The first year we lived in Barbados was on the wild East coast. Not many tourists bother going over there; the swimming is dangerous and the tides unpredictable with very fierce currents. There are some beautiful old churches, though, with graveyards full of mossy, skewed stones. If you trace the shallow, weathered marks with a finger, you can sometimes still decipher the names and dates; improbable centuries have passed since those souls first tried to eke a living from the barren land they'd been allotted.
These Irish and Scots peasants were indentured servants, fleeing famine, hardships or criminal records. They were shipped out to work on sugar plantations for a set number of years before being granted freedom and land. Because they were of no real worth long term, the plantation owners made no effort to feed or care for them when sick; the unforgiving sun burned those peely-wally* limbs so badly they became known as the Redlegs.** The stony, hilly terrain they were allotted was nigh impossible to cultivate and many starved to death.
Their descendants peopled our district. Mr Wilson used to bring us milk every morning from the painfully bony cow he grazed opposite our house. The milk was warm and delicious and came in an old ice-cream container. It softened our bowls of cornflakes and sticky clumps of tawny sugar into a comforting mess.
His family also worked for friends of ours further down the bay. Mr Wilson's great aunt Marie was the nurse to their baby boy. She was as shrivelled as a forgotten apple, her faded dress flapping about her gaunt bare knees. So gummy and wheezy and cackling; we were never sure what she was saying.
One day, I was sitting outside waiting for my friend to come and play and I heard Aunt Marie singing to the baby. "Greetin' for anither bawbee, tae buy mair Coulter's candy." The same Scottish lullaby that my Pa used to sing to us. It was a moment of utter surreality; the familiar words and tune floating about the breadfruit tree I sat under.
I often remember that moment and think of the centuries of mothers singing to their hungry children and of that gnarled old crone who brought an unwitting moment of comfort to a homesick little girl.
*hijusly pale and freckled. Almost blue.
** this is fascinating if you want to read more