Ta-daaa – 180 Days of Magic

Sleights of moment, waving the family wand

Down the road and up the gap

Posted by PlayGroundology on November 17, 2008

dsc00050The hot, hot never wavered during our whole stay. Deplaning the first afternoon, walking down the stairs to the tarmac the heat just bowled us over and scattered our senses. Sun is absolute, a monarch, a force unto itself. Three weeks is insufficient time to acclimatize to its intensity.

There are opportunities for relief though. Just after a rain there is a little bit of fresh in the air. As night rises and the bats begin their aerial pirouettes a modest discernible cooling begins that lasts until shortly after sunrise. Of course, there’s always the tried and true sea bath the only place you can exercise in this climate and not work up a sweat.

Then there’s AC – the sub-tropics dream machine. It’s a luxury in houses, one that we didn’t have. Nor did it purr chillingly in our rental car. We went cheap so had to make do with rolling down the windows. But the big stores and restaurants have it. I remember the first time we went into the Warrens Super Centre. It was like walking from an equatorial humidity factory onto an iceberg flotilla in the Strait of Belle Isle in just one, two steps. The super chill down didn’t last for much more than 30 seconds. After that it was a comfortably cooler treat.

In between beaching, kids napping and all the regular running a household, domestic bliss activities, I had some of that fine reconciliation, reflection time – giving thanks for then and now. Driving up the gap where I used to hang with guys from my adopted neighbourhood I see the younger incarnations of Iffrey, Hendy, Inee, Ibee, Sylvester aka Abdul.

Iffrey was the entrepreneur of the bunch hawking goods from a stand that is now long gone. He ran a lean machine with very little in stock, a just in time operation. He sold bananas, mangoes, limes, oranges, single Embassy and 3-5s cigarettes. Like me he didn’t live in the immediate neighbourhood. Years ago I heard that he had been apprehended for herb and incarcerated in Glendairy. I hope he is well.

With the exception of Iffrey and Abdul, the rest of us didn’t have regular type gainful employment. We were a bunch of young men bon vivants as bon as one can be without any dependable income. Most of us still lived in the family home. Iffreys’s stand at the top of the gap with access to a private little yard tucked behind 7 foot high palings was a great place to congregate, itate and discuss local, national and global goings on.

dsc001901I remember the group of us would occasionally downhill it to Batt’s Rock for a swim and smoke. It was a 90 minutes return walk. Batt’s Rock was more of a locals beach accessed by a dirt road track or paths that led through the burnt out shell of a long forgotten night club. We’d return via Black Rock and the University of the West Indies. This route was a less severe uphill gradient but a slog all the same. By the time we got back we needed another dip.

Road tennis tourneys contested outside Iffrey’s stall frittered away many an afternoon. The game was played with a lot of seriousness amidst huge helpings of laughter from watchers and players. A small 8 inches high wooden net bisected the court which was chalked onto the road surface. Each player had a large plywood paddle used to volley, slam, spin, cajole a naked tennis ball into the opponent’s side of the court. It’s a cross between tennis and table tennis. I wasn’t overly adept at it – well no I was outright bad, but enjoyed playing just for the fun.

I stopped the car one afternoon outside of the mechanics shop that used to be Abdul’s workplace and asked a man if he knew the whereabouts of any of the guys. He’d only lived in the neighbourhood about 10 years but had heard of the people. None were there any more. One went to England, another to America, others had moved to different parts of the island. All gone. Thanks men for the time and friendships we shared.

dsc00060I wanted to see Miss D too and thank her for the many kindnesses she showered on Makyla and I while we were under her caring eyes. I went down to her home on Deacon’s Rd. one afternoon with little miss social girl Nellie-Rose. Miss D had just turned 76 the previous day. It was so good to give her a hug and feel her arms full of love around me after all those years.

For more than 2 decades she had been the full time domestic for my former in-laws. When we arrived on the scene in 1982 she just adored Makyla and gave me a lot of help as a clueless first time househusband father. My unspoken part of the bargain was to bring a smile to her face through my actions and antics that frequently didn’t align with the niceties of the Bajan middle class ethos. Simply put, I was a bit of an embarrassment in some quarters – a long hair, rastafari lovin’, barefoot walkin’, herb smokin’, smartass little Canadian shit. My minor key exploits afforded her some good time laughter and amusement.

