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Aubade, O Barbados!
It’s still dark, when I wake, on the first morning of school. I’m 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.
Beyond the window, from the angle I lie at, no pinpoint of light interrupts the dark. Ask Nigel Tuffnell how much more black that can get and the answer is, “None. None more black.” To tilt my head would bring lights of villages into view: Ebeneezer; then Kendall; then Oldsbury; then, the farthest thing I can see from my window, the airport landing strip. I chuckle to myself: 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 full well that many people from St James cannot name all the streets of Woodbrook, and vice firetrucking versa. The Trinidadian is as proudly ignorant of his landscape as the Bajan internalises his.
The little cat—Tom Sawyer, the replacement for 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, and I stop fidgeting.
Not even the first day of school, proper, and I’m tense already. I have problems to face in 2013, like everyone who survived 2012, but some of mine are made far worse by being totally avoidable, if only other people would sit and talk with me.
One clear-the-air chat with half-a-dozen people and my main worry would be about chocolate ice cream. But how do you make people talk to you when, on something they clearly interpret as principle, they refuse?
But my problems are a piece of sugar-cake compared with the challenges these little islands face, although they arise from the same lack of communication. Between the Barbados airport I will see 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.
In Trinidad and Guyana—and now, openly, blatantly, shamelessly, in Tobago, too—they prattle about a few real physical and a myriad of imagined cultural differences between the major political tribes but, in all the other islands, the combatants look exactly like one another, and don’t even have a pretended philosophical difference—all West Indian political parties arose out of trade unions.
In Barbados, both government and opposition parties have the word “labour” in their names and neither of them dares lift a finger against international capital so they wag them at one another instead.
But at least Barbados is broke, like the rest of the region, and can’t do anything about its plight other than make-as-eef and beg-like-Hell; in Trinidad and Tobago, where energy money seemingly can’t stop flowing, it doesn’t matter who wins what election. Whoever gets control can do only one thing: spend money, free-sheet, and the people, the place, end up with only what a Mexican would call sheet when the eat-ah-food-ing frenzy is done.
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 nigger who love 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, after watching Django Unchained, passing through black field after black field still planted with the cane that caused them to cut down every tree on the whole firetrucking island, unless the land wasn’t suitable for growing it, and black because Barbados can’t afford to turn on streetlights outside urban centres, I marvelled at how far these little rocks have come from the starting point of the bulk of us being chattels 150 years ago, even if we’re not citizens yet. Go back three generations and you might find someone who remembers slavery; today, Barbados provides its citizens with free tertiary education and health care. (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?
For ten years now I’ve had one guiding principle: I try to live my life in such a way that my children won’t think I’m an asshole when I’m dead. Politicians crouch getting ready to spring, and I wonder: what guides these little islands?
In Tobago, a clown talks about ships from Calcutta while all the fools in both islands jockey for pole position in Parliament, not even understanding that the money they will squander they hold on trust for the seven million.
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 [email protected].
Do yourself a favour and google “Philip Larkin Aubade.”
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