Billy Joel (please say you remember him) once cooed that,
Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you.
Well Billy boy, if its honesty you crave then you should have left New York ever since and taken up residence on this small rock. They don’t come more honest than your average Bajan. We call it like we see it: a spade is a spade. Of course there are exceptions in every community but I am talking about your average Marlon and Mavis catching the Black Rock bus pon a morning.
This search for truth is most evident when it comes to naming persons, places, animals and things. Where else will you find a producer forthcoming enough to brand his product C-thru White Rum. It does exactly what it says on the tin so proceed with caution.
And giving your child a conventional name like Melanie or Peter will not prevent them acquiring one closer to their true nature – as seen through Bajan eyes. Sheila, with her bee-sung lips, is known as Lipton while Desmond, with his larger than average head, is Bus Stop. As if this were not difficult enough to live with, how about being hailed on Broad Street as Gun Prick, Old Girl (for a man) or Biff (big igrant foolish f**ker). Oh and by the way my spell checker is working. Someone who is not very smart but thinks they are is ‘ignorant’ to a Trini and ‘igrant’ in Bim.
But the honesty Bajans display goes beyond naming. It may be hidden deep beneath layers of social obligations and reservations. This will never be an obstacle. Nor will a Bajan let the truth be obscured by silly legal niceties. The Nation newspaper column - Puddin’ an’ Souse - titled after the unofficial national dish, has as its raison d'être the uncovering of illegal and immoral goings on in a voice that neatly side steps potential libel suits. A typical, recent Puddin an' Souse outing of the truth was this:
Who is the legal mind who is involved with a woman half his age?
And why does he think that the child she has is really his?
This woman and her relatives get themselves into all kinds of mischief because they know the man would protect them.
People in the know want this man to shift these bad-behaved folks because he is already losing respect.
In a population of 350,000 you can be sure a goodly portion of the chattering classes know the identity of the unfortunate gentleman and are already sending telegrams to those who don’t.
This all makes me think that perhaps there is a place for a little dishonesty. Maybe not outright lies, but occasionally I find myself nostalgic for a soupçon of reserve. A long lost European friend or relative would never greet you:
‘Oh luss gul, you was real nice when yuh did young. Now yuh gine get fat and ugly.’
But in Bajan terms it is as if they had said,
‘Hi there! Haven’t seen you in ages. Gosh you’ve changed.’
From the translation it is manifestly clear the greeting is without malice – merely observation of your position on the wrong end of the body fat index. To compound matters such an observation is often swiftly followed by the generous offer of a home cooked feast. To decline would be very rude so stuff your chubby face with macaroni pie and stew chicken and let the diet begin tomorrow.
I guess it all depends on how you prefer to face the slings and arrows of this outrageous life. There is no avoiding the arrows ripping into your flesh so you can either take them in the chest or back. Consider the experience of a recent visitor from foreign parts to our small rock. He had lost one eye. Within days total strangers were affectionately greeting him as ‘Cyclops’. But he knew he a fully paid up member of the parish when he was christened ‘S - Blank’ – a reference to the domino piece with one dot and a blank space. Bajans love a game of dominos and indeed the world champion, Ronald ‘Suki’ King, is a Bajan to the bone. S-Blank is crucial to the game.
Back in London people who encountered S-Blank pointedly refused to comment on his missing eye. At least they never made a comment directly to him. That would have been considered poor form – a bit too honest. Yet on this small rock the failure to acknowledge and incorporate his distinctive look would have been the dishonest act. So if you are planning to rock up to Bim anytime soon remember to thicken your skin and get ready for nuff sincerity and honesty to last a lifetime.