Independence by Cecil Foster

“In 1966, Barbados achieves independence from Britain, and a country comes of age. So, too, does a boy.” -from the inside front flap of the book cover

Canada’s relationship with Barbados is one that figures largely in the lives of the characters in this novel and you might want to check out the official information here.

Stephie (King) and Christopher (Lucas) have been left in the care of their respective Independencegrandmothers, Mrs. King and Grand, by their mothers who went north to find work. The children are now almost  fourteen years old and were just toddlers when their mothers left. No word has been received from their mothers in all that time and the grandmothers, who are neighbours, are getting older and having a harder and harder time supporting their grandchildren.

Christopher and Stephie have always been best friends but something is changing in Stephie’s world and Christopher cannot get her to talk to him about it.When he tries to do so something like this happens: “Mind yuh business,” she shoots back. “Yuh too fast. You should be in yuh bed sleeping, getting ready for school tomorrow.”

Christopher is philosophical: “…I know that giving herself mouth is Stephie’s way of talking back to people, especially when she wants to hide something. And I know that recently she has been joining with our grandmothers in hiding certain things from me, because they say I am just a boy.”

“Now there is quiet: in this house as I await the return of Grandmother, and next door too, where Stephie is also waiting her grandmother and, like me, ultimately our mothers from over-‘n’-away. After all these years, me and she have not given up hope, even though at times she can be a bit strange in her talking. Tomorrow we will wait some more and keep an eye out for Postie. Maybe he will bring a letter.” In his head while waiting, Christopher sometimes hears conversations with his Grand: “…that Stephie, when you notice her these days, you can’t help but say how she is growing into a real beautiful young lady and ready to take on responsibility. I have to hand it to Eudene (Mrs. King) on that one. Stephie ain’t no little girl no more. Soon she’ll be a full woman, praise the Lord.”

“As I close the window, my eyes again catch the greenish light coming from the front house across the road from us. Must be the television set. The light has intrigued me all night long. Mr. Lashley, whom the grandmothers refer to as Lashie, came back home earlier in the day from working on the overseas program. He arrived on a big truck with so many barrels on the back that we gave up counting them. Mrs. King in particular was waiting for him, with Stephie inside her grandmother’s house looking out at the two of them talking. Mr. Lashley had asked Mrs. King to get the house wired for him when he was gone. This was because, Grandmother had explained, Mr. Lashley’s mother lived too far away and he did not want her to keep having to come up by us and look after the house. Mr. Lashley’s mother was a town woman, did not like the people in our village and could never hide her feelings about us. Mrs. King and Stephie looked after the house when Mr. Lashley was working overseas. When he wrote and said he wanted the house wired for electricity, we all knew what was coming. …With all this talk about wiring and electricity, we knew Mr. Lashley could only be thinking of bringing back one thing: a television.”

So Christopher plans to be among the children who will go to Mr. Lashley’s to watch television in the evenings as soon as the sun sets.

“People are now saying how progress has definitely come among us in this the first year of our independence. The village has its first television, making us just like town people. Now we children have something else to look forward to tomorrow.”

What will “progress” bring to Christopher and Stephie’s lives besides Bonanza and The Untouchables and The Fugitive?

A gentle coming-of-age story. Very informative. Highly recommended.