am now running out of contact lens solution, diapers and teabags but
can’t shop. The local mall has been sprouting strange plastic green
trees since November. I can’t see inside shops because of the fake snow
flakes. I can’t buy a pair of aerobics socks because I’m inside a shop
wrapped like a present. I’m trapped inside the present. I sweat. The
teller laughs mockingly as I take her pen, leave my wallet, drop my bag. I
want to go home and wear old clothes, and hide.
children have always had it right. At home, my son wraps his old books and
piles them up under the tree for Santa to take for poor kids. I calm down.
This Christmas I have already had my three presents.
first gift. My friend Saroj in whose home I lived as a poor student in
London came to visit me for four days. She ran a freezing house, so I
forced air-conditioning on her. Then it was time to exchange gifts before
she left for Tobago for her real holiday. I just poked my finger through
the wrapping paper (last week’s Financial Times) and the gifts fell out.
These are the items: one pair of long black nylon gloves coming up to the
elbow; two bags of Typhoo tea - (two teabags each); an electronic digital
thermometer; a personal emergency alarm; a bar of soap; a neon pink
lipstick and an unmentionable pack of unmentionables.
look so bewildered,” says Saroj who is blissfully oblivious to the looks
her blonde mohawk hair, and eagle tattooed arms elicit. “There’s a
all cost 10p,” says Lennie, her boyfriend.
they didn’t, some cost 50p,” protests Saroj. Then as I draw the nylon
black gloves across my arm, she explains. “First you have to quarrel
with your husband. Then you dress up with the black gloves. Put on your
pink lipstick. In your handbag, you carry your personal emergency alarm
and the pink ‘lady mate purse pack’ of unmentionables. You’re on
your own now - an independent woman. You set off to the pub. In the pub
you meet a bunch of prats, decide to leave. On the way out (it’s not an
easy world out there) one of them harasses you. You deafen him with your
alarm, and leave him there, deaf. You come home. You put out a nylon glove
to our husband. You shake hands. You use the soap to have a warm shower
and then make both of you a nice cup of tea.. and then you have a
kept on the nylon gloves all evening. The Pelican was forgotten, the drive
to Mt. St. Benedict abandoned. Saroj took away the Christmas blues. She
freed me from shopping panic. Things don’t count, time with a friend
does. Laughter does. That was my first gift.
second present comes from Aunty Sheila who gave us a glimpse of love the
old fashioned way. This Christmas she wrote a book for her husband, sons
and close friends. It is titled Our Meeting, Our Love and Our Life
Together. The 98 pages are simply bound, with a foreword by Sir Sridath
Ramphal beginning with a quote from Coleridge, “I love my Love and my
Love loves me.” Sheila is married to Frank Rampersad the economist.
While Frank was busy doing budgets, considering the ramifications of the
world economy on the Caribbean, in Sydney, in London, in Geneva, he was
also carrying on a love affair with his wife. Back when it started it was
the 1940’s in Trinidad. She was 11. He was 13. She travelled to St.
Joseph’s convent school by train from Tunapuna to Curepe every day where
Frank, (who attended St. Mary’s college) sent admiring looks at Sheila
unknown to her. But it’s more than a love story, it is a history of a
generation of people of this country, of remnants of colonial Victorian
England. The lessons in deportment in St. Joseph’s Convent, the kerosene
lamps in the bedrooms, the gas lamp in the living room. Croquet in
University, the balls, toast smuggled into dormitories, the fact that 7:30
p.m. was considered late for a girl to be going out on a date, the
crossing home in 1956 on board the SS Hilderbrand from Liverpool, where
Sheila first heard Sparrow’s Jean and Dinah sung by English sailors in
the middle of the Atlantic.
1953, Sheila left on the French Liner SS Antilles for London. She lived in
Forest Gate. Frank wrote to her then. She ignored him until one night she
was alone and got scared thinking about ghosts and then she called him.
