Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today.
by Jade Gibbons
Last year, around this time, the utility companies blessed Barbadians with an Independence gift. Barbadians, both young and old, were reminded of what it was like to live without both water and electricity, and thereby gained a first-hand appreciation for what life was like in the 1960s.
This year, I will also give you an Independence gift.
My gift to you is a narrative journey into 1950s Barbados.
The articles for this week and next week will take the form of fictional short stories set in 1955 Church Village at the beginning of the academic year. They will tell the story of a ten-year-old girl named Octavia.
Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, Like stones crashing on a tin sheet of metal… Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,
…the rain launches its assault on our shingle roof. The trees bend low, trying to touch their toes under the instruction of the wind. A bucket here and another one there –ß don’t want the leaks to wet the floor of the house – that’s the Constitution River’s job.
“Come fum de winda.” My mother gestures to me.
The rain stops.
Shortly, the clouds roll back, and the sun begins to glare down again.
Its rays reflect off the roofs and the whitewashed board houses that are cluttered and crammed together in this village.
The glare forces my eyes shut as I step out onto the damp earth. The mud squishes between the toes of my bare feet and sullies the bottom of my dress.
It’s still too big for me. I pull the dress up while trying not to spill the bucket of water in my hand.
I round the corner of the house and carefully tilt the contents of the bucket into a larger bucket that rests against the wall.
Mum-mum makes us save the water when the rain falls so she can use it to wash our clothes. It saves us having to lug a mobbaton of water from the standpipes.
“Morning Octavia!” Our neighbour calls from her window. Our houses are less than five feet apart, so her loud high-pitched voice ripples through the space.
“Good morning, Mrs Pearl.”
“How you mudda keeping?”
“Dah’s good, coma sweet girl.” She leans out her jalousie window and stretches her arm to me. Dropping the bucket on the ground, I step over to her.
“Ah got a lil pumpkin hey dat Masie bring fuh muh yestuhday and some breadfruit dat Leroy gi muh,” Her voice quietens and there is a glimmer in her eyes, “Ah sure he tek um fum off a somebody tree, but doan tell nuhbody I tell
Anyhow,” She brings her other hand through the window and in it is a bundle wrapped in a dish towel. “Gi dis tuh you mudda fuh muh.”
Taking the bundle I say, “Yes ma’am. I gaw go get ready fuh school now, Mrs Pearl.”
“Oh yeah, tuhday is de first day back out fuh wunna. Yuh excited?”
“Not really.” I lie. Inside, I’m buzzing with anticipation.
I’ll be going to the Moravian Girls’ School now, which is on the top of Country Road.
This means that I’ll have to pass through town to get to school. And because it is so close to my house, I can walk slowly. I like my town; it’s much prettier than my village.
My village is overcrowded and muddy. You can always hear what’s going on in the neighbour’s house. They are all chattel houses, which means they balance precariously on a few choice rocks.
The boards that make up the walls are chipped and cracked, some so thoroughly eaten by termites that there are more vermin than wood.
Our house is one of the bigger ones in the village, 16 by 20 feet. We have a little backyard. There Mum-mum does the washing; it’s also where our pit toilet is.
If it rains too much, then our excrement is brought up into the yard and we have to clean up after. When the sun falls, the village emits a horrible scent.
Rum mixes with urine mixes with sweat mixes with tears mixes with other expulsions from the human body.
There are always muffled grunts and piercing yet emotionless screams. They mingle with the shouts, the clatter and the ruckus. No, I do not like my village. But I will leave it soon; then I will always miss it.
Jade Gibbons is an arts and business graduate with a keen interest in social issues and film-making.