“Dawn! Come put on yuh shoes!” Dawn’s mother exclaimed from the kitchen, a small room at the back of the house where a portable kerosene stove and a tall eggshell white fridge fed the family of five. Dawn dragged her small body off the bed, a mattress covered by a thin, floral sheet, wedged into an ochre yellow concrete wall.
Sundays were the most sacred and hated among the children in the Stewart household. Her mother, Ina, would take Dawn, the youngest, and her two sisters, Rose and Cherry across their village, Maggotty, to Maggotty Pentecostal. Although church wasn’t always her favourite pastime, Dawn looked forward to the excitement and to the flock of churchgoers dressed in their full-white Sunday best. She would calmly watch from behind the pew, listening to the cacophony of foreign languages as the men and women of Maggotty would offer their bodies up, limbs flailing in front of the entire congregation, to receive the Spirit of the Lord. But first, they’d have to pass the weekly inspection.
“Yuh neva know is Sunday? Why I have to call you every Sunday like say you don’t know what day it is. Even worse you know today is yuh christenin’,’’ her mother sighed, “Come mek mi see yuh socks.”
Dawn slouched her shoulders and apprehensively approached Mama, unsure of how she’d judge what she’d find. Luckily, Dawn had pulled on the perfect pair for her mother’s liking, hemmed with a coarse frill. These socks were special. They would usher her into a new realm of womanhood—the divine realm of the Lord.
“Rose, Cherry and Mary, come nuh man! Why I have to call you guys every Sunday. Unnu know seh is Dawn christenin’ todeh! By the time I done in here unnu should be ready too enuh. I not waitin.”
The girls scrambled out of their room and lined up by the door, suited up in their dresses like cherubs resting on clouds of white. Outside, Dawn sat on the ledge of the verandah, waiting for the rest of her family to join her. She looked up and wondered if the sky would look different after the christening. Maybe the duppies that her mother always spoke about would finally materialize.
Her mother and sisters quickly filed out. Dawn jumped up to follow. Before she knew it, Dawn was standing on the pulpit with her mother preparing to be submerged in the pool of holy water. She stood quietly, her mind occupied by what she imagined to be in the water—could it be that the omnipresent Holy Spirit would finally make an appearance?
The preacher placed one hand on her shoulder and the other on her clasped fist. He led her body to the underside of the water, his face distorted by the weight of the holy water. When she re-emerged, her skin tingled. She expected that she’d experience the real difference
when she next looked at the sky. After the ceremony, her mother beamed with pride, talking and smiling with all her fellow church goers, speaking loudly about her Godly child. Meanwhile, Dawn sat with her sisters. She turned to Cherry, the oldest.
“How you did feel after you did get baptize?”
“To tell you di trut’, di same.”
“You did eva see anyting? Like di spirit dem Mama always chat bout?”
“No, you know. Everybody know seh duppy is a real sumn but I neva see one or feel one yet.” Dawn nodded in agreement.
It felt like forever that Mama had been talking with what had become her own congregation. While the girls were dozing in the empty pew in the back row of the church, Mama approached.
“Unnu come. Mek we guh see Aunty Edna.”
At last. It was time for their Sunday ritual—taking the long way home to see their Aunty Edna where all the two generations of Stewart women would savour a cup of cerasee tea, freshly picked from Aunty Edna’s garden, and labrish on the week’s happenings. Aunty Edna’s small
white house sat humbly on the other side of a sloping hill. There, Aunty Edna lived alone, save for the coop of chickens behind the house on an everlasting stretch of land. All five of them were full of excitement, bobbing with excitement as they approached the house. As they approached the house, Aunty Edna came out to meet them. Mama shined.
“Miss Ina, is long time I don’t see you enuh!” Mama laughed with her entire body. “Likkle miss Dawn, come mek me see you! I know seh today was yuh christenin’ day! You’re a woman before the eyes ah di Lord enuh,” Dawn smiled. Aunty Edna spoke in a musical swing that made Dawn hang off every word. Her aunt led them back to the house.
“Aunty Edna, I can go get the cerasee from de bush?”
Before the older women answered, Dawn made a beeline for the bush behind the house. This was her favourite part. Without telling her mother, Dawn slipped off her vinyl leather white shoes and frilly socks and snuck into the bush. It held her close in response.
She sorted through the tangled brush with surgical precision. Just as she found herself kneeling among the dense wood of the forest, a voice as soft as the crunch of fallen leaves spoke her name. She turned her head quickly, and felt her body called in its direction. As she followed the voice she was led deeper and deeper into its thickness, until she came across a river clear as glass that split it into two. On its banks, Dawn looked down at herself in the reflection of the river, where she held her own eyes. As the two girls’ eyes’ met, the trees began to dance.