Early evening: I’m climbing the steps to Xavier Redchoose’s clifftop “Torn Poem” restaurant on the fictional archipelago of Popisho. The sea sings behind me and there’s honeysuckle on the warm wind. I smile: Xavier’s gift is feeding you exactly the meal you need, atmosphere and all, and honeysuckle is my happiest childhood fragrance.
On the veranda, someone is plucking a guitar. Xavier, a character in my book This One Sky Day, will be serving us here, under thousands of stars splintering the deep sky. I hardly clock the musician; I’m too eager to see the chef in action. He flavours food by touch alone, herbs and spices pouring out of his palms.
As I peep through the window, he looks up, gesturing towards the thin, sure music being played behind me.
Prince, I realise, has come early, in a sharp scarlet suit, arms around his flamed maple Telecaster. He grins, gestures appreciatively at my frock with a mango-lime lollipop, then pops it back in his mouth. Xavier has made him a bowlful. I recall him sucking one at the 1995 American Music Awards instead of lip-syncing to “We Are the World”.
Novelist and activist James Baldwin arrives next, natty and huge-smiled. He’s the only guest I’ve never met from my days as a journalist, and I’m glad Xavier’s instincts will help welcome him. Chef sends out a trio of ceviche — teal snapper, sweet white octopus, oysters.
James sits on a cushion to eat with his hands, admiring the colours, listening as Prince plays his ballad “Old Friends 4 Sale”. It’s so good to be with these black men in the quiet, their bodies so fluid and sure. I ask Baldwin to read aloud from my copy of The Fire Next Time, so Xavier can hear.
The mood changes with the arrival of writers Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison. We hear them laughing uproariously on the pink sand below. Dancing on to the veranda barefooted, they swing another woman between them, telling us about the mischievous tide. “See how the water caught us!” says Audre, presenting soaked shoes. “Leone, where did you find this excellent woman?”
She’s referring to Trinidadian poet Shivanee Ramlochan, who’s apparently saved them from the playful sea — she’s shy but clearly thrilled to connect.
Prince and James greet the women, hugging body to body. Morrison’s regal dreads are strewn with opals, the hem of her robe damp. “Gorgeous!” she carols when I reference Ramlochan’s collection Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting. “Not a word out of place.” Shivanee beams. A platter of cornmeal-fried aubergine arrives, encrusted with chilli, roasted onions and capsicum pickle. Audre licks the flecks of paprika oil from her wrist.
Toni moves over to the kitchen window, curious. By the time I join her to pay my respects, she’s humming low in delight. We watch Xavier sifting flour for Southern biscuits, caressing fat, salting, checking . . . “Checking for mites in the flour,” Morrison nods, touched, thinking of that moment from her novel Beloved.
Supper arrives: a tureen of glutinous pork stew stuffed with red beans, caramelised garlic and coconut milk for the few carnivores here; a pumpkin curry bursting with five kinds of mushrooms and baby corn that has everybody groaning happily; a macaroni cheese almost as long as the table; spinach, kale, avocados halved and limed, all fresh from the garden; mounds of nutty, grilled breadfruit and golden-fried plantain. The Beloved biscuits arrive warm out of the oven, running in goat’s milk butter.
James wants rum; Toni wants rum; Shivanee pours pitch-black rum. Prince cautions against alcoholic excess. Audre says: “Boy, remove the mango seed from your backside!” He feeds her pieces of fennel-seed sourdough to say sorry. We all eat, happily and excessively. Prince’s fingers undulate: Popisho is inspiring him to play, even more than usual.
A brimming bowl of electric-blue fruit arrives from Xavier’s “Torn Poem” tree — inedible, but each one contains a beautiful fragment of text in its belly. Toni and Baldwin break the fruit, calling out nonsense words to Prince; he winds them into new songs that make Shivanee and Audre dance together across the creaking boards. Vegan cakes appear, kiwi fruit and pomegranate, caramel and peach, like bridal flower arrangements. They trigger a chorus of wedding-guest memories sweet and sour. Who knew marital stories would unite us so?
Xavier has finally come outside, quietly passing around a tray of dark chocolate globes. We pop them into our mouths whole, bite down, tongues flooded with tamarind juice and hot pepper. Baldwin bangs the table and crows admiringly: “The period at the end of the final sentence!”
We chorus agreement: poets, editors, lyricists, writers all, then begin a merry debate on whether the phrase “full stop” is better. The surf pants and blows. I’m sleepy, curled in a hammock, watching. The lamps melt them into a sweet ball of sound and joy. Lime-green moths flutter against the walls, and sputtering fireflies.
Leone Ross is the author of ‘This One Sky Day’ (Faber)
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