Once upon a time, in a big big Canadian city named Tkaronto, (or Toronto, or the 6ix, depending on who you ask), lived a young African-Caribbean queen named Octavia, (or Tavy, or Tav, depending on who you ask). Now, let’s keep it 100, Tavy’s life was far from a fairy tale… She lived on the twelfth floor of a raggedy downtown Toronto Community Housing apartment, with her overly strict father, a religious stepmother that she hated, and her three younger siblings; she worked at a chain restaurant located far far away in Mississauga, a suburb west of the city, and, at the tender age of nineteen, she had yet to meet a king in real life, as in, outside of the ones that she would regularly see on TV, of course. Hold on... When we say “king”, we’re not talking about dem Londonian royalty, about Charles and Camilla and alla dem, we’re talking about a King, as in a Toronto man, one that Tavy imagined could make her heart melt and give her butterflies in the belly like in the movies. And when we say “movies”, we’re not talking about “Titanic” or “The Notebook” and what not, we’re talking about real heartbreaking long ass love stories with twists and cliffhangers, like the ones you see on VH1 and in the telenovelas. Neal Winters and Drucilla Barber type of shit… The real deal, nah mean?
But anyway... Like any other self-respecting nineteen year-old queen raised in Toronto, every summer, Tavy had only one thing in mind: taking part in the city’s big yearly Caribbean Carnival, affectionately known by every Torontonian as “Caribana.” (Greedy evil foolish people at City Hall had tried to change that name many times over the years for reasons that Tavy didn’t always understand or support, and that were still heavily discussed by her maternal uncles during domino games every Sunday, but for Tavy, just like for anyone else with sense in the big city of Toronto, the carnival was and would always be referred to as “Caribana.”) If you’d ask Tavy, carnival was like a time where Heaven would come down to Earth. Literally. The glittery costumes, the unbridled joy, the infectious music... Everything seemed wonderfully appealing and fascinating to her young girl’s eyes, and every year, she would wish for nothing more than to take part in the glorious festivities. There was just one big issue though: her overly strict father and her very religious stepmother were totally against it. It was an absolute no for them. Never. Not a chance. A “young-lady-have-you-lost-your-mind-as-long-as-you-live-in-this-house…” type of situation. This didn’t make sense for Tavy, as she knew for a fact that her father used to go to the celebrations every year back in the day… She had seen the old pictures of him and her late mom at her aunt’s house. Auntie Shelley, her mom’s older sister, lived in Scarborough, in the eastern part of the city, and, when Tavy would come and visit her, she would often open her photo albums and show her old pictures of her parents in their prime. Her dad looked like the typical African exchange student on them: very serious, with his big glasses on, and a suit that looked way too small for him, while her mom was the quintessential Island girl, in all her glory, always smiling from ear to ear and posing for the camera. There was even a picture of the two of them holding her as a baby, in a cute mini carnival outfit.
“You were not even walking when your parents took you to your first Caribana,Tavia. These were the days… Good times! But your dad… You know, after your mom passed, he changed. Pain would do that to you sometimes…”
Then Auntie Shelley would close all the photo albums, let out a long sigh, and switch topics. She would go busy herself in her kitchen, and give Tavy a taste of everything that was boiling and deep frying in her magic pots. At the end of the day, she would always make extra plates of callalloo, king fish and plantains for Tavy to take away, — as she knew those were her niece’s favourites — and, before saying goodbye, she would inevitably ask:
“Am I seeing you at the parade this year, miss Tavy?”
“Maybe next year auntie, maybe next year,” Tavy would always reply.
She would try her best not to show it, but the young girl was deeply embarrassed by the fact that she had never been allowed to play mas at Caribana. To put it like the youngsters do, she was embarrassed as fuck... And with reasons. Already, she had never been part of the “cool kids” of her neighborhood, — she’d never had the nails, the cool hairstyles, the latest brands... Her parents were strict in that department too, so most of the year, she would just stick to a pair of baggy jeans and some no-name sneakers, — but her visible absence during the city’s summer celebrations had made her the butt of the jokes of all the youth from her neighborhood. And with her coworkers, it was even worse, the other young Black girls would enjoy nothing more than to tease her relentlessly:
“You’re still not coming to the parade this year, Tavy?”
“Nah, Tavy has to go to Bible prayers.”
“Tavy thinks she too good for Caribana, eh?”
“Can she even take a wine?”
“Tavy a church lady, she can’t dance to save her life…”
Usually, despite the mean comments, Tavy would always try to keep focused on her work, clean her tables and say nothing, but this year, for some reason, as the carnival kept approaching, she’d started becoming slightly more and more irritable each day. Everyone would go on her nerves all the time, and it had become more and more difficult for her to endure the daily public roasting silently. Finally, the night before Caribana, during a late shift, as her coworkers were starting once again with their annoying jokes, a very exasperated Tavy clapped back at her harasser-in-chief, another Black girl named Denise.
“Bitch, I can wine better than you! If I cross the stage, the judges won’t even know you exist.”
There was a sudden silence in the room, as everyone stood there in shock. Had Tavy just fought back with some words? Lil Tavy from downtown? Had she just snapped at Denise? A girl whose fierce reputation was known from the west end to the east end of the city? No, that could not be… It was clean up time at the restaurant, the doors had closed already, so the incident was giving everybody the opportunity to just stop whatever they were doing, and come closer to the scene to evaluate the situation for themselves. A dozen employees, most of them of Caribbean descent, were now waiting for Denise’s reaction after that diss. And, though she was trying hard to maintain her cool, the young lady couldn’t hide the bulging vein that had appeared out of nowhere on her forhead, as she replied out loud:
“Oh really little girl, do you have a band? Do you have a costume? Cause Bana is tomorrow, and I don’t see how you gonna cross the stage without a band? And bitch, who gonna help you make your costume? Your mama?”
Denise put her fingers in front of her mouth as if she was sorry not sorry for what she had just said.
“Oops, I almost forgot…”
Tavy was furious and about to throw a punch on Denise’s disrespectful face, but a young man prevented her from doing so at the last minute. It was Jayvon, her childhood best friend, who had come to separate the two girls before things got physical. He was a former victim of bullying himself, due to his short stature and frail body when they were younger, but he had since grown a few inches taller and developed a great wit, so people were less and less enclined to mess with him. His mom was the religious kind too, and she would get along very well with Tavy’s stepmom, so the two teens had built a long-time friendship over the years through bible study groups, church camps, and watching weekend animes. Jayvon was actually the one who had helped Tavy found that current job.
“Girl, calm down. You want to get fired over this foolishness?” he said, trying to be the voice of reason. “It’s not worth it, Tav. You need this money. We all do…”
But, not far from them, Denise was still going on; other people were gassing her up, and her mouth was pretty activated now:
“I bet you a hundred bucks that you won’t be able to cross the stage tomorrow, babygirl,” she continued out loud.
But Tavy was not in the mood to back down…
“Make it two hundreds, boo. I can’t wait to pay my bills with your hard-earned money.”
“It’s two hundreds and fifty then, and fuck you very much,” Denise replied, and she gave Tavy the middle finger.
“Oh, you wish you could have some of this huh,” Tavy bragged, while grabbing her crotch. “Ok for two fifty then. And don’t forget to kiss my ass tomorrow when I’m on stage.”
