Facing the mirror this morning as I brushed my teeth I saw a tattoo, two small letters, HQ, inked in black on the underside of my forearm and the magic came flooding back. No, no it was not a night of Bacchic-inspired revelry, but it was mystical.
I am fortunate to spend time on St Croix, in the US Virgin Islands, and the longer I spend here the more I am drawn into her spell, woven through history, wafted along on the ever-present Trade Winds. Like all the islands in the Caribbean there are tales of mischief, of the black arts, of obeah. It draws its roots from Africa, and like much on that huge and beautiful Continent is often inexplicable. So it was last night.
Let me take you there.
The Garden Gala is the annual fund-raiser for the St George Village Botanical Gardens – the stated aim of the event being ‘conservation, preservation, education’. The Gardens grow exuberantly around, and in some cases over, an old sugar plantation. The crumbling walls which used to surround the bubbling coppers of cane juice now trail with creepers and vines. Cannonball, kapok, and tamarind trees have forced their way through courtyards laid with bricks used as ballast, as well as commanding space on the lawns, and bursts of magenta bougainvillea and ixora, the colour of cayenne, dazzle the senses. Magic of a different kind.
The pyramid-shaped event space, open to the night scents and sounds, was decorated in purple, silver and white, with chiffon and streams of fairy lights cascading from the roof and encircling the columns. Around the perimeter were Christmas trees, temptingly dressed by different organizations and individuals, ready to be auctioned off. Centrepieces of baubles and glittering flowers sparkled in tall glass vases on the tables. Rum and wine flowed as voices mingled and goodwill swirled.
And amidst all this was a young illusionist, Johnny Daemon, dressed all in black with lively eyes and a flashing smile. Was I swayed by his good looks? His charm? His patter? Obviously, I now have a tattoo.
“Think of the name of someone dear to you,” he commanded. “Just the initials.”
My youngest granddaughter came to mind.
“On this line write them down, in this circle write your initials,” Johnny said, handing me a small card he had just drawn the line and circle on. He turned away, asking my companion to confirm I had completed my task and that there was no possibility of him seeing the letters, telling me to hold the card face down in my left hand. “Where are you from?” he asked, turning back. “What is your passion? What is your favourite colour?” Scribbling the answers on a slip of paper, England, writing, green. Or I assume he wrote those words down. I couldn’t see. Next I was to spread my arms out wide and then point at him with my right index finger. We stood fingertip to fingertip for a few moments. The sound of the band filtering through the tinkle of a nearby fountain, iridescent with reflected light, distracted me and I was brought back to the present by his voice demanding I think only of the initials.
Moving my fingertip with his, he began writing in air. An ‘H’. Then he said, “I think the next one is cursive. A ‘C’ perhaps? No,” he corrected himself, moving my finger again. “A ‘Q’. The initials are ‘HQ’. Now, look at the card.”
The line on which I had written my granddaughter’s initials was blank, though mine remained in the circle. “But I wrote them,” I gasped. “Didn’t I, Laurie? You saw,” I turned to my companion in confusion.
“What’s that on your arm?” Johnny interrupted my protestations. And there they were, ‘HQ’!
Harley Rose Quan is inked on my arm for a short time, a wonderful illusion which I have no desire to understand. She will be in my heart forever – that’s the enchantment.
This morning, after an evening of laughter and fun, the magic is whispering through the palm fronds next to the gallery, the mystery is in the different blues of the ocean beyond Protestant Cay, and the mischief – well I’ll just have to see what I get up too at this time of year.