by K. R. Morrison
Martinique was one of the stops on our 1996 cruise of the Caribbean, one that my husband and I were eager to explore. After all, this might be the only time we’d be here, and we wanted to make the most of it.
We did not book an excursion, deciding to nose about on our own. One of our favorite things to do when on a trip in foreign lands is to walk through areas that are not on the usual tourist agenda. We love to see and experience what the locals do. Tourist stuff is not really our cup of tea.
That morning, we filed off the ship with the rest of the sightseers and had a quick scan of the area. There were the usual booths wharfside that catered to the tourist trade, so we felt obliged to check those out. T-shirts, hats, the usual blah-blah-blah, all sold by charming, smiling natives. We made a quick pass and then plunged into the real world of the island.
Down a side street we blithely ambled, then turned a corner onto a sunlit square. In its center was a statue of Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. I’m sure that it was lovely at one time; in fact, I have a postcard that attests to that fact.
Not so much now. The statue’s head had been knocked off, the body splattered with red…paint, I hope…and there was some graffiti on it in French that was anything but warm and welcoming. I don’t recall the exact words, but I do remember that it was racist in nature—and Hubby and I were on the wrong side of the sentiment. I can tell you that the atmosphere chilled considerably after we read it.
However, we decided to keep going; after all, we figured, this was probably a fluke. We reasoned that, if graffiti in New York was taken seriously, there would be no tourist trade there at all. Same would apply here, we supposed.
We were, however, on our best behavior from there on. No blades of grass were bent or stones kicked, at least not intentionally. I felt it best to not look at anyone directly—that dockside charm and warmth seemed distinctly missing in this area. To say we were conscious of every movement around us would be putting it mildly. I was starting to think that the better option for the day would have been to stay on the ship.
After a short eternity of walking, a building loomed ahead of us, the sight of which gave us great relief.
A church! Surely goodness and kindness would follow us…
We felt like refugees seeking sanctuary when we crossed the threshold into that holy place. All the familiar sights of home greeted us. We felt at home and at peace. For the first time since seeing the ill-used Josephine, we could let our guard down.
It was a pleasure to walk down the hushed aisles, breathing in the aromas of burning candles and old incense, craning our necks to see the arches that reached heavenward, hearing whispered prayers of people there with us. The place was simple, but held a beauty in its simplicity that delighted my soul.
At the opposite end of the building, a double door opened to the churchyard. We decided to explore the sacred grounds of the church, seeing as others were already there.
The yard was squared off by wrought-iron fencing, with a path that bisected it and met up with one that took the perimeter of grass. Massive trees shaded the yard and the church, adding to the serenity of the place. It was a beautiful, peaceful garden, and would have been perfect…
…except that someone had piled mounds of what looked like grey dirt everywhere. These piles were left on top of the grass in heaps only a few feet from each other. It seemed really odd to us.
Until, that is, we got a good look at what made up these mounds of “dirt.”
They were, in actuality, ashes. Human ashes. And when we looked closely, we could see bits of bone poking up here and there.
This was Martinique’s idea of a cemetery! Ashes were just piled on each other and left to blow away on the wind. We had been walking around on what used to be people for some time now.
The creeped-out factor hit its limit at that point. Honestly, I don’t remember anything from that realization until we were back on the ship. I’m sure, though, that I wiped my shoes really well before I left that churchyard.
K. R. Morrison has lived in the Pacific Northwest for over 25 years. She moved there from California, after the Loma Prieta earthquake caused her to rethink her stance on “never moving again.” At her first sight of Oregon, she never looked back.
She wrote her first book, Be Not Afraid, after a nightmare. A second book, UnHoly Trinity, launched this past January. The third and fourth in the series are being worked on now. She has also co-authored a book entitled Purify My Heart with Ruthie Madison. She edits for her publishing house, Linkville Press. Book reviewing and editing for indie authors take up a lot of her time as well.
Please check out her Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/K.-R.-Morrison/e/B009RBRJ0C/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
About the Death’s Garden project:
For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married or did anything else unusual in one. The submissions guidelines are here.