The girls could have gone back and forth like that for hours, but Ahmed, a tall and slim young man, who was also the restaurant’s Assistant Manager, emerged from his office to come shut things down very quickly.
“Did I hear someone start any trouble here?” he asked, not impressed by all the hoopla.
Everyone kept silent. Ahmed continued:
“I don’t care who did what, where, and to whom… If everything in here is not pristine clean within the next twenty minutes, you are ALL getting a fine. Are we clear?”
All the employees muttered a barely audible “yes”, before grudgingly returning to their individual tasks. But, despite Ahmed’s threat to give a fine to everyone involved, the room was still buzzing with conversations from people betting on what would or would not happen at the parade the next day. Some people had even recorded the whole interaction between the two girls on Instagram live, and #Youwishyoucouldhavesomeofthis and #DenisevsTavy were already trending in the 6ix on social media…
Later on, in the bus that was bringing them back to the city, Jayvon aired all his frustrations out loud to his friend.
“Girl, are you out of your damn mind right now? What was all of that? You tryna get us all fired or what?”
Tavy seemed lost in her thoughts. Usually, she was pretty chatty with her friend on the bus, but today she had been barely replying, and with monosyllables only. And it was only after Jayvon’s strong insistence that she agreed to talk about her ealier altercation.
“Denise is an idiot,” she said, stating the obvious. “She needed to be taught a lesson…”
Jayvon was shaking his head.
“A lesson that’s gonna cost you two hundred and fifty, my nigga!”
Tavy looked at him, clearly disappointed.
“Oh so you’re doubting me now? Since when?”
But Jayvon was already fed up with his friend’s antics.
“Girl, don’t start yo…”
There were a few seconds of silence as the two friends tried to ignore one another, Tavy looking out through the window without saying a word, while Jayvon kept looking at his phone, then, after heaving a big sigh, the young man finally asked:
“So what’s the plan, big head?”
Tavy turned towards him, and replied with a smirk.
“Can you pick me up tomorrow morning, and pretend like we’re going to work?”
Jayvon immediately started shaking his head again.
But Tavy looked like she had already made up her mind, whether her friend was going to help her or not, so Jayvon added:
“First of, why? Why would I do that? What’s in it for me?”
“A hundred bucks, maybe? If everything goes as planned…” Tavy replied, doing some quick calculations in her head.
Jayvon pretended to be offended.
“A hundred? Dude! Like, we’re not even doing half and half?”
Tavy burst out laughing.
“Who’s taking all the risks here? Gotta keep one fiddy for me!”
Jay was still shaking his head no, but the big smile on his face was confirming that he was indeed all in. Tavy jumped on the opportunity to ask him:
“Also, can you bring a needle and a thread from your dad’s shop when you pick me up tomorrow?”
Jayvon frowned. His dad was a taylor who owned a small business downtown, in the Regent Park area.
“Yo! My dad ain’t your personal taylor, bruh.”
“Do you wanna go half and half, or nah?” Tavy said, in her best bargaining voice. “Come on, you gotta give me at least something!”
Jayvon sighed once again.
“Oh boy… I don’t know what mess you’re bringing me in…”
Tavy smiled from ear to ear.
“The best mess…”
The next day, as had been agreed upon, Jay showed up at Tavy’s house at 7:30 a.m. sharp. He was wearing his restaurant uniform and everything, as if the both of them were indeed going to work. Tavy had told her parents that their schedule had changed (it happened all the time), and that they had picked up an extra shift over the weekend to cover up for some other employees, which was only half-true... It was the long weekend, and the restaurant was busier than usual. But other people, not them, had been on the call sheet for the day, as she and Jay had already done more than enough overtime over the past month.
Though it was a plausible lie, the “extra shift” situation immediately raised Tavy’s stepmother’s suspicions. She definitely knew how to recognize a half-truth when she saw one, especially on a Caribana Saturday. So, as soon as Jay showed up at their doorsteps, she started grilling the two of them quite intensely.
“What time will you guys be coming home tonight?”
“Same as yesterday, Ma,” Tavy replied. “We work until the restaurant closes.”
She was trying to make her voice sound as innocent as possible, but her hands were sweating, and her heart was beating fast. She was wearing her usual large pair of jeans and a dark brown t-shirt; but she knew that if, for some reason, her stepmom were to inquire what was in her backpack that day, or even worse, ask her to open it, her whole “most awesomest carnival masterplan” was gonna be over before it even got the chance to get started. And she would have to say goodbye to the two hundred and fifty dollars. And the girls at work were going to make her life a living hell for days. Or, let’s be realistic, for months…
Tavy’s dad was in the living room as well, sitting on his chair and reading the newspaper, like every morning, but still observing the whole thing. Jayvon was standing there, looking anxious as fuck, but still trying his best to have his “Tavy-and-I-are-going-to-work-and-absolutely-nothing-else-today” poker face on. That face and his forced smile were kind of the same face that he used to make as a child when he was about to do a prank on someone at church, so nobody in the room was buying it, and especially not Tavy’s stepmother. Something was off, and she was about to find out what.
“Your backpack seems a little light, young lady,” she commented, looking at Tavy like she could see right through her. “You sure you have everything you need for the day?”
Tavy was feeling like her back was totally against the wall. She wondered if admitting defeat now was the best thing to do, in order to avoid the harsh punishment that would undoubtedly follow once their plan was going to be discovered. But luckily for her and Jay, against all odds, this is the moment where her dad chose to step in. His deep voice filled the entire living room.
“Let them go, Honorine…”
His wife turned towards him, totally caught off guard. Tavy and Jay looked at each other, speechless.
“Let them go,” Tavy’s dad said again, a little more firmly this time. “Let’s not make the kids late. It’s the long weekend... Traffic is gonna be crazy.”
“Maybe the kids need us to drop them off at the station then?” Tavy’s stepmom asked, trying to switch strategy on the fly. She didn’t want to lose face.
“No auntie, we’re good,” Jay replied hastily, with the fake voice that would always come along with his fake smile.
Tavy’s stepmother shrugged, sensing that her fight was a lost cause this time. But still, she insisted on giving them both a threatening look.
“Alright, then. Octavia, you heard your dad. And you guys better not be late tonight, or…”
Octavia had to force herself not to smile when she interrupted her stepmother to reply:
“Thanks Ma! No, we won’t be late tonight.”
Then she and Jay opened the door and left.
“See you later!”
As soon as that entrance door closed, the two friends exchanged a handshake and grinned. The first part of their most awesomest masterplan was working! And, of course, they didn’t even try to make it to the bus stop that would have brought them to their workplace, but hopped on the bus that was going straight towards the Dufferin Gate instead, aka the main entrance of the carnival festivities.
Jay started showing excitement right there on the bus. They were surrounded by people already in their carnival costumes, who were busy studying the parade route map, texting their friends to find out where everybody was, or gluing things together for their costumes at the last minute... There were also several groups of foreigners who kept nervously asking the locals if this was indeed the right bus to go see the Caribbean carnival. Some youth sitting at the back were already making boomerang videos for their Instagram account. Jay was taking everything in, as if he wanted to remember the smallest details from that bus ride forever… Then, after a few minutes of staring at everything and everyone, he turned towards his friend and asked her the question that he had been burning to ask since earlier that morning.
