There is a new girl arriving in Sycamore. Her hair is in two Afro buns with big white bows, and she is wearing cat’s-eye sunglasses, like a celebrity. That’s according to Gaynah. I haven’t seen her yet, but Gaynah says she saw her get off the city bus by the traffic circle with a woman that looked like her mother, and they are heading up the hill.
The entire village is buzzing. This is the most excitement we have ever had, and no one wants to miss seeing it for themselves. Within minutes all the kids are gathered at the edge of the road, waiting for the new girl. Everyone is speculating on why she is here and what might be wrong with her.
New people don’t come to Sycamore. Not since the witch-doctor episode. The last time someone new came here, it was two tourists with video cameras. They were driving to the Bob Marley museum and got lost. But we suspect they were some of the die-hard fans who were desperate to meet Eldorath, my uncle, the man who saw ghosts.
It’s the story that brought shame and fear on the community. Pastor Brown was the most vocal. He said any man who claims to see ghosts is not a godly man, that my uncle was inviting evil to our community. So Eldorath was given a new name: the witch doctor.
Tourists thought differently. My uncle was a tourist attraction. They wanted to see him, ask him if he could see their mother, their father, their best friend who had passed. Uncle Eldorath wasn’t easy to find, though; his house was way up on the hill, and he rarely left it. Pastor Brown told us to never give anyone directions.
When they couldn’t find him, they gave us candy as a thank-you for helping them get on the right road. Gaynah saw this as an insult and threw her candy in the bush.
“Do they think I’ve never seen candy?” she said in complete disgust. “My brother sends me American candy every month.”
The new girl would be the second stranger to ever venture up Sycamore Hill in the last year. And no one can stop talking about it. If this is true and a girl really is coming here, then it could change our entire summer.
Nothing exciting ever happens here. Some of the adults pick fruits from the fields to sell, while some work out of town in the big hotels. A few, like Papa, go fishing early in the morning. If they catch anything, they sell it at the market in town. I used to go with him to catch an early surf. Now that I don’t surf anymore, there’s not much to do except laze around by the river and play a few games. Most days, though, this is what we do. Sit around waiting for something to happen.
That’s why a new girl has us all so excited. Where is she from? Why is she here? Is she real or is she an alien? Gaynah said she saw an alien once down by Ms. Gee’s guava tree. The alien had eight legs and three eyes and told her not to tell anyone because humans might hurt her. Of course, Gaynah being Gaynah, she told everyone she saw.
“Are you sure she’s real, this girl?” I ask, pushing away the curly bangs I thought were a good idea this morning. Gaynah’s big brown eyes widen with shock that I could ever question her. She flicks her long, straightened hair, which will have reverted to curly by the end of the day.
It’s not that I don’t believe there could be a new girl. It’s just that Gaynah has a way of being in the middle of every drama on the hill. Usually the drama has already happened by the time she tells us, so we never actually get to witness it. The new girl could be real—chances are, she isn’t—but it’s summer and we have nothing else to do.
It would be nice to have someone new. Maybe this new girl will know some new games we can play, or have stories about where she came from. Maybe she will speak a different language or have a talent she can teach us. I get a little excited thinking of the possibilities.
It’s midday, and the sun is at its hottest. It burns my dark brown skin as though someone is holding my arm over a fire. There is no shelter here like there is up at the house. On the roadside, the scorching heat has no pity on us.
I wipe sweat off my forehead and flick it onto the ground. Gaynah grimaces, as if the very sight of me disgusts her.
“She’s not just any girl,” she retorts in her usual snooty voice. She adjusts her little crossover bag that she proudly wears everywhere because her brother sent it from America. “I think she might be foreign.”
I roll my eyes. Oh, she’s foreign now. Next she’ll be telling us the girl is another alien that she saw.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Calvin leaving his house, a surfboard under his arm. His short black curls shine in the sun, and glimmers of gold bounce off his skin.
Calvin uses his hand to protect his eyes from the sun and calls to Anton, his tall, lanky friend whose father is a police officer. Anton strolls over and meets him, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. As they approach, Calvin nods at me and says, “We’re going for a surf. You coming?”
I lower my eyes to the ground and shake my head.
“Anton’s brother is going to be there, if that’s what you’re worried about. You know my dad would never let me go without a chaperone.”
I draw a face in the dirt with my finger so I don’t have to look at him. “I said no.” The truth is, the sea sounds perfect right now. My sweat feels like slime on my forehead, and my body is screaming for a breeze.
He walks off, shrugging. “I’m going to keep asking until you change your mind.”
I feel Gaynah stiffen beside me. “But you’ll miss the new girl.” She pouts, because Gaynah thinks pouting gets her anything she wants. Calvin doesn’t answer her. Maybe he doesn’t hear, or maybe he does but doesn’t care to meet the new girl.
“I’ll tell him about the new girl at the game tomorrow,” I say, feeling a little sorry for her. The game is “pick leaf,” and all the kids on the hill play it every summer.
Gaynah snorts. “If you remember.”
“Really?” I say through clenched teeth.
Mama tells me I must think before I have an outburst. “If you pause for five seconds, you will have a completely different reaction,” she says. So I count as Gaynah fidgets with her bag and smooths the blue dress she is wearing.
“Well, it’s true. Everyone knows you don’t remember anything.”
That’s not true. I remember some things. I remember when Gaynah is a good friend and when she is not. I remember what happened a few weeks ago, even last month. Even some things last year.
I remember that my name is Clara Dee-Henson, and I remember I am twelve years old. I know I live on a small island that tourists call exotic. I know I used to love surfing every morning while Papa went fishing, but I don’t do that anymore. Something happened that made me forget everything that happened last summer.
Sometimes the memories come back to me in drips, like a tap that won’t turn off no matter how hard I try. Sometimes Mama fills in the blanks. She’ll say, “You spent the summer down at the river,” or, “You went to the beach with Gaynah, do you remember?” She’ll tell me small details, like what I was wearing, what time we left for the beach, how we had a nice snapper for dinner that Papa had caught on his fishing trip. Sometimes those memories stick so fast, I think they’re mine, but they’re not. They are hers.