Her tiny hand trembling, the young girl extended a pamphlet about coral reef conservation. She summoned up just enough courage to mumble something about a donation to help protect Cayman’s marine life. The paper shook violently. Her voice cracked.
“Good day, Mr. Ebanks,” she said. “Will you… uh…. please donate to our awareness and conservation program so that we can… uh… make people aware of how important marine life is to our three islands?”
Old Ebenezer Ebanks stared down at her with a pair of black eyes that might well have been forged in the furnace of hell. His ugly face grimaced.
“I, well, you… uh… could just give a few coins, if you want,” the girl said. “After all, it’s almost Christmas. So, you know, it’s the time for giving.”
Poor child, she had stumbled her way into a confrontation with the richest and most miserable Caymanian who ever lived. With a spine as crooked as his business dealings, old Ebenezer Ebanks was a creepy sight indeed. The leathery skin draped across his face had long ago shriveled and fixed into a permanent frown. His nose was so long that some believed him to be a real-life Pinocchio, exposed after a long life of cheating and hustling in pursuit of every possible penny.
“Nature this, nature that; give it a rest you foolish child!” Ebanks said. “Environmental whackos like you will be the doom of Cayman. We need more development, not less. We need fewer conservation laws, not more! Nature; bah humbug!”
Ebanks threw down the pamphlet and hurried home to his mansion where he followed the same routine every night: a thick steak and cigar for dinner alone, then sleep. As he drifted off in bed this night, he muttered incomprehensible half-statements. He seemed angry, even as he slept. Who knows what a man as mean as this dreams at night. Who would dare imagine?
“Ebenezer! Ebenezer Ebanks! Wake up, man!”
Ebanks sat up bed. Standing before him was the semi-transparent figure of Robert Nesta Marley. Ebanks rubbed his eyes. Too scared to run, he pulled the bed covers up to his chin.
“I and I have come to tell you what’s coming your way over the next t’ree days,” said the ghost of Robert Nesta Marley. His long dreadlocks floated around his head like dancing cobras. Ebanks remained in bed, frozen by fear.
“You have been living one terrible and miserable life, Ebenezer,” said Marley’s ghost. “You must be the craziest baldhead in all this big wide world. How can so much foolishness and wickedness dwell in the heart of just one man? Oh what a rat race you are in, Mr. Ebenezer. Well, my friend, it’s time for you to learn a lesson. Over the next t’ree nights, you will be visited by t’ree spirits.”
With that, the ghost of Robert Nesta Marley melted away. Horrified, but unsure if what just happened actually happened, Ebenezer went back to sleep and tried to forget the incident. The next night, however, the first spirit did indeed pay him a visit.
“Hello Ebenezer Ebanks, I am the ghost of Cayman past,” said the friendly ghost. “Come, we have a journey to take.” The ghost grabbed him by the hand and flew out the window. Soaring over Grand Cayman, Ebanks noticed that things were different below. It was the old Cayman of more than 50 years ago. He was amazed by what he saw. So few roads and houses; so many trees and mangroves; so few cars and buildings. He had not realized how much had changed since his childhood.
“Look upon these images of your past, Ebenezer. Seek to discover those things you have lost along the way,” said the spirit.
They descended to a spot on Seven Mile Beach where children played in the water. The beach seemed too perfect to be real. It was a spectacular collision of the brightest blues and whites, too beautiful to exist anywhere except in fantasies. But there it was, right before Ebenezer’s eyes. The kids ran, swam, and climbed tall trees. One of the boys, Ebenezer realized, was him. He had forgotten how happy and full of life he was as a child. The old man smiled as he remembered a hundred things he had loved about life in the Cayman of his youth. He had forgotten how wonderful it was to be close to nature, to have trees, birds, turtles, and life all around. “Well, I sure don’t miss the mosquitoes!” said Ebanks. “But I guess we have lost some things.”
The next night Ebenezer Ebanks bravely went to his bed, ready to face the next spirit. When he came, the visitor nearly filled the room. This giant of a ghost was boisterous and constantly laughing but Ebanks was no less worried. “What do you have in store for me, spirit? Let’s get it over with, please.”
The Ghost of Cayman Present pointed to a vision of somewhere in Grand Cayman that very moment. A bulldozer knocked over trees. A backhoe ripped up mangroves. Then a new scene appeared. Twelve big men with tiny souls scurried about in a George Town office. They laughed as they pointed to maps and barked orders to assistants. “You make sure nothing gets in our way!” one of the businessmen yelled to a politician on the phone.
“Thank God for Ebenezer Ebanks,” said another one of the businessmen as he held up a glass of champagne. “That old miser cleared the path for all of us with his no nonsense approach to development. If not for him we would never be able to make all this money. Hooray, for Mr. Ebanks!”
The spirit looked over at Ebenezer who said nothing. “You have seen enough, good night,” said the Ghost of Cayman Present as he left the room. Ebanks stared at the wall. For the first time he was not so proud of his legacy of greed and destruction. Now, all those triumphs in matters of money at the expense of Cayman’s natural environment felt like heavy chains around his neck.
On the next night, Christmas Eve, the Ghost of Cayman’s Future emerged from a shadow in Ebenezer’s bedroom. It was cloaked in black and its hands were nothing more than white bone.
“Of all the spirits, I feared your visit the most,” said Ebanks, cowering on the floor. “Please, I beg you, spare me your torturous visions of things to come.”
The spirit did not speak but pointed to the window. Ebanks slowly peered out. There was nothing. No busy George Town, no tourists, no Caymanians. Before him was a wasteland. Grand Cayman was dead. All that was left was rubble, the broken bones and stones of a society murdered by greed and ignorance. There were no trees and no animal life, except for a few scrawny rats here and there. The beach where Ebenezer had played as a boy was now smothered in garbage, the water a repulsive brown sludge.
Ebenezer staggered around the ruins of George Town in horror. In the distance he saw something out of place. It looked like a man. He rushed to it. Up close, however, he discovered that it was a statue. Obscured by weeds and debris, he couldn’t tell whom it represented. He kneeled down and began clearing away the dead leaves and trash from the face of a plaque at the base. Ebanks began to cry. The plaque read: “In honor of our greatest hero, Sir Ebenezer Ebanks. He did more than anyone to develop the Cayman Islands and lead us into the future.”
Ebanks sobbed uncontrollably. He collapsed and pounded the ground with his fists. “How could I have been so wrong? Please, oh spirit, please give me another chance. I can change. Please! Give me a chance! I beg you!”
The next morning Ebenezer Ebanks stumbled out of his front door to find that he was back in the present. There were people, birds, trees, and beautiful beaches. All was not lost—yet. He raised his arms and screamed, “Yahoo! I have a chance! I can do the right thing. I can change. I have a chance! Cayman is not lost yet!”
Guy P. Harrison’s columns appear twice per month in the Observer. Contact him at [email protected]