Anticipation woke me early, my heart banging rapidly-out a reggae beat, jam-packed jots of shuddering low-end frequency licking open my eyes. Skanking figures dissolved from the night time dance into the day, a splash of Wray and Nephews remaining like a wet dream. Carnival morning is better than Christmas morning.
Then I felt the familiar acidic churn in my stomach, the rough sour chunks slide silently up my throat. Waves of queasiness linking fingers with rippling anxiety. I ran to droop my head over the china white bowl, staring down the familiar inside. I waited, again, for some relief.
But I wasn’t sick. Instead it simmered and gurgled, as always, just underneath like a bully, the lingering threat worse than the punch and I wilted over with exhaustion. Fatigue already tainting the early air. Morning sickness is a mean lie. All day nausea that never fucks off is more accurate. It feels like the desperation of a Sunday hangover, an agonizing awareness of the day rolling definitively past, willing Monday on just to feel alive again. Except this Monday doesn’t come.
That night Clifford drove us to Grow in Hackney Wick, where a long-time favourite DJ of mine, Uncle Dugs, was playing on Clifford’s Soundsystem, Natural High Power. I swayed happily within the lights, soaking up the sound with several gallons of juice, (it’s only when you don’t drink alcohol you realise the impressive amount of fluid humans consume on a night-out and the heightened amount of time they spend pissing.) Breathing-in the sub frequencies felt like pumping new-charge into my wires. This has always been the trigger switch for my internal happy place.
“What’s your plan for tomorrow?” My friend asked, the current of a carnival weekend sneaking through her voice, and I implored Jah to give me just this one tiny weekend of health, just these couple of days to feel like myself again. If I could have that, I swore, I would never complain again.
But that feeling I’d been holding at bay for a good few hours still loitered in my shadow. As we wove home, about the South London tarmac, it clawed its way quickly back up with such force that I had to shout, “Pull over!” just in time to hurl several-hundred pints of juice first into an empty McDonalds bag I found under Clifford’s back seat and then artistically down the side of a garage. That feeling of life had been momentary. Nothing had changed and I crawled back into bed, miserable again.
Last year at carnival it rained so much that we were drenched through, dripping in a river of piss by Aba Shanti-I, Clifford crouching under a lorry to stop his curry goat from getting diluted (maybe he just likes getting under lorries?) This year, of course, the sun blazed as strong as the crowds soaking it up. I was inside, my rib cage being torture-tickled by a million razor-winged butterflies, with no rest-bite from shade, riding the very edges of panic. “Well it was probably your last carnival anyway,” my mum told me when I phoned her (definitely the most unhelpful thing I could have heard) to which I replied with extreme irritability, “why, am I dying?”
It felt like it.
A miniature upside was that Clifford didn’t go to Carnival either, but he also wasn’t at home. Leaving and returning while I slept, working weekends, he was (unbeknown at the time) gradually getting where he wanted to be, but it was leaving me further away from where I wanted to be. I felt remote, housebound by sickness, fenced in by a wall of washing up and filthy heaps of unwashed clothes. It cluttered up my brain. The only thoughts were a barraged of visions I couldn’t quite escape, of me being at home alone all the time with a tiny baby, while Clifford worked all hours of everyday so we had enough money. It was bleak.
I’ve always been first-rate at hiding when I’m feeling down, carving out that isolation even more. It is extremely hard to connect good thoughts with something that makes you feel so low, but I felt like if I was depressed a simple conclusion would be drawn; she’s made a mistake, she doesn’t want to be pregnant, she doesn’t want her baby. “I’m so glad we get to go through this, it’s such a special journey,” my non-pregnant friend gushed and I smiled sweetly, just you fucking wait.
A few days later I’d managed to make it through work again in a fairly normal-looking state, exhausted, only to collapse onto the bus, summer slowly giving way into autumn darkness through the window behind my head. The dusty pink light splashed against the horizon while pin pricks popped out all over the city. I blinked at the London skyline, seen one million times, still stirring up something as if it were new. The setting for the script of my life, the whispering memories, fragments of who I was and became forever stashed in between those buildings.
And then, out of nowhere, I felt something odd. A sense of fierce protection, for someone I didn’t know yet. The realisation that they too could grow up amongst these structures, that this skyline could hold their delicate, daring dreams, just like it held mine. One day they could look across it with the same electric excitement of possibility.
Startled, and in a rare breather from sickness, I felt compelled to rest a hand on the top of my tummy.