I had been apprehensive. This was uncharted territory, at least in my book. Travelling here is done with the alert cautiousness that possibly comes naturally for European travelers visiting a corner of the world where the population doesn’t have much to thrive on apart from what tourism generates. Didn’t one of those books have it that the murder rate on the Virgin Islands was among the highest in the world, that drugs and gangs were a big problem, that they had armed robberies and that the police wasn’t going to do too much about it?
We had just arrived at the hotel, a lovely place straight out of Caribbean stock photography and we had been roaming the grounds for a bit. The maid must have overheard us talking about looking for a store to buy some snacks. She had gestured us over, had loaded us into her battered car and had driven us to a small gas station, mastering a slalom race between potholes en route. Upon arrival there, she had painted the route through the residential areas and back to the hotel into the air with a few vague gestures.
We are on that route or at least we believe we are, when I see four young men standing at a corner, apparently without having anything in particular to do. For a split-second I consider herding my family over to the other side, but decide against it. You must be confident in these situations, I once read. You can’t run away.
Following this wisdom, I am looking straight at the men and in doing so I realize that I have seen one of them before, a few minutes ago, in the gas station’s store.
It is that guy who is now separating from the group, taking a step towards me. Just one, but it’s certainly enough to launch an avalanche of thoughts in my head, none of them being particularly entertaining.
He points at my arm, on which the sun had left its reddish marks.
„Sunburn“, he says.
I nod. He smiles. The three others are now also staring at my arm. I realize that I have stopped where I should just not have broken my stride.
Suddenly, the first guy pulls a knife from his waistband.
I can’t even think anything as quickly as he walks by me, crosses to the other side of the road, cuts a piece from an aloe plant, wraps it carefully into an empty potato chips bag that was drifting listlessly along the road and hands the bag to me.
“It’s good. You have to squeeze the juices out a bit and apply it on the sunburn. It’s really good”, he says. The other three nod their agreement to his assessment.
Yes, I was dumbfounded. I am thanking him much too enthusiastically, because there is a lot of relief mixed into my gratitude.
When we leave St. Croix a week later, heading back to Florida, I realize that the island has given me a composed perspective, as far as attitudes and expectations are concerned, images in the head. Because in the end, the guide book had been right — the first thing that crosses my mind when I think of St. Croix is the man with the knife.