In the little village of Devil's Point on an island in the middle of the warm blue sea, a young boy lay in a simple thatched hut. At night, the moon climbed the papaya tree and shone its light through the rustling palm leaves. The waves whispered on the sandy beach, and the tree frogs chirped in the mangrove swamp all night long.
"Manny! Manny! Get outa yer bed, boy!"
He rolled over on his grass mat and scratched a bug bite. Twisting to see the back of his leg, he scratched it again, leaving white streaks on his dark skin. Smoke from the smudge pot made his eyes water, but it kept mosquitoes away.
"I's awake, Auntie." Manny's mother had gone to Nassau two years ago and never been seen since. He lived with his aunt and uncle and their four children. Auntie Leeta was close to having another baby.
Manny didn't mind sharing a mat with his cousin Timmy, except when he peed in his sleep. Manny was grateful to Leeta and Sedric for giving him a home, but more and more often, the pot of black-eyed peas was empty before his stomach was full.
"SQUAWK!" A black hen scooted out the open door ahead of Manny's bare feet. Four more chickens pecked about in the dirt. A skinny hog grunted among some old tin cans.
"After you done eatin' yore grits, I's want you to fetch me some water. You hear me, boy?"
Manny trotted along the worn path through the prickle bushes. At the well, he dropped the pail at the end of a rope into the deep hole until he heard it splash. Hand over hand, he pulled it up and set it on his head - to keep it from bumping against the bushes. Even so, some splashed on his bare chest. His only clothes were some tattered shorts, but someday he meant to have a white shirt and long black pants like the white man in Port Howe.
Brother Roy had smiled at Manny and rubbed his fuzzy head. He played music with a big box that he squeezed open and shut, with lots of buttons on it. Brother Roy told the children stories about God. He was selling some books for only three pennies...but Manny didn't have any money at all.
I ain't goin to stay on this puny island my whole life. I's goin to Nassau, like my Ma, and get a job. I's goin to have nice clothes and learn to read and be a right-smart rich man. Yes sir, that's just what I's goin to do!
Manny lay on his grass mat and looked at the moon. Maybe he could catch some fish....but who would buy them? Maybe he could sweep the floor of John Ambrister's store if he could get a ride to Arthur's Town. He couldn't think of a good way to earn some pennies to buy Brother Roy's book.
God, I'd be most pleased if'n you could find me a way to get some pennies.
The next day, a strange truck rolled down the dusty road between the thatched huts. A man in a straw hat hopped out. "The gov'ment is makin' new roads." He showed them a handful of crushed rock. "We's needin' lots o' broken rock, like this. We's willin' to pay you two cents per bucket to pound rocks. I'll be back on d' next week." The man sold hammers to whoever could pay for them, but Manny didn't need a hammer. He knew where to find hard rocks that could shatter the chalky coral.
Day after day, Manny gathered chunks of white coral. He pounded and smashed them hour after hour. His back ached. His fingers bled. White powder covered his face and skin. Dust got in his eyes and throat. It made him cough and sputter, but he kept on pounding.
"Manny! What you doin' out there in the dark?"
"I's got to pound more rock. The gov'ment truck is comin' tomorrow!"
The next day, Manny held his breath as the man measured his pile of rubble. He scooped the bucket... one... two... three... four... five... There was almost enough to fill it one more time. The man looked down at Manny's big eyes. "Boy? You pound all this?"
"That's a lot of rock. Here's a whole shilling for you."
Manny's white smile stretched from cheek to cheek.
*shilling - worth 12 pence, 1/20 of a British pound
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