“So? Did it fit?”
“Of course it did!” Tavy replied, without batting an eye. “My auntie is a pro!”
She raised the top of her t-shirt, and flashed a beautiful yellow and orange carnival bra in front of her friend. She was wearing a full costume under her regular clothes, minus the leg bands and arm bands which were still in her backpack. That carnival costume was an old gift from her aunt Shelley. She had offered it to her for her seventeeth birthday behind her parents’ back, in the hope that Tavy would one day wear it to come to the carnival. The young girl had kept it carefully hidden in her closet for close to two years, never really thinking that the day would come where she would be able to wear it, but staying hopeful nevertheless. And now, that day was finally there…Jay looked like he was still missing a piece of the puzzle though.
“Why did you need a thread and a needle then?” he asked, after admiring his friend’s custom-made bra.
Tavy opened her backpack and took a tiara and a piece of jewelry out of it. The tiara seemed like it belonged with the rest of her costume, but the jewelry, a triangle-shaped green piece that was made out of jade, was an original one.
“Is that your mom’s jewelry?”
“Yes, and I’m gonna add it to this tiara.”
She picked the thread and the needle from her friend’s hands, and started sewing. The jade was already glued to a small piece of fabric, which made the sewing easier.
“What about you?” Tavy asked, while working on her piece. “What are you wearing, or, should I say, who are you wearing today, mister?”
“I’m wearing Jayvon, baby!” her friend replied with a smirk. “A Jaycreation!”
They both started laughing.
Then Jayvon explained:
“No, seriously... Who got half a G to invest in a costume? I have some red shorts going on under my pants right now… I just need to find some jewelery and some arm bands, and that’s it! My uncles always say that people lose all kind of stuff on the road during the parade. I just have to be patient, man... Then I’ll pick whatever I can find to embellish this Apollon’s body!”
He stroke a pose and added:
They both erupted in laughter… Soon, their bus arrived at the steps of the Dufferin Gate, and all the passengers started to get off. The streets were already full of people, especially around the main entrance. Babies, teenagers, adults, elderly…the line up at the gate was intense, and it was not even nine o’clock yet… Plenty of street vendors, always on the lookout for good business and quick money, were already setting up their tables as well to sell a plethore of accessories, bottles of water, food and snacks, in front of the entrance gate. Some police cars were making themselves visible too. The whole city was about to get into carnival mode, and, for the first time, Tavy and Jayvon were about to witness it in person.
The festivities were not free of charge though. Many masqueraders had had to pay up to five hundred dollars for their costumes, or sometimes even more, and so their entrance fee was already taken care of, as part of the deal made with their respective bands; they simply had to show their official group’s bandwrist to enter the premises. The people who were only there to watch the parade had to pay a twenty dollars entrance fee though. Jay, like many people in the city, was in disagreement with that mandatory fee, so he had come ready to forgo it, and was prepared to “jump the fences.”
“Carnival is for the people, yo. We’re not paying no entrance fee. You know the parade used to be free, right?” he told his friend.
Tavy sighed. Jay sounded just like her maternal uncles right now. As far as she was concerned, she would have rather paid the full entrance fee, and avoided any trouble. But that was the one thing that Jay could just not let go.
“Come on Tav, it’s a matter of principle.”
He had heard from a group of friends, but really, all the youth from Toronto knew this, that you could walk a little west outside of the main entrance, and find a quiet spot to jump over the fences that had been put in place by the city. Tavy looked a little worried.
“You sure about this?”
But Jay looked like he had everything under control.
“Yeah, big head, just follow me.”
They made a right turn on the street just before the main entrance, and started following a group of five or six youth that looked a little older than them. They obviously had no intention of paying the twenty dollars entrance fee either. After not even a five minute-walk, the youth found an appropriate spot where to jump the fences. They had to do that quickly though, before getting caught either by the police, or by the carnival’s security patrol. The more experimented youth jumped at the speed of light, and with a quite impressive agility. But, as Jay and Tavy quickly realized, that thing was easier said than done; after two or three trials, Jay landed quite less than gracefully on his butt, while Tavy’s jeans almost got stuck in the fences’ wire, before she managed to join him safely on the ground. However, once she found herself on the other side of that fence, oh boy, that feeling, that indescribable feeling of freedom and liberation that invaded her whole body… It was everything! The Caribana adrenaline started rushing right through her veins, pumping new blood through her heart, and filling her brain with the freshest oxygen... She closed her eyes, took a deep breath in and exhaled slowly. Yes, she was meant to be there. She just knew it from within… When she opened her eyes, Tavy realized that Jay seemed like he had succumbed to that same Caribana fever. The music was already coming out loud from several big trucks around them, and the general vibe was amazing. The two friends jumped in the air and high fived each other.
“First time caribanaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!” they screamed, already way too excited.
This was better than everything they could have ever imagined… And the both of them were busy screaming and jumping in the air so hard, that they almost didn’t notice that a security guard was coming their way.
“If you’re not playing mas, get on the left side of the road!”
He was pushing the regular audience members to the side to make room for the official masqueraders. The first band had already started hitting the parade’s route, and a couple of guards were trying to prevent people from storming the mas uninvited. Jay got on the sidewalk promptly, but Tavy was not paying attention. She was still reveling in the fact that they had made it inside the carnival’s premises without too much trouble. The security guard had to grab her arm to gently move her to the side.
“If you’re not playing mas, get on the side of the road. The road is for the masqueraders only.”
Tavy finally heard him the second time around. And, as she tried to free her arm from his hold, their eyes interlocked inadvertently. He was a tall black man, with deep dark skin and a short afro. He was wearing a security arm band on his arm and talking with authority, but his youthful face was revealing that he could not be more than nineteen or twenty years old; twenty one maximum maybe. He and Tavy looked at each other for what seemed like the longest second ever, before being rudely interrupted by Jayvon, who came and grabed his friend’s other arm to push her by his side.
“Got it, chief. We’re staying on that side of the road.”
As soon as he said that, the security guard disappeared, just like by magic. Tavy was even beginning to wonder if she had dreamt the whole interaction when Jay commented:
“Girl, we don’t want no trouble with security today. Time to go change into our costumes! I think I’ve found some great stuff already… People do really lose their things everywhere. It’s not a legend… Let’s go!”
They walked towards the closest washrooms, and used them as Superman would use a phone booth to get into their carnival costumes. When they exited, Tavy was in bright yellow, green and orange, with her tiara sitting on top of her afro puff, while Jayvon had on a pair of red shorts, along with some cool orange arm bands and a golden waist band. He had even found a huge green necklace to complete his outfit when they had passed by the Dufferin Gate. Together, they looked like the Afro-Caribbean version of Batman and Robin. Sort of…
“Dude… Harlequin called; he wants his costume back!” Tavy joked, looking at her friend.
“Hell no,” Jay replied. “There’s no lost and found at Caribana, baby! What gets lost on the road, stays lost on the road.”
They both laughed.
“Ok, and now what are we doing?” Tavy asked. “Should we just go behind a truck and start jumping?”
The first band had taken over the road already. It was a very big band called “Alegria”, and its truck was followed by seven or eight large masqueraders’ sections, all in different costumes, with people loudly jumping and dancing everywhere.
“Girl, don’t you know nothing about Caribana? First we eat, and then we start jumping!” Jayvon explained.