They met. He was to write to her in 1955:
since I realised that I was a man and no longer a boy I have dreamt of a
face - a person, a vision - nobody I knew fitted that description. Then on
3rd October 1953, at Liverpool Street Station that vision took shape and I
fell in love.” Sheila was young and pretty, and enjoyed making him pine.
She gave him heartache and hope and eventually married him. Forty years
later she wrote him an anniversary letter remembering that day, with all
the passion of a new bride. “I am draping my own wedding sari. A
beautiful yellow handpainted sari it is. I am wearing a yellow veil and
gold slippers, gold sirbandhi on my forehead and other jewelery. .My face
is covered with my veil and I do not look at Frank at all. I am shy.”
Sheila recounts the ceremony and emotion of her wedding day, up to the
time the couple are alone at last at Bel Air, and ends it with, “The
rest you know my darling. Happy Anniversary, my love.”
did not claim to be an author. Her writing is compelling because it is so
honest. Thanks, Sheila and Frank, for giving us a glimpse of real love
letters, of innocence, of passion which makes a marriage endure for 38
years. A chronicle of hope for all married people. My second gift.
third gift was harder to grasp. It came in ugly wrapping paper. Last week
Radhica Saith was caught shoplifting in Miami. Some people were gloating,
scandalised and horrified. They said, “Can you believe this juicy piece
of gossip - it’s on the front page.” Then I received a call from a
woman who would not give her name. She said, “It will be a tragedy if
Radhica who has given so much to battered women and children, alcoholics
and poor students will now only be remembered for this incident.” This
woman said: “In the early 70’s Radhica founded a group called Friends
of the Hospital, then she founded the first half way house for battered
children and women. After her own experience with cancer - (she is missing
a stomach and intestines and is fighting cervical cancer) - she formed the
South Cancer Resource centre for medical screening and counselling for
patients. “She has served on the National Council for Alcoholism and
Addiction and founded a group for alcoholic women who could not talk in
front of men. She used her private finance to put scores of children to
school.” But she was arrested for shoplifting.
did this apparently wealthy social worker shove clothes in her bag and
walk out without paying for them? One psychologist says shoplifting by
people who obviously don’t need to (there was a quantity of money and
credit cards found in her bag) must be distinguished from ordinary theft,
deliberate or the adolescent kind which is a rite of passage. (This is
separate and apart from the condition of amnesia, a sense of being
dislocated.) The psychologist says:
disorders and especially major depressive illness are associated with this
kind of theft. It is a rare condition, not enough is known about it, and
it is more common in females.
such as these are diagnosed as ego dystonic which means out of character.
They are aware that the act is wrong and senseless, they often feel
depressed and guilty about the theft.”
she quotes a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - 4th
edition: “The individual experiences a rising subjective sense of
tension before the act and a relief of tension after it.
objects are stolen despite the fact that they are typically of little
value to the individual who could have afforded to pay for them and often
gives them away or discards them...”
we are impatient with doctors - we are political, and social animals with
our own biases. So how do we respond to Radhica. It is difficult because
her husband is a politician. But this time, let us for argument sake,
divorce politics from compassion. It does not matter if you are man or
woman, UNC, PNM, NAR, black, white or brown, whether you are rich, poor,
young, old, beautiful, privileged, or down in the dumps. Do you or do you
not respect a woman who has protected hundreds of woman and children from
being beaten up or killed? Radhica may be privileged, wealthy, protected,
some say she is spoilt. But she understands and lives out one premise of
humanity - that a truly civilized society is measured by the way it treats
its weakest citizens. Women are physically, and economically weaker than
men. That power men have is often abused. Trevor McDonald said in the
Media Awards last week that it is our duty to speak out for those who have
no voice. Radhica spoke and speaks for many women, sick, beaten up, poor,
alcoholic women. Today she may be depressed, and in physical discomfort.
She will be strong again, and whatever her faults, we must remind her now
that we have not forgotten her gift - to reach out and pull up those who
are down, her gift of compassion.
so I threw away the ugly wrapping and marvelled at the gift within.