Bridgetown, Barbados – October 1992
Scott turns to me, forehead wrinkled with concern. “I’m going out for a while. You probably don’t want to come along, do you, honey?”
I shrug. “I’m not sure that staying alone in a silent hotel room will help me. I don’t feel like partying, but there’s no use moping around here all night. I’ll cry when I get back home.”
Just a few hours ago, I was on the tiny island of Mustique, taking an island tour with my new friends Hans and Nueng. We had just spent six days sailing around Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I was scheduled to fly back to Michigan in two days. We had only been on Mustique for one day when I received a call from my mother, who had somehow tracked me down at the Cotton House. But then again, it’s one of the only hotels on the island.
My mother had called to tell me that my father was dying. It was time to come home. Before I could stop myself, I asked if she was sure. I had received so many calls of this kind since he was diagnosed with lymphoma a little over two years ago, when he was forty years old. He was originally told that he would live two months. He fought it hard and always pulled through. Just before this trip he had had a bone marrow transplant and had been declared cancer free. “It’s time to come home,” my mother repeated.
I scrambled to make the last flight from Mustique to Barbados. I thanked Hans for his generosity. Nueng thrust her address into my grasp as we said hasty goodbyes. I didn’t have time to change clothes or to make a hotel reservation.The last flight from Barbados to Miami left before I arrived. I would have to find a hotel when I got there or just sleep in the airport.
I met Scott on the flight. He was a production assistant for the Nautica photo shoot that took place on Mustique. He asked me what was wrong and I told him. He gave me a hug and said that I could stay with him, if I wanted. And so here I am.
Scott flags down a cab outside of the hotel. A man named Cyril welcomes us inside. He wears a blissful smile. “Where would you like to go?”
“Show us your Bridgetown, please,” Scott says.
Cyril drives us around unlit streets on the outskirts of Bridgetown, pointing out landmarks. Haunted hills and abandoned plantations. Shadows in the dark. Barbados is famous for its ghosts. On the radio, a somber voice drones the nightly obituaries, to the accompaniment of a melodramatic, macabre organ.
“All those people are dead because of the doll,” Cyril says. “They didn’t find their antidose. That’s the only way to cure the doll.”
I perk up. Is he talking about voodoo? “What doll?”
Scott shoots me a dirty look. He shakes his head and looks out the window in disgust.
I frown at him in confusion, and then it hits me: he thinks that I’m being condescending. Racist. His boyfriend is black and so he’s sensitive. “I really want to know,” I whisper to him. “I think it’s interesting.”
He unfolds his arms and softens his expression.
“It’s your enemies that put the doll on you. Someone who hate you,” Cyril says. “Someone steal your hair and make the doll with it. Then they put a curse on the doll and you get sick. You got to go to a woman to get something before it get worse. The thing you need, it’s called an antidose. That’s why anyone get sick. It’s because of the doll. Myself, I have a little cold right now and need to go see the woman for an antidose.” He pulls the cab next to an open air club. “Tourists like this place.”
Men in khaki pants and polo shirts congregate around the bar. Sweaters thrown jauntily over shoulders. They ogle the mini-skirted women who orbit around them, moving their meaty hips to the latest pop hits.
Scott and I shudder in unison.
“This place gives me the creeps,” Scott says. “Take us where you like to go, Cyril.”
We spend the rest of the night sitting on a wrought iron bench under a palm tree, drinking Banks beer. Flight attendants wearing BWIA Airlines uniforms congregate at the bar. Soft reggae music and rustling palm leaves accompany Cyril as he tells us of life on his island. I have no photos of Barbados, so I snap one of him, because he’s what I will remember.
The alcohol wraps me in its embrace. I lean back on the bench and stare up through the palm trees. I wonder who could have put the doll on my father.
***This is an excerpt from my memoir, Wish I Were Here. It has been slightly altered to make it stand alone.***