He had done his research on all things carnival, mainly through listening time and time again to his Jamaican cousins and uncles’ stories. So first, he proceeded to go buy doubles from an old street vendor who had set up his table not too far from them. Jayvon was against paying the carnival’s regular entrance fee, but one thing was for sure, he always had money for doubles.
“At least, this goes directly into the man’s pockets,” was his reasoning.
He and Tavy stopped on the right side of the road and stuffed their faces with the delicious and spicy west indian treat for a couple of minutes, while looking at the crowd getting bigger and bigger in front of them. They also started noticing that a lot of photographers, professional and amateur alike, were taking plenty of pictures of the masqueraders. This got Jay a little worried.
“Tav, what are we gonna do we do if someone takes our pic, and we find ourselves on the cover of some magazines, or even worse, on some kind of TV show?”
This was a valid concern. Tavy had thought about it too. Social media-wise, they were fine, both of their parents hated technology, and definitely didn’t know how to use social media. But TV and newspapers were a whole other story…
“We gotta do what we gotta do,” she replied. “I don’t know... We’re certainly gonna be grounded for the next five months… or the next five years…You cool with it?”
“Sure, as long as we at least get some fun today. And some water... Man, I’m so thirsty after all this food.”
Tavy motioned for him to wait for her for a few seconds.
“Alright. This one is on me.”
She went to grab a bottle of water from a middle-aged Caribbean lady who was handing them freely to the masqueraders. She was a volunteer with “Alegria”, the band that had hit the road first, and one of her tasks was to make sure that everyone who was part of that band would stay hydrated all day. But when Tavy approached her, the water lady became instantly suspicious.
“What group are you with, young lady?” she asked, looking at Tavy and her costume from head to toe. “Water is free for our band members only.”
“I’m with Alegria,” Tavy replied, boldly.
“Oh really, Alegria?”
The way the water lady raised her eyebrows while saying these words was enough to let Tavy know that she was in no mood to play Boo Boo The Fool. The old lady also looked at Jay, who was confidently walking behind his friend, with his multicolor Harlequin costume on, even though Tavy had asked him to wait for her at their other spot.
“What section are you guys with?” the water lady asked.
Tavy hesitated for a quick second.
“We are with… we are with… the Black Orpheus,” she improvized, shamelessly.
“There’s a section here called Black Orpheus?” the water lady asked, still looking at her.
“Yes,” Tavy confirmed, trying to sound confident while lying through her teeth.
The water lady burst out laughing.
“That’s a good one! You made it up, but that’s a good one, girl.”
She handed her a bottle of water.
“First time masqueraders?”
Tavy and Jay nodded their heads yes.
The lady handed a second bottle of water to Jay too, and lowered her voice so that only him and Tavy would hear what else she had to say.
“You kids be careful on the road today, alright? It’s gonna be a hot and looooong day. I don’t want to hear about no fainting business. We’re here to have a good time only. So, whenever you thirsty you come to me, alright? I’ll give you some more free water.”
Then she waved at them, and left to go give some bottles of water to the other masqueraders.
“Thank you ma’am,” Tavy said.
“Yes, thank you, thank you!” Jay seconded her.
He drank his water all at once and, now that his thirst had been quenched, he solemnly declared:
“And now, we’re ready for di road!!!!!”
And ready they were indeed... For first time masqueraders, the two friends understood very quickly how the parades’ rules worked, and how to blend in with everyone. The rule was that there was no rule… The hours that followed were therefore full of dancing and jumping. Dancing and more jumping. Tavy and Jay shared the road with a whole lot of different bands and sections, going from one truck to another, dancing with men and women alike, having fun and singing along to all the soca songs they knew, as well as to the all the ones they had never heard about (they were allegedly allowed to listen to sacred music only at home, but their parents had long been unable to prevent them from watching music videos on Youtube, and earplugs were a magical invention indeed). The more Tavy and Jay were losing up, the less people were questioning if they were official masqueraders or not. Jay had even found a whistle on the ground, and he was using it loudly while wining his waist, while Tavy had ended up with a Trini flag that she was proudly waving in the air just like everyone else. It really felt like the both of them had totally forgotten why they were even there in the first place, when Tavy suddenly pushed her friend roughly to the right side of the road.
“Hide, Jayvon! Quick, quick, hide!”
She looked like she had just seen a ghost.
Jay wasn’t happy about being shoved around.
“What’s up with you again? Why do you have to keep interrupting my wine?”
Tavy pointed at a crowd of masqueraders.
“Denise! It’s Denise and them! That’s their truck. They can’t see us now, remember? Not until we’re ready to cross the stage…”
Jay suddenly realized what was happening and helped pushing the both of them even further away from the road. The two friends quickly found a good spot to hide among the bystanders, one where they were still able to observe everything that was happening on the road, without too much risking being seen. At the sight of their coworkers’ band, Jay’s jaw almost dropped on the ground. “Caribbean Sweetness,” the name of their official truck, had taken over the parade in style. Their colleagues’ specific section was called “Flamboyance”, and one had to admit that they had been aptly named… Their costumes were off the hook. Beautiful pink and salmon well designed pieces, with some jewelry to die for, and headpieces and feathered wings that made them all look magnificent… Among them, Denise was particularly stunning. Her whole outfit was on point, and even her nails had been done with colors that were matching the band’s official costumes. Tavy was not saying anything, but Jay could see in his friend’s eyes that she was already kinda feeling defeated. All her bravado from a few hours earlier seemed to have faded away. Jay took her by the hand, and led her even further away from the road. Tavy only tried to stop him flabbily.
“Dude, what you doin? They’re not even done yet…”
“It’s ok, I got you,” Jay replied gently.
Tavy was still trying to look back at the parade.
“I got you,” Jay repeated, and he kept walking away, until they ended up leaving the road entirely.
The parade was organized along the city’s lakeshore, and, if someone would walk five to seven minutes away in that direction, they could easily reach the Lake Ontario’s boardwalk. Plenty of families and carnival participants would do just that every year, especially when in need of fresh air. There was a little more free space over there too. Torontonians and long time carnival goers would often come over on that side to sit down and have a picnic, which, of course, would attract some street vendors who would set up their tables in that area too. After finding a good spot for them, Jay instructed Tavy to wait for him there for a short period of time.
“I’ll be back. Don’t move.”
He disappeared for a couple of minutes, then came back with some samosas, two plates of curry chicken roti, and some cookies for them both. He took a t-shirt from his backpack and put it on the grass for Tavy to sit on, and then used that same backpack as a seat for himself. Tavy still had no idea what her friend had in mind, but, after they both finished eating their food, he further explained himself:
“Now you know I’m the one who does the hair for all my little sisters, right?”
Tavy instinctively touched her afro puff. It was not the most sophisticated hairstyle, but it was the one that she was used to wear. Plus, she was extremely tender-headed.
“Jay, I’m good…,” she tried to argue.
Jay sucked his teeth loudly.
“Girl, sit down and thank me later…”
He went to wash his hands, then proceeded to undo Tavy’s afropuff. Within an hour or so, he turned her hair into a work of art made of intricate cornrows, two strand twists and mini afropuffs. When he placed the tiara back on her head as the final touch, Tavy looked like a goddess hailing straight from Heaven. Jay took his cell phone out, so that Tavy could look at herself directly in his camera’s mirror. She barely recognized herself. That hairstyle was definitely enhancing all of her features. Her dark cheekbones were popping, her high forehead had found a new glow... She looked really good...
