Flash Flood ~ Kimberly Nicole

Nonfiction
Rain pelt­ed the win­dow as I sipped my man­go smooth­ie, feel­ing home­sick for Seattle, where the skies are always gray and rainy.

Seattle tap water is deli­cious. It tastes best if you forego a cup and drink straight from the faucet. I drink it from the hose dur­ing sum­mer.

My phone rang. It was the Peace Corps Medical Officer.

She told me that the one bridge to my vil­lage had been washed out and that I should stay home today. She didn’t even say hel­lo.

I said I was already in town for my appoint­ment with her.

She told me in a strained voice to come to her office as quick­ly as pos­si­ble. She tried to keep calm as she told me a hur­ri­cane had arrived with­out warn­ing, and I wouldn’t make it back home because of the bridge. I assured her that I was only a fif­teen-minute bus ride away from the office.

I want­ed to make today a good day since I didn’t have to work. Anything was bet­ter than going to work, includ­ing a doctor’s appoint­ment two hours away by bus. I’d detoured to the cap­i­tal of St. Lucia to treat myself to a smooth­ie. I’d learned by now not to order any­thing with leafy greens, since they cause more food poi­son­ing than meat. This is because leafy greens are usu­al­ly washed in tap water.

Seattle’s tap water flows from the Cascade Mountains. It tastes fresh and crisp like melt­ed snow. It’s bet­ter than any bot­tled water I’ve ever tast­ed.

I gath­ered my things, tossed my emp­ty smooth­ie cup, and stepped out­side, wish­ing I had brought an umbrel­la. The bus stop was a few blocks away. The water on the side­walk was already up to my ankles. I was soaked through after two min­utes. By the time I reached the end of the block, water sloshed around my thighs. I real­ized I had no idea how to man­age in a flash flood and began to doubt my instinct to forge ahead. I remem­bered the urgency in the Medical Officer’s voice and my heart began to pal­pi­tate. We’d had train­ings in bur­glary and sex­u­al assault, but nev­er in flash floods.

I turned around to take a dif­fer­ent route. At least I wasn’t cold. Tropical rains feel like a luke­warm show­er. The oth­er peo­ple on the street were scur­ry­ing indoors or hur­ry­ing towards the bus­es like me, so I fol­lowed, hop­ing they’d show me which streets to avoid. A rat swam by me. Part of me was fas­ci­nat­ed by such a force of nature, and want­ed to watch the city sink under water.

Flash Flood: 1. A rapid excess of water that will ruin a good mood and your day. 2. An over­flow of your con­stant stream of stress, caus­ing a flood of emo­tions.

Locals know how to han­dle this sit­u­a­tion. Most peo­ple will drink rum, have sex, smoke mar­i­jua­na, or sleep while the hur­ri­cane rages on – the same as they do every oth­er day.

What I’ve learned: After flash floods in the wet sea­son, there will be bush fires in the dry sea­son.

***

I took a buck­et bath this morn­ing and did my hair, which means I brushed it into a pony­tail. There wasn’t any water in the pipe, so I skipped my morn­ing cof­fee. I knew there may not be water in the pipe for anoth­er two weeks. Even though St. Lucia was in the wet sea­son, every­one still had to ration water. Despite inter­mit­tent rains, if there’s not enough water for the rivers to run, drought con­di­tions still exist.

My neigh­bor once told me about the time she came back to the island after study­ing in London. She sang St. Lucia’s nation­al anthem over and over to her­self on the plane. She said she felt nor­mal again, being back on Lucian soil. Iimagined I’d feel the same way going back to Seattle. I’d sing The Star-Spangled Banner if I flew home tomor­row, and then I’d sit around the fire pit in my par­ents’ back­yard on my first night home.

***

One person’s place­ment is another’s dis­place­ment. The more the flood lev­els rise, the more I want to quit and go back to The United States.

The rain­wa­ter caus­ing this flash flood will be caught in tanks. Having three or four water tanks is the equiv­a­lent of hav­ing a three- or four- car garage in the States in terms of pres­tige. This rain­wa­ter will be used for cook­ing water, laun­dry water, buck­et bath water, and toi­let tank water.

Praise Jah there was still a bus run­ning when I made it to the stop. There weren’t any seats left, but the dri­ver wasn’t leav­ing peo­ple out in the rain. We piled in. I sat on the floor.

***

An umbrel­la would have done me no good in this flood. Seattleites don’t use umbrel­las either. The city is too windy.

The storm would rage for anoth­er twelve hours, dump­ing more than an inch of rain every hour.

My girl, you look like a drowned rat,” said the Medical Officer with a look of dis­ap­proval on her face as I stood drip­ping water on the floor of her office.

Our rela­tion­ship was strained. I think she was aware that I had filed a com­plaint for her mis­man­age­ment of med­ica­tions. She had pre­scribed the wrong dosage of thy­roid med­ica­tion to a col­league. And the wrong dosage of an AIDS med­ica­tion to anoth­er col­league.

