The morning of my last full day in Buccoo, on the island of Tobago, I anxiously and excitedly scanned the village for possibilities. My mind’s eye swept over the beach, mangroves, fishing jetty, the sea and the wide sky. I knew that if I gently ventured into magic I would find what I needed. I walked in the sun and softened my gaze to see beyond the obvious. First I saw the green vines wrapping themselves in, through and around the fences that lined the streets. I stopped to pick a few and played with their potential. Next I saw the flowers and then more vine of a different green, size and shape. Not yet knowing how it would all come together I gathered, picked and loaded up my carry bag with the natural elements. There was potential in the gathered green and color but no form.
I found my friend Smokey down by the beach bar working on fishing poles, tools in hand.
“Smokey, I need something.”
“Ok,” he said as he paused his work to turn to me.
“Maybe I am looking for some bendy wire, or something that I can twist or….”
“Ok, you are going to need to tell me what you are doing so I can get you what you need.”
“I’m making a fairy crown.”
Smokey looked at me, smirked just a little, paused further (which I imagine was him deciding to not ask me why) and turned to his truck and opened the large steel tool box that rested in the back tray. Within moments he pulled out some wire, gifted me with more than enough plus wire cutters to chop the length into the pieces I needed. Smokey returned to his task and I skipped to my room to blend nature and twist wire. I hoped that it would be enough.
It had been many years since my fairy had made an appearance. I found it hard to remember the last time I had donned a costume and bought Fairy Firespark to life. I knew it had been years but could not remember how many. I missed her and was so happy she was on her way back.
It was a fire that had inspired her return. Days before after the sun had set over the bay I saw a fire across the water on the beach. It was small but inviting. My curiosity led me to wander away from my writing spot on the verandah overlooking the jetty, past the beach bar, the fish shed, the beached boats and onto the sand of the swimming beach. Gingerly I walked towards the fire, not knowing what I would find but open to the possibility of being pleasantly surprised.
At the fire I found a young woman and a man who opened their gaze and invited me in. They often built fires on the beach as a way of inviting people in. They had made a small beach cafe and hoped the fire would draw customers and friends. As they explained this they gifted me a cold beer and a place at the fire. Our conversation was easy and light. I learnt they were sweethearts who had loved each other since their teenage years. They had grown up on the island and were now making their way as parents of a six year old girl. It was clear there was a lot of love in them and it reflected and flicked like the flames of the fire when they spoke of their daughter.
I shared the story of what had brought me to the island and my navigations in writing a book about grief, love and the loss of my own child. As I shared my story I found myself talking of magic and how much of it I had found in Buccoo, in memories of my son and in my writing.
“Our daughter believes in magic. She loves fairies.” shared the mother.
“OH! I’m a fairy!” I had spoken without knowing the words were being formed. Argh! What had I done? I was sure I would now be seen as a weird white lady who spoke in riddles and madness. My distress formed a wave of words that spilled and crashed against the sand. I told them of the job I had in my twenties when I was Fairy Firespark and how each weekend I would dress up as a fairy to entertain little girls at their birthday parties.
“Our daughter would love a party like that.”
I breathed with relief when I realised that I was not seen as crazy but just another sitting by the fire. It must have been my relief that spilled the next words.
“She can. I could come as Fairy Firespark, she could meet with me.”
And so the plan was set. Fairy Firespark would come out on Wednesday afternoon under the mangroves to meet a six year old fairy believer. We arranged to meet the Tuesday before to cement the plans to ensure our fantasy playground had the best chance of magic making.
As I walked to the beach on Tuesday afternoon to meet the mother and father I was unsure of what would happen next. Was I really going to turn up on the beach as a fairy? Or was the plan simply a beer and fire induced magic tale? I found the father where I had left the fire nights before. He had a drink in his hand, was surrounded by friends who were mostly looking down toward the sand rather than out to sea, and the sensation I felt was familiar but I could not place it. I carefully entered the circle.
“Oh its you, yeah hi, ummm my wife was just here to meet you but she had to take our daughter up the hill to her aunts ummm she should be back soon.”
The father was mumbling the words and mostly not looking directly at me. He seemed distressed and his eyes were red and bloodshot. I stood with an open gaze and waited for what was not yet understood.
