Words by leslie nikole
Image by Kyle Babb
"I just saying, government could be a lot better, do a lot more."
As long as you never had a lobotomy, you'd understand why his statement was a fact people sighed about in rum shops since the country's independence, if you really wanted to call it that. I nodded silently like I had been doing all day; quietly soaking in all the information I could and relearning everything I read on paper in real time with a knowing smile. Still with every breeze wrapping around my shoulders and leaving goosebumps behind, I couldn't accept that I was foreign for not knowing it, shivering on a moonlit beach.
From the moment he picked me up, sweltering underneath the Grantley Adams sign at the airport, I was forced into a mildly irritating game of "you don't have this back home." To me, "home" was this little flat island peppered with heart-stopping roundabouts and sharp turns at top speeds, not a country that constantly asked me where I was from and has temperatures below freezing. It felt like he was rubbing in all the mangos and clear water in my face, things I didn't get to enjoy growing up and cried about on a few occasions. I wiped a stray tear away before he could catch it, staring off at a group of school girls piling into a van blaring raw dancehall lyrics, their uniforms as brightly coloured as the houses lining the street. American rap started playing out of the car's radio, and he quickly caught the beat as he veered into the oncoming lane to pass the van. Slamming my hand down on the first preset button, I avoided his glare for cutting off the song before he could start rapping.
"I have enough of that back home. I ain't come here to hear that."
He never was able to stay angry with me for long, chuckling at my exasperation as he turned the radio to another soca station. Grinning, he pushed at my knee as went to shift gears, dragging a small smile out of me.
The house was an almost fluorescent version of the colour of the guava cheese he came back with. Dropping the container in my lap, I barely popped the container open before we were barrelling down the road, the sun setting faster than we could drive. As the first small cube softened on my tongue, I was absolutely sure that it would send me into diabetic shock. Americanization hit the Caribbean hard; home cooked meals replaced by frequent restaurant visits and fast food. If I had tried to make our national dish in the microwave as many do now before I left the cold, I would have been sacrificed for Sunday dinner - and rightly so. To get a piece of guava cheese, a handmade chewy candy from someone's yard instead of a factory stuffed with artificial flavouring felt almost like some sort of homecoming ritual.
Every stop along the way involved food. The aunt I hadn't seen since I was a toddler gave us the same cherry ice cream I would beg for at the market, a neighbour who used to call on my grandmother on her way home from work flagged us down to give us conkies still wrapped in hot banana leaves. He laughed as he watched me struggle to pull all the raisins that I hated out in the dark, unable to turn on the overhead light while driving through the maze of chattel houses without street lights. It felt like everything was slowly falling back into place, the prodigal daughter returning nervously back home after being away for too long. He kept his hand, warm and heavy, on my knee as we drove straight down to the beach, the lights from the approaching fish fry getting brighter and brighter. The same hand that waved off the men on the corner halfway between liming and leering, helped me clasp the gold chain I'd left behind accidentally ten years prior, and promised to hand me only food made without nuts thanks to an allergy I might have never developed had I grown up in the Orleans.
The smell of fish was overpowering, but not in the way of thawing fish passed off as fresh catches in the supermarkets I was dreading to return to. Fresh bakes, fried flying fish, sweet plantain, and fried breadfruit swimming in butter to his disapproval. When we were children he was overjoyed to find out I loved the fried breadfruit he hated, sneaking his portion onto my greedy plate. I ignored his commentary on how well the constantly available hard food stuck to my backside as he cracked open a bottle of Cockspur he magically pulled out of the darkness.
"I gine love you forever for bringing me around to see everyone, you ain't have tuh do dat."
"I did bring you here to remind wunna that, although wunna might live foreign, we still love you. No body in di gap gine holler it out, but dey gine call for wunna to come eat, all same ting."
He was right. No one had told me they'd loved me all day. I was only missed, chastized for being too thin, and promptly fed. Everyone remembered my favourites and no one hesitated to make me a plate. I watched him, unable to be annoyed with smirk on his face, subtly telling me he knew he was right. I smiled and shoved him from across the picnic bench, hoping I'd catch a fish bone jook him in his throat in the moonlight.
leslie nikole is really bad at these. a first generation bajan living in montreal, she has found solace in literature and language learning, because she's not really sure yet where home is. @chapman_lane // www.leslienikole.com
Kyle Babb is a photographer from Barbados. See more of his work here