We were invited to a wedding. For us, this was unusual. It is usually funerals, which I barely manage these days. And Jamaican funerals are extremely long. They have the effect of submerging me in fuzzy waves of sadness and regret, drowning as the tributes roll on.
The idea of a wedding was refreshing. So, too, the thought that this was not to be a “churchy” wedding (which certainly can be as long as a Jamaican funeral, especially when the priest gets his teeth into a sermon). It was to be in the garden of a house in a quiet rural part of Jamaica, tucked between hills and the sea. Lovely.
We got what my husband calls our “dan dans” together (in other words, fancy clothes). A trip out of town was welcome; a little country air would not go amiss. We decided to stay overnight, dropped off our bags at a nearby hotel and made sure we were there, bang on time.
As we approached, a dreamy, languorous air hung over the house. There was no bustle of activity as we walked round to the back; but there was music. Oh yes, we were never short on music: wave after wave of power ballads; some tasteful reggae of the harmless, Freddie McGregor variety (no dancehall); and American Hits of the 5os, 60s and 70s, including all the soul groups you can think of. Lashings of Luther Vandross (well, I hadn’t heard his velvety voice in a while, so that was OK). A woman sitting near us sang along. She seemed to know the lyrics of every song. Well, at least she was enjoying herself. For me, the music almost had the effect of a lullaby.
When we arrived, the guests were arrayed on seats in a semi-circle, facing the back of the house, where a small, white tent stood. There was a table decorated with a lace tablecloth sprinkled with…sprinkles, folded napkins and a plastic box of peanuts. I am sure there was a purpose for this table. For the cake, perhaps? Ah, the cake… The tents under or near which we sat were decorated with strings of balloons, some already looking the worse for wear.
Surprisingly, all the seats were taken; where we late? The guests looked as if they had been there for decades. They hardly noticed us as we tried to find at least one chair. I did not want to sit down anyway, but wandered around at the back of the yard, admiring the tall crotons (much bigger than they grow in urban gardens) and watching a John Crow turning in the deep blue sky. There under the trees was a clean white gravestone, decorated with imitation pink and white flowers for the occasion. On a “long bench” to one side, and beyond earshot of the other guests, a group of locals were enjoying a nice quiet gossip. Apart from them, no one said a word. We were all hypnotised by the music.
In my wanderings, I noticed a row of pots bubbling over fires. Now, that looked promising. Ah, the pots…
There was no sign of life from the house. Occasionally, a young girl in fake ringlets or a woman in tight satin would emerge on a mysterious errand, returning to the house afterwards. At least an hour passed. I don’t know. I lost track of time.
I began to study the other guests’ “dan dans.” The grownups were mostly women in their forties upwards – rather like your average church congregation, in fact. They mostly wore hats. Satin is still “in” at weddings. Actually, it has never been “out.” The children were subdued, just like in church. The boys fidgeted in tight waistcoats and highly polished shoes. They probably wished they were messing around in a football field, or on the beach. The girls were dressed in fluffy white dresses, white lacy tights, their best (white) shoes. Two self-conscious pre-teen girls wore heavily curled braids, which they tossed from time to time. Another little girl, with whom I emphasised, eventually discovered that a balloon makes a nice burping noise when rubbed. The parents didn’t have the energy to admonish her, because at least another hour had passed by then. A group of young people in fashionable attire kept their distance under a tree, playing with their phones.
Ah – at last, there was movement from the back door. Out came the priest, a patient-looking man, and the bride and groom, preceded by a girl who sprinkled some sprinkles on the ground. The music changed, and we sang a hymn. It seemed things were moving along. However, rather sadly for the audience, the wedding party immediately turned their backs to us all under the small tent. The afternoon sun was too hot and bright for them to face towards us (I emphasise, the tent was small) and we saw and heard virtually nothing of the ceremony. The priest then turned rather apologetically towards us and told us about “Adam’s rib” – at which I bristled feministically, while my husband suppressed a smirk. At least, though, the priest spared us a long sermon. There was an awkward pause. Some of us clapped. The music returned.
Oh, did I mention we were hungry? I am sure we weren’t the only ones. We had been hurrying to reach the wedding on time, and had not had time to eat any lunch. There was not even a drop of water to drink, let alone anything “stronger.” The pots continued to bubble. And the cake…?
The signing of the register took at least another half an hour (no exaggeration). By that time, the shadows were falling, and a summer afternoon had drifted into nothingness. And we had entered another round of the Chi-Lites’ greatest hits.
We decided we could not hold out any longer. No, the mental and physical pangs were too great. Our brains had turned to mush, and our stomachs to dark hollows of pain.
As we walked off, nodding to the folks on the long bench, a cuckoo (the “Old Man Bird”) concealed in the bushes emitted a harsh, rattling series of croaks. What was he trying to tell us? “What, leaving already? Hehehe!”
Later, we learned from another guest that no food or drink passed anyone’s lips until eight o’clock that evening. The cake was placed on a table, but not cut. The guests were given pieces of another cake.
I know what it was. We, the well-behaved, silent audience, were really there for decoration. We didn’t serve any useful purpose, so far as I could see. We were just there as a nice backdrop.
Perhaps it’s just as well we don’t go to many weddings. I might not survive the next one.