The tour

Fiction by Diana McCaulay

Canefield, Jamaica

Canefield, Jamaica; photograph by Cristian Viarisio (tesKing), posted at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

The Holiday Inn was typical of 1970s architecture — concrete, rectangular, unimaginative. It sat on the coast, surrounded by undeveloped land. A security guard stopped them at the entrance. He peered into the Toyota and saw Leigh sitting in the front passenger seat and it was clear he found this arrangement suspect. “You checking in?” he asked Leigh.

“No,” she said. “I’m not checking in. I’ve come to take a tour. I’ve booked and they told me it was all fine.”

“Well, you get out here then, Miss.”

“Why can’t my driver take me inside?”

“Is your driver?” the security guard asked.

“Yes,” Leigh said.

“Why you never say so? Him want wait for you in the car park?”

“Will you wait here, or you want go and come back?” Leigh asked the driver.

“Me go into Mo Bay. What time me mus come back?” he said.

“Give me a minute. I need to ask the tour company,” Leigh said. “Guard, I need to go inside to find out what time the tour will return.”

A car horn blew behind them. “Welcome to Holiday Inn,” said the security guard, abandoning his role as gatekeeper and stepping back.

Leigh went inside the hotel. It was early; not yet nine o’clock. She found the tour desk, but it was unmanned. A small cardboard sign announced the departures and she saw the tour to Edinburgh Plantation would leave at ten, not nine-thirty as she had been told on the phone. She had more than an hour to wait and there was no one to ask about the return time. She saw a gift shop off to the left and went inside. A young woman leaned on the counter, listening to the radio. She looked at Leigh but did not greet her.

“’Morning,” Leigh said. The woman did not respond.

“Do you know what time the tour desk opens?”

The woman shrugged. “No. Nine. Maybe nine-thirty.”

“Do you know what time the tours come back?”

“No. You have to ask them.” She examined her nails.

Leigh was irritated and hungry. She imagined food in the hotel must be very expensive, but how bad could a cup of coffee and a slice of toast be? “Which way is the restaurant?” she asked.

“Down by the beach,” the woman said, her body language indicating she thought this an idiotic question.

“Thanks,” she said. She went back to the car, but the driver was not in it. She looked around, but did not see him. The guard was watching her. She felt she was losing control of the day. She went back inside and walked through the lobby, towards the beach.

She stood at the edge of the beach and took it all in. She saw the beach was raked and swept and not a single strand of seaweed marred its surface.  She sniffed, but even the smell of salt water was somehow missing. Compared to the beaches of her childhood, it seemed a sterile place. White wooden loungers were arranged in lines, some in the sun, others under round thatched cabanas. Small sailboats were pulled up on the sand, their brightly coloured sails hoisted, offsetting the multiple blues of the sea, the pale yellowish sand and the white of the foam of the waves. Few people were on the beach at this hour.

She turned and went back to the restaurant. A waitress in a pink uniform with a white apron arrived, her smile as wide and empty as the bay. “Coffee?” she said, offering the pot. Leigh could not ask the cost — if she sat in this place, she had to be prepared to buy a cup of coffee at least. “Yes, please,” she said.

“Milk and sugar?” the waitress asked.

“Neither,” Leigh said. “All I want are two slices of toast and some jam. Is that okay?”

“Over there is the buffet,” the waitress said, pouring the coffee, and pointing with pursed lips to a long sweep of table, swathed in a tropical fabric showing birds and broad, flat leaves. “You help yourself. See the bread in that basket and the toaster next to it? Or you want me get it for you?”

“No, that’s fine. I’ll get it. Thank you.” The coffee was strong and she winced. She felt conspicuous, wrong. She was not staying here, with her room key thrown carelessly on the table and her eyes puffy from last night’s excesses. The guests would know she did not belong, as did the waitress. Not foreign; not Jamaican. She stared out to sea and the glare off the beach made her squint. She wondered if the tour people were at work yet.

She made herself toast, helped herself to small packets of butter and a spoonful of guava jelly from a bowl. The buffet was crammed with fruit, pastries, eggs, pancakes, and even ackee and saltfish. She sat back down, ate her toast, and asked for the bill. When it came, it was for eight American dollars. “But all I had was two pieces of toast and a cup of black coffee!” she objected.

“You did have the buffet,” said the waitress.

“I didn’t have the buffet!” Leigh protested. “I had a cup of coffee and two pieces of toast.”

“You never tell me you did want order from the menu.”

“Why can’t I tell you now?”

“Bill write up already.”

