A Bequia Old Year’s Night …

An Excerpt From:
One Woman’s Island, a Bequia Perspectives novel

Dudley picked us up from the beach at the prearranged time. I was
glad to have him there, too, as both children were exhausted from the
excitement, the sun, and the swimming and were fast asleep. Dudley
had to carry them to the taxi for us.

On the trip home, Verity said, “I lets dem sleep now den wakes
dem for later.” When I asked what she planned to do to celebrate,
she replied, “What everybody does do on Bequia—we goes to de
Frangipani.”

It suddenly struck me that, other than a mention in passing when
I spoke with the Litt sisters and Tex, I hadn’t made any plans myself for
the biggest night of the year. “Do you mind if I join you?” I asked. She
grinned in agreement, so when Dudley pulled up to Verity’s house, we
arranged for him to pick us up at around eleven.

He helped carry the still-sleeping children into the house. When
Dudley and I were alone outside again, I asked him about Verity’s
mother—his mother, too. “Dey don’ talk.” And that was all I could get
out of him.

He assured me, saying, “Verity be looked after. You no worrys ’bout
her.” His expression had become a scowl. It was obvious this was a closed
subject as far as Dudley was concerned, so I didn’t push any further.

By the time he returned later that night, Dudley was back to his
old jovial self again. The children were wide-eyed, if not yet wide awake,
and Verity had changed into a slinky leopard-skin-pattern dress I had
never seen before. That and the awkward high-heeled sandals she wore
made me look even frumpier than I already felt.

Dudley dropped us off in the Harbour then quickly drove away
to pick up his next fare—he’d be working throughout the night. For
Bequia taxi drivers, Old Year’s Night is the busiest of the year, their
time to make a lot of money, if they really hustle.

Verity, the children, and I walked through the crowds in the Harbour
to the walkway along the shore that would take us to the Frangipani
Hotel, the centre of the action at midnight on Bequia. It was a sea
of people we had to wade through, too; some already drunk but most
in good spirits and out to enjoy themselves with friends and family. It
did look too as though all of Bequia, and then some, had come out to
celebrate, and everybody wanted to be as close as possible to the Frangipani
bar when the clock struck midnight. A steel band performed
on a low stage between the bar and the walkway, and their pitch and
pandemonium increased with every passing minute, the pan players
physically exhausting themselves with their drumming.

The four of us chose instead to grab a seat on the low wall by the
shoreline and watch the promenade of people as we waited for midnight.
Melanie, Dave, Al, and Suzie passed by together.

Melanie and Suzie stopped while Al and Doc pushed on ahead.

“Mariana, hello!” said Melanie. “Would you like to join us? We’re going
to try and get a drink at the bar.”

“Hello, Mel and Suzie. Happy New Year. I’m here to celebrate
with Verity and her children”—I pointed at my neighbours—“but
thanks anyway.”

“Okay then. Happy New Year to you!” The two women disappeared
into the crowd.

Suddenly, a moment or two before midnight according to my
watch, sailboats in the harbour began tooting their horns, and then
the ferry boats and other large working ships sounded theirs as well.
Boat flares shot off in every direction over the water and the steel band
increased its volume as it played a decidedly Caribbean version of “Auld
Lang Syne.” Everyone was happy, greeting one another, wishing Happy
New Year to all around them. It really was a joyous and festive occasion,
possibly the best New Year’s Eve I’d ever celebrated because it was so
simple and heartfelt.

After about fifteen minutes we decided it was time to get the
children back to the house and into bed for the rest of the night. The
two of them, even Ayayla with her limited sight, had sat wonder-eyed
throughout the midnight festivities, but they were beginning to yawn.

And causing me to yawn, as well.

We were making our way back along the waterfront to the place
where we’d arranged to meet Dudley when I heard a voice call out to
Verity from the dark of the bushes. She turned her head to the sound
and immediately sucked her teeth loudly—a gesture commonly used on
this island to indicate displeasure or disgust. She picked up her pace as
best she could in those awkward sandals and pulled the children after
her. The one voice became several as I realized there were others hiding
in the shadows calling after Verity with words I couldn’t understand.
Whatever they said seemed to be derogatory.

Melanie, Dave, Al, and Suzie passed me again before I could catch
up with the children.

“We’re on our way to the New York Bar for a drink now,” Melanie
said. “You sure you won’t join us?”

Al sneered. “Yeah, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and all that shit!”

The others laughed. But Melanie said, “Don’t mind him, Mariana.
Do join us. After we finish that drink we’re heading, along with the rest
of the people of Bequia, to De Reef in Lower Bay, where we’re going
to dance until dawn.”

“Come on, Mariana,” Al chided. “You’re only young once. I’ll bet
Verity would love to dance all night.”

Verity had stopped to wait for me and heard Al’s comment. She
looked over at me, asking with eager eyes if she could do just that. She
had certainly dressed appropriately if she’d been hoping for willing
partners.

“But we’ve got to put these children to bed,” I pointed out. Verity
was looking disappointed when the four expats left.

Dudley caught up with us on the main road in front of the Anglican
Church, and I realized as we were driving away that we hadn’t met up
with Tex or the Litt sisters.

We were soon home again, the sights and sounds of the Harbour
far behind us.

As I was getting into bed, I thought about how enjoyable it had
been: no phoney celebrations with strangers, no false wishes for the
coming year, no expensive fireworks displays or decorations, no desperate
attempts to have a good time at any cost. Everyone celebrated the beginning
of the new year together—young, old, tourists, foreigners, expats,
locals, everyone enjoying the moment. That’s what Bequia is all about.

I lay awake in bed that night for a while and considered what
might be in store for me in the coming year. Whatever it was, I hoped
it would be better than a year that involved losing my husband both
physically and emotionally and being forced to redesign my whole life.
Anyway, I knew it couldn’t possibly get any worse. I reached out and
pulled Jerry closer to me and fell asleep to the sound of purring in my ear.

2 responses

  1. Thanks for the excerpt. Most appropriate! Happy New Year Susan!!

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