Motherland, for Edwin Rolle

From the life of Edwin Rolle

By Sandra Wilson

The hot sun blazed down on the inhabitants of the small island of Dominica. The sea breeze blew very gently every so often to cool them as they went about their daily business. The sky was a bright blue and the sun shone onto the calm sea leaving sparkling rays.  

Edwin’s parents’ home was a quaint little house painted in pink and yellow stood at the end of the main road facing the sea. It stood out from all the other houses because it was covered in flowers of all shades, pink, reds, orange, white and yellow. They grew freely up the pillars and around, and cascaded over the balcony and onto the floor of the verandah. The different scents filled the air and often made one feel heady.

It was a two minute walk to the ocean from the house. Edwin would often wake before the household stirred for an early morning swim. Edwin and his father sat on the verandah enjoying a cool drink of homemade lemonade one evening. They waved away the flies and moths which circled the lamp.

“I going to England to work,” said Edwin.

“But you have a good job as a Carpenter here,” said his father.

“I’ve been working for five years and not been able to save enough to build my own house.”

“You have a family to take care of.”

“Cousin George write me and say they have good jobs in England. The pay is much better.”

“I here it’s cold over dere.”

“It cwan be dat bad,” said Edwin, smiling.

“People that have been there say it is bitter.”

“I will only stay for a few years.”

“You not saying anything to your Mudder?”

Edwin looked round, he had not realised his mother had been standing behind him. He looked at her as the big tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I will never see you again,” she said, sobbing.

“You will. I will write you and send money to look after you and daddy.”

“What about Sylvia and de girls?” she said.

“I will send for dem.”

“When you going, son?” asked his father.

“In two weeks.  I already pay my passage.  I just have a few fings to buy.”

His mother returned to the kitchen and busied herself in front of the coal pot.  She lifted the pan and fanned the flames adding more coal till it was blazing again.

“I will come back here a rich man.  I will build my house and….” Edwin waffled on.

When Edwin was leaving, his wife Sylvia, their two children, his mother and father, and half the little village came to see him off.  Edwin had seen ships before but only from a distance. He looked up and it felt as though the ship was touching the clouds, it was so big. He hugged his parents and the children.  He hugged his wife and tried to kiss her on the cheek. She turned away in annoyance.

“Mek sure you write us,” sobbed his mother, wiping her eyes with a white handkerchief. She looked up fearful of the large ship in front of them.

“See you soon son,” his father said as he waved, trying to swallow the big lump in his throat.  

His children held onto his legs, pleading with sadness in their eyes. The large horn tooted and he boarded the ship, where he hurried to the top deck and waved to his family until they were a tiny dot in the distance.

When Sylvia arrived in England a year later with the children, Edwin hardly recognised them. They were taller than he had imagined. Sylvia was more beautiful than he could remember. He had written to her every week, but her letters had become less frequent. He took them to the house he had rented in Ladbroke Grove.  Sylvia stood outside, her nose in the air.

“Is dis what you bring me to England to live in?”

“Yes, all the houses are like this.”

They entered the house and he showed them around, the living room, the tiny kitchen and the two bedrooms.

“You mek me leave my parents big house in Dominica for this?”

“When we have more money we can get something bigger,” said Edwin.  This was not how he had imagined their reunion.

The children were tired after their long flight, so they were taken to bed.

“You can start work next week, Cousin George find you a good job in a factory.”

“A factory… I’m not going to work in a factory.  I will find my own job, tomorrow,” Sylvia said.

“Who will look after de children?”

“They can come with me.”

“It’s not like back home.”

She shot him a look, and he knew he was not going to win this battle. The following day she set off once Edwin had left for work. She returned home later in the day, exhausted but determined not to be beaten.

Sylvia went from shop to shop and soon realised England was not the welcoming place she had imagined. Eventually she found a job as a trainee nurse working nights to fit in with minding the children.

“I don’t like it here,” she said to Edwin that night.

