Pearl Bainbridge – Edwards van Muijen
Published in Contemporary Verse 2 – Fall 2000
Postcards Home Contest Winner – 1st Prize
Barbados Time Pieces
The airplane banks over the island of Barbados. It is3:00 a.m. Land emerges, darker than the deepest shade of coal, studded with molten gold.
We walk from the tarmac to the arrival gate. A tree reaches over a cement barrier; its fragrant white Frangipani blossoms float in moonlight. Sharp, two-note chirping echoes into a backdrop of still humidity.
Our hotel is situated on the west coast in an area called St. Peters, a forty-five minute taxi ride from the airport. We shout above the noise of the motor and the wind through the open compartment of a newer model Corolla. The taxi driver is tired, he has picked up a second shift from a friend yet he indulges us in conversation. We ask him if there have been many threats of hurricanes lately. “No,” he replies flatly and continues to talk about the plentiful clean drinking water and successful businesses of Barbados. The following day we learn that hurricane “Georges” is whirling its way through the Caribbean, two hundred miles offshore.
The main streets are narrow and winding but well maintained. A scant three feet from our moving vehicle, wooden homes with tiny front gardens blur past, filled with lustrous rubber plants, anthurium, magenta colored bougainvillea and yellow hibiscus. You could reach into one of the gardens and yank out a sample if you wanted to. But we are preoccupied with the road, worried about the possibility of oncoming traffic that could be around each corner. Just before every corner, and only “just” does the taxi driver blast the horn as warning; momentarily interrupting the incessant chirping that follows us.
As we drive past large car dealerships the taxi driver points out the substantial increase in the number of new cars in Barbados. His statement is confirmed by the many taxis parked outside the airport and the numerous new cars that dot the streets. New automobiles seem to symbolize prestige and prosperity.
The Almond Beach Village Resort is built on a property which once was a sugar plantation owned by the British. Majestic palm trees and a lineage of roaming roosters are the only remnants of colonial times. Roosters “cockledoodledoo” below the balcony of our room. In my jet lag stupor, I imagine they are cloned pieces of technology, programmed to wake each guest in the village before 5:30a.m.
Humid, slow moving air relaxes my walk, pushes down my shoulders, slows the beat in my heart to good time, eliminates haste, simplifies, deletes syllables and first and last letters of words, elongates vowel sounds —relaxes my speech to the bare necessity of communication.
“Maybe tomorrow, Mon! Maybe tomorrow!”
Today the sky is azure. Pigeons coo high on their imperial perches. The palm trees’ slender fan-like leaves sway in the breeze, rustle, imitating the Caribbean Sea. When I am floating face down in the water, I only hear myself breathe through my snorkel equipment. Large waves push me out further and the “panic gurgle” from my mouthpiece warns me to swim to less dangerous water.
The sand is alive as it moves up and out with the sea, the texture like golden brown sugar. The repetitiveness of waves washing over Caribbean Reefs is a constant and endless rhythm without meter. If you listen too long, they could lull you to celestial sleep. Or to madness.
We watch sunrays push through transparent cloud gathered above the horizon; creates nuances of blue and gold luster on the crests of waves below. Without warning, the sun, a hot round mass, descends in slow motion from behind a gray cloud like a ripe orange, and melts into the ultramarine edge of the sea without sizzle. Dark waters invade the evening sky awaken the armies of crickets. Their high-pitched two-toned voices overwhelm the senses, cheerful at first, their song welcomes you to the tropics, but in this humidity, their song sounds distressing and eerie. It can drive you to the edge of the island and back, or make you want to drink more rum or chew the sugar cane far back in your mouth. I escape into the cool waters of the pool instead.
Barbados lit from the inside: radiates from within. Light permeates every nerve of tropical leaf and blossom. Light escapes from the mouth of a young boy whose radiant smile reveals perfect teeth, white as the flesh of the coconut. The boy rides bareback on his ebony horse, along a steep narrow strip near the village of Bathsheba. I want to capture this picture of simplicity and innocence; but cannot bring myself to take his photo because I think it might tarnish the moment.
By Pearl Brainbridge