“Now who you gotta thank?” Jay bragged. “Are we going after them two hundreds and fifty or nah?”
And he started singing:
We nuh frighten fi nobody
But we respect everybody
And we badder than everybody
So me will run weh anybody
He proceeded to do a little dance, and Tavy cracked up at his Konshens’ impersonation as he screamed:
Nuh boy nuh badder than we!!!!
“Boy, stop it!”she laughed.
They took some selfies as proof and memories of that joyful moment, then it was time for them to return to the parade road. However, before they left, Tavy insisted to pick up their empty plates and to go throw them in a garbage can.
“Girl, just leave that on the grass… Who cares?” Jay said, mindlessly.
“I care,” Tavy replied.
The grass was full of garbage that people would leave there for the carnival’s clean up team to come and pick up, but just the thought of this non-environment-friendly attitude was making Tavy cringe.
“ Just wait for me here for two seconds,” she said.
She went to look for a garbage can a little further away, as the one close to where they were sitting was already quite full. As she was approaching a can that looked like it had a little more capacity, all of a sudden, she stopped. Her heart just skipped a bit. There he was, a mere six feet away… The security guard from this morning! Tall, black, and obviously still handsome... He was having what seemed like a pleasant conversation with another guard, drinking water from a bottle, and smiling in between sentences. Awwwww!!!! What a gorgeous smile… And each time he was bringing the bottle to his lips, you could see his biceps muscle flex under his tight black t-shirt. Was he on a break? Or was he done with his duties for the day maybe? And wait, why was this whole scene playing in slow motion now? Tavy was pondering what to do next… The guard had not seen her yet, but if she kept walking in his direction, he would definitely do. And then what? Would he recognize her? Or maybe not? And why did it even matter? Argh!!!!! She decided to switch direction to try to find another garbage can. There had to be plenty of other ones in the area. She looked backwards for two seconds to see if she would be able to locate a new one, but quickly changed her mind again. This was silly, she thought; she should just keep on walking and go do whathever she had planned to do in the first place; this would just take her three seconds anyway... But when she turned her head back towards the spot where the handsome security guard had been standing, nobody was there any more… He had disappeared again, just like by magic. How, Sway? It had just been a couple of seconds… Maybe she had just dreamt the whole thing?
She walked all the way to the garbage can to throw away the empty plates, and kept looking around for a few minutes, hoping to see the handsome security guard again, or at least to solve the mystery of his strange disappearance, but there was no trace of him whatsoever... She was still deep in her thoughts when Jay arrived next to her, and jolted her out of her reverie.
“Girl, all this time just to throw away some plates… Watchu doing?”
Tavy jumped with surprise.
“I think I saw that guard again,” she confessed.
Jayvon gave a look around, wondering what she was talking about.
“The security guard from this morning! He was there… and then suddenly he was not!”
“Who? That Andrew guy?”
Tavy looked even more suprised.
“Andrew? Do you know him?”
Jayvon just shrugged.
“Yeah. His name is Andrew or James, or something... I don’t know him, know him, but I’ve seen him around. He used to work at the OVO store at Yorkdale… You never saw him there?”
Tavy tried hard to focus for a minute.
“No, I would have remembered…”
But Jayvon stopped her train of thoughts.
“Wait… why are you even asking?”
“For nothing... I was just wondering if he would stop us again, since he has seen us in our work clothes this morning,” Tavy tried to lie.
But she had replied a little too quickly, and a little too nervously.
Jay’s face suddenly changed. He was having a light bulb moment.
“Oh my God. Dude… You like this nigga?”
“No! Pfff, what are you talking about?” Tavy replied, while looking away.
Hadn’t she been blessed to have been born Black, her whole face would have been blushing hard though. Jay started laughing and used the opportunity to improvize a new song:
Little Tav has her first Caribana crush, Caribana crush, Caribana crush. Oh yes Tav has a Caribana crush, Caribana crush, first Caribana crush…
Tavy tried to wrestle with him.
But Jay was stronger than her, and having quite a ball with his new song. So she let him have his moment... Then, after a few seconds, she stood akimbo and reminded him:
“Jeez! We have things to do today, remember? How are we doing with time?”
Jay looked at the clock on his cell phone, and suddenly came back to reality. 5p.m. It was getting late already… He looked at his parade route map too. (He had found one on the road earlier.)
“If my calculations are correct, the Flamboyance crew must not be too far from the judging area by now”, he announced, with a serious face.
Tavy looked at the map as well.
“Oh no!” she screamed. “We have to get there before them! Otherwise, what’s the point?”
Jay put his cell phone and the map back into his backpack again.
“Yep. Let’s go!”
The two friends left the Lakeshore area to go find their way back on the road, but this time around, they had a hard time moving through the crowd smoothly and efficiently. There was at least three times the amount of people on the sidewalk now, compared to when they had left the parade earlier, and it had become difficult for the both of them to even not lose sight of one another. Walking a mere five meters through this crowd seemed to be taking a good half an hour. People kept arriving from everywhere in the city: north, south, east, west. And large groups of people were visiting from the States too; some crews were coming from Atlanta, Miami, Brooklyn, Boston, Charlotte, Detroit, and from many many other cities. Caribana was the largest North American Caribbean Carnival, and it showed... People were proudly repping their flags, their hoods, their islands, dancing and jumping everywhere. The marshalls were all busy keeping random bystanders from joining the official masqueraders at least every two seconds now. It was a game of cat and mouse… All of the trucks’ respective MCs were almost losing their voices while yelling on the mic:
“Respect the mas! If you’re not playing mas, get yourself off the road now! We’re not playing with you. We’re gonna stop the music if you keep coming…Respect the mas!”
Police and security staff were overwhelmingly busy too. All kinds of alcohol had been flowing freely all day through the masqueraders’ different sections, and officers would sometimes pop up here and there to make sure that nobody was starting any fight. But luckily, as far as Jay and Tavy were concerned, everything was good. No fight in sight. People were mainly there to have a good time, to let loose, and to forget their worries at least for once in a year. The only thing that was bothering Tavy at this point was the strong marijuana smell. At the beginning of the day, she had been able to deal with the overly present weed smoke that was so typical of the parade, but now that more and more people had joined the participants, a good percentage of which were smoking freely and openly, the smell had become way too intense. And people were not smoking some light and polite Canadian versions of the cannabis plant either. Nope, those were some strong strains, coming straight from the Islands. Rudest harvests only… Though she had tried all day not to inhale any of it, Tavy was starting to feel a little dizzy from the second-hand smoke. Very dizzy, actually… Between the intense summer heat, the larger than life crowd, and the very loud music, she had gone from feeling just a little high to almost awfully sick. At first, she had thought that it was maybe only her stomach playing with her, due the street food that she had been eating earlier, but no, it was really the weed… She was not used to be around so much of it. Slowly but surely, the word started spinning around her... She tried to look for Jayvon to let him know that she was not feeling well, but he was nowhere to be seen. They had finally managed to totally lose track of each other. Fuck… She tried to open her mouth to call for help — someone, anyone — but it felt as though she had lost the ability to speak too. Her tongue was feeling heavy, and her mouth would not form any words. She was losing consciousness… Maybe she should just stop trying to resist that feeling, she thought, and allow herself to, to slowly, very slowly, fall down to the ground? Surely, someone was going to call an ambulance, right? She had seen a couple of them traveling up and down the parade route earlier. Whenever an emergency would arise on the road, the masqueraders would have to make room for the first responders, so that they could drive and circulate through the crowd quickly. So Tavy knew that she was going to be safe, somehow, anyhow. In an ambulance. And at least, once in there, she’d be able to lie down and to close her eyes. Cause right now, she was feeling sooooo tired. So, so tired… But no, wait, she couldn’t let herself being put in an ambulance, what was she thinking? She was meant to be there, remember? She had to keep dancing! Well yes, but she desperately needed to rest her eyes too… Even if this was only for twenty seconds … But wait, what was that strange feeling around her shoulders now? Who was touching her arms? Was someone was trying to…
That familiar voice brought Tavy back to life instantly. Someone was indeed touching her arms and shaking her shoulders, but it was her own aunt, who was actually trying to wake her up.
