The old women had worked me hard this particular morning. They had to, because some sons in Barbados don’t help their maternal family members very often, especially when it comes to hard physical labor. They sometimes seem to ‘have a niggling in their backs.’ As my fatigued mind was contemplating this cultural and gender difference, it happened. To my absolute horror, it happened. My chance to rest.
I held my breath as I was aiming to direct another tiring blow to the stone, I noticed that buried in the rubble, was what appeared to be a bright orange egg. It was larger than a golf ball with thick, amber, translucent threads wrapped around it. I glanced at the old women in query and by the time I turned back around the thing sprung into motion and unfurled. It was a giant centipede. The thing was near eight inches in length and two inches across. It was beautiful and ugly all at once. Apparently this is how they sleep, underground and curled around. Intrigued, I looked closer. But the women stopped me by saying their sting feels like acid injected into the veins. I thought that might hurt even worse because of my serious dehydration, so I jumped back from the little orange demon and I freaked out. The centipede was choosing which direction to skitter, and I feared it would choose me. I moved away in haste, stubbing my toe on the head of the axe. I cursed aloud just as my ears registered an indignant screech.
It didn't escape my lips, and it wasn't a green monkey because I was familiar with their racket as I’ve spent time at the Barbados Primate Research Center. Although it was like the primate’s chirpy-chatter, it was erupting from the quivering lips of Carmen, the eighty-five year old matriarch of the household. She was my favorite woman, by far. She was a tough nut that never sat still. I swear, some days she could put me to shame, especially if you had seen her work upon a ladder.
Her voice was high-pitched by the time I had regained my balance. Her bony finger pointed with purpose toward a family of toads, nestled mere feet from where I stood. They are known to the locals as the ‘Crappo.’ These animals are also known as the Cane toad or Bufo marinus. Such as the human population, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has labelled this species as LC (least concern). An extant taxon that doesn't qualify as threatened or near threatened. I loved these toads for their amazing voice. Anthropomorphic, I know. “Oh well,” I thought to myself. They make incredible baritone sounds that resonates within their hearts like the soothing hum of a bass. Until someone pours salt or lye on them, of course!
It was time for my rest. Well, rest in the terms of physical labor; for my mind was working overtime.
While all this commotion was taking place, Coral who was the sixty-five year old daughter to the matriarch had run into the house. She returned with a bag of salt and before I could stop her, she had promptly dumped the bag on top of the defenseless, scrambling toads. I tried to protect them, or at least to simply shoo them away, but by the time I had organized my scruples and picked my jaw up from the limestone floor, it was too late. The toads were wearing a veil of salt, and were screeching and writhing like wild hogs in the mud. They tossed their pain riddled bodies into the air and smacked themselves into an old, galvanized shed.
Thump, screech, thump! is all I heard next. “Oh God!” I said to myself. This was no different from when I was a kid and friends of mine used to throw frogs against the barn, but now I was an old softy and the sight horrified me. Interesting how years later, we learn lessons from our past transgressions.
There was no more baritone, except for how my voice lowered as I asked her why she didn't just squish them to make it quicker and less painful, if anything at all. I still don’t know her reasoning other than she determined her way was less painful and cruel. Normally, they use lye, I suppose.
White, dehydrated Crappo remains littered across the island I loved, to the locals' relief and to my dismay. I've seen this happen in Bermuda as well. Crappo’s were introduced in the 1830′s to help eradicate insects from the cane crops. I don’t see the harm in them because they aren't invading my personal space; but for some, they are a frustration here in the tropics.
(Photo via, edited)