“But you just reach. You will get used to it.”

“I will never get used to this place.”

Every night she sobbed herself to sleep. She hated the dirty pavements, the smog, the drab coloured houses. She missed the fresh fish from the sea and the fresh fruit you picked from the trees, not to mention fresh coconut and the sweet water inside. You couldn’t even buy fresh guava or soursop in the shops here. She missed the freshly baked bread from Mister Brown’s little shop and the days when it was extra hot and the rains came down to cool you. She missed everything.

After a year of late shifts on the wards of the local hospital, emptying bedpans, being hollered at or looked down on and the cold, bitter winter, she had had enough.

“Edwin, I want to go home,” she said firmly.

“You are home.”

“Back to Dominica.”

“But the children are settled. They have made friends.” He had to think quickly. “Where will you live? The house was damaged in the last hurricane.”

“I don’t care, I just want to go back,” she sobbed.

“I didn’t realise it was that bad.”

“I hate the weather, I don’t like some of the people, and I miss home.”

“OK, we will save up and we will all go back.”

They both worked and saved for several years, and eventually they had the fare and a little savings to travel back.

Sylvia was elated when the day came to finally return. Edwin had mixed feelings. They drove from the airport to Roseau in silence. They were deep in their own thoughts as the children chattered and giggled. They both drank in the sunshine, the smell and sounds of home and the welcoming warmth on their faces. Edwin hurried to his parents’ house, his father was sitting outside on the worn verandah reading a newspaper. He hugged him. He looked as though he had aged dramatically.  Tears rolled down his father’s face.

“Where is Mama?”

“She….”

“What happened?”

“She died three months ago.”

“But I didn’t get a letter from you,” said Edwin, shocked.

“I write to tell you when she was sick. You never write back,” sobbed his father.

“I didn’t get your letter. What was wrong with her?”

“The Doctor wasn’t really sure but she….”

“I’m sorry Papa. I’m so sorry I wasn’t here with you.”

Edwin refurbished his family home in earnest, and tried to spend time with his father. He worked hard, day and night, hoping that the hole in his heart would be filled. The sadness at losing his mother was a pain he could not explain.

He could not settle. He couldn’t believe that he was missing cold, old England.

Sylvia was pregnant with their third child and work was scarce on the island, so it was decided he would return to England for a few months, earn some money, and be back in time for the birth.

This time coming to England felt different. He had changed. Edwin realised he did not want to be there. He was missing his family immensely. Sylvia wrote to him to let him know his father was ill, and that their baby had been born, it was a girl.

Edwin could not understand how he could be so torn between two places. He consoled himself most evenings by going to the pub with new friends, but still felt so empty. His best friend George had moved away to East London and they lost contact.

He booked his flight, and knew this would be the last time he would see England. When he arrived back in Dominica, although he was not wealthy, he felt that he was rich because he had a loving family. When he arrived at the airport his wife, his father and children were waiting for him.

“Papa, Papa,” cried the children, running to him as he exited the departure gate. They held him around his waist. He held them tight as the tears fell and vowed he would never be parted from his family again. He held his youngest for the first time and drank in her baby smell as he kissed her soft fat cheeks. She gurgled and smiled at him. He hugged his father and Sylvia. She smiled, and said “Welcome home.”

They drove home and his face beamed as he approached their house. Sylvia and her father had been busy with the money he had been sending. The house had been refurbished and an extra level had been added; on another part of the land they had started a new build.

“This is going to be the family hotel,” Sylvia smiled.

“You did all of this?”

“Me and your father organised it together.”

“We rent the house now.”

“But Daddy, where are you living?” asked Edwin.

“He moved in with us,” said Sylvia, beaming.

“Anyway we are still close to the sea, just not as close as before,” said his father, laughing.

“You know I will want to help finish building the hotel?”

“Yes we do,” said his father.

The family sat on the verandah which had been filled with flowers, just like the other house, and chatted till the early hours about their plans for the future.

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