Miss D now owns the house that she shares with her daughter and granddaughter. The latest addition to the family is great grandson Jovani who’s about 2 months old now. We could hear him cooing away in the back room during our visit. Nellie started out on the floor that day but I soon had to pick her up as she was into everything within reach including a fan. It wasn’t long before Nellie was out of my arms and straight into Miss D’s gurgling, laughing, pulling at her glasses. Miss D’s refrain throughout the visit was, “look at her, she laughing” and “she just like her sister Makyla”.

dsc00011Miss D has not had an easy life. She shared some of her heartaches and injustices that have befallen her over the years. Strong and steadfast she has an unwavering faith in the Lord. She is resolute that anyone who has wronged her will one day have to answer for their own actions not in any sense of retributive payback but more from the perspective of personal responsibility. Miss D still has a lot of friends from her youth that she sees regularly in town and at church. Her congregation worships immediately across from her house in a blue and white tent that is a permanent fixture on Deacon’s Road and the beacon that helped us to find her. We laughed a lot, hugged, told our stories and the years melted away. Miss D I hope we meet up again. Your authentic joy in life is a bright, bright light.

Farrell and I got together several times during our last week. We laughed, reminisced, swapped a few tales and commiserated with each other about the vagaries of work life as public servants. The public service is providing us both with a venue to ply our skills and the wherewithal to butter our bread. In countries with strong democratic traditions it’s all pretty much of a muchness when it comes to the public service – great opportunities surpassed only by the myriad, often internally created obstacles littering the path leading from objective to result.

Farrell is a performer, a writer of plays and poems and a great proponent of the strength of popular culture in effecting change. He spent last year in the UK studying for a Master’s degree in popular theatre. He’s recently written a play on mental health, When Hope Smiles, for the Pan-American Health Organization. Over the years he’s had an opportunity to travel extensively to writers’ festivals to give readings of poems the likes of Caribbean Man. One of his favourite venues was Medellin, Colombia. The physical beauty was stunning and there were massive crowds gathered to meet and hear the writers. People were interested and the writers were truly celebrated and valued as important cultural creators.

Farrell encouraged me to come out and see one of the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) competitions. This is an annual contest that he’s been involved with for years as a voluntary judge. I thought about going to the Speightstown sessions on Saturday but the drive was a bit too far. So on our last Sunday, Noah and I made our way to Combermere School. The auditorium was crowded with about 200 in attendance. We were a little late so had to wait in the foyer until there was a break in the performances and we could slip in.

I am so happy we went. The evening was phenomenal. We saw 2 dramatic pieces, as well as 2 musical and 2 dance performances. Rickardo Reid an 8-year-old with the poise and delivery of a theatre pro delivered a 10 minute monologue that had everyone in the house rolling, reeling and laughing. His timing, comedic sensibilities and the text brought everything together in one package that shouted out absolutely fabulous. Noah was on my knees for the show. When this young boy came on and started his piece, “I gettin’ ready for the next World Cup” Noah’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. He was flabbergast incredulous that there was a boy up there owning the stage, storytelling to a large rapt crowd. As our Noah is no stranger to performing and loves a ladies and gentlemen crowd to talk to, I’m sure he wondered how he might attract this kind of attention and audience himself.

During the entr’acte we had a little snack and got some air outside. A man standing next to me struck up a conversation with Noah and I in French. Turns out he had spent his career in Canada working for the then Federal Business Development Bank. His French was excellent and it was fun to spend some time chatting. He returned home to Barbados on retirement. Many who leave the avocado isle look for a way to reach back home. Looked like things had turned out well for this gentleman.

Before leaving we got to check in with Farrell and meet a couple of his older children who had been in the under 5 set when I left Barbados. His youngest daughter was also there as she had performed that evening. Unfortunately we had missed her. It was good to see Farrell in dad mode. As the auditorium emptied Farrell and I said our goodbyes wondering if we’d get a chance to connect again. Driving home under the star punched sky Noah-David in an unsolicited moment of sweetness said to me, “thanks a lot for taking me papa, it was a lot fun”. We’ve only just begun and I’m looking forward to many more performances with Noah at my side.

