April 2020: Ivy Hall Review Features Epiphany Dames

Epiphany Dames

Epiphany was born and raised in Nassau, an island in the archipelago of The Bahamas. She spent much of her life surrounded by beautiful oceans and a world full of endless possibilities. Life in all its twists and turns took her to the University of the West Indies in Trinidad & Tobago where she spent four years pursuing a degree as a Doctor of Dental Surgery, but passion is a fickle thing. She found herself walking away from the prestige of being a doctor into the creativity of writing, which has given her the greatest experiences of her life. Epiphany is currently working on an anthology and a series of children’s books set in the early 90’s Bahamas to share with the world the true experience of Bahamian culture.


The Great Storm

The early September days failed to offer any respite from the heat that hung over the island for the last three months. While the hotness made the days feel sluggish, it was welcomed by the women in the neighborhood. The women of Seagrape moved from porches to yards with baskets of freshly washed clothes propped on their hips as they did every Saturday. Rows of wooden clothes pins dangled from their shirts and skirts and dresses as pants and socks and underwear were strung up on fishing lines. The drying lines, blue or green or clear, ran between houses, sometimes houses and trees.

As the women worked, they wiped beads of sweat from their foreheads and cheeks. They hung their handwashing with methodical precision. One clothespin to two pieces, until each family’s story could be told from the clothes that dried under the unforgiving sun. The gentle hums of their hymns that carried on the light breeze were silenced by the raucous laughter and screams of children who raced each other, bare feet on the scorching asphalt. The older girls in the neighborhood sat on their porches, with their younger sisters and girl cousins affixed between their legs. They worked combs and grease through hair into braids that would last the school week, maybe even two.

Mrs. Nora, my mummy’s best and longest friend, who lived across the street in the rusty orange colored clapboard house, walked over to our yard. She was a tall and slender woman with a complexion so smooth it looked like slick oil. She swayed as she walked beneath the large mango tree in her yard, her white cotton dress flowed around her lean frame. Her thick, curly hair escaped from its ponytail, but she hardly noticed. My mummy Ena, busied with her own washing, didn’t notice Mrs. Nora at first. Compared to her best friend, mummy was her polar opposite in the way of looks. She was fair skinned, like the ripened mangos that hung low and bountiful throughout Seagrape all summer. Mummy was also about six inches shorter than Mrs. Nora, so when the two stood side by side they could be mistaken for woman and child from a distance.

Mummy worked my blue school dress against the washboard with such focus that its wooden frame knocked into the base of the iron washtub. The tub sat on the white wooden bench and was anchored between her thighs and the trunk of our Guinep tree. The basket beside the tub held my new dresses, shirts and socks for school that was starting the next day. Normally, my dresses lasted for at least two school years but in the time that school dismissed in June to the end of summer, I had grown a head taller than the other third grade girls. My unexpected growth spurt called for new fabric and longer nights for mummy as she sewed newer more appropriate dresses. My school clothes were the last of mummy’s washing. She moved even more quickly on those, so that she could wash and tend to my hair in time, before preparing daddy’s supper.

“Ena!”

“Nora, gyal I ain see you dere,” mummy said as she straightened her back, and stood with an arm akimbo. Mrs. Nora kept walking down the slightly patchy slope of our front yard toward mummy with concern furrowing her delicate brows. Mummy dropped the dress into the soapy water, her thighs still pressed against the washtub and the washboard balanced on her stomach.

“Is alright, I only come to ask if you hear we ‘getting storm gyal?”

“Storm? No, I ain hear nuttin bout it, when?”

“Dey say early as tomora mawnin. Da weatherman say it on the radio just nah,” Mrs. Nora said as she swooped the bottom of her dress into a ball in her hands so that the hem wouldn’t catch in the dirt.

“Da good Lawd know we cyan take no storm bad so. Da weatherman say how strong it ga be?”

“Say it lookin like a category 5 Ena, we cyan bear no category 5, das death.”