“Well, then, I’m going to have the buffet,” Leigh said.

The waitress shrugged. “More coffee?” she said.

It was almost nine-thirty before Leigh had finished eating a large dish of ackee and saltfish she had not wanted. She felt flustered. It was lucky she had carried enough money to pay the breakfast bill. She hurried over to the tour desk and was relieved to see a woman behind the desk and a group of tourists gathering. She walked up to the desk. “Excuse me?” she said to the woman who seemed to be registering names.


“I’m Leigh McCaulay. I booked the tour to Edinburgh Plantation.”

The woman consulted a typed list. “Yes, Miss McCaulay. You’re here. You can pay now.”

“What time will the tour be back?” Leigh asked, taking out her money.

“Oh about four. Jamaica time.” She laughed. “Bus will leave outside about ten.”

“I thought it was leaving at nine-thirty?”

“Jamaica time,” the young woman said again.

Leigh paid, took her ticket and went outside again to look for the driver. The Toyota was gone. She wondered if she would be stranded at the Holiday Inn. The security guard was still watching her. She walked over to him.

“You see my driver leave?” she asked.

“Him leave, yes. Him say him come back roundabout three.”

“Oh, that’ll be perfect. Thank you. The tour will be back about four, I’m told. Would you mind telling him that for me?”

“I tell him.” The security guard gazed over her shoulder. “So what you can do for me, Miss?” he said.

“Excuse me?”

“You know, a little drink money. Times hard.”

“When I come back,” she said. The man sucked his teeth and turned away. She knew the driver would get no message from him.

She waited in the lobby of the hotel. She wished she had brought a book with her. The tourists all seemed to know each other; they related stories about the meals they had disliked, how much alcohol they had consumed, and the various trips they had been on. They glanced at their watches and said “Jamaica time” with what-can-you-expect shrugs. A fat woman rubbed suntan lotion on an expanse of revealed skin. A young couple held hands — the man looked disgruntled. “I bet we should have tried water skiing instead. A plantation — I bet it’ll be boring.”

“Don’t you want to see something of the island?” the woman said, smiling up at him, her tone cajoling.

“Not really. We got everything here. Beach and pool, sun and sand, all the food and drink paid for already. Bet it’s gonna be a long drive on a bad road, some boring talk in a dungeon, nasty island food, and then another long drive back on the same bad road.”

“The brochure says there’s a river. That should be nice.”

“Whatever. Too late to back out now.” The man took a step away from his wife or girlfriend and Leigh could see the entire unfolding of their relationship.

The woman in charge of the tour desk stood and clapped her hands. “Everyone for the trip to Edinburgh! Your bus is loading now. Don’t forget your stuff. Have a wonderful day!”

“Sure,” grumbled the dubious young man.

Leigh followed the tourists to the bus. She counted them — eleven. Four older people, obviously travelling together and speaking in English accents. The young American couple. A family of four; two adults and two bored-looking teenagers, nationality uncertain, but probably American. The fat woman — she wore a Disney World t-shirt, so certainly American. And herself. She realised she would not be all that inconspicuous in this group.

They headed back towards Falmouth. The bus driver introduced himself as Dervol and said that they were all in good hands, he had been driving for years, although he had only purchased his driver’s license yesterday. The Americans laughed, the English people didn’t appear to get it. Dervol’s accent was a mixture of American twang and Jamaican, souped up with fake exuberance. Leigh stared out the window, wondering if all tour operators felt it imperative to be clowns. She watched the sea. Now that she was wearing the disguise of a tourist, she felt even more uncomfortable, as if by simply being in the tour bus, she had become a visitor. No, I live here, she told herself. I was born here. I have come home. She felt compelled to share this information with someone.

“So where y’all fram?” Dervol shouted, as if he had read her mind.

No one answered right away. Then one Englishman said, “Leeds.” The other said, “Coventry.”

“Di mighty British Empire!” shouted Dervol.

The English quartet exchanged glances. Leigh was not sure herself if they were being insulted. “Where you fram, mi lady?” Dervol asked the fat woman, looking into his rear view mirror and paying no attention to the road ahead.

“Dayton,” the woman mumbled.

“Dayton! Where is dat, eggzackly?”

“Dayton, Ohio,” the woman said. “Don’t you think you should watch the road?”

“Eyes in di back a mi head, mi lady. Eye-dem inna di head back. Welcame to you, fram Daytonohio!”

“We’re from New York,” said the man who wanted to water ski. “Our first time in Jamaica. We’re on honeymoon, actually.”