“Yes baby. You’re ok?”
Tavy’s mouth was finally able to form some words again, so she thought it had to mean that she was ok... She opened her eyes completely, and realized that her aunt was standing right in front of her, in full carnival regalia, with all the other members of her band. Their name was the Lotus Sisters. It was a group of close friends with whom her aunt had been playing mas for over thirty years. Their costumes were always on point, and they had won Best costume Award at least six times in the past. Most of them had known Tavy since she had been a baby, and so they had stopped their whole section’s progression to form a safe circle around her and auntie Shelley, after seeing her fainting on the ground.
“Someone bring me a towel! And some water, please!” Auntie Shelley asked out loud.
“Right there! Coming!” another woman replied right away.
And she handed auntie Shelley a wet towel and a bottle of cold water. Tavy opened her eyes wide, as she recognized the water lady from earlier. Her name was Miss Lynette. She was not officially part of the Lotus Sisters, but friendly enough with them to always come and hang out with their crew for a while whenever they were on the parade road. She had also brought a fan and was fanning the air to help Tavy breathe more easily.
“Oh my God, Shelley, is that your baby niece?”
“She sure is,” Auntie Shelley replied, while using the wet towell as a compress on Tavy’s forehead.
“I saw her earlier!” Miss Lynette added. “Her and her little friend! I kept giving them free water all day… I knew they looked familiar!”
Tavy shook her head surreptitiously. You could always count on an older black woman to tell on you to her friends… Luckily, her and Jay hadn’t acted a fool in front of Miss Lynette earlier.
“Is that so?” Auntie Shelley asked, her voice still sounding quite worried. “Tavy, what the hell were you even doing here?”
Now that Miss Lynette and Auntie Shelley had taken good care of her, Tavy was already feeling way much better. She stood up and turned around to show off her whole carnival costume to her aunt and her group of friends.
“I was playing mas, auntie!” Tavy replied enthusiastically. “I was just playing mas… in my yellow costume… that the best auntie in the world gave me!”
Auntie Shelley was trying hard to look pissed off, but she couldn’t hide the fact that seeing her niece smiling and twirling in her cute carnival costume was making her extremely happy.
“Child, don’t you ever scare me like that again! Why didn’t you tell me that you were going to play mas this year? I would have registered you with my section!” she started lecturing her. “And who did you come up here with? Who’s that little friend that Lynette is telling me about?”
“I came here with Jayvon, auntie!” Tavy started explaining. “But we lost track of each other in the crowd and…”
“No, I’m right here!”
Jay had suddenly appeared in the Lotus Sisters’ section. He had somehow fought his way through the crowd to come find out where his friend was.
“Girl, I just blink for two seconds and you disappear! Don’t you ever scare me like that, eh!”
Then he promptly recognized Tavy’s aunt among the section’s band members.
“Oh hi Auntie Shelley! I didn’t know you were here... You’re still playing mas?”
“Boy, stop playing with me,” Auntie Shelley replied in her most aunti-esque ton of voice. “I’ve been coming here since even before you were born! Now, does any of your parents know that you’re here?” she asked, adopting her old school auntie’s voice again.
Jay and Tavy kept silent. They were guilty as charged… Auntie Shelley heaved a big sigh.
“All right then, you’re staying with me now… You can cross the stage with my band, and we’ll keep an eye on you.”
Jay and Tavey had screamed in unison, without even consulting one another.
“We have to cross the stage… with another band,” Tavy tried to explain.
“Now what now?” Auntie shelley asked, visibly annoyed. “What band?”
“Flamboyance,” Jay replied, nervously.
Tavy’s eyes were almost begging now. Her aunt was busy pondering the situation, when Miss Lynette interrupted all of them.
“Flamboyance? You wanna cross the stage with Flamboyance? But they’re almost in front of the judges now! There are maybe two or three bands left before them. You’re never gonna make it there on time, kids, unless…”
Tavy and Jay looked at each other, all panicked. They had not come that far to fail so close to their goal, no no no… They should have just stuck to their earlier plan and stayed right behind their coworkers’ section instead of leaving the road for so long…
They both picked up their backpacks hastily from the ground, and got ready to rush toward the judging area by any means necessary, but Miss Lynette was not done with her talking.
“Calm down, kids. I know a way for you to go there faster… We’re among friends here… Tavy, since you were sick just a couple of minutes ago, ahem — she cleared her throat — I think it’s safe to say that you need a little ambulance ride to go to the judging area... I don’t think my friends will accept to drive you all the way down there, but they sure will help for a good half a kilometer at least... Then, if you stay on the right side of the trucks, you’ll be able to walk the parade route faster. That side of the road is usually reserved for staff members and volunteers only, but if you tell them that Miss Lynette sent you, you should be able to walk over there just fine…”
Jay and Tavy started screaming from a mix of joy and relief.
“Thank you, thank you!”
“Yes, thank you so much Miss Lynette!”
Then Tavy turned towards her aunt to kiss her goodbye, but Auntie Shelley stopped her unexpectedly.
“Girl, where you’re going? Not so fast…”
She looked for something in her belt bag for a few seconds, and took a rectangular and shining object out of it. It was a red matte lipstick. She applied it delicately on her niece’s lips, then used it to create some red dots on each side of Tavy’s cheeks, and on her nose and chin too. The result was breathtaking. Between the hairstyle, the yellow costume, and that final touch of make up, Tavy looked regal… Even Jay gave her two thumbs up, and he usually was not the kind of person to give her that many compliments. Auntie Shelley look at her niece one last time to admire her costume design and her makeup work, then she gave Tavy a final long hug before whispering to her ear:
“Now go and make your mama proud…”
There were so many other things that she wished she could have told her in that moment, but it wasn’t the appropriate time for long speeches. The clock was ticking… Jay and Tavy waved goodbye to the Lotus Sisters, and followed behind Miss Lynette, who somehow had already recruited one of her ambulance drivers’ buddies to help the youth beat the parade’s crowd. But, as promised, it was for about half a kilometer only; the driver was on job duty, and he had to stay available for real health emergencies, which were always plenty on Caribana Saturday. After thanking him profusely, they all got off the ambulance quickly, and Miss Lynette showed Tavy and Jay the part of the road from which they were supposed to be able to walk a little faster than with the rest of the masqueraders. They had about two hundred and fifty meters left before reaching the judging area.
