak his name, but he interrupted.
‘Tell your friend that I suggest you might want to skip shopping and go back to the ship.’ He reached out to squeeze my shoulder.
I nodded and headed to the door, still fighting tears.