Allissa led me through the maze of Caye Caulker’s unpaved streets. We passed colorful houses and the occasional nervous iguana on our way to the marina. Palm trees, with trunks that curved beneath the weight of their massive green leaves, swayed from side to side even though I didn’t feel any wind. I wondered crazily if they were alive, and felt stupid when I remembered that every plant is alive – if only in a quiet, thoughtless way. Still, every Belizean tree had a sense of vibrancy surrounding it that I had never felt around any other plant.
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“Come on,” Allissa said, for my bare feet had slowed their pace as I admired the coconut palms.
Shaking my thoughts aside, I ran to catch up with my friend. We wanted to reach the bay before sunset, but the light in the sky had already begun its westward descent. How many humans, I wondered, could beat the sun in a race?
The amount of mosquitoes buzzing around our legs had multiplied tenfold by the time we reached the marina, but we both ignored them and clambered onto the wooden dock. When we reached its edge, I sighed. Allissa and I had won at a losing game: the tip of the sun still hovered over the horizon like a giant red eye, but a cluster of puffy storm clouds ruined the sunset’s effect.
“Well, we tried,” Allissa said. She sat down and peered into the clear, blue-tinted water.
“I can’t believe we won’t get to see it, on our last day here,” I mumbled, looking off into the distance as if the sun might get curious and peek over the horizon again once the clouds disappeared.
“On the bright side, I think I see a cool shell!” Allissa said. She pointed toward the shallow water, where the tip of something pink poked out of a sand pile.
I groaned. “You have enough already.”
Allissa ignored me, leaning over the side of the rickety dock and reaching out for yet another souvenir. As she ran a hand over its bumpy exterior, trying to figure out how to yank it away from the ocean floor’s grasp, the supposedly-inanimate shell lifted itself out of the sand. I gaped at it, thoroughly confused until Allissa clued me in.
“It’s a starfish,” she said. She pulled the creature off the ground, but only to the surface of the water.
“We should keep it submerged,” she explained.
I let the sea swallow my hand so that I could touch the grooves on the underside of the starfish. It felt as if dozens of miniature snakes with suction cups for heads were tickling my fingers, but I knew from Freshman Biology that this playful prodding actually came from the sea star’s tiny tube feet. The sky darkened as I wondered how many miles those little feet had crawled and how many more they would travel in the star’s lifetime.
When I looked up, I noticed that the clouds had engulfed the sun completely. I smiled, gaining a new appreciation for the ruined sunset.
In that moment, I realized that happiness would never appear how I expected it to; instead, it would curl up like a crafty child in the most unlikely hiding places, trusting me to find it on my own. In Belize, it hid inside the lively swaying of heavily-burdened palm trees, the unexpected beauty of half-buried starfish, and the wonderful ruin of cloud-covered sunsets. My trip there reminded me that our world offers each of us endless possibilities, and I would be a fool to turn them down.
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