The airport runway on Nevis runs directly along the beach, and halfway down the middle reaching off into the sea is an old wooden pier with a rusted crane. The pier is locked in a bay, bound by a reef, and inaccessible by car or by boat. It stands in the water, on ancient pilings, resisting time. It was once part of a village, before the airport was expanded, and the runway stopped just before it.
The first time I left for school I flew out from this airport in a six-seater airplane that seemed to just clear the coconut trees that separate the runway from this fishing village at its end. My family stood waving on the old pier as I flew over them, into the sky and over the breaking waves of the barrier reef.
When we were children that is how we waved goodbye to friends and family, standing on the pier, watching as the plane raced towards us and then slipped into the air, roaring just above, dipping its wings as we waved good-bye. Our ears were deafened, and silence pursued as the plane quickly became lost in the sky.
I was excited that day I left for school, knowing my family was waving for me, and that they would stay there on the pier until my plane was long out of sight. I was soaring into the sky, brightly into a new world, leaving Nevis behind. I island-hopped until I got on a plane big enough to fly all the way to America and by the time I arrived, I had my first letter ready to send home.
While I was away the airport village was demolished to allow for the runway’s extension. The buildings were torn down, the old general store and the post office were leveled, and their ancient cut stones scattered. It can happen anywhere I suppose, a house that has been forever standing like a landmark is one day gone so suddenly that its absence creates a resounding protest, a roar of shock and then a creeping, pervading stillness of acceptance and sentiments of nostalgia. Now all that remains of that village is the old pier where we used to wave at planes, and the old crane that stands as its sentinel.
This is the charm of Nevis, old structures that seem incongruously located as their surroundings have altered so much, like an inaccessible wooden pier jutting out from the side of a runway standing in a stillness that belies its history. Such things become the icons of our culture and they are the comforting memories one thinks about when writing letters home.