[2004 Young Explorer Wadadli Youth Pen Prize Second Placed Writer]
The air is moist and heavy with the smell of roasted corn and Friday night
chicken – pure tropical. The streets of Antigua glow with houses
flamboyantly covered in Christmas lights. Tree frogs chirp like wound up
music boxes after a light evening shower.
Slowly my father presses his foot on the brake as we approach a speed
bump. My cousin Kelsey and I jolt slightly in the back of the ancient
pickup truck. As we draw closer to Cobbs Cross Corner, we begin to feel the
bass before it’s even possible to hear the music, suggesting the real
night life is just ahead.
My mother had sent us to go pick up my older brother for dinner, and I’d
eagerly agreed to go; I thirsted for my home culture after months of
We could hear the sound of music now; a song by Wayne Wonder and T.T.
Miss, one that I have to close my eyes and listen to for old time’s sake.
‘I don’t wanna talk about what I had be-fore, so what I wanna do right now,
is love you ever more, ba-by’.
As we round the corner, a hiss rings through the air,
I open my eyes abruptly; the sound is so familiar, yet so foreign. A group of boys are on the curb, some sitting, some standing, but all moving to the music. A car’s electric blue
headlights cast swimming shadows. A couple more hisses follow, accompanied
by an “ay, babey!”
‘Of course,’ I think, ‘white girls in a black country.’
I look away from them, tense and self-conscious. My actions remind me of
an English friend that visited. She loved the beaches as much as I do – as
much as every tourist does – though when hissed at, she’d blush furiously.
I felt her insecurity of wanting them to keep giving me attention mixed
with the embarrassment.
“I’d almost forgotten that sound,” I say to my cousin, though it sounds much more bitter than I’d intended. I also missed it.
“I wonder when the tradition started,” she replies.
“Ever hissed at them?” she asks, smiling cheekily.
“I dare you to when we pass back.” She winks at me.
I think about it for a minute, and then agree. “You’re on,” I say, winking
My brother hurries down the stairs, jumps in the cab, and slams the door.
The whole truck rattles; its years are numbered.
After we pull out onto the main road, the music slowly comes back into
hearing range. A different song is playing now, one I don’t know. I can
glimpse the lights from the Corner as it approaches. My heart is pounding
with anticipation of their reaction. Am I sure I don’t know any of the
people? After all, it is dark.
As we draw level with the group, I hiss at them long and loud without
hesitation. Their reaction is unexpected; a second of silence which is
quickly broken by an uproar of cheering and crazy hissing. Some comments
are thrown in as well: “Ay baby!” and “Where you goin’?” The English girl
would have been proud of me.
Night swallows them up as we fly out of sight, my dad speeding along. My
cousin laughs deep and I join in.
“Merass, yu tek ahn dey!!” She yells it out loud in dialect. You took them
I remember the days when I had been the only white girl in my class, when
I possessed that child’s non-judgmental, accepting mind. As the ring of
our laughs join together, I realize that child in me would never die.
I lift my face to the sky, and inhale deeply. A sweet smell fills my
lungs. The scent of frangipani suggests there is one blooming nearby.
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