After Dark

My cousin sent me a few voice messages on WhatsApp and in the background I heard the familiar sound of the Jamaican night.  That magical din was the soundtrack of my childhood.  
I lived in a small, quiet hilltop community and when night fell there was a shift in the energy.   I was a jumpy child and didn't always look forward to nighttime.  When I started to attend the church down the hill from my house, I had to venture out into the dark night, down our long, rocky, uneven driveway.  

On a moonless night, it was dark.  Darkness so black it left an oily film on your skin.  Blackness so thick it had a smell that left the taste of licorice on the back of your tongue.  Night so alive it breathed and you felt the pressure of each exhalation on your own chest.  And it was loud.  Leaves turned to crashing waves by the wind and the crickets were all a-gossip about all they were quiet about during the day.  

I navigated the trek from my door in the inkiness countless times.  I knew where the gravel was loosest, right on the corner between the Otaheite apple tree and the hogberry tree, and skillfully avoided tumbling even in heels.  I tried not to think of which community member had recently died and secretly hated the person who last told me a rolling-calf (just google it) story.   If I was lucky, I'd be met at the bottom of the hill by other church-goers wielding flashlights.  If I were really lucky there would be a scandal bag (grocery bag) of mangoes from the next little town over, Mango Lane. Sure we had mango trees of our own but one never turns down mangoes, especially if it's a different variety from what you have on your own property.  Country living 101.  Greetings were exchanged in the form of "praise the Lord sister and brother so and so" and "good nights" and "what a way you smell sweets."  The darkness, now less blanket-like thanks to the flashlights, now had a smell I associate with home - bar soap (Irish Spring, Castille, Zest or perhaps some carbolic), varies Avon perfumes and the warmth that can only come from the mix of coco-butter lotion and body.  

I think about this as I get up in the wee hours to tend to our squeaking baby.  I like to look out the windows where things are illuminated by streetlights and nothing is shrouded in dark mystery, a woman back-lit with no slip.  This will be my daughter's night.  The sound of cars, house-dwelling dogs being shushed by their masters, the smell of suburbia.  I don't want to recreate my childhood for her.  She will have her own, and I plan to make it as full and memorable as my own.  She has houses where I had coconut trees and, as long as the bag of mangoes isn't replaced by something worthy of jail-time, I'm content with that.  Sometimes it's hard to think she will not share such a simple thing with her mother - the same kind of night.  I'm not heart-broken about it, it's just a thought I have when my shin is the only thing going bump! in this suburban night.


  1. I often try to think what Nia's childhood is going to be like. Fi mi did sweet to.

  2. It's funny, I grew up mostly in suburbia, and then didn't really live there again until we moved when I was a brand-new mom. And I actually wrote a poem about the sounds of suburbia when Evan was a baby, because I suddenly realized that he was experiencing the same background noise that I had when I was a kid. I'd been away from it for long enough to forget how very specific it is. Now, four years later, I've acclimatized and don't really notice it anymore (that and my house now has a noisy 4yo who often drowns out whatever else is happening in the neighborhood). Your post made me go back and find that poem, and remember what it felt like to be a new mom in a new place that felt strangely familiar yet familiarly strange.


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