Aubade, O Barbados!
THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY
IT’S STILL dark, when I wake up before the sun and, in the darkness, I stare past the bedpost, at Philip Larkin lingering there, and realise I’m a whole day closer to him now. I sigh, softly, so as not to wake the little woman at my side or the little cat draped across both ankles, keeping my feet warm on a Bajan winter night.
To tilt my head beyond the window behind me would bring lights of villages into view: Ebeneezer; Kendall; Oldsbury. I chuckle: it’s a Bajan characteristic, being able to name every bit of the rock.
Farther south, which I cannot see from my bed, I know many people from St James cannot name the streets of Woodbrook; and vice firetrucking versa. The Trini is as proudly ignorant of his landscape as the Bajan internalises his.
The little cat – Tom Sawyer, the replacement of Cat Stevens, who went Yusuf Islam-Al-Qaeda on us and started territorial defecation, earning him a quick deportation to Guantanamo Bay/the RSPCA – mewls softly. I’m tense already. I have problems to face this year, like everyone who survived last year, but one clear-the-air chat with half a dozen people and my main worry would be chocolate ice cream.
But my problems are a piece of sugarcake compared with the challenges these little islands face, although they arise from the same lack of communication. Between the Barbados airport, if I tilt my head, and the St James that scorns Woodbrook, lies Tobago, where, this week, the political dogs are fighting over the usual bone.
If you want to see people who cannot talk to one another, check the political tribes of these little rocks. Decked out in their monkey suits, blind to the organ-grinder at whose feet they dance, they stand on their heads and try every trick they know to get elected.
Most of them would have firetruck-all to do, if they couldn’t get a safe seat. Former prime minister Basdeo Panday’s most famous case involved him not as a lawyer, but as a defendant. In Trinidad, some of our political elite have progressed from a ten-days to a five-years.
All West Indian political parties arose out of trade unions; both government and opposition parties have the word “labour” in their names; and neither dares lift a finger against international capital. So they wag them at one another instead.
Outside my window, it grows a little brighter – no, it’s just a smaller area of darkness – and I lie restlessly between Shabine and VS Nightfall. I’m just a red brother who loves the CSME, I have a hot woman and a kitten with me. Who says I have to be from either St Ann's or St Lucy? Keith Smith, Keith Smith, where the firetruck are we? What do we say to these people to make them see that all o’ we is really one family?
Driving home last night, passing black fields still planted with the cane that caused them to cut down every tree on the whole firetrucking island, I marvelled at how far these little rocks have come: we were mainly chattels 150 years ago, even if we’re not citizens yet. Today, Barbados provides its citizens with free tertiary education and healthcare. (Trinidad provides its politicians, and their friends, with state contracts.)
The curtain edges grow light. In my bed, with a cat on my ankles, not chains, I look out my window and wonder what lies ahead for us, me and these islands? Will this be the year one of us gets it in the neck?
I try to live my life in such a way that my children won’t think I’m an a--ho-- when I’m dead.
Politicians crouch, getting ready to spring, and I wonder: what guides these little islands? When Trinidad is as broke as the rest, it might finally see no difference. Why do we bother to shuffle or deal when the whole pack is filled with jokers? I sigh, loud enough to wake wife and kitten, and get out of bed. Preachermen, like Doctor William, does go from house to house.
BC Pires is obviously skylarkin’ in St Philip. E-mail your e-wreaths to him at bc@BCPires.com. Do yourself a favour and google “Philip Larkin Aubade”.
A version of this column appeared in January 2013.
"Aubade, O Barbados!"