“Help us, Fada God.”

Mummy went back to her washing, as she and Mrs. Nora talked through a list of supplies and food needed from Ms. Aggie’s market on the backroad. Mrs. Nora hung as mummy rinsed and wrung out the last of the load. With her arms weighted down by the wash tub and detergent, mummy hurried inside tossing the tub into the corner of the living room, while Mrs. Nora went home for her hat and bags to carry her groceries.

“Lucille!” Mummy’s voice trembled faintly as she called out my name. “I gatta run to da store wid Nora, stay here wid Ma Pat baby.”

I ran out of my grammy’s room in time to hear as more news broke over the radio tucked beneath Mrs. Nora’s arm. Mummy had put on a dry shirt and gathered empty bags and a basket. The radio said that the barometers on the island had dropped to their lowest pressure reading. The Great Storm, as it was called by the weather forecaster and radio host, was expected to make landfall in the early Monday morning hours. It would bring winds raging over 165mph and king tides that would make any road travels perilous. Seagrape was tucked in the heart of the Eight Mile Rock settlement on the island of Grand Bahama. The only way into or out of Eight Mile Rock was on the fishing hole road, a single carriage road that ran through large cut rock and across a narrow sand bank. I later learned that the fishing hole road would often become partially or completely submerged during high tide, but it wasn’t until I was able to tell the difference between high tides and king tides that I truly understood. Our survival had been nothing short of a miracle.

It wasn’t long before the bright, clear Sunday afternoon sky turned grey. Large dark swells of clouds rolled in and brought the men who worked on the fishing boats home with haste. Sheets of plywood, and scrap wood, rope and hammers and boxes with nails were carried on shoulders and heads. They shared the load amongst themselves. They battened down their clapboard homes and roamed throughout Seagrape to help the elderly, and the homes without men to attend to them. The houses that looked like they would buckle at the wind’s fury were made as safe as possible, and the occupants were vacated to the nearest, safest home. Families and neighbors, neighbors became families, even more than we already were.

My daddy, Louis, had made it home just as night fell. His tall frame with broad shoulders hunched over from clutching food while running down the street to the house.  He worked on the Zephyr, a one-hundred-foot-long sponging vessel that was the farthest from the shore and the last to get the word that the storm was on its way. By the time they had surfaced from diving the changed weather greeted them at the same time a small dingy that had skulled out to warn them got them to safety. When daddy got to the house old man Joe Bain, whose nightclub was next door, was battening down the last window of our house and daddy went to help hoist the sheet of plywood in place.

In the late Sunday night, early Monday morning hours, I was unsure of which it was, a loud crack of thunder split the sky and the rain began to beat down vengefully on our tin roof. The winds howled and with such terror that the air in our home was thick with silence and fear. I woke on the living room floor to the sound of knocking coming from the roof. At some point daddy moved me from Ma Pat’s bedroom and placed me on a cot, where mummy and Ma Pat sat praying and talking. Daddy sat closest to the front door. He had a stretch of rope tied to the door, knotted and anchored to one of the floorboards to keep it shut. Mummy only burned one kerosene lamp, unsure of how long we would need to stretch our supplies. It gave us just enough light to see in the living room. The smell of it burned my nose as I tried to rouse myself from sleep. I had begun to doze off again until a choral of thunder lashed the sky. Our entire house, with its weak wooden clapboard walls and cheap glass windows, rocked. I bolted upright, unsure if I had been dreaming until I felt mummy’s hand on my shoulder and her gentle voice reminding me that I was safe, and it was nothing more than thunder.

The wind and rain became so violent that time passed slowly, the lamp didn’t burn bright enough for me to see the clock that hung on the wall above mummy’s head. Minutes felt like hours, time barely moved. It was silent, the force of the wind and the thump of the rain the only sounds that carried through Seagrape until muffled screams and weak knocks were heard at the door. Daddy was hesitant to open it partly because he said no one in their right mind could be out there in this storm and partly because it took a lot of effort to undo the rope from the floorboard.

