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WORD VIEW – Rainy evenings

Esther Phillips

WORD VIEW – Rainy evenings

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We liked those evenings when it rained and we didn’t have to eat any “food”. Instead, we had “chocolate tea with dumplings”, one of my favourites. This was a hot beverage made from a square of dark chocolate and flavoured with bay leaf or hard spice, with milk added. Dumplings or “flour-drops” as my grandmother called them, were boiled in the chocolate tea and you ate them from the cup with a spoon.
Or, we would have “rice-and-milk” which was rice boiled as a liquid with coconut and milk added and flavoured with vanilla essence or cinnamon.  
And the nice, hot bakes, made from white flour or an added mixture of grated sweet potato, cassava flour or corn meal. And all of us watching to see when the next “skip” of bakes came out of the frying pan or sometimes from the coal pot on the wood stove in my grandmother’s kitchen.
We ate fishcakes with real fish, a bone here and there, and plenty of chive, parsley and other seasonings. All this beat “food” any day. 
Since nobody could go outside, my mother would take a break from trying to keep seven children quiet and play the piano, still one of my greatest memories. She played tunes such as The Bicycle Waltz, Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes and O My Darling Clementine, among others.
She played mostly hymns, though, and I would sing the descant while my sisters sang soprano and my younger brother, the tenor. When people say that my poetry is lyrical, I believe I owe much of that to this very early involvement with music and singing in the house.
When our mother stopped playing the piano and we still had to find other things to do, we played all kinds of games with the occasional bellow from our mother to “Keep quiet!” We played word games using the Students Companion, held concerts, reciting or singing or played any game we could think of.
The occasional fight broke out but not too often since our mother’s response to this activity was always far from encouraging. 
By twilight, the rain had stopped and Miss Lewis had come to make her usual visit. She was an old woman who lived next door in a small, rickety house. Many a home had fallen during Hurricane Janet, but although Miss Lewis’ house had swayed this way and that, it had settled down again completely intact. I always felt this old lady had some kind of special powers that must have come to her aid during the hurricane.
It was now storytime and we were gathered around Granny and Miss Lewis – This young man was walking home late one night when suddenly he saw a beautiful woman whose skirt reached down to her feet.
As they talked, he could feel her leading him along a different path, but could not resist. In a short while, he reached the end of a cliff and fell over to his death. The young man had unknowingly encountered a cloven-footed hag.
If somebody could pour salt on her skin where she had left it hidden, however, the hag would die and never be able to suck a baby’s blood.
A man called John Greene was walking home one night and had to pass by a four cross road. He heard
a cat meowing out of nowhere and the cat began following him. He figured he would take the animal home. As he continued on his journey, the bag containing the cat became heavier and heavier until Mr Greene had to put the bag down.
All of a sudden the cat began talking: “Carry me back where yuh tek me from! Carry me back where yuh tek me from!” By now the huge cat was out
of the bag and staring at the man with big, shiny, yellow eyes.
The cat may have used its instinct to get back to where it had been picked up, but it couldn’t best the time in which Mr Greene reached home.
It was time to go to bed and we had no choice, terrified as we were. Our dreams that night were filled with cats with cloven hooves and frightening creatures clawing at us demanding that we take them without delay back to the four cross road.
Esther Phillips is head of the Division of Liberal Arts of the Barbados Community College. She is also a poet and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century. Email [email protected]