How would we leave our stunning, multi-faceted Trinidad? The country where you could never get bored. With green tropical water and a sort of Welsh accent on steroids. By plane it turned out. This year though, the flight had changed its scheduled time to Fort Lauderdale from the late afternoon to 12:59am.
We all stared at the computer screen. ‘Who leaves at 12:59am?’ Lulu asked.
I squinted in confusion. I don’t think I’d ever seen this time before on an itinerary. ‘So, is this time in the morning or in the night?’
Jack shook his head at me. ‘AM means morning. So it’s an hour after midnight.’
I continued staring. ‘Ok.’ But this was deeply weird. Wouldn’t the pilots be tired? Surely, this wasn’t a safe time to fly. Plus, I’d lived under the Heathrow flight path for over ten years. No one took off at this time. It didn’t conform to noise standards for residents around the airport.
Jack gave me one last frustrated look. ‘This is Trinidad, not London,’ he said. Then he walked away, ready to flush out an engine or fish out his adjustable spanners for the twentieth time. Poor Jack.
Last year, I’d felt anguished to leave Quest until the moment that we left. What an idiot. We’d been on her for two years and had never left her before. I checked every cupboard and double checked it. Then I checked it again. Every sock was sorted through, every book examined for usefulness. Then, as soon as we left, I felt so relieved. We went home to Wales and I didn’t think about her for seven months except like she was a fleeting dream. This time was different… thank God.
In between packing, we even went to the beach a couple of times. Not Las Cuevas an hour away but the little local beach in the Chaguaramas National Park. You park and walk down a flower-filled path to the water. The place was full of mellow, bathing Trinis while the bay was unexpectedly deep. While we were treading water, we spotted the remains of a pier and wooden pylons lying on their sides underneath our feet. Jack asked another bobbing man what the pier was for.
‘The Americans,’ the man said. ‘Macqueripe was part of the military base. They stored submarines here.’
Submarines? We knew America had had a military base in Chaguaramas from the Second World War up until 1972.. but.. submarines? I stared at the bare poles sticking out of the water. Often the world seems a more dangerous place now than it used to be. This was not one of those times. This was one of those moments when the world seems a decidedly safer place now. US Submarines prowling underneath the calm surface of Macqueripe Bay? Rather than the hoards of floating, happy Trinis?
‘Mum,’ Delph said when we were alone together, ‘We have to get something for Lu’s birthday.’
She was right. We were flying on Lu’s birthday. 12:59 was just inside realms of her 13th birthday. It was mall time. West Mall, Trini’s poshest mall.. a mix of brands like Pandora and Sketchers mixed with Trini’s own brands like Mickles. Mickles is a clothes store with a difference. Light, bold patterns, Caribbean sexy. All Trinis love this store. Of course, from being stupidly European circumspect, I am starting to love it too. No H&M here.
Lulu made her way through the 10:30am, still-empty mall to the MAC make-up store. The store assistant looked up in surprise. I suppose a blond kid walking in on a Wednesday morning wasn’t her idea of normal. Look, I wanted to say, she’s done school. She’s been up since 4:30 am. Luckily, I took a few breaths. Calm down, Hannah. She isn’t the police.
If this woman wasn’t expecting us to turn up in her store, she was probably expecting what came of Lulu’s mouth even less. Contouring, primers, the subtleties of highlighters. Delph and I just stared at her blankly. It was like she’d taken on another human form. This is because Lulu is a student of make-up. Boat kid, surfer, diver.. and make-up. Wait a minute? Well, she is almost thirteen. She has to be thirteen somewhere.
The MAC lady’s face changed. Suddenly she was taking it all in her stride. She had seen this before. She got out one brush. Then another. A palette of something beige. Spread it over Lulu’s nose. Put another powder on her cheeks. In front of the mirror, she and Lu began to talk like they were old friends.
I shook my head in relief. Live this strange life where you travel and you are always slightly on the edge. The edge of knowledge, experience and in the case of make-up, comfort zone. Sherri had saved me. She did a free, made-with-love make-over. Out of completely sheer (or was it matt, sorry couldn’t help it) kindness.
We walked around the mall afterwards, Lulu’s face shining with joy. I might not have agreed with her eyebrows but I knew how much she wanted them. Besides, we left it a good hour before we started calling her Coco the Clown. Such bitches. And I had a little birthday surprise for her.
Predictably the last moments on Quest were a little more stressful. The suitcases were halfway down the ladder before Jack realised he hadn’t flushed out the fuel from Edna’s outboard yet.
‘I have to do it,’ he said with his usual patience at having to explain everything to me. ‘It’s a two-stroke. Otherwise the fuel will evaporate and leave the oil gunked up at the bottom.’
We put the suitcases down and brought out the hose. Ten minutes later, we were done. We packed the girls and suitcases into the rental car, locked the hatch, removed Quest’s ladder and sighed. Ok, no more beautiful boat. Back to land.
I slept in the airport terminal. Next to me, Delph chatted almost continuously. Something about a dream. I fell in and out of consciousness, listening to her voice. Midnight came and we began to board. As soon as we took off, my three Ormerods and almost everyone else fell asleep. Except me. I was completely awake for four and a half hours after realising from the announcements that we had a all-female flight-crew. This was a first for me. Disembarking in Florida just before dawn, the cockpit door was open. I looked inside. The two empty cockpit seats were pushed up against the plane’s front windscreen. Nose-touchers.
‘Female drivers,’ Jack mused. ‘Oww!’ He jumped. ‘Why are you pinching me?’
After the usual debacle of getting into America (please could the US border police start wearing President Trump face masks.. just for fun, no?), we waited for the motel’s complimentary bus. As Jack went for coffee and Lu dozed on her chair, I remembered. Happy Birthday Lu!
‘Thanks, guys,’ she said, opening up her little MAC pressie. ‘This is the weirdest birthday ever.’
We nodded. ‘You’re welcome, Lu.’