I suppose a third miscarriage warrants a tropical vacation. I suppose when you have been waiting in vain for a rainbow baby, real rainbows are a viable alternative. I suppose it is understandable that my husband, Abdul, opted not to come along. I suppose I underestimated the brazenness of Caribbean folk to inquire why he let his wife travel alone amid a global pandemic or why I don’t have any children yet. I wonder how long it will take before the bitterness in my heart spills over into my response to their curiosity. Not long, I suppose.
It is Good Friday at Nora’s Nest, a charming boutique hotel in the hills of Soufriere, Dominica. Quarantine. Not such a bad idea when there is nowhere in particular you would like to be. When your body is a prison. When isolation is the only language your womb seems to understand. There is hardly any corner of the world where this chaotic truth does not follow me. Yet, there is an undeniable peace in these bleached cotton bedsheets. In the seafoam-green walls I get to call home for 14 days. In the klaxon of the conch shell—alerting to the fisherman’s catch—that is now my midmorning alarm.
When I was a girl, my father used to tell me stories about this place. A village with beaches that bubble like champagne and coral reefs that line the shore for miles. Its sleeping volcanoes are buried beneath mountains, and only an isthmus stands between a mellow Caribbean Sea and the raging Atlantic. Papa told me of how, as a boy, he would wrap pieces of plastic bag around t-shaped cocoyea sticks with twine to build a kite. During Easter, the whole village would gather on the savannah to show off their kites. The boys competed to see whose kite could fly the highest. On those days, papa would say, the sky was a museum of colour. There was a constant buzz in the wind. Papa was a doyen at story-telling, and I was the ever-obsequious listener. How I wish I could have a child of my own to hand down his stories to, like precious heirlooms.
The thought hardens in my throat the way my breakfast does. Green bananas and smoked herring with pickled cucumber salad. It is the only meal on the menu because Dominican tradition forbids eating meat during Easter. Lime squash is also on the menu. Not the canned lemonade nonsense. The freshly squeezed one, sweetened beyond any acceptable limit with brown sugar and served with half a dozen ice cubes. I swallow a mouthful of it with my Adderall. It is the only thing that works when I want to escape reality.
‘Final day of quarantine. What you doing today? Snorkelling?’ asks the cleaning lady as I finish my breakfast.
‘Going hiking. I booked a guide yesterday. Heard de Waitukubuli National Trail Segment 1 is really exciting.’ I poorly mimic her French-Creole accent.
‘Hmmm, nice weather for hiking too. De sun go give you a good licking, Miss Joye,’ she taunts.
I shrug insouciantly while watching her neatly tuck a corner of the fresh sheets under the mattress. She continues speaking, but I pay her little mind—partly because I’m jealous of her. The libertine Loretta is barely 25 and unmarried, with four children. She is a living, breathing reminder of the hand I have been dealt. And yet, I can’t help but love her—this comely young thing with hair cornrowed to perfection and dark skin, rich as the earth.
When she realizes I have not been listening, she stares at me with disappointment. The way my husband did when the doctor said there was no heartbeat. The way my Senegalese mother-in-law did when she learned that all the herbal teas she had prescribed had failed. To be barren is a wife’s cardinal sin in the eyes of an African mother, I have learned. I curse my wide hips for their deception and my stomach’s fleshiness for its mockery.
Their empty glances reverberate through my mind as I set out for the five-kilometre journey from Scotts Head to Soufriere Estate. I swallow another anodyne and wash it down with a gulp of water.
My tour guide, Andre, tells me ghost stories as we weave our way through the maze of fruit trees and evergreens. His natty dreads and ragamuffin attire add to his animation as he speaks. But I am not afraid of ghosts. My body has already carried three of them.
There is an unusual chill in the air as we venture deeper into the forest. I hear the crackling of sere leaves beneath my feet. The scent of moist soil and rotting citrus fills my nostrils. I walk into a swarm of rainflies, and my arms become jellyfish tentacles, poised for defense.
It is after freeing myself from the rainflies that I realise Andre’s ghost stories have stopped. I spin around to look for him, but he is nowhere to be found.
‘Andre? Andre?’ I call. Silence. ‘Andre!’ I shout. There is no response. I grow more perturbed. I must have wandered from the trail.
The sky begins to darken as the clouds dance around the sun. A voracious a shower of rainfall as I have never experienced comes pelting down. I rush to find shelter under a canopy of mango trees. I sit there for hours, shivering from the cold and my now soaked-through T-shirt and leggings, hoping that Andre will come looking for me. Or that Loretta will send someone. But nobody comes to my rescue.