“Yang l-o-v-e-r-s!” yodelled Dervol. Everyone was cringing at the noise in the bus. Was this going to continue all the way to Edinburgh? “I’m Leigh,” she said into the momentary, reverberating silence. “I live here. In Kingston. Born here.” She hoped no one would ask why she was on a tour bus. “Dervol, does this bus have music?”

“A RETURNIN RESIDENT! Welcame home, dawta! Music? No mus! Wi has music! Wi has reggae, soca, ska, mento, rocksteady, dance hall? What you want, dawta?”

“Bob Marley,” said the fat woman.

“Wi can all sing along,” said the driver. “Oonu know di words fah ‘No Woman No Cry?’ No mus! See it here, Bobmarley. You know sey him dead of a rotten toe?” The driver inserted a tape into the deck and reggae music filled the bus.

Leigh was relieved. The music was louder than was comfortable, but it was better than the shouting driver. She watched his back move in time to the music as he flung the bus around corners. “The other couple didn’t get to introduce themselves,” the American wife whispered.

“For God’s sake, don’t start him up again,” said the husband.

They left the coast at Falmouth and drove into the hills. The road surface deteriorated and the bus seemed to lurch from pothole to pothole, raising clouds of dust on the relatively well-maintained stretches. They drove through small villages of unfinished buildings and by roadside piles of marl and rusting zinc fences, through small farms growing skellion and yams, past low-roofed schools and bars and old men on donkeys. In town centres, women sat under blue tarpaulins selling warm soft drinks and beer, cigarettes and snacks. A few children shouted at the bus as it went past. Leigh wondered if she was seeing the real Jamaica. She wanted to know the names of the towns, but signs were few.

Some of the towns were set in picturesque valleys and old buildings in poor repair stood alongside blocky modern structures. Cars jockeyed with goats and cows for space on the road. Young men sat on walls and glared at the bus as it went by.

“How much longer?” shouted one of the teenagers over the music, which was by then repeating songs.

“Eeeh?” said the driver. “What you sey?”

“Please don’t start him up again,” moaned the woman Leigh had christened American wife, but not loudly enough for the driver to hear.

“How much longer?” repeated the teenager.

“Maybe a fifteen minute. JAMAICA TIME!” he shouted, turning off the radio.

“Oh God,” said the American wife.

“I told you we should have tried water skiing,” said the new husband.

And the villages became fewer and on one side of the road Leigh saw canefields bounded by low hills. The day was bright and clear and the canes slashed at the wind. Small hills appeared to float in the fields, islands in a green sea. The bus passed a flat pond and a ruined windmill and Leigh saw low, crumbling stone walls crisscrossing the land. The road narrowed and rose and they drove through a tunnel cut in the rock and she saw the roots of trees, curling through the bare rock, searching and failing to find fertile soil, yet still persisting and even thriving. The trees shaded the tunnel and she felt that civilisation had been left behind. Everyone in the bus was quiet.

Finally, they drove through stone gates. The gates were edged by the same kind of low stone walls the visitors had been seeing on the land, but these walls were obviously new and secured with cement. “Edinburgh Plantation” was inscribed on one of the walls in wrought iron. The driveway was asphalted and the visitors perked up and stared ahead at the road leading up to an imposing house on a hill. One field close to the house was planted in cane, but most of the other fields were in a scrubby ruinate. Leigh saw two horses grazing in a field of guinea grass and, off to the right, a line of large trees she imagined hid the river. She had never ridden a horse in her life, but suddenly she wanted to. It seemed the perfect way to see the land, slow and high and quiet and somewhat unpredictable. And on a horse, she would not be confined to the roads. She saw herself picking her way through overgrown paths in a dense forest.

She felt apprehensive. It’s just a stupid tour, she told herself. You probably won’t even see him. She suddenly wondered if the driver was going to be their tour guide. That would be unbearable.

The bus drove into what looked like a stableyard and parked. “WI REACH!” bawled the driver. “Evy’bady out! Take you bags. Dis bus leavin at tree-tirty, nobady mus late. If you stay a night at Edinburgh, duppy will GET you.” The tourists appeared dazed. Leigh reached for her backpack and was first out of the bus.