“Alright, this is where my work stops,” Miss Lynette told the two friends, while giving each one of them a hug. “You kids are on your own now. Good luck!”
Tavy and Jay thanked her one last time, then they started getting ready for the last leg of their journey. They had a bet to win. It was on… And so they started running.
The right side of the road, behind the trucks, was indeed a little less traveled, but it was still quite busy; a lot of masqueraders seemed to have benefitted from the same favor than the one Miss Lynette had granted to Tavy and Jay. Many people were trying to avoid the main crowd by walking there... And a lot of them were getting in Tavy and Jay’s way, but the two friends were determined to keep on running no matter what. Tavy was at the front, running like Marion Jones in her heyday, while Jay was running behind her, struggling, and a little out of breath, after what had been a very long day. Tavy had to slow down at least twice to check on him.
“Everything ok, fam?”
“Yeah, let’s go,” Jay replied both times.
He was exhausted, but kept on pushing.
Most people would let Jay and Tavy pass alongside them quickly, and would even step aside to make room for them, but other people would outright block the way, annoyed at the two friends’ running. A woman who was walking towards them with one baby in her arms and a toddler by her side cursed Jay out loud when he almost ran into her, even though he tried to apologize deeply afterwards.
Then, maybe only fifty meters before they were about to reach their finish line, Tavy almost knocked down a young woman dressed in a purple costume, who was walking in their direction with her girlfriend. Their band had finished appearing in front of the judges already, so the two girls seemed pretty relaxed and just laughed at the situation.
“You guys are on your way to see the judges?” the lady in purple asked. Her girlfriend’s outfit was blue lagoon.
“Yes, Tavy” replied, not pleased by the fact that she was kinda being forced to slow down.
“Oh, you should take some of this then,”the lady in purple offered.
She showed Tavy and Jay a bottle of alcohol and gestured for them to take a sip.
Jayvon shook his head no.
“We’re good, thanks. We don’t drink alcohol.”
And he passed by the two ladies, still rushing to arrive to the main stage.
But Tavy stopped next to the lady in purple after she’d made the offer, looked at her and her friends in the eyes, and confidently said:
“Yep. I’ll have some.”
Then she proceeded to drink a large sip of whatever was in that bottle, which was some pretty strong alcohol… Rum to be exact.
Tavy felt instantly fired up, and told the two young women:
“Oh, you’re welcome girl! Good luck!” they replied with a knowing smile.
Jay had watched the whole scene in disbelief. But this was not the moment for comments or existential questions.
“Come on, let’s go,” Tavy shouted, and they started running again.
The main stage was in sight now, so it was the perfect time for them to leave the trucks’ area and make a left towards the busier part of the road once again. All the members of the “Flamboyance” crew were standing there, getting ready for their time to shine. They were full of energy, already boasting some of the dance moves that they had been rehearsing for days. The judging area’s official MC was introducing their section on the microphone. The audience members who had been lucky enough to be seated above the main stage area were getting ready to boo or cheer the section that would come next, and the MC of the day was doing his best to keep the general excitement level up.
“And now ladies and gentlemen,” he started announcing on the mic, coming alllllll the way from Etobicoke, a band of amazing masqueraders that have claimed the Best section title two times in the past…”
Tavy and Jay were now pushing the people all around them to make their way closer to the stage. They were not discrete about it at all any more, and some youth from the Flamboyance crew were starting to recognize them, even though the both of them were looking quite different in their carnival costumes. Thankfully, they had not run into Denise yet, but still, the two friends were now able to hear some of the comments coming from their coworkers.
“Oh my God! Is that Tav and Jay over there?”
“Hey, that’s Tav and Jay, yo!”
“How the hell did they make it all the way here?”
Meanwhile, a tall and big security man was blocking the access to the main stage area. He was a six foot five inches Black man in his early fifties, with a very serious face, and dreadlocks that were turning grey. The crowd was growing impatient behind him, but the MC was still going on and on.
“My people, are you really ready? Come on, I wanna hear you make some noise for the masqueraders first… Make some noise!”
Tavy and Jay looked at each other one last time. It was now or never…
But, just at that moment, the tall security guard looked in their direction. Apparently, he had just noticed that their outfits were totally different from the ones that the Flamboyance members were wearing, and so he pointed at them while yelling:
“Hey you! Yes, you! What are y’all…”
But Jay didn’t let him finish his sentence. Like David getting ready to take down Goliath, he threw his whole five foot seven inches frame into the security guard’s belly and shouted at Tavy:
Jayvon certainly didn’t inflict any pain in the guard’s solid six pack abs, but his reckless action took the middle-aged man enough by surprise that, by the time he had finally managed to control Jayvon’s crazy moves, Tavy had had enough leeway to rush towards the stage just as the MC was announcing:
“Give it up for Flam-Bo-Yance!!!!!!”
This was the cue for the DJ to start playing the latest and hypest soca beats. However, there were a few seconds of confusion as, instead of the Flamboyance section, it was now Tavy who was finding herself on that stage all by herself, in front of the judges, and a pretty sold out arena. The poor MC had to improvize some of his lines.
“Wait a minute, ladies and gentlemen, that’s not Flamboyance… What the hell is happening? Can someone…”
But, ignoring the MC’s comments, Tavy had already started moving her body to the beat and, much to her surprise, the crowd was loving it. She was gyrating her body in every direction, undulating her torso, doing some isolations, then moving her hips from left to right, and right to left again. She was mimicking all the steps that she had been spending hours studying on youtube, and rolling her waistline like never before. And people from the audience were gassing her up, totally welcoming and enjoying that unexpected addition to the show.
“Come on girl, to the left, now to the right!”
“Wine your waist, wine your waist!”
“Mash up, mash up!”
Encouraged by these positive comments, Tavy added even more moves to her routine. Then, suddenly, a picture of her mom came to her mind, and she felt compelled to do what she knew was one of her mother’s signature moves from back in the day: the split! She did the side split and the front split back to back. Then she even added a dutty wine flavor to it, which had the crowd losing its mind, and erupting in applause.
“Yessssss girl! Kill ‘em with that split!”
Even the official MC got impressed.
“Give it up for our special surprised guest in yellow. It’s carnival, the place where anything can happen!”
The crowd gave Tavy a second round of applause. But she knew that her time was almost up… She could see that two official staff members were already on their way to come and get her off the stage so that the legitimate masqueraders could take over… Still, she did a cartwheel followed by a backside flip to show off her gymnastic skills in front of the crowd, then she took a bow and waved the jury goodbye. Meanwhile, the MC was still improvizing on the microphone.
“Well, thank you young lady in yellow! Now, back to our original programming. Coming down the stage, folks, are you ready once again? This time, coming alllll the way from Etobicoke…”
At that moment, Tavy looked on her left and saw that Denise and a bunch of her coworkers were staring at her. They had just witnessed the whole thing... Some of them seemed pissed, but some other looked impressed and gave her two tumbs up from the other side of the stage. Tavy looked at Denise right in the eyes and stuck her tongue out in front of her defiantly, à la Cardi B, before being evicted manu militari by the two staff members. Flamboyance’s time to come to the stage had finally come, but Tavy didn’t even look at them. She was still high off of her own performance. And, as she was trying to catch her breath, Jay appeared right next to her. The two friends hugged each other like two kids excited to see one another again.