“Ena! Louis! Help, please!”

“Louie who you tink dat is?” Mummy asked in a voice no louder than a whisper for fear that the person had more nefarious motives that needing to be rescued.

“I cyan tell Ena, da voice too soft.”

“Ena! Please God, dis Nora!”

Mummy rushed out of the corner cot that she sat on, jumping over my head to help daddy release the rope and open the door. Daddy hung on to the rope as he opened the door, so he looked like he was in a determined tug-o-war, from the resistance the wind outside and the pressure inside the house created. Mrs. Nora was crouched down on the step, her daughter Rai, who was seventeen, slumped behind her grabbing fistfuls of her mother’s dress with one hand, holding on to the door frame with the other. Through the open door, the night sky was lit up so brightly from the lightening that we could see the trees that were still standing were bowing in the wind. The Seagrape tree that sat at the edge of our yard was completely gone and the Guinep tree branches were bent so low that it began to scrape the sides of our roof. Mrs. Nora’s roof had blown completely off of her house and was in flight across her open yard. It slammed and dragged across the ground before coming to a brief stop in the road. The plywood that secured her windows were barely hanging on to what was left of them as the elements wreaked havoc through the open roof.

Mummy grabbed Mrs. Nora with such a forceful yank that she and Rai came into the house with a tumble. She stepped over them grabbing the excess rope that dangled behind daddy to help shut and secure the door. Mummy held Mrs. Nora who wailed like a child, the dread in her cries sent chills down my spine. Ma Pat gave Rai a dry shirt that she had near at hand to wipe her face and arms and anything else that she could easily dry. I made room on my cot so she could lay with me. Rai was so silent that the only sound she made was deep breathing trying to calm herself. It was shock that was birthed in such fear that silence was the only imaginable response.

Mrs. Nora settled as more knocks came at the door. Daddy made no hesitation, and mummy sprang into action to help whoever was on the other side. Once they got the door released, Joe Bain, his wife and their baby girl were huddled together, Ms. Aggie wasn’t far behind them, crawling on her hands and feet, screaming for us not to shut the door. Aggie’s house collapsed; she was sitting by the door, so she was able to push it open before the structure fell and they all ran into the street. Our house was the closest for them to get to. We squeezed in tightly together as mummy and Mrs. Nora helped them get inside. Ma Pat got up, lit another kerosene lamp and went in search of dry clothing and sheets for them to dry and warm themselves as the water outside had come up to their knees. The baby cried until Ruby Bain was able to sit and rock her. Daddy and Joe Bain worked to close the door and moved to the back of the house to grab sandbags to prevent water from coming beneath the door as the flood water rose.

Our living room grew cramped, but no one complained. None of us were that concerned with personal space. We were concerned about life. Our lives and whether or not they would weather the night. We waited, in panicked quiet and hushed dread for the rain to stop and the winds to settle. We prayed, that the night would pass and leave us unscathed. But more screams from people in the neighborhood rose from so many directions outside of the house. We couldn’t help. We had blocked ourselves behind a small barrier of sand and bodies that had we opened the door again, it would be us outside crouched close to the ground in search of some safety. We wanted to, needed to help but reason rendered us immovable.

 

When we woke to stillness and sunlight breaking through the cracks in the house on Tuesday morning, we were filled with exhaustion. Daddy and Joe Bain moved the sandbags one by one to prevent any water from rushing in if it had risen any more since the door was last open. Mummy grabbed me, stopping me from reaching the door when she heard daddy scream as he walked out. He stumbled back in, clutching his chest.

“It’s gone,” he said through jagged breaths.

“What gone, daddy?”

He fell to the ground his eyes came level to mine and he reached out and held my face. He tried to calm himself enough to respond but the moment he looked at me, he cried out in an anguished voice “Ery ting.”

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