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WORD VIEW: Ma and Independence

Esther Phillips

WORD VIEW: Ma and Independence

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“Lord have ‘Is mercy!” This was the second time in close succession that Ma had called on God for mercy, but what made Janice listen more closely to the conversation between their grandmother and Maureen was the fact that Ma had included the “‘Is”. That always meant that the old lady was in earnest and only the Creator’s special brand of mercy could meet the urgent need at hand.
“What you mean . . . “Independence”?” What it is you really mean?”
“That we no longer have to depend on Britain to rule over us. We could rule ourselves. We free from England. It’s about time!”
“Yes,” Ma said despairingly, “time for more crosses, trials and tribulations!” She had started rocking from side to side, her head bent. When she started to speak again, it was as if she felt she needed to pour every effort into making her granddaughter see common sense.
“Girl, Englan’ is the mother country, yours and mine, all o’ we own.  You know what it is you saying?” She paused, then continued, “You mean de English people dat was rulin’ we . . . ? You mean dat de qu . . . ?” It seemed as if Gran would choke on the word “Yuh mean dat de . . .”
“Yes, Ma, the Queen! The Queen can’t rule over us no more.” Gran opened her bottle of Limacol, poured a handful and was clapping her forehead and temples distractedly.
“Well, if it ain’t de Queen, or dem other people up in England,who den?”
“We Bajans, nuh. We got leaders, yuh know!”
“Lord . . . have . . . ‘Is . . . mercy!” Ma’s distress was acute. “I know we got what we call leaders, but England got to keep dem in check. Yuh cahn lef we people alone to rule nobody, especially we own self!”
Ma was reflective. “Girl, I remember how dem drivers pon de plantations used to be. Worse than de white overseers! I tell you it is trouble if only we own people ruling over we.”
“Ma,” Maureen had argued, “these days different. We educated now. We have people that understand about government and constitution and democracy and all the things we need to run a country.”
But Ma was inconsolable. The Queen must be vex enough with these upstarts. And if there was no more England, what opportunity the young men and women would have to go and enlighten themselves and help their poor families back home? And look when they come home to visit how they look so refine and talking so nice.
“But, Ma,” Maureen had argued, “you don’t see how some o’ dem head don’t be good when they come back? Things up in England can’t be all that good. Besides, Independence don’t mean that you can’t still go to England if you want to.”
There had been more of a to-do when Marvin, Ma’s grandson, had come home and shown Gran a drawing of the new Barbados flag.
“Yuh see what I tell you? You see dat fork in de middle? Back to de plantation! And worse now because yuh don’t even have a whole fork to work wid!” Ma had taken to her bed for days. Her appetite was also not what it used to be.
The old lady made her last comment about Independence the morning after the flag had been raised and Maureen and Janice were reporting on the ceremony.
“Fireworks? Wunnuh ain’t see fire yet! Look fuh fire now! Lord have ’Is mercy!” There could be no mistaking the deep earnestness of her prayer.
•Esther Phillips is an educator, poet and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century.