The narrator, who is from a typical lower-class Barbadian family, has gained a reputation as a track athlete and cricketer at Harrison College (a high school). He is in love with Cynthia, the attractive daughter of the local middle-class rector and a student at Queen’s College. Aware that Barbados holds no future for him, he is preparing to leave the island to attend a university in Canada. Before he leaves, he feels compelled to visit his dying father in the local almshouse. His father is in the section used as a hospice for the terminally ill, a ward that smells of decay and death and whose inhabitants are gaunt and skeletal.
Miss Brewster, the elderly head nurse, berates the narrator for not having visited the dying man previously and for not having brought even some fruit as a gift and, perhaps inadvertently, calling him a “bastard” for acting too proud. Nurse Brewster apparently knows the life stories of most of the home’s residents and repeatedly refers to the dying man as the young athlete’s father. The narrator cannot reconcile the two lives he has led: a favorite of the wealthy, middle-class social set and the scion of a lower-class family of uncertain parentage. His godmother has confused him by telling him that the man his mother had said was his father was not, but had been blamed for his birth, and that “that man was a man”—presumably, in West Indian terms, a sexually active man when younger. The narrator’s discomfort is aggravated by his mother’s refusal to have the putative father’s name mentioned in her house.
The narrator has visited his father surreptitiously in his small shack at Rudders Pasture, on the outskirts of town, where he lived for twenty-four years. The father gave him small gifts of money on these visits, and the narrator discerned his true compassion during these encounters—although he also noticed the nude photographs of both black and white girls on the walls beside pictures that had been torn from the local newspapers, showing the narrator winning track events. The father, described by family members as having had no family and no background, appears to be what the godmother suggests, part madman and part genius, but father and son have—despite the son’s...
(The entire section is 916 words.)