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A little enamel cup of coffee, with a shot of puncheon rum. The extra heat steeling me against the freshness of the air at 1 am. I have not slept in about a week, and I can’t hear anything else but pan and drums echoing in my ears.
The glorious morning has come, and I don’t know if to laugh or cry. Because I’ll have to wait another 364 days to feel this way again. J’Ouvert is what happens when someone opens the prison gates. J’Ouvert is the moment of truth in lives of endless fiction.
I am wearing my J’Ouvert panty and a plastic bag. I am wearing nothing but disdain for decency. On the outskirts of Port of Spain’s National Stadium, the 3Canal faithful are gathering. The air is electric, but the night is always darkest just before the dawn.
J’Ouvert is more than what you want to see, and more than what I can say I feel. So I stretch my arms out wide and allow myself to be anointed with paint, oil, rum, mud, whatever. Cold paint and warm hands. We are a living, breathing canvas. You see your reflection in the haphazard streaks of others, marvel at the new shapes that emerge from the imprints of your embracing.
And then the Laventille Rhythm Section rolls up and begins to sound conch shell and drums.
Jacqueline hands me a flag. I hold it up to the breeze. We begin to walk towards the east. The light is not there yet. But we know it is coming.
This is my tribe. We are one voice, one shuffle of feet.
Flagwomen lead the way. We walk and wine. I threaten to beat a man with my flag when he comes too close. It is about ownership. Of the road. And your body. It is about letting go. Of the fear of being anything other than your true self.
We storm the Savannah stage as the sun comes over the hills. We are screaming for joy and terror at how good this feels.
The Thursday after Carnival I am walking in downtown Port of Spain. A newspaper vendor sees me and calls out. “Family!” I smile out of manners. He adds with a note of admiration, “You does play J’Ouvert wild, boy.”
I want to deny it was me. That it was some other version of myself. Hiding behind a mask of darkness to be free.