I was dripping with sweat, wearing a plastic garbage bag for a skirt, with gold sparkles stuck all over my face, neck, arms and legs that were digging into my skin like thousands of tiny sharp needles, getting high from smelling all the pot in the air, taking the occasional sip of rum from a flask that was being passed around.
There were hundreds of us there, maybe thousands — all of us having joined mas bands — waiting for Caribana (as it was called then) to start (it was already more than an hour late and we were baking in the extreme (30+) heat and humidity. An annual event, Caribana is a festival of Caribbean culture and traditions and the parade — which is a highlight of the month-long festivities — is always held on the Saturday of the August long weekend.
Today, in fact. It should be happening today. Except the parade and a lot of the events were cancelled this year because of COVID.
I had just moved to Toronto from Montreal that year and a work colleague, who knew I love everything West Indian, asked me if I wanted to participate, to join a band. He and his wife at the time were in a band sponsored by a now defunct restaurant/nightclub called the BamBoo — a very popular Toronto spot and one of my favourites.
“Sure,” I said, without a clue of what I was signing up for or the stamina it would take. How it never occurred to me that I’d be wining my way down one of Toronto’s main thoroughfares on a journey that would take a few hours, in extreme heat, I don’t know. But there I found myself, along with huge numbers of other participants in costumes.
It was wild and crazy and fun. And memorable. Oh, was it memorable!
I still remember that the garbage bag (the theme that year was the environment and our band was meant to represent dirty water and how people throw garbage everywhere) had stuck to my skin as if it was glued on, Between the heat and the sweat it had melted on to me and trying to get it off was no picnic. Let’s just say I didn’t have to wax my legs for the better part of a year after that.
I also remember the trail of sparkles I left when, on the verge of collapse about two thirds of the way to the end of the parade route, I decided to call it a day and head home. There were sparkles in the subway car, in my apartment building lobby, in the elevator and in my apartment. There was still the odd sparkle lurking in corners when I moved out three years later.
My face was the colour of an over ripe tomato and my hair, which tends to get curly when it’s warm, was completely out of control. I know I was a sight to behold because of the looks I got from people when I got to the subway station — not to mention how I reacted when I got a glimpse of myself in the mirror when I got home.
The first thing I did was to throw myself — fully clothed — into an ice cold shower. And then I cranked the air conditioner up as high as it would go and stood in front of it — naked — for what must have been 15 minutes, at least.
After all that, I still had sparkles all over me, so I put a big beach towel on my bed and collapsed on top of it. Where I stayed for the rest of the day and night.
I never participated in Caribana again, but I went every year for at least 10 years as a spectator. My mother used to love it and before she moved here, this weekend was one of her annual visits and we’d go. I’d pack a couple of lightweight folding chairs and a picnic and we’d go very early and pick out a shady spot under a tree (the parade route changed at some point) where we could see the costumes and hear the music.
I think I’ll go put on some soca music. Wish I had a roti to go with it.