OFF CENTRE: The best of Barbados
At daybreak in Maycocks or Market Hill or Marchfield, a young woman high-heel hustles to the nearest bus stop. Get to work early. Do a day’s work in half day. ’Cause today’s the day.
As she waits, she relives rush, rush, rush, five years of twain-meeting work and study, and rewinds to no O Levels at school’s end, pregnant too early, the O Level Institute, and mummy’s help and auntie’s . . . and fast forwards to donning that gown and cap and smiling at mummy and Minolta.
The bus arrives. She is on her way out and up: a single mother, at 28, becomes a bachelor today . . .
And somewhere else, later, among these fields and hills there is bent over, wizened-faced Mr Rouse, plunging a fork again and again into familiar earth.
He is a conqueror of hard times and his half acre.
His hands quiver, his back pinches at every bend, but will-strong Rousie presses on, his non-stop action a shrug at the broiling sun. At 77 he is not resigned to anything. Hard work nevah kill nuhbody, he has mantra-ed. And he got some cabbage seeds to put in the ground before the rains come . . .
In Anychurch, Barbados, her “Hallelujah!” is like an orgasmic scream, and its accompanying convulsive “Jee-ee-zus-suh” a veritable climactic embrace of her Lord, who will see her through anything, everything.
The tears that crawl down her cheeks and fall are not just sorrowing droplets; they’re liquid hope that Devere will forsake all others – like the bottle and that “nasty” woman – and properly provide for the children . . . for chicken and macaroni and milk and snacks and . . . and to replace Tara’s embarrassing school shoes.
When she opens her eyes, she is indeed stronger. Facing down life, among the schooled sceptics, she is not going to drink Gramoxone or stab-up Devere . . .
On the outskirts of town, he looks at it through the window of his cluttered office. Twenty-seven years of risks and doubts and cold-sweats and tears – and, finally, a Mercedes Benz. He frowns, still a little uncomfortable about the expense . . . . Black businessman in the black. Phew! . . .
Inside a Wildey chattel house, they rock in languid to and fros. Their silence does not pall. Nor does the chairs’ rhythmic creak disturb their smiles of contentment, even after all these years, even after tongue and teeth have had so many words.
Still they remember picking pond grass, fighting leaking roof, minding smut lamps and 11 children – two deceased (Myrtle just after birth), the others coaxed, shouted, belted, timetabled into productivity and decency (“Don’t eat on the road!”) – and negotiating 61 years since the vows.
Heads raise slowly, almost mischievous eyes lock, and no words as slowed rocking chairs release the old lovers. They hold hands and mince towards the bedroom. The mustard will be cut – somehow, even now . . .
At a water cooler in Warrens, a black man and a white man talk fast cars. The latter flings a broad-brogued something-blumma at a remembered whizzing, delighting turn through the Hammer, and the other rejoins with an excited “brass bowl”.
Not exactly fast friends – the relationship is thread-thin – they will not call each other after work, and neither will marry the other’s sister. But with all that has happened between “them” in the past, there is no raw hostility. The one will not kill the other tomorrow . . .
In his modest “Heights” house, he jumps up early, morphing his caring into sandwiches, somethings for their fill. He never swam in money, but the poor call his name.
He spends himself out of pocket and breath for the dingied, shoeless, ragged, smelly, bent-minded, curled-in-the-doorway underpeople.
He never asks why. On the street, their hands reach up and his heart reaches down . . .
And then there’s this . . .
In my dreams, it rises in arpeggiated strums, with sympathetic keyboard comping, mood-first drum and bass pulsing a soul-caressing groove, so poignancy can live and breathe.
A singer paints a man in stretch of work, a woman in sway of blissful hosannas, someone clambering up education’s ladder. Virtues imaged, embodied; phrases measured for heart touch, crescendoing to bosom-swelling depiction of Barbados.
Song that extols. Song that inspires. A song of Barbados. A song for Barbados . . .
This is the best of Barbados – at least some of it. We can build Independence on these things. We should.