You’d think, after five years living outside a sugar refinery and twenty working on a plantation, that sugar would be my thoughts. That taking sugar in my coffee, snacking on raw sugar sticks and calling the barmaid “sugar”, would come unconsciously. But sugar is a lie. A white dream that poisons your blood and dislodges your teeth. Sugar is dirty. And it won’t let you run away. Here I am, breaking into a sugar refinery. Made by sugar, controlled by sugar.
Tonight, sugar may kill me.
I told Mr. Guv I wasn’t the rescuing type. I was (and still am) the sugar kid with holes in his teeth, the devil of Playa Pilar who picked American pockets with my left hand and stole mixtos from the markets with my right. Get someone else to save your daughter. Why is it my business, that she’s held hostage for a drug debt you can’t repay. Trust is like sugar, didn’t you say so yourself? Pleasuring your taste buds one second and poisoning your teeth the next?
Sugar glares at me through the vacuum vats inside the factory building. I hear it roil and churn like food digesting in a cow’s stomach. Dirty crusts of syrup line the top ends of the vats.
No girl. She could be in any of the factory’s three stories.
Fuck it, Guv, why did you make me do this alone?
You’ve done jobs for Masseron. You know the refinery. You know how to be
Invisible. You know how to ride a bike. You know how to stay alive. You kept us alive.
I only know how to run away, I said.
Then, Sanjay, you’d better learn how to stop.
That was the catch. I wanted to stop. Removing the tattoo never helped. Like sugar, gang-life claims you. I can only stop running if I leave this motherfucking bitch of an island, and I can only do that if I get this girl out. Mr. Guv says he can fix me a plane ticket. I saved his life, it’s his debt to buy me a life so I never need to run away again. Never mind I only passed his house by accident that night, running away with – you guessed it – a businessman’s wallet in my hand. Never mind it was pure coincidence I’d seen the smoke wriggling up from the window. Getting me out of the plantations wasn’t enough payback. The rum bar stank of dog piss and old-man sweat, I spent half my time failing to scrub dirty fingerprints off the glasses, and the other failing to wash the sugary smell of rum off my skin. The Guv was finished with debts and I was his last man standing.
Should I trust him? I’ve told myself only to trust Harley. I named the moped after the 40’s Harley Davidson model, because he’s been fast enough to save my life. Too many times.
Who is here to betray me, anyway? Guv told me about his “mission” behind the bar. The locals were to drunk too notice.
And he gave me three more friends to trust. They sit under my shirt, coiled springs ready to unleash. The last friends left of our arsenal.
I lope past the vats, test the door to the next room. It’s unlocked. On the other side are the centrifuges.
No Maria. My gaze wanders to the stairway leading to the office.
She isn’t up there either. I check the wardrobes and the bathroom. I check the lounge, I knock the fucking walls to check for secret passages and hidden doors. perhaps they didn’t hide the damn girl at all.
Light floods the factory. Doors burst open.
Three men, armed with guns. They force me to back out of the office, down the stairs, hands on my head.
Waiting by the centrifuges is a group of men. The man at the front, dressed in a cream white suit, steps forward.
“Did you really think you could find the girl so easily?”
Luca Masseron, the refinery manager.
“Have you already forgotten I have eyes all over town? Even in that shit creek you call home?”
Home? Realization hits. The barmaid. Of course, leaning against the door wiping a glass, she could have heard everything. Sanjay, you dumbass.
The manager spreads out his hands in front of him. “You can still pull out of this. Tell us where Sanches is hiding, and we will let you go. We will forget this ever happened.”
Never trust a man with hands at his waist. He can punch you in the gut any second.
Masseron takes out his wallet, produces a wad of bank notes. “Forgot Sanches, forget this town, forget Cuba. Go to America.”
It’s more money than I’ve ever held in my life. It makes my biggest pickpocket hoard seem as worthless as dented cent. It makes the Guv’s endless promises of paying me back seem like just that: promises without guarantees.
It is tempting.
But not only did I save the Guv’s life, he saved mine. And he told me something that Masseron now seems to have forgotten. The tool is always more dangerous than the villain.
I pull up my shirt, clasp my fingers around the grenade and pull off the safety clip.
I throw the grenade. The air explodes in sugar and hits the manager in the face. I push past the men, burst through the door and run back past the vats. The caramel smell of burnt sugar spreads through the air. It’s followed by shouts and curses, coughs and gunshots.
Then I see her. Slumped in the back of a Jeep, her hair covering her face. Maria. Of course Masseron would never be stupid enough to hide her in the refinery. This was all a set up. Maria and I would probably have been lined up and shot and dumped in the nearest ditch.
The men in the car get out as I approach. Doing so puts them at disadvantage. The Ruger slips into my hand and I feel the bang bangs like heartbeats in my palm. The men crumple to the ground.
The girl stirs against me as I lift her out of the car. I make out indigo blotches on her forehead and around her wrists. They must have beaten her up real bad. I drape her limp body over my shoulder like sugar canes and somehow make it, unscathed, to Harley.
More men. They’ve blocked the exit at the back; my former entry route and planned escape route.
I look around. Apart from the main entry, there’s no other…
My gaze falls on the sugar silos looming beside the gate, and in the corner of my eye: the lorry and trailer alongside the wall.
Sanjay, you crazy fucker.
People are like sugar, Mr. Guv had said. That’s not always bad. Sugar goes through two stages, the unrefined and the purified. I still like to believe that people do the same.
Romantic bullshit, I’d said.
I get on Harvey and pull Maria on behind me. The last grenade pushes into the small of my back. I turn the engine on and roar down the driveway to the gates, driving in zigzag, churning dust into the air. I bend down against the moped as the gunshots follow us, pull out the grenade and shift it to my right hand.
Unrefined and purified.
I throw the last grenade.
Everything turns white.
Am I dead?
Then I cough, tears squeeze out of my eyes and sugar dust invades my lungs. Maria coughs too. Spittle on my earlobe.
Where’s the lorry?
There. A rectangular shape outlining itself against the dust.
Pity you can’t watch this, Guv.
I race towards the lorry’s trailer. Raise the front wheel off the ground. The moped lifts, lands on the trailer. Lifts again to take off over the wall. I stand up straight, pulling the moped with me…
Down. The shock of the landing sends shudders up my body. The girl gasps.
Harley continues. The dust thins. There’s the road. No sound of pursuit. I see the manager, hit in the face by the liquid sugar. No way he could survive that.
That’s means I’m…
Free? No. I’m on no plane, I have no ticket. Masseron might be dead, the police…
I kiss Harley’s cool handle. I’m alive, the girl hugging me from behind is alive. I sit between two heartbeats. For the first time in over twenty years things feel… Possible.
Josephine Greenland is a British-Swedish writer with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham. She has previously had work published in Dream Catcher, and has work forthcoming with Fantastic Books Publishing, Plum Tree Tavern and Porridge Magazine. In 2017 she won the Fantastic Female Fables competition by Fantastic Books Publishing. She has also been shortlisted twice. When not writing, she can be seen hiking in the mountains or playing her violin.