An excerpt from the award-winning memoir, The Water Has Come.
The settlements in the east were under the gun. Dorian was firing more shots at them than they could dodge. Many were hit—men, women, boys, and girls—and washed out to sea in the wee hours of the morning as we slept. But who should be asleep in a time like this?
Old people in The Bahamas would say, “No one!”
If someone had to take a nap, another person should keep watch, as in times of war. Someone in our house should have been watching for water. But my entire platoon had fallen asleep.
At 03:30, I was awoken by a terrible pain in my stomach. It was as if my spirit was trying to tell my body to get up. I went to the bathroom. As I used the restroom in the dark, I sensed that something was very wrong. Fortunately, the pain alerted me to the danger that was before us.
As I tried to flush the toilet, the water would not go down. Just a bubbling sound was heard. The toilet continued bubbling and filled to the rim. I thought about the water table being full. But how could this be? Already? The more water in the ground, the higher the water table—which prohibits the water in the pipes from going down. How could the underground water system be flooded already? Hurricane Dorian hadn’t arrived yet, or so I thought.
I proceeded to walk around the house using the flashlight on my cell phone as a guide. Audaciously, there was splashing at the front door. The ocean was beating at it like an unexpected and unwelcomed visitor. Then my husband’s cell phone rang, and I knew the caller was ringing to report some sinister news. It was my stepdad, Bennett, calling to tell us the sea had submerged their backyard and was seeping into their home.
“But Bennett, I don’t see anything,” Philip told him.
“Well my boy, the water is here! Do what you have to do now. The ocean is here!” Bennett replied.
We needed to see what was really happening on the outside. Philip and I went back to our bathroom and stood on the jacuzzi deck, feverishly trying to get a clearer look outside. But we were surrounded by total darkness. Then lo and behold, at an angle with the flashlight, I saw the roaring waves crashing over the wall. I was utterly shocked to my core! That moment was like waking up from the anesthesia after my surgery- uncomfortably incomprehensible. My husband could not see what I saw.
I began shouting to him, “The water is here!”
With another look and a heart about to stop, he said very softly, “Oh yeah, I see it!”
Then without further ado, the water began to seep in under our “hurricane resistant” doors. The French doors at the front and the rear of the house could not stop the steady flow of the ocean that spread throughout the living room, kitchen, dining room, and every bedroom and bathroom.
The entire 3,800 square feet of floor was covered with saltwater in a matter of minutes. Our house was approximately 4 miles from Dover Sound in the north. Dover Sound was a marshy area off a shallow bank that flowed into the very deep Atlantic, so the ocean had traveled a long way to get to us. There was no barrier to prohibit the ocean from meandering on land, so the water freely came.
Now at a loss for words, I felt the adrenaline begin to pump through my veins, and I trembled with fear. We looked at each other and decided to start loading up the roof. I first took off my sleepwear and got dressed in what I considered “roof attire.” I threw on a pair of jeans, a comfortable striped shirt, and my brown Velez leather tennis shoes that I bought in Columbia—my favorites, I might add. Philip had on a pair of camouflage shorts and an army green tee. He threw on some Nikes and started to patrol the house. We woke up the girls, David and Auntie Nae, and told them to get ready to go in the roof.
“Go in the roof?” they questioned until they saw what was before us. The need for sleep left the building, and everyone was alert and in action mode.
The ladder was fortunately placed in the hallway under the manhole and the exigency bag with a change of clothing for each of us and our passports was packed. That was a far as our emergency plans went.
But taking into account the pace at which the water was rising, we had time to “secure” a few more things in the roof. The girls got their school bags and uniforms. I pulled a comforter from one of the beds and got a few photo albums. Philip and David secured a few snacks and some water and Gatorade to drink.
Then, Philip remembered his shotgun that was always kept in the safe in our bedroom. He went back to get it and strapped it on his back. Auntie Nae grabbed her backpack, some pillows, and whatever else she thought would be useful, as well. We formed an assembly line, passed the items along, up the ladder, and into the manhole until the water was just above our knees.
We were in disbelief but tried to remain calm.
Maneuvering among the groceries we had just brought back from the United States that were scattered and floating all across the kitchen and dining room floors; we were trying to grasp this most unusual situation. It was customary for Grand Bahamians to do bulk grocery shopping in the US and ship their goods back to Freeport, especially in the summertime before school reopened. And we had done our due—so the pantry was stocked with snacks, drinks, toilet paper, hand towel—all of which we figured we would need while in the roof.
So we continued passing some of the goods along and up onto the rafters. Then, David climbed up onto the rafters and helped Auntie Nae, who was wearing a flowy, spaghetti-strapped dress and flip flops—the worst attire for the upcoming cold and windy stay in the roof. She was followed by Janaiya and Jalanna.
All the while, my toddler, Jaymin, was still fast asleep. When I figured the water level was nearing the height of his mattress in the crib, I made my way back through the water to our master bedroom. I scooped him up, waded again through the ocean, down the hall, and up into the roof. He and I were the last ones my husband helped up before climbing in and pulling the ladder up with us.
We were all in the roof, like Noah and his family in the ark, awaiting the flood. In fact, earlier that day, there was a beautiful bright rainbow in the sky that stood out to me so much so that I took a picture of it and posted it on Facebook with the caption, “Today’s rainbow before the storm! Lord, we thank You for Your promise, and Your faithfulness, grace and mercy! Sustain us during this time to come. In Jesus’ name! Amen!”
The same God that Noah trusted and obeyed was the same God we were relying on to shelter us in the storm.
We received strict instructions from Philip to hold onto the rafters and not step on the ceiling’s sheet rock. If we stepped on the sheet rock, we would fall straight into the cesspit-contaminated waters below. The water smelled foul and was mucky in appearance. The stench we acquired walking through the water was unbearable. To avoid falling into the cesspool of pollution that was now our home, we were extra cautious to stay only on the beams.
The beams were now our trusted friends and worst enemies. They supported us—all 860 pounds of us. They were solid and good to stand on. But when we needed to sit to take a load off our legs, they provided no comfort at all. And like a paddle used on a naughty child’s behind, these 2-by-6 inch strips of wood punished us.
But the beams were all we had. They were the only place for us to go.
“Okay, we can do this for a few hours,” I told myself, “Just a few hours and we’ll be safe.”
And so we stood. Arms firmly wrapped around the rafters—we stood—and the love-hate relationship with the beams began.
Bahamian native Keldra Pinder is a writer, speaker, wife and mother of four. She is an educator and instructional resources creator with a Master of Science Degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and as an advocate for children, is the founder of TEEN Organization, which is committed to developing the skills and attitudes of young people. Additionally, Keldra enjoys boating, travelling, pageantry, reading, simply spending time with family and friends, and helping people navigate difficult life situations. Her first memoir, The Water Has Come, was well-received internationally and recognized by Readers’ Favourite International Book Award Contest (2020). It is a proud testament of her story and legacy for future generations.