The stableyard was deserted. A low line of buildings enclosed the space on three sides and the ground was spread with raked gravel. A strange wooden structure, like an oversized door frame, stood in the middle of the open side of the square, next to an empty water trough. Some of the buildings were obviously stables, with painted half-doors, the top halves fastened open. Other buildings had closed doors and Leigh imagined they were offices or storerooms. There was a large stone ruin to one side and further away, she could see the remnants of a windmill with a huge rusty waterwheel. Leigh walked out of the yard and strolled a short way down the road. She could see the bones of old fences, mostly stone, some with wooden fence posts, leaning every which way, festooned with coiled barbed wire. The one canepiece she could see was perfectly fenced with a new stone wall.

She felt small, standing at the centre of the plantation, cupped in the valley. The land stretched away to the hills and she tried to imagine its conquest, the moment when someone — and who would that have been? — crested a hill and looked over the valley and said, I’ll have this. What would it have looked like — would the valley bottom have been covered in forest, would the trees have been huge, what kinds of animals would have roamed the land, would the Taínos have been found here? She tried to force her mind back to before the Taínos, and she tried to imagine the island rising out of the sea, and settling down in the sunlight to become what it had become. She imagined the people arriving in droplets and then in waves, beating themselves on the land, being absorbed by it, fighting for roots and fertile soil, then, finally, overwhelming it like a muddy river in spate. What would it be like to possess a valley like this, to look over it at daybreak, to fence it and order everyone out? Surely such possession would change the owner forever?

“Aii! Miss! Yes, you! Tour a start. Come over here!” Leigh turned and saw the driver waving. The tourists were huddled in a circle and there was a young woman standing with them, dressed in a long, bandana skirt, an off-the-shoulder white blouse, gold hoop earrings and a red headtie. She had rounded cheeks and full lips and her shoulders curved in the sun. Leigh walked over to the group. The woman dropped an awkward curtsey and said, “Welcome, Ma’am.”

“Leigh,” she said.

“Miss Leigh,” said the woman. “My name is Grace and I am your tour guide.” She began to address the group in a stilted, rehearsed manner. “We are pleased to welcome you to Edinburgh Plantation. Our tour will begin with the Great House and environs, then we will go to the ruins of the mill and factory. After that, we will go to visit some graves. Then we will go to the river for your swim and a picnic lunch will be served. Does anyone need to use a rest room before we begin?”

“Yes, please,” chorused the English quartet.

“Let’s go,” said the honeymooning man, staring at Grace.

“Were you really born here?” Leigh realised the fat woman was speaking to her.

“Hi. Yes. I was.”

“You don’t look Jamaican.”

Leigh wanted to say: what does a Jamaican look like? She responded mildly, “I know. But I am Jamaican.”

“It’s cool.”

Leigh thought the fat woman was talking about the temperature, and it was cool, up in the hills. “Yes. Might get hotter as the day wears on, though.”

“No, I mean it’s cool. Jamaica is cool. The music and all, and the way things are slow and nobody cares. I wish I’d been born here.”

“Where are you from again?”

“Ohio. I’m Jody, by the way,” she said holding out her hand.

Leigh took the hand, which was slippery with sweat and suntan lotion and felt like overripe fruit. “Leigh,” she responded. She supposed it was inevitable that the only other single woman would gravitate towards her.

The tour guide, Grace, led the small party up the hill to the Great House. Once they were out of the shade, they felt the heat of the sun on their heads. “Please put on your hat if you have one,” Grace said. “The sun in the tropics is very strong. When the first white people . . . ah, I mean the Europeans, when they came here, they found the heat very hard.” Although they were more than half way to the Great House, everyone rummaged in their bags and took out hats.

Grace stopped in front of the Great House. It cast a wide shadow and for a moment, Leigh’s vision dimmed and she closed her eyes. She felt dizzy and perhaps a little carsick. “This is the plantation Great House,” said Grace. “This is where the owners lived, while the slaves toiled in the fields below.” As she spoke, she gestured with movements that seemed choreographed. Leigh felt she had been selected for her good looks and was simply a wind-up doll. If she had hoped to learn something about the history of this place, it would not come from Grace. “The Europeans tried to copy the lives of wealthy people in England,” Grace said. “So they built houses made of stone in the Georgian style and they brought with them many luxuries. The furniture you are about to see are mostly reproductions, but there are a few original pieces I will point out to you. Please stay within the roped areas. Follow me.” She turned and led the way up the stairs to the half-open front door.

“I’m feeling a bit faint,” said one of the English women.

“It’s the walk,” said the other English woman. “Maybe we can get cup of tea inside.”

“A rum punch would be better,” said the aspiring water skier. “Can’t believe I missed a day on the beach for this.”

“It’s beautiful, though, don’t you think, honey?” said his wife.

“Huh,” he said, rejecting her attempts to placate him.