As it turns out, young Rickardo did very well. Here’s what The Nation’s reporter wrote following the November 16 Gala at the Gary Sobers Complex: “But the gala spotlight was undoubtedly stolen by the youngest performer in this year’s NIFCA, Rickardo Reid. In the penultimate performance of the night, the pint-sized, giant-voiced, eight-year-old brought the house down. As they walked out of the Gymnasium, patrons were overheard repeating the refrain from Reid’s hilarious recitation; I Getting Ready Fuh De World Cup….Den.”

brothermanNo time for beaching on our last day. I did get down to the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill campus bookshop. For a lover of Caribbean and African literature that was a real treat. When I left in ’84 I gave away the 30 or so Caribbean novels and collections of short stories to the Learning Centre where I had been teaching. Nova Scotia isn’t the best place to find a selection of Caribbean titles. That day, I snatched up The Prime Minister by Austin Clarke, a wry, raw and wistful book about homecomings and political power. I’m still looking for a copy of Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack a laughter infused memoir of the author’s Bajan school years. Other treasures that day included Earl Lovelace’s Salt, Roger Mais’ Brother Man and Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like. This is a book that moved and outraged me when I read it in 1980. My copy disappeared and I always felt it as a loss. The words, words that he lived, were so powerful and triumphant over the apartheid forces that could never silence him. I wanted to read his words again and pass them on to my children.

Then it was time to go, on the plane and back to autumn in Nova Scotia. The young women customs officers who had greeted us 3 weeks earlier had been very pleasant and thought that my continued connection with the former in-laws and their helping with getting us settled in was quite humorous though not something that they would ever dream of doing. Leaving was another matter with forms to be completed in triplicate and a churlish, unhappy young woman officer manning the processing booth that we lucked into. We got through and relaxed in the waiting area before boarding. We picked up some Mount Gay rum for ourselves, friends and family but it never got further than the Toronto airport – sad but true.

dsc00118We no longer hear Noah chirping out, “hello Mr. Lizard” as he walks about the house, or singing a quick snatch of happy birthday to les maringouins – mosquitoes in French – a word which he injects with 2 or 3 extra syllables. I can’t slake my thirst with the velvety cool coconut water whose roadside drive-through vendors rival Nova Scotia’s Tim Hortons in numbers. I can no longer see the bob and weave of Last Dip as she rides the rolling wave crests at Worthing Beach. And the magnificent billowing crescendo clouds migrating in scattered towering flocks are no longer in view. I miss seeing the rain as it sweeps across the sky whispering wet. No more Bond Girl shots of Mélanie in sun dipping silhouette coming out of the turquoise ocean, sensual rivulets of water streaming down her natural curves. When I close my eyes I do see smiles of sand and sun, small feet splashing, hands digging and arms hugging shoulders tight in upsy down waves. I see the pounding bass minibus do a donut at the Shell station, the currant slices in their thick, sticky sweetness lined up on display ready for purchase, salt bread sliced in half waiting for flying fish, or slices of New Zealand cheese, the flashflooding water running through the canefields and into the road after heavy, heavy rain. I see Joseph the itinerant potter from the East Coast and then the one sign seen almost everywhere you turn in Barbados – ‘This way to Earthworks Pottery‘.

My heart was broken 25 years ago and I left part of it behind. My Makyla was at Sir Grantley Adams Airport to see me off her 2 little hands pushed against a clear glass window in the visitors’ section. I sobbed and cried on the way to the plane.

My heart is whole now filled to overflowing these last few months. Kyla just turned 26 and we’ll hopefully see each other over the Christmas holidays. Alexa is now out on her own – a brand new thing, 18 just back from the UK and living with friends in the city. I miss her but at least we’re only separated by a harbour. And everyday I am with my love Mélanie and our 2 small ones, Noah-David and Nellie-Rose – our compact little band of adventurers. Barbados was the last sustained time of extraordinary during our 180 days of magic. Noah wants to return and still talks about it frequently – the verandah, the beaches and the sea. Thanks Barbados it was a fine place for us all to rest and be.

The magic is not over, just not able to be indulged in as frequently. Presto voilà there it was tonight. Just before going to bed, Noah-David gave a multiple reprise demonstration of walking quietly. Perspectives on quiet vary according to the listener. Though his new kind of tiptoe locomotion skill with arms akimbo is quieter than his standard gallumping it doesn’t really qualify as quiet to me. In fact because the steps he takes are smaller, the frequency of sound waves emanating out in noisiness is much greater particularly when he breaks into the quiet run. Oh and did I mention the giggling that accompanied the pitter-pattering feet?

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