“Something has happened.” he said.
I took a breath and waited to receive.
“My mother died yesterday.”
And the waves came crashing to shore.
Again I found myself standing in the company of fresh grief and I instinctively did what my heart told me was right. I hugged my friend and told him I was sorry. He shared further and told me of the shock as her death was unexpected and had happened post procedure at a hospital in the neighboring island, Trinidad. He was not given the chance to say good-bye.
The mother returned and we shared time sitting with the waves and weight of grief.
Gently I enquired; “So what of the fairy? Is it a good idea for her to come tomorrow or should we let it go?”
“I have already told our daughter the fairy is coming.”
And with that the plan was set back into motion. I felt sure of the task but was met by a slow rising anxiety and uncertainty. Being a grown woman dressing up as a fairy in the mangroves was one thing, but being the fairy that met a girl digesting death for the first time felt like another thing all together. I resolved it was magic that had delivered the plan and all was in perfect order.
As I crafted the crown the day Fairy Firespark was to return I pondered what death must mean to a six year old. I felt responsible to be the magic I felt she must need and to be the one who could sit and be with her as she processed never seeing her grandmother again. It felt like my weeks of writing about loss and grief was now being tested by magic, the sea, sand and by a child who would see right through me if I was a non believer or false.
Behind a tree I dressed in a white sun frock, placed my crown of vines and flowers on my head, and twisted a necklace and bangles out of vines. It felt risky to be disguised yet obviously different. I waited for the girl I had never met who was on her way to the beach to meet a fairy. My want to be everything for her built a force of tension that had me literally shaking as I stood under the mangroves and waited her arrival.
As she approached the vulnerable part of me silently screamed inside. I was so nervous. I felt the sand beneath my feet and invited the fire of magic to rise up. As she arrived I saw she was just as nervous and also curious.
“I’m looking for a little girl” I called her by name. As she heard herself called her shoulders widened and a smile spread across her face.
“That’s me!” she confidently declared.
“I’ve been sent here by my fairy mother to spend time with you. Would you like to spend time with me?” And the connection was made.
It didn’t take long for her to tell her parents she was fine and they could go. As they left us to sit further down the beach she guided me to a fallen tree branch that proved to be a perfect perch for a six year old fairy believer and her fairy. We sat and she took the lead. We started with a few questions and then she launched into stories.
“The other kids at school don’t believe in fairies but I do. They tease me for believing but I don’t care.” And the stories flowed, stories of her strong stance in her belief, and her unwavering knowing of magic. No small task for a six year old, and especially a young girl living on an island where some believe in black magic and harbor fear of the esoteric. We spoke freely and the nature of magic flowed.
“My grandmother died.”
“I know. That is why my fairy mother allowed me to come to human form to be with you.”
“But she is ok. I cried the first night. And then on the second night I looked up at the stars and I knew she was ok. She is nowhere near the fire, she is up in the stars.”
The fire I realised was the fear of hell and the stars to her were heaven. The adult in me felt sure this was ‘the part’ where the fairy speaks wisdom of life and death and eases the heart of a young girl. My surety was met with playtime. She leapt of the branch and invited me into play. The mangroves were her playground and she knew them well. We ran, skipped, watched ants work, discovered new flowers, and she protected me when we encountered non believing adults. It was free and fun and ever chasing of the next game or delight in nature.
In a spontaneous moment she stopped.
“It’s time for the burial wishes.”
A tree branch freshly fallen with leaves still green was staked into the sand and a mound was built up to hold it in place. Together we worked without words and she led the way. Her parents came to meet us and she shared the ritual with them.
“How many wishes shall we make.” asked her mother.
“Hundreds and hundreds.” was the obvious answer she gave.
And under the mangroves death was simply allowed to be.
It was time to leave so I gifted my fairy crown to my six year old magic believing playmate, wished them well and blended back into the mangroves. Hours later after the sun had set on my last day in Buccoo I felt into the lessons learnt from my friend; the six year old fairy believer.
She teaches – It doesn’t matter if others don’t believe, it matters what you believe. If you wish to see magic you will and it is easy, fun and invites ritual and moments of reverence and joy. Believing can be easy if you will allow it. And to those who have left us, they are up with the stars and they are ok.