It was one of those days. It could have been Labour Day, the holiday I believe best represents the Caribbean character and culture. Put simply, in every Caribbean country Labour Day is a public holiday. In Barbados and Guyana, it is both a Bank Holiday and a Banks Holiday, Banks being the national beer of both countries.
Others celebrate it with high and even higher spirits, literally eclipsing one another in search of El Dorado. But wherever you go, we don’t work on Labour Day. It may be argued that some of us don’t work on any other day, so that Labour Day is not unique in that respect.
Pope John Paul the First was once asked, “How many people work in the Vatican?” He replied, “About half.” There are people who believe that applied to the Caribbean; an answer like that would be overly optimistic.
It could have been Whit Monday, something that is celebrated in Antigua and some other Caribbean countries. While I don’t give a whit about what Whit Monday is, my children celebrated it with or whit gusto. It used to be a big thing in Trinidad when I was growing up. I discovered that it is a “moveable feast,” so we had a barbecue outside under a big leafy tree in our backyard.
Actually, I know that it is moveable because of its link to Easter; but what the heck, nothing beats an old fashioned, charcoal-powered barbecue. In any case, this is consistent with the sacred nature of the occasion. Once I am in charge of the event, the outcome is inevitably religious.
As first mentioned in Genesis, whether at Passover or Pentecost, burnt offerings are prescribed as befitting the occasion. Being of religious bent, I do my best to oblige. My children also supported the spirit of the celebration. They passed over my burnt offerings which I had acquired from the market at plenty cost.
It could have been Mother’s Day, which was celebrated the day before Whit Monday. This has now become mandatory, woman-datory or even obligatory. Whatever the category, it is a big deal, and even though your wife and your mother are two entirely different persons (one hopes), the divide disappears on Mother’s Day.
You have to give your wife a gift; you must give one to your mother; your grandmother, if you have one; your mother-in-law or mothers-in-law; and your child mother or mothers, as the case may be. If not, what the case may be is child maintenance.
In Antigua it could have been the public holiday decreed on the death of a minister of Government. My cynical Trini colleague was first amazed that any country would consider a politician so important as to deserve a public holiday for his interment, and then brazenly suggested, “Well, hear what, why don’t somebody blow up the whole Cabinet?
You might get a month off!” I was going to tell him that his joke was in poor taste, but having been invited to my house and tasted of my barbecue, he had a much better idea of what poor taste is than me, so I left it alone, shaking my head in mock disgust. Then, when there was a public holiday here in Antigua, on the death of a former Chief Minister, I hesitated to say anything to him, knowing that he was not a fan of Mr. Basdeo Panday or of other sitting, standing, dormant, extinct or merely resting Heads of Government. In fact, he always laughed at the acronym for Heads of Government (of CARICOM) – HOGs.
But sitting on a chair under the tree, the wind blowing from the sea, in a half-daze of my own, I started to ruminate about the ubiquity of the word “day” and what I would call the “days” of our lives in the Caribbean. My friend, Bridge, for instance, when asked, “How things going, boy?” would reply, “Ah day.”
Someone unfamiliar with local dialect would probably respond, “I didn’t ask you how long you’ve been standing there, I asked how you were.” My neighbours in the old days of kerosene lamps and long shadows would first enquire of any noise in the yard, “Who day? Who dat day?” And if we are seeking to ascertain the whereabouts of someone, we would ask, “Where he day?” or worse, “Way he day?” You can get two befuddling answers, “He day day” or worse, “He day day day.”
From the context, you will realise that “day” can refer to a point close to you as “Ah day right here” of “He just day”. It can refer to a distant point, “He over day” or “He day” as distinct from “He here”. “He day day” means that he is there over there, and “He day day day” means that he is a little further away. Then the homophone “dey” can also mean “they” or “them”. “Dey day day day” can help you (if you understand the language) know where to locate a group of people.
While a day is twenty-four hours, in Trinidad twenty-four hours might not necessarily be a day. When I was little, chameleons were known as “twenty-four hours” because that is how long we believed one of the little creatures would cling to you if your karma decreed that one of them would jump on you. Your karma could do worse.
A newly-arrived Englishman, invited for drinks by an English couple, reached their home when darkness had already set in, but being overly anxious, he had arrived too early. When he knocked, the maid opened the door. The Englishman beamed at her, “Mr and Mrs Thornton, please.” “Day not day,” she replied. Her cryptic response threw him. He looked at her anxiously. “Day gone,” she said. He replied, “Yes, my good woman, I can see that by the darkness outside. But, please, let you Master and Mistress know that I am here.”
*Tony Deyal was last seen planning a barbecue for Father’s Day. He dare not tell his children, otherwise dey might not be day.
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