Tales: Fire Boys

cainThe stories of my mischievous brother started like so many others, which always seemed to commence on a dreadfully boring day. If there was an equation for misadventure amongst village boys, it usually started with a boring day multiplied by the Caribbean heat and divided by idle hands which produced an outcome of mischief. Every summer my brother was allowed to rumor the village with the other boys his age. They would play with marbles, go down to the local beach, or ride the engine train that dragged sugar cane from the estates to the factory in town.  I on the other hand, had to be monitored and my summer days carefully organized. I stayed with my grandmother and my cousins, where sometimes we spent our summer days in the company of my grandfather or other relatives. No matter whether it was summer, Christmas, or spring break we had to have some form of supervision; while my brother because of his sex was allowed a freedom that was similar to that of the children in movies such as The Goonies or Stand by Me. I would often imagine that he was off on similar adventures minus the great perils, which left me envious of his hours away from home.

Sometime during the 8th grade, my brother and I was sitting around talking when he quietly admitted to doing something silly with his brand of boys while they were in the 3rd grade. Like always it started in the summer when none of them had another to do, but linger from house to house. He told me that he went to visit his close friend, who we jokingly called the Heads of State or Heads because of his enormous forehead. After dropping by the Heads of State’s home they collectively decided to go fishing. After fishing they thought their fun was over and started the walk back home with the catch of the day. Since they had only managed to catch three fish to share among eight boys, they decided it was best to cook the fish on an open fire. It seemed like a logical way to ensure that they all got a part of the catch. They settled at the bottom of a hill just below a rolling field of sugar cane, and started cooking the fish on an open fire. They spent an hour after eating the fish, then the quandary of how to put out the fire arose. It turned out that starting a camp fire at a great distance from water was not a good idea. Knowing that the river was a good walk away, they started trying to put dirt on the fire. While the boys were trying to put out the fire, the Heads of State disappeared and reappeared with a large glass bottle filled with clear liquid. The bottle he carried was a rum bottle that contained a water like substance which they presumed was water. Uknown to them it was a local rum made from the same sugar cane that seemed to look like water. His friend found it in the bush and thought it would work to put out the fire. At this age they didn’t know the difference between rum and water.  If it wasn’t water they presumed that whatever liquid was in it was enough to put out the fire. As the boys gathered around the camp fire relieved that water was found, Heads emptied the bottle of rum onto it. Instead of extinguishing the fire the rum increased the fire by 10 folds. To the dismay and the delight some of the boys, once the content of the bottle was launched into the fire it rose above their heads.  There was a mini explosion that took them by surprise, but enthused them at the same time. While this might seem like a spectacular sight the fire couldn’t be tamed. As my brother told me the story he described the fire as growing legs and walking toward the sugar cane. As the fire entered the field from the bottom of the hill, they all thought it wasn’t be a big deal, but with the field being very dry it didn’t take long for the fire to spread and start racing left, right, and up the hill. According to my brother it was a spectacular site. Once they saw that the fire had grown to dangerous proportion, they all got worried and ran away.

As he told me this story he asked me to remember the hill fire that caused the firefighter to show up. I clearly remembered that day because the fire wasn’t caused by the farmers who normally conduct control burns during harvest season.  Everyone in the village knew that certain fields weren’t to be harvest that year because they weren’t mature.  The field the fire devour that day was one of these fields, so the workers were very suspicious about the fire and alerted the police. I was sure that the police discovered the camp fire and the bottle of rum, and knew that it wasn’t a natural fire. I remember that fire very well because my mother and many of women in the village had put out laundry on the clothes lines that day. The burning of the leaves caused ash to fall on the village like snow and cover the laundry with black particles.   When my brother shared this story I was bubbling with laughter at how silly they were to put out a fire with rum, but little did I know that this story was one of many that ended with a similar twist.