The battle with the sun was a constant during our village stays. It beat with prehistoric fierceness on anyone and anything subjected to its rays. Plastic turned brittle and white, clothing patterns faded into ghosts of themselves, dead brush became so dry it would decimate into powder if you stepped on it.
Sheltering in the shade became a habit. We learned to instinctively go from one shade patch to the next in walks down the beach or through the village. Even in the shade, though, our white skin wasn't safe. Blinding white sand welcomed the sun and threw it back up at us, and the rays reflected from every wave that rose in the lagoon.
My brother Matthew was the worst at remembering to protect himself. The youngest of our small tribe, he would often disappear with his friends before Mom could slather him with sunscreen and plop a hat on his head. One or two times he got burned so bad that blisters rose along his arms and over his face and shoulders. He walked around for two weeks looking like some hybrid lizard boy losing his skin.
I hated putting on the thick, slimy sunblock. On a hot day, (when you're already sweaty and sticky), it clogs your pores and barricades your skin from any passing breeze. I'd try to sneak off without it, but inevitably Mom would come banging through the screen door with a bottle in hand. "Did you remember your sunblock?"
One day, as I was mutinously slathering it on while sitting under the rain tank outside our front door, I came up with a story that kind of all made it worth while. My friend, Valena, was watching me.
"What is that stuff?"
"It's lotion for white people," it was the best way I could think of to translate, 'sunscreen'.
"It smells good. Can I try some?" This is when my idea drifted put through the misty back layers of my brain and planted itself at the forefront.
"I don't know .... " I said, cutting her a sudden mysterious sideways glance. "I'm not sure if the other white people would like it." I lowered my voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "You see, this lotion gives us our white skin. See how white the lotion is? If we didn't put it on, we would get as brown as you guys." I pointed to the freckles climbing up my arms. "See? I'm not very good about putting the lotion on every day, and that's why I have brown spots. Pamela (my mom) is angry at me because I forgot my white skin lotion today."
Valena's eyes widened and I could see she was weighing the veracity of my story in her mind. "Can I try some?"
I paused a dramatic moment.
"Well, OK, but just a little bit. And don't tell any of the other white skins you put it on." I smoothed a quarter-sized drop onto her forearm and rubbed it in. The residue sat palely on top of her skin.
"It works!" she breathed. I smugly applied the rest of the lotion to my own skin, feeling that somehow the wrongs in my universe had, for the moment, been righted.