“Giiiiiiiirl!!!!!!” Jay screamed. “Who taught you to move your hips like that? And that split? Bwoy, you killed them! You just killed that shit. It’s done. Finished! No leftover!”
The young man made some pow pow pow sounds to illustrate his comments, and they hugged each other once again, laughing and jumping excitedly in the air. But their joy didn’t last for too long, as the tall and big fifty year-old man with dreads that Jay had kinda headbutted in the belly a couple of minutes prior was walking towards them, visibly pissed off.
“You!” he screamed, pointing at Tavy. “Actually you and you,” he corrected, pointing at both Tavy and Jayvon.
“Don’t you ever do that shit again, or I’m banning you from Caribana forever, you hear me?”
Tavy and Jay lowered their heads down and didn’t dare saying a word.
“Did you hear what I just said,” the guard repeated.
“Yes,” they both replied in unison, their heads still down.
“Respect the mas! What kind of foolishness was that?”
He turned towards Jay.
“You tryna get your ass whoopped, young man?”
“No sir,” Jay replied, shyly.
Then the guard turned towards Tavy.
“And you! This ain’t no solo show, young lady. Don’t you have a band to cross the stage with?”
Tavy shook her head no.
The guard took a good look at her, as if he was trying to read something on her forehead.
“You’re Shauntay’s daughter, right?”
Tavy raised her head and looked at the guard in the eyes for the first time.
“Yes,” she replied, surprised to see that he knew her mother’s name.
“That’s what I thought. You look a little bit like her… And she sure would have done something foolish like this.”
He smiled at that thought, and Jay and Tavy understood from that smile that they would be good to go, and that no terrible consequence would come upon them, despite them having ignored the rules and crossed the stage without an official carnival band.
“Your mom was a good one,” the guard continued. “We all knew Shauntay; we all respected her. That’s why I’m only giving you a warning today.”
Tavy and Jay looked relieved now. But, before letting them go, the man added:
“If you want to be part of a band, you should join Soca Island… That’s my band. We’ll welcome you with open arms.”
He pointed at Jay who still looked a little petrified.
“You seem to have a good taste in making and creating costumes, young man. I like that.”
Then he pointed at Tavy again.
“And you sure know how to take a wine, young lady. So come and join the Soca Island mas camp. Google Soca Island band, and call us on Monday. Tell the people on the phone that Big Joseph sent you, ok? Big Joseph. And don’t worry about the money. If you do things here and there for us, we’ll find a way to help you pay for your costumes.”
Tavy and Jay nodded their heads yes. They didn’t know how, or even if, they would make it work, but they were already excited at the thought of joining an official band and visiting a mas camp for the first time.
“Oh and one last thing,” Big Joseph added, before letting them go.
“Didn’t you lose something on that stage today?” he asked, looking at Tavy.
She examined her whole outfit from head to toes. Nothing was missing.
“I don’t think so. No, wait…”
She touched her head a second time and started panicking.
“My tiara… I lost my tiara!”
It had surely fallen on stage, while she was doing her backflip… And she knew the rules, as Jay had broken them down to her earlier, there was no lost and found at Caribana; what fell on the road, belonged to the road, so she was just about to make another masquerader very happy. She wanted to cry at that thought. That tiara had her precious mom’s jewelry on it… Jay seemed to be reading her thoughts and was feeling sorry too.
But Big Joseph looked at the two friends with a smile, and made the tiara miraculously appear in his hands in front of their eyes.
“Here it is girl, don’t panick,” he laughed.
“Oh, thank you! Thank you so much!” Tavy cried.
“Yes thank you, Jay seconded her. That thing belonged to her mom…”
“Oh don’t thank me,” Big Joseph smiled again. “My nephew Khalid is the one that rescued it from the stage. He’s working security with me today. That’s him over there.”
He pointed at a guy at a distance, who was standing close to the judging area… It was the security guard from that morning!!! So his name was not Andrew after all. Or not even James... It was Khalid! It had been Khalid all along. Oh yes, that name was fitting perfectly well with his gorgeous skin and his beautiful smile. He looked in their direction while his uncle was pointing at him and gave them all a small nod. Well, he was looking mostly at Tavy, or at least, that’s what she thought. So did that mean that he had seen her whole dance routine? Oh no, no,no… she surely hoped he had not. That was not exactly the kind of introduction that she had been praying for. Or was it? Argh… She forced herself to stop her train of thoughts, before giving the opportunity to Jay to start singing his ridiculous “Caribana crush” song again... She took the tiara from Big Joseph’s hands, and secured it back on her head before telling him:
“Thank you so much. We’ll call your band on Monday for sure!”
Then she and Jay made their way back to the crowd, while the tall guard went back to his duties.
Tavy turned towards Jay, still in awe of everthing that had just happened.
“So now what? Is it time for us to leave?”
They had a curfew after all. Maybe there was still enough time for them to make it back to their respective homes on time…
“Girl, don’t you know nothing about Caribana?” Jay replied. “First we eat, and then we leave. That’s what all the legit bands are doing!”
“But where are we gonna eat?” Tavy asked, already laughing at the thought of them having to try to bargain for some food again.
It was not as if they had an official band’s area lot to go back to. But that small detail hadn’t stopped them from finding good food all day long, so…
“Just follow me, you superstar,” Jay said, sure of himself. “Dinner is on me!”
They walked through the crowd again, this time at a way more slower pace than earlier. Both of them were super relaxed now, and it was their turn to look with a calm smile at the groups who had not crossed the stage yet, and who were still running anxiously down to the judging area. Plus, some people in the crowd were recognizing Tavy from her five minutes of fame on the main stage earlier, and they would cheer her up very loudly.
“Oh, you’re the lady in yellow, right? Congrats girl, great wine, you gave us a real show.”
“Trini to de bone!”
Tavy was just smiling back in return, too tired to say anything. She was walking behind Jay, and replaying all the events of the day in her mind. The memories were still all quite fresh, but at the same time, they also felt like they had happened a long time before.
Tavy couldn’t wait to share all these stories with her auntie. The crowd cheering for her, the loud applause, Big Joseph’s invitation to her and Jay to come join the Soca Island band. A real official carnival band! Her first one. Oh, she couldn’t wait to tell her auntie everything, minus the security guard story of course, Auntie Shelley didn’t need to know anything about Khalid. Yes, Tavy would omit that part for now… And the fact that she had drunk alcohol, she would definitely omit that part too. Aunties didn’t need to know everything all the time, right? And what about her parents? Were they ever going to find out about her solo show, or about the bet with Denise? Jayvon and her were going to be in serious serious trouble if they ever did. They both were going to be grounded for life, that was for sure… But it had been totally worth it; she had just had her first real Caribana! Fi-na-lly! After all these years… She was starting to feel like a true Afro-Caribbean queen now. Real talk! Even the way she walked seemed to have had slightly evolved over the last twenty-four hours. She was holding her head so high right now… So yes, maybe her life was starting to look just a little bit like a fairy tale after all... A unique and Afro-Caribbean-infused fairy tale, made in the 6ix!
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