Leigh turned and looked at the valley, now laid out before her. Whereas before it had held her gently, now she floated above it. The land shimmered. It was green and restful to the eye, the pale blue sky arched overhead, storm clouds massed over the hills and sunshine gilded the land.

“Please Miss Leigh,” said Grace from her place in the massive open doorway. “Come this way. The group has to stay together.”

They walked through the Great House, with its marble floors and thick stone walls, its faded tapestries and glowing furniture. It had obviously been modernised at some point; there were electrical light fittings and modern glass windows and some of the floors were concrete. Leigh let Grace’s commentary flow over her and it was full of dates and rebellions and names. Leigh wondered where her father and stepmother lived — it seemed impossible that anyone could reside in such a lavish, ghostly residence.

Grace led the way through upstairs bedrooms with small four-poster beds and commodes and tables holding pitchers and basins. Leigh noticed a particularly elegant dressing-table made out of a light wood with a fine grain. “Is that mahogany?” she asked Grace.

“No, Miss. Yacca.”

“Never heard of yacca,” Leigh said.

“Used to be found in the Blue Mountains. Most of it was cut down to make furniture like this. This is one of the old pieces I told you about,” Grace said.

The Great House had modern bathrooms, but Grace said they had been installed later. “The slaves,” she said, “would have been responsible for emptying the commodes.” That is what wealth means, Leigh thought. Never having to confront your own bodily wastes. In all her life, she had flushed hers down a toilet. She imagined sitting on the wooden commode over the ceramic pot, letting down the hinged wooden top after, and then just walking away, leaving the odious contents for someone else to deal with.

The second-floor bedrooms all had sweeping views of the land through sash windows and Leigh imagined waking up to such vistas. She saw herself lying in bed, staring through the windows, awaiting the lightening of the dawn sky, and then watching as the landscape was illuminated. Maybe I’d have stayed in bed forever if I had not left Jamaica, she thought.

They toured the large outside kitchen with a replica of a cast iron stove big enough to hold a man in the oven and then the ruins of another building said to be the quarters of the house slaves. “Of course, the house slaves regarded themselves as better than the field slaves,” Grace explained. “The lighter-skinned you was, the more likely you was to be chosen as a house slave.”

“How did they get to be lighter-skinned?” Jody asked.

“Oh, the masters all took slave woman as their concubines and had many children with them,” said Grace. “In fact, some slave women encouraged their daughters to seduce the masters.” The man who wanted to go water skiing was watching Grace with hunger in his eyes. “When are we going to the river?” whined one of the teenagers.

Outside again, the group saw a shaded jitney, pulled by a tractor. A bareheaded elderly man wearing faded overalls sat in the driver’s seat of the tractor. A younger man wearing a white shirt, vest, and khaki trousers sat in the jitney. When he saw the visitors, he jumped out, fixed a smile on his face, and extended his hand to help them into the vehicle. “Welcome,” he said. “We go now to see more of the plantation and to the river.”

“Finally,” said one of the teenagers. Leigh took the man’s hand and as he helped her up, his vest gaped and she saw a hand gun stuck in his waist. He was their security guard. Probably the tour had been held up by gunmen at one time or another. Leigh knew that crimes against tourists were generally hushed up.

The jitney started down the hill, and initially, the visitors were enveloped with diesel fumes. The English quartet took out handkerchiefs and covered their noses. “I can’t breathe,” said the woman who had wanted tea.

“The smell will soon go away,” Grace said in her rehearsed manner.

As they came down the hill, the jitney headed away from the light wind and the fumes began to envelop the driver. He seemed unconcerned. They drove down gravel roads and the fields stretched away on either side, some dotted with spreading trees. “What kind of trees are those?” Jody asked Grace.

“Guango. The rain tree. After emancipation, Edinburgh was a cattle farm. The owners planted guango trees, because they have pods which can be used for animal feed.”

“Why the rain tree?” Leigh said. She had not heard this name before.

“Because is always greener under a guango tree, Miss.” Leigh looked and saw it was true, the grass in the shade of the guango trees was green and thick.

“That tree over there, now, that is a cotton tree,” Grace continued on the tree theme, pointing to another large tree with a grey, buttressed trunk and small canopy. “Slaves were buried under cotton trees and sometimes they were hung from them. Not on Edinburgh, though. This plantation used a gibbet and the place where the gibbet was hung is still in the stableyard where you came in.”

“What’s a gibbet?” said one of the teenage children, perking up at the thought of violence.

