The Spell


Bumblebee kyaan’ win no race! Is not it be donkey-boat. Bumblebee fast fast – fast as fast can be. But Bumblebee kyaan’ win no race. Bumblebee is my favourite boat. Apparently it crashed and sunk a few years ago, and it remained disabled until this season. I’ve never seen Bumblebee win anything: though it’s come second eight times in a row, it is yet to win a single race this year. And that, in Anguilla, is more than enough reason to believe there is a curse or a spell on it. The local theory for Bumblebee’s inability to win goes as follows: the new shell of the boat was designed and built, plank by plank, by Tyrone “Sharp” Rook, a crazy Rastafarian who counts among his many talents a natural gift for boat building, a relentless libido that finds no respite even in the simultaneous solace of several tourists, and an uncanny ability to communicate with disembodied spirits.

Now, Bumblebee belongs to Einar Cumbersome but to say that Sharp was working for Einar would be to misrepresent the situation: Sharp was working for himself, for the pride of it, for the joy of building the best boats in the island, and, additionally, almost as an unrelated bonus, Einar Cumbersome was paying him for it. But whatever must happen will happen, and given the characters in question and the situation in which they found themselves, nobody was even slightly surprised when a not-so-minor disagreement ensued between the two. Whether the matter in question concerned Einar’s wife, a mutual girlfriend or the rightful monetary remuneration expected by Sharp remains to be established by the irrevocable stance of popular gossip but, whatever the case, everyone agrees that Sharp had little option other than to accept Einar’s terms. He could have walked away, some might say; he could have boycotted the potential of his boat, others might argue. But that would be to ignore the artisan ethics, the long-standing tradition of pride, that Sharp had received from his forefather. As a matter of fact, that would be to forget or ignore that Sharp was not building the Bumblebee for Einar Cumbersome, but for himself. Dis my boat, he would boast once he had finished his job, dis my baby, he would shout by the bay, minutes before the start of a race – and who would dare to tell him otherwise? Certainly not Einar Cumbersome. Thus, when the inevitable happened and Sharp found his hand tied, he made a concerted effort to exceed himself and build the most decidedly unbeatable boat to have sailed the coastline of Anguilla in the history of time.

But then, one night, just before his creation was finished – once the keel was ready to go, before it got the first coat of white paint – one night, I tell you, right after midnight, Sharp’s neighbours heard a desperate clamor, a beastly disorder, ensue from his backyard. It was the sleepy plead of the three egg-bearing hens he had snatched from his corral with one quick motion of his huge right arm. Sharp walked that night – distilling a trail of rum, sulphur and hatred that could be sensed for days – towards his place of work, at the end of a private dust road, somewhere in South Hill. When he reached the naked skeleton of his craft, Sharp loosed the suffocating grip his right hand had over the joined necks of the three hens and dropped them half-dead on the floor. Panic-stricken, wounded and almost asphyxiated, the desperate animals barely made an attempt – certainly not an audible one – to save themselves. With a savage, ruthless, motion, Sharp beheaded each of the hens with his own hands, while his poisonous breath uttered a curse of failure to be sealed upon the skull of Bumblebee by the warm sprinkle of innocent blood, by the evil stare of his devilish eyes and by his final sacrifice: eating the raw sculls of his victims.

The fact that the bodies of the three killed hens were only found after the fifth consecutive second place by Bumblebee this year seems to have raised no suspicion. The additional fact that after three months the bodies in question were nowhere near the state of putrefaction you would expect them to be, seems to have confirmed rather than questioned the theory of a black magic ritual.

As things stand, the Bumblebee is in the running for the title this year. Ahead of the Champion of Champions race, the final competition of the season, it sits third in the table, meaning it needs to win, and hope the top two boats fail to finish “in the points,” to complete the triple miracle of turning a donkey boat into a winner, clinching the “Boat of the Year” award with only one win over the season, and, most importantly, chasing the haunting spirits of a hoax spell, a certain obeah, that, so far, has dominated our performance. The stakes are considerable, but no matter what anyone says, no one, not even the crew of the Bumblebee, thinks my boat is a rightful contender to the title today, because Bumblebee kyaan’ win no race, because Bumblebee is forever doomed – destined – to second place.




Read about the making of On the Way Back, go back to EXCERPTS, or straight to TAKE 1, TAKE 2, and TAKE 3.