To me, she’d pre­scribed me the wrong dosage of birth con­trol, which had brought on a deep depres­sion. I would leave work after lunch, crawl into bed, and stay in the fetal posi­tion until the next morn­ing. This went on for weeks until I fig­ured out her mis­take.

I’d expect­ed more from the Peace Corps. I thought they’d have pro­vid­ed their vol­un­teers with cor­rect dosages.

Peace Corps issued all their vol­un­teers med­ical kits with a vari­ety of over the counter med­ica­tions, but all mine were expired.

My time on this island is near­ing its expi­ra­tion date.

My friend took a cab home from the air­port the oth­er day, and the dri­ver told her why she wasn’t enjoy­ing St. Lucia. He told her, you see, it is very rare for a white girl like her to have a shape like a black woman. She needs to go out all the time and par­ty and wine her ass, and then she will get more atten­tion from men, and then she will enjoy her­self.

My friend instead learned to whit­tle wood and make it into jew­el­ry.

***

One vol­un­teer quit after four months, and that opened the flood­gates for a mass exo­dus.

Eternity: Twenty-sev­en months in the Peace Corps.

An admin­is­tra­tor high-fived me when I gave my notice.

A col­league of mine was one of the few who avoid­ed indi­ges­tion from leafy greens. But she did get Hepatitis A, since the Peace Corps did not require vac­ci­na­tions until after we’d arrived on the island.

***

Water is often a sym­bol of life, purifi­ca­tion, regen­er­a­tion, and love. It is humanity’s con­nec­tion to nature and each oth­er. Many cul­tures and reli­gions con­sid­er water to be sacred. But it doesn’t always bring heal­ing.

The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 destroyed the entire cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict. A car­pen­ter over­turned a glue pot, which start­ed the fire, and when he tried to douse the fire with water, it only made the fire worse.

Seattle was rebuilt on top of the burned city. You can take a walk­ing tour through the entombed ruins.

Fire is often depict­ed as a god­dess who sym­bol­izes rebirth and life. Seattle was born again from those flames. Wooden build­ings were banned, and now the city’s most beau­ti­ful archi­tec­ture is brick.

***

After my doctor’s appoint­ment, I wait­ed next door at head­quar­ters, which was in a fren­zy with staff try­ing to locate vol­un­teers, but not every­one could be reached. A small TV was blar­ing the local news for staff to ref­er­ence. A reporter announced that cell ser­vice began to go down on the island, along with sweep­ing pow­er out­ages. The staff let out a col­lec­tive groan.

My friend likes to say that the only thing the Peace Corps is good at is get­ting vol­un­teers out of the coun­try once they have quit.

You nev­er see smoke with­out fire.” – Caribbean Creole idiom

I can’t ignore the smoke any­more. And this storm dump­ing water on my life is not help­ing the sit­u­a­tion.

I sat in the lob­by, still soak­ing, wait­ing for instruc­tions. News of land­slides were over­whelm­ing the Peace Corps head­quar­ters. Roads all over the island were being washed out or blocked by debris from the flood­ing.

What I’ve learned: I should have lis­tened to my dad and tak­en that job offer with a pay raise instead of join­ing the Peace Corps.

I was hope­ful that I’d be put up for a night or two in the hotel, which had air con­di­tion­ing and cable. Instead, my American boss lived a few min­utes from head­quar­ters and offered me her spare room.

I hadn’t felt com­fort­able in any social sit­u­a­tion since I arrived at my site six months ago. I was con­stant­ly sur­round­ed by peo­ple but always felt lone­ly, and now, at her home, I was again going to be sur­round­ed by strangers in a place where I did not belong. I just want­ed to be alone for a while.

The great omis­sion in American life is soli­tude; not lone­li­ness, for this is an alien­ation that thrives most in the midst of crowds, but that zone of time and space free from out­side pres­sure which is the incu­ba­tor of the spir­it.” – Mayre Mannes, author and cul­tur­al crit­ic

My boss dropped me off at her house. Her hus­band was in the kitchen mak­ing din­ner. His dark skin and casu­al demeanor remind­ed me of my dad. Their kids insist­ed I take them out­side to pud­dle jump, and I hap­pi­ly oblig­ed. I loved pud­dle jump­ing in the rain as a kid in Seattle.

I ate din­ner with my boss’s fam­i­ly. She lent me some of her clothes to sleep in and gave me an extra tooth­brush. Her kids tucked me in with a bed­time sto­ry. In the end, it was much bet­ter than a night at that one-star hotel.

~

Kimberly Nicole is a fiancé, retired bur­lesque dancer, and writer. She moved from Seattle to Hawaii to St. Lucia to Hong Kong where she has been liv­ing the past five years. Kimberly start­ed writ­ing a nov­el years ago because how hard can it be? That book is still not fin­ished. She has had much more suc­cess at fin­ish­ing essays which have been pub­lished in The Literary Yard, The WAiF Project, and Wanderlust Journal. When not in a Pandemic, Kimberly enjoys trav­el­ing Asia and the South Pacific. If trav­el­ing ever becomes a thing again, she will resume post­ing her pho­tos to her Instagram account @k1m_b3rlee.