“A gibbet is a device used to torture the most rebellious slaves. It looked like a cage made in the shape of a person. The slaves were put in the gibbet and left to die of thirst and their bones were left there as a warning to other slaves,” said Grace.

“Cool!” said the teenager. “Can we see one?”

“There is a gibbet at the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston. It was found in Half Way Tree and the bones in it were thought to be those of a woman.”

“So there’s no gibbet here, then?” said the teenager, disappointed.

“No. Just the place where it was hung.” Leigh remembered the rectangular structure in the stableyard, the wood weathered like driftwood. “Now those trees over there are cedar trees,” said Grace, resuming a slightly less stilted commentary. “That’s where the planters were buried.”

The group fell silent. It was after midday and very hot. The jitney bumped along and every now and then, the visitors got a whiff of the diesel fumes. Leigh felt more and more carsick and wished she could walk. The jitney wound its way through fields, past fallen trees which lay on their sides, their roots sticking up at one end and a new trunk at the other. “Why are those trees like that?” asked one of the English women.

“Hurricanes,” Grace said. “Blown down in hurricanes. But if some of the tree roots were still in the ground, the tree did not die, just sent new branches straight-straight up.” Leigh smiled to herself; she liked the thought of trees which were blown down, their roots ripped out and exposed to a hostile environment, yet still they managed to hold on to the soil and send up new life. A tree tested in this way would surely survive future hurricanes, with its roots reaching in two opposite directions and its trunk measuring its length upon the earth.

The jitney stopped at the grove of cedar trees that Grace had pointed out previously, and the man with the gun jumped down and extended his hand to the visitors. Everyone climbed out and stood in the shade. There was a cluster of marble headstones under the trees and Grace began a long, uninteresting account of the various owners of the plantation. Leigh longed to be free of the tour. She wanted to retrace her steps to the cotton tree and see how the slaves had been buried. She wanted to look again at the place where the gibbet had hung. She wanted to see where her father lived. She wondered if she would recognise him. The tourists had seen only the people who were acting as guides — the plantation seemed nothing more than a stage. Apart from the two horses, they had seen no animals. And the field of cane was the only crop — a canepiece planted as teaching aid. Here the Great House, here the graves, there the cane that killed them all.

Leigh walked over to the driver of the tractor. “’Morning,” she said, wanting to separate herself from the voyeurism of the others. The driver looked down at her. “Mawnin, Miss,” he responded. His face was grizzled; his eyes lost in wrinkles.

“You from this area?” Leigh said.

The man nodded, but did not elaborate.

“What’s your name?” Leigh said.

“Banjo,” the driver said.

“How long you been working here?”

“Since me a boy.”

“You always drive the tractor?”

The man shrugged. Leigh saw he was uncomfortable with her questions. She would probably never know his story, at least not today. “Sure is hot,” she said, and she heard an American twang creep into her voice.

They reboarded the jitney and left the graves, heading down a shaded path towards the river. The tractor pulled up on a cleared and marled area and the visitors got out. Grace led the way down the path and Leigh heard the sound of water. Her spirits lifted. She was glad to escape the weight of the plantation — surely a swim in a river would be uncomplicated. She began to walk faster and rounded a corner ahead of the others. And there she saw the people of Edinburgh Plantation — all dressed for the part in bandana prints, all smiling, presiding over a mowed lawn under an enormous tree, the curving river as backdrop, standing behind a table spread with a white cloth and covered with food. Three men sat on stools, one with a drum, one with a banjo, and the other with a bamboo flute. As the visitors came into sight, they began to sing:

This is my island in the sun
Where my people have toiled since time begun . . .

And then Leigh saw her father, wearing a busha’s hat, just as she had imagined, dressed in a white shirt, jodhpurs, and riding boots — riding boots! — holding his hands wide in welcome to the tourists. His eyes met hers and instantly, she knew he recognised her.

“Lee-Lah?” he said, dropping his hands.

“Dad,” she answered.

An excerpt from the writer’s novel-in-progress, Huracan.


The Caribbean Review of Books, March 2011

Diana McCaulay is a Jamaican writer, newspaper columnist, and environmental activist. She has lived her entire life in Jamaica and engaged in a range of occupations: secretary, insurance executive, racetrack steward, mid-life student, social commentator, environmental advocate. She is the chief executive of the Jamaica Environment Trust and the recipient of the 2005 Euan P. McFarlane Award for Outstanding Environmental Leadership. Her debut novel, Dog-Heart, won first prize in the 2008 Jamaican National Literature Awards.