My eyes well up, but I do not have the strength to cry. I have sniveled enough for a lifetime. My back against the broad tree trunk and knees pressed to my chest, on an island almost 4,000 miles away from Canada, my mind travels to my husband and the babies I have buried. I recall the day I sat excitedly in my doctor’s office in nothing but a hospital gown after being poked and prodded with thousands of dollars’ worth of hormonal shots and lab-brewed embryos for months. I had done everything they told me to. I gobbled avocado and hardboiled eggs every morning and rubbed my belly with castor oil every night before bed.
When Dr. Ronald entered the room, his eyes were glued to his clipboard. He avoided eye contact with me, and I could tell it was bad news again. The room suddenly grew smaller and colder, the chill of the silver medical table against my buttocks now glaringly apparent. That was the day Soufriere first called to me; I had the urge to return to a home I had only heard about in stories.
The rainwaters gather around my feet as if I am an eyot in the centre of Boeri Lake. The croaking of crapauds nearby grows louder and louder. A trail of ants busily retreats into warrens. I wish to follow them and disappear into that place where roots and vermin cradle my young. There is something about the ants’ persistence—how they defy raindrops thrice their size, how they fight to survive despite the elements and the odds. In an instant, I know I cannot give up. I dig into my backpack and fling the bottle of pills into the bushes. Standing to my feet, I begin to make my way home.
After walking for what feels like forever, I hear an incessant buzzing sound. I notice a bright red kite flying overhead, like in Papa’s stories. This must mean the village is nearby. I follow the direction of the sound. With each step, the terrain grows steeper. I push and push, and the island pushes back. I carry on, nonetheless. I feel myself slipping and grab onto some rope for support. I must be back on the trail.
At last, there is an opening through the trees, and I glimpse a bit of pitch road. I run toward the light. I can no longer hold back the tears now. I gaze down at the village of Soufriere and the beachscape below. The village is full of life; people are flocking to purchase pounds of fresh snapper from wheelbarrows at the roadside. Hedges of hibiscus in bloom proudly decorate each yard. The church bell echoes along the coastline as parishioners march behind a priest singing local hymns. The priest carries a wooden cross throughout the community to St. Peter’s cathedral. I follow the procession of happy mourners entranced by the sacrifice of a sinless Saviour who died to give abundant life. It must be true, their faith. Isn’t this abundant life? This country where things are always green and aplenty. This place where the lost are found.
As I approach the hotel, the horizon marks the end of the day with its fiasco of auburn and plum. I hear Loretta yell, ‘Look her!’ She races toward me, her eyes glistening with tears. I giggle as she embraces me. Andre and a police officer are with her as well.
‘Where you been, Miss? We been searching for you all over!’ Andre asks.
I smile. ‘I took the long way home.’
Loretta wraps a towel around me and accompanies me to my room. I relay to her the story of the red kite and how I followed it back to the village.
‘Ma’am, nobody flying kite round here for years,’ she laughs. She orders me to get some rest, and I promise to obey. She will bring me some lemongrass tea later.
When I open the door, I remove my retted sneakers and feel my damp, wrinkled feet against the hardwood flooring. A shuffling inside my room startles me. The duvet is rolled down, not the way Loretta had left it. The white chiffon drapes flutter behind the ajar door leading to the balcony. I cannot recall opening it earlier. The faucet in the shower squeaks as it is twisted closed. The air is a mélange of Old Spice bodywash and ocean breeze. My heart skips a beat when I notice a suitcase in the corner of the room. I turn around with a speed that makes me giddy.
Abdul emerges through the steamy bathroom door; rivulets meander from his chest to the knot of his towel at his waist. He is as beautiful as the day I married him seven years ago, despite the toll the world has taken on us.
‘You came?’ I whisper.
‘Joye, I’ve been an idiot,’ he admits. ‘I’m sorry I made you think you are alone in this or that any of this is your fault. With you gone, I realized we’ve already lost so much. We can’t afford to lose each other too. I don’t want to lose you, Joye. I love you, even if it’s going to be just us. Especially if it’s going to be just us.’
His words thaw the Canada out of my heart. Tonight, I am only Soufriere—a bubbling volcano and violent sea wave. My T-shirt and leggings form a pool at my feet. I crawl under the duvet and pull it up to my chin.
No words are spoken, but Abdul understands my invitation.
It is a year since quarantine, and I have exchanged the short days of Halifax for perennial Dominican sunshine. My relaxer has grown out, and my honey skin is sunburnt from too many afternoons at Champagne Beach. In a few moments, I must teach my kindergarten class over Zoom. But for now, I wash baby Marjorie in a Glory Cedar bath the way Loretta taught me. Abdul makes weird faces behind me as our daughter coos at him. The wall in the baby’s room is a sky filled with kites of every imaginable colour. I smile.
Someday, when Marjorie is old enough, I will tell her the story of the red kite. I will tell her stories like my father told me—that there is a place in the centre of a vast sea where it is just you, God and the mountain. A place of miracles and majick.
Yes! Yes! Nature is a strange medicine.
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