Chernobyl, Barbados

BC Pires -
BC Pires -


YOU SLEEP for six hours and wake in what smells like a Three Plumes matchbox. Eyes still half-closed, dazed by the stench of sulphur, you step down on to the porch off your bedroom and wonder if you’re dreaming you’re at a beach house, because there’s gritty sand under your feet.

Eyes wide open, you realise you’re standing in two centimetres of ash and the dark skies aren’t about rain.

You remember, now, St Vincent’s La Soufriere volcano shooting out an ash plume five miles high yesterday. And talk of high-altitude westerly winds bringing the fallout to Barbados.

You look at your watch and realise it’s not 5 am, but 7 am!

You look up at the sky, to where the sun should be but there’s nothing but blackness. Not cloud, you realise, but ash in the air. Just before 8 am, you’ll see a ten cent-sized disc of lighter grey where the sun ought to be, which will promptly vanish until 2.22 pm on Sunday.

To be replaced by a sky so dark, you expect a thundercrack, a drum roll of thunder, a cymbal flash of lightning and a crescendo of rain bringing the deluge itself.

But you know this isn’t about rain at all-at all. 3canal’s Bible-inspired lyric flashes into your mind: He promised the fire next time.

You stumble downstairs, thumbing out WhatsApps. On the savannah across the road, it looks like the goalposts have been painted grey.

And the trees.

And the grass.

And someone retiled your white doorsteps grey while you slept.

WhatsApps come back.

Common to all: this is so weird; so eerie; so silent; so otherworldly; so zombie-apocalypse. From the west coast: the polo fields look like the Pitch Lake; the yachts look like they’re covered in the guano of a hell flock. From the south coast: the white sands of Accra, the beach that
is Barbados, for Trinis, have turned black.

On Monday, someone – a man, obviously – will take the time, trouble and sulphurous fumes needed to step off the boardwalk and foot-shuffle the black sand back to white, so as to form the outline of a massive phallus.

But you knew you were firetrucked the moment you woke up Saturday morning on the set of HBO’s Chernobyl mini-series. Post-nuclear reactor explosion.

Photographs and videos “Forwarded many times” ping your phone all day long. No one quite believes it but everybody knows it must be true. Ash falling like snow. Car headlights on high beam at midday.

You could tell the moment another eruption happened at La Soufriere, because an hour later, your skies got so dark, you thought it was night. And it wasn’t 4 pm yet.

When the rain comes, blessedly, you think it is a relief – until the videos of roof guttering clogged with volcano ash causing interior leaks reach your phone.

And you realise there is no upside whatever to this.

You shuffle around inside, nothing in your head and knots in your stomach. This isn’t house-arrest, this is life-stopping. And will-sapping. You don’t know uncertainty until you can’t trust the air you breathe and the sky above you.

On Friday people were joking on social media about a cinema audience refusing to believe a fantasy movie about a pandemic that added a volcano explosion.

But you are half-expecting an earthquake. Why should the ground beneath your feet be reliable now?

And everyone is saying the same things to one another: it’s creepy; it’s scary; it’s like the end of the world.

Danger is falling from the sky.

You’re locked inside your own space, every window shut tight every door locked. It’s just you, your co-residents and your thoughts. Which, at their best, remind you that the people of St Lucia have it even worse.

And, at worse, make you wonder if
this could be as good as it gets.

Covid19 lockdown was a holiday, compared.

You can’t trust the air you breathe, the blue Caribbean sky you’ve lived under all your life, the roof over your head or the gutters around it. You can’t even breathe a proper sigh of relief through your firetrucking N-95 mask.

And you know this could go on for days, weeks, months. You can’t even rule out years.

God alone knows when it will end.

And you know that would be Vulcan. The Roman god of volcanoes.

BC Pires might never get the sackcloth but he’s already got nuff ashes. Read the full version of this column on Saturday at


"Chernobyl, Barbados"

More in this section