Big Hut, Starfish Street

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With heavy, tired steps, the old fisherman is quietly walking up the alley.
With his nets on his back, he makes his way forward. His beard is white, bushy and curly and frames his black face as he mutters,
“Nothing to eat today.”
His torn pants reveal deep scars on his calves. This one is from falling onto the fire coral; that one is from sliding over rocks in the diving contest on his fifteenth birthday...
He advances, the old man, down the alley lined with pink and blue huts with laughing windows, beneath the flamboyant trees. Behind him, the sea is a vast turquoise blue rectangle ...
He is being followed by a scraggy and mangy old cat. 
“SCRAAAM!” shouts the old man. “NOTHING TO EAT!”
The cat spits and runs off, miaowing.

The slope is steep; the old man stops to get his breath beneath a flamboyant tree in blossom. At his feet, a dozen hermit crabs are laboriously pulling their caravan on their backs. A clamour reaches him from the end of the alley. A group of laughing tourists rush past him. The alley speaks English today. The old man averts his eyes. He does not like tourists. They frighten the fish.
“But it’s all wrong!” the street shouts to him. “It’s that hand of yellow steel, down there, making an infernal noise, which is digging endlessly to uproot trees and plant houses!”
The old man knows this only too well! The earth slides into the sea in heavy rain and the corals are choking! You have to go a very long way out now, to fish. His old red saintoise* can barely manage it. She creaks to him every day that she has had enough! The old man has had enough too, but life will not let him go.

He continues his path. The alley stretches as far as the Bar des Amis. He sits down at his table. The game of dominoes is about to start. The landlady, as round as a barrel, serves him his glass of rum which he swallows in one gulp, throwing back his head and closing his eyes. He puts down his glass, banging it on the table. He looks at the alley and stares at the beautiful turquoise rectangle down below, at the end of Starfish Street...
When he was little, he used to sit here, next to his father, also a fisherman. He would watch his mother coming up the alley carrying, in a basket carefully placed on her head, the colorful fish, crabs, lobsters and sometimes even turtles, which she sold in the market. She would sing with a voice as warm as the sun on the pebbles that burn your backside when you sit on them... He smiles, but his smile freezes on his face...
One day, from the end of the street, he saw his mother coming back with an empty basket and her eyes full of tears. He went up to her, took her hand and gently led her home. The next day, it was a coffin that they brought up from the rectangle. That day, the whole street was in tears. The wind was blowing. 
One day, he would also come up from the rectangle, carried by the few friends he had left. He laughs when he thinks how hard it will be for them to carry the coffin and turns to the landlady who serves him another glass of rum... His friends!... But where are they?...

His faraway gaze falls on the wall of conches that edges the alley and separates the gardens. He shakes his head. There are hardly any of those shells left. The deputy prefect forbids us from catching them. What are we going to live on now? When he looks at the street, he has the impression that he is watching it shrink. The wooden houses are squeezing together to make room for hotels. They lean on their terraces as if to hold hands. The old man shakes his head again...
How strange it is! The alley is growing narrow. He blinks his eyes; the sun is too strong. The blue rectangle looks so distant now. But when he was little, the lane was so huge! Is it him who takes up all the room now?
Far away, the church bell chimes. Gosh, who is getting married today? Do people really still get married?
He, the old man, has never married. He would have liked to, though.
A tear runs down his deeply lined cheek. How beautiful Yolande was on her wedding day! He would have loved to take her by the arm...
He shrugs his shoulders. Would she have been able to sell the fish he caught, singing in the market? Would she have climbed back up the street, swinging her hips in the sun? Would she have been willing to grill his fish for him, and wait for him on the doorstep, making curtains out of seeds from the flamboyant tree? He shakes his head. Nobody knows! And nobody will ever know… She went down the street, the day after her wedding. The turquoise blue rectangle swallowed her up. There was a storm that day. On the sand, thousands of dying starfish were found. The street gets its name from that macabre day. Before, it didn’t have any name at all...

He weeps, shakes his head and gets up painfully... He will not be playing dominoes today... Another glass of rum downed in one go, and another... He staggers a little as he goes back down the street, zigzagging from pink hut to blue. He is laughing. He looks funny, he has teeth missing.
The seagulls fly away as he passes. No-one looks out of their window.
But where are they all today?
The blue rectangle grows closer and larger.
The old man turns round, a large coffin is following him. The street swirls around him. He reaches the beach. Walks a few steps into the water. At his feet, a starfish smiles up at him...

* Saintoise: a traditional fishing boat built in Les Saintes (an island a few miles from Guadeloupe).

Translated by Wendy Cross

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