We lived in candy-colored dorms that were grandly named the Rex Nettleford Hall. This was the newest dorm on the University of West Indies, Mona campus and we, the visitors from Florida State University, had the privilege (with some UWI students) of being its first residents.
There is just something indescribable about waking up, looking out the window and realizing that you are in Jamaica, even if you had only three hours’ sleep because you went to a rum-soaked party last night as soon as you flew in from Miami. I saw marijuana growing on campus that night, I kid you not.
So it went, from one Caribbean-themed day to another; it is ridiculously easy to get used to that tropical-breeze accent and the way they say “Mon!” with everything. It just makes you feel like you’ve been there forever. One day, Melissa, Kevin, Dev and I were hanging out in a gazebo out on a hill overlooking campus. We could see our dorms down below, like little candy-box houses covered with luscious pink bougainvillea. The hills ring the campus like a sheltering presence and are always within your sight.
We sat there goofing around and soon saw a group of kids walking home from school. The older two went by the regal names of Catherine and Elizabeth and the youngest, a gap-toothed six-year-old, was called Andre. We talked with them and played a bit, and they posed for pictures with us.
Melissa has a pierced tongue. It was visible in flashes when she talked, and as soon as Catherine saw it she made her stick it out and inspected it. At this point I saw Andre’s eyes growing bigger and rounder than they already were. While his sisters continued to marvel at that oddity of a tongue, he kept his distance. Then Melissa turned to him and asked him if he was curious about it. “I’m actually a witch,” she confided slyly, winking for good measure.
Andre stared in horror. He looked at his sisters like a hunted deer, waiting for some sort of response assuring him of the falseness of this claim: none was forthcoming. Add to that Melissa herself: tall, with long black hair, wearing black clothes, and, horrors! clicking her pierced tongue at him! It was too much for Andre. With a shrill screech, he grabbed his bag and streaked down the hill, shrieking all the way. I can still hear it. “Eeeeeeeeeeee,” it went.
Catherine and Elizabeth gave that slightly diabolical laugh that only older sisters can give. The rest of us laughed but were also a little shame-faced to see that small figure sprinting down the hill like the hounds of hell were after him.
Well, a witch was; at least that’s what he thought.