Laurel got awake when her hand suddenly fell off the side of the bed and it felt as if her body would follow.
Where was she? For a moment, she thought she must still be dreaming. But no, a sun ray shining through the window was toasting her toes. There were strange noises coming from somewhere outside; even stranger odors of cooked food floated in through the open doorway.
Where was she? She stretched out her other hand and drew it back quickly as it encountered a warm body.
"What the …” she began, then shut up as she realized that it was her sister Barbs curled up close to the wall against which the bed rested; so close she looked as if she was planning to climb it.
Laurel looked around the room and sat up, suddenly remembering. They were in Jamaica. They had arrived late last night at this house after a long drive from the airport. The last part of the journey had been over some bumpy, dark, scary, winding roads. She had been too tired to take much note of her surroundings when they finally arrived. First misgivings about the sparsely furnished room with the small bed she would share with Barbs were soon dissolved by bone weary tiredness into sound sleep.
But now, she was wide awake and ready for action. Swinging her long legs off the bed, she ran to the window, wrestled with the strange way it was latched at top and bottom, opened it and looked out. She saw that she was on the top floor of a two storey building overlooking some kind of square with a tiny park in the centre. The height gave her a panoramic view of the surrounding area. A clock tower took up much of the space in the park. The clock was obviously not telling the right time as it could not possibly be twelve o’clock – noon or midnight. When she looked back after a few minutes the hands had not moved.
“Time stands still here,“ she mumbled. “Not a good sign.” She watched a rooster chase a hen across the park. This was one strange place.
She continued examining the scene before her. What looked like a small, old church stood off to the left of the park. Dilapidated tombstones surrounded it. A narrow road ran almost directly below her window, wound itself around the park then led off into the distance The road was bustling with honking cars and small buses driving on what looked like the wrong side of the road. There were people standing chatting in little groups, calling loudly to one another, or walking briskly to unknown destinations.
It all seemed a bit unreal – the bright sunlight, the noise, the laughter, the colorful summery dresses of the women, men wearing short pants and merinos ; some of them with red, yellow and green wool tams on their heads. Laurel felt as if she was watching a movie. Any moment now the sound track would start; perhaps Bob Marley singing ‘One Love’, and the people on the street would start dancing.
“Barbs! Barbs!” she called to her sister. “Wake up! Come look at Jamaica!”
A still sleepy Barbs joined her at the window “Far out! What a strange place,” she murmured, rubbing her eyes as if she couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing. “Where’s the beach and the sea"
“Somewhere … nearby, I hope,” Laurel answered, although all she could see in the distance were little greenish-blue hills and behind them higher hills touching the sky.
Just then, a weird, very loud animal noise started from somewhere to the right of the little park.
“What’s that?” Barbs asked in alarm.
A second animal joined voice with the first. The noise penetrated the square and bounced off the walls.
“Look!” Laurel said, pointing to two pack animals tied to poles outside a large wrought iron gate to the right of the park. A sign above the gate read Churchtown Market. People were unloading baskets from a pushcart.
“Two donkeys musn’t bray at the same time,” Barbs said.
Both girls started giggling. It was one of their Aunt Candi’s expressions that she had brought from Jamaica to America. They had heard her use it many times.
“Now I know what Aunt Candi means,” Laurel said as the noisy braying continued.
“Laurel! Barbs!’ A voice called from somewhere inside the house. It was their Aunt Candi’s voice. “Get dressed. Breakfast’s ready.”
Laurel looked down at the striped ‘sensible’ pjs she was wearing. She couldn’t even remember getting into them. Perhaps Aunt Candi had helped her. “Omigosh! she thought. Had she come to Jamaica to turn into a baby?
After a little exploration, the sisters found a bathroom nearby and got dressed. Then, following the sound of their Aunt Candi’s singing they found her in a spacious kitchen with breakfast laid out on a table set for four.
And what a breakfast it was! The girls knew about some of the Jamaican foods which their Aunt Candi would cook from time to time and which they didn’t particularly like. The table seemed to be groaning under the weight of two large plates piled with roasted breadfruit slices and a big dish of ackee and saltfish, which if you didn’t know better, you could mistake for scrambled eggs with bits of brown stuff in it. There were slices of buttery yellow avocados, and peeled oranges in a large bowl.
Laurel moaned soflty,” They’re going to kill us with food.”
“Er… er Cereal please, Aunt Candi,” Barbs said.
“Aw, come on girls! You remember we discussed this. You promised to be adventurous and try the local dishes. Dulcie got up early to make sure you would get an authentic Jamaican breakfast, first thing this morning.”
“Where is Cousin Dulcie?” Laurel asked, as she cautiously eyed the dish of ackee and saltfish. That was the name Aunt Candi had told them to use for her. “We didn’t get to see her properly last night, we were so tired.”
“She went to open the shop . It’s on the ground floor, right beneath us. Today is Saturday you know, a very busy day as many people come into town to buy goods. As soon as the girl who helps her comes in, she’ll come back upstairs and I’ll introduce you properly. She said not to wait for her to eat.“
Her eyes were bright with excitement as she blessed the meal and started sharing food unto their plates. She was obviously happy to be in Jamaica. In fact, Laurel noticed that she seemed to have shed her Principal-of- their Wetherby-Junior-High-School look for a more relaxed, almost girlish look. She could imagine this new-look Aunt Candi who was dressed in a bright floral blouse, long brown shorts, and sandals giggling with Cousin Dulcie and other friends over old Jamaican times and jokes.
Aunt Candi’s excitement had been climbing steadily since she had received a letter from Cousin Dulcie and decided that it was time she visited her birth country, Jamaica. Laurel and Barbs had been very excited when she invited them to come along. They had never traveled abroad, and to make things even better, they were going to Jamaica, about which they had heard so much from their Aunt Candi.
All the advertisements on television about Jamaica showed lovely white sand beaches, luxurious hotels and people having lots of fun. Laurel just knew that she would have many, many exciting tales to share with her friends when she returned to America.
They were in Jamaica to have fun! She hoped fun was 'just around the corner' as Aunt Candi would say.