For the past few weeks there’s been a 7 p.m. curfew in Barbados as part of what the government calls a ‘national pause’ (lockdown, essentially). I’m actually grateful because it’s been manic lately. The excitement started with the visit of Captain Sir Tom Moore in December. I was commissioned by a golfing group called the ‘Sandy Lane Swingers’ to write and perform a song, ‘Marching on to Victory’, at a charity lunch. It’s a jaunty tune, composed by my co-writer Jeremy Limb, with a singalong at the end. Captain Tom joined in, waving his napkin in the air. As an encore I sang a verse of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and he mouthed all the words. Despite his age and frailty, he was in good spirits and delighted to be in our corner of paradise. At that time Barbados was Covid-free with strict quarantine rules, which meant we could enjoy a hedonistic bubble.
This changed when the Christmas holiday crowd descended. Celebrities ignored the rules, prostitutes were caught climbing over hotel balconies to join quarantining couples for illicit threesomes, and a Covid denier slipped away from his hotel to a bar, infecting many people. On 2 January I tested positive. Talking to a friend on the phone, I told her I was anxious. The day before, I’d popped to the supermarket and chatted to Russ Abbot in aisle eight. ‘What if I’ve infected a national treasure?’ ‘Well, you must write to him,’ she said. I wrote, but never heard back.
I live at Schooner Bay near Speightstown. It’s a friendly place. Residents crack open a bottle of Minuty at sunset and share poolside drinks. During lockdown I performed opera recitals from my balcony on a Saturday night. We were
a jolly group, but when I told the chairman of the residents’ association about my positive test, I became public enemy number one. My next-door neighbour climbed on to the roof to see if our apartments shared a vent. Within an hour of my test result, 24-hour security was placed outside my door and phone calls were made to the Ministry of Health requesting my transfer to the government’s isolation facility.
Did I not mention that those who test positive for Covid are carted off to a facility? As soon as the sun sets, the Covid bus makes its journey around Barbados picking up victims — oops, patients — and takes them to Harrison’s Point in the north of the island. Suitcase in one hand and ukulele in the other, I was collected by men in PPE at 9.30 p.m. It isn’t fun sharing five bathrooms with 60 strangers, sleeping four to a room. Thank God I went to boarding school. To lift morale, I recorded a song on my ukulele thanking the wonderful doctors and nurses and launched into an upbeat rendition of ‘We’re fucked, we’re fucked, we’re totally, totally fucked’. The song was intended for a WhatsApp chat, but it was leaked and went viral. Along with congratulations from my musician friends on the island, it received its fair share of derision and calls of ‘tourists go home’.
Sleep-deprived and bewildered, I was released to spend the rest of my infectious stage at the Crane, a lovely hotel on the south coast. As I eased into the rooftop pool, I tried to push away memories of plugholes filled with hair, 5 a.m. stat checks and sunsets viewed through a grille. The next morning my phone pinged with messages telling me to check Facebook. Some lady I hardly knew had posted on her timeline: ‘Melinda Hughes deserves to get Covid because she didn’t wear a mask at Schooner Bay.’ I got her number from a mutual friend and called her to explain that masks are not required there and to ask her to take down her post. She refused, so I told her she was a ‘gossip and a vile woman’ before hanging up. Her next post: ‘Melinda Hughes has just called me a vile woman.’ Good grief.
My partner, whom I had kindly infected with Covid, was still at Harrison’s Point as he tested positive four days after me. ‘I’m rather enjoying it,’ he told me. ‘I’m sharing with a prison guard and we’re having really interesting conversations.’ Each to their own. I went to the supermarket and spotted Russ Abbot. ‘Thank God you’re OK!’ I cried. ‘Oh I’m fine, luv. Absolutely fine.’ ‘Honestly, Russ, you could have bloody well answered my email!’
I’m back home at Schooner Bay. Thankfully I didn’t infect Russ Abbot, but the news about Captain Tom’s death was devastating. One woman on Instagram actually accused me of killing him. Oh, the joys of social media. The national pause is nearly over and the vaccination programme in full swing. I have one more month to spend on this beautiful island. I hope it will be free from scandal, but somehow I doubt it.
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