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WORD VIEW – Tide of the heart – pt 2


Esther Phillips

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I am continuing my journey to the village of the past. My purpose is to reconnect with that era and to determine how possible it is to “return to the village”. It would seem that I no longer need to name a particular location since the scenes I am describing fit the childhood memories of many.  Just down the road is an unpainted wooden building standing on a small rising. Slabs of limestone support this building in the middle and at its four corners. Some of the boards have turned dark grey with mildew, some eaten by termites. The windows, built from the same siding material, open out with long rectangular sticks. In spite of its ramshackle look the flooring must be strong, since this is the Dancing-House or the Casino as it is popularly called.It is Bank Holiday. All afternoon my siblings and I look through the window at the people on their way to the dance. The men wear brightly-coloured “banlon” shirts, pants fitting closely around the ankles and worn high enough to reveal the boldly-striped socks.  These men must be stewing under the “stingy-brim” hats, judging by the amount of sweat pouring from their faces. But what other purpose would be served by the large handkerchiefs trailing stylishly out of back pockets?And the women. Hot ironing combs are the order of the day, producing a variety of hairstyles: the upsweep, French roll, the flip. Several of these ladies wear “pedal-pushers” or “hobble-skirts”, so called because of the rather close fit around the knees. Their lipstick is invariably bright red.                                         Either my mother is in a good mood or I slip away unnoticed to go and join the onlookers at one of the Casino windows. A Sparrow calypso is blasting away, the dancing a kind of free-for-all with the building joining in. But the tunes are mostly country and western, requiring only a simple “three-step”, the mood as mellow as the time. For even when the songs tell of heartbreak and loss, we believe that love is not only possible but enduring.  Fast-fast-forward. The village I have been describing no longer exists. It is gone. In its place is another entity now referred to more commonly as “the community”. Chattel houses still abound, but they are larger, several of them replaced by stone structures. Cars are practically everywhere. In many ways, economic progress is evident. Most of the people here are decent and hard-working.But there are disturbing signs. Children hardly play outside. They sit in front of the television and allow the technology to replace their imagination. Some of the older folks greet me, but from barred windows or doors that remain locked most of the time. An old woman living alone dare not ask a passing male to pick a breadfruit for her as she would have done in the past.Marijuana fumes seem everywhere. Dreadlocked young men loll under trees or on the steps of an abandoned shop, the redness of their eyes the only sign that they are still alive. A few have already spent time in prison; others are on their way there. They will not cut canes or work the land. There are “easier” ways to make money.Whether unemployed or working for moderate wages, tattooed young women wear the latest styles, hair well coiffed, nails manicured. But I can’t help but overhear their conversation, and note how the rhythm of the dialect has changed: it is now a raucous staccato with angry-sounding undertones. It is shocking to hear their liberal and apparently aimless use of expletives.I am aware that my memory of the past has been selective; some might even say idealised. But I claim the same right as those who focus on “best practises”, which really means choosing the most effective ways to produce maximum positive results. In his poem sequence The Return, Kamau Brathwaite pens these words: Should you/ shatter the door/ and walk/ in the morning/ fully aware/ of the future/ to come?/ There is no turning back. And yes, we cannot return to the past, but we can return to some of the values which we call “old” and which I venture to call eternal, since they transcend time and make us human. There must be a caring and sharing that extends beyond where we are now comfortable. We lock ourselves away in our social enclaves at our peril. Next: Shattering The Door.•Esther Phillips is an educator, poet and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century.

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