I love life, I love life not

 

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Category: Reflections Date: 05 Feb 98


‘The baby was unhurt. The mother relieved. I drove away thinking “they would rather let the baby die than damage the new car.” What does that say about us?’

 

‘As long as the fittest don’t see it as their responsibility to give something back, there will be bandits’

 

I’ve written a dairy since I was eight or nine. In it, I faithfully documented the egg and toast I had for breakfast, how I cleaned my shoes, who came to visit, what compliments were paid to me, what slights I received - real and perceived. The entries got dramatic as I approached my teens. I nearly “died” when the dress I had was made of the same material as my classmate’s. I could have “killed” the girl who told on me. I was “mad” with joy. I was desperately unhappy, then couldn’t contain my elation.

 

The diaries piled up and I re-read them from time to time. I was shocked to see that although my expression was less lurid, nothing changed. Life is circular. The language expanded but I went round in rings - I loved life, I loved life not, I loved life. This column has become a journal of sorts. And what is a dairy but written snapshots? Being a writer is like chewing cud. You take something someone tosses out and then catch it and chew it for a few days. Then you take it out, look at it and dissect it again. Then you swallow it again and spew it out in an effort to make sense of the random events that shape our lives. I can only conclude there is no sense, just snapshots and epithets.

 

Snapshot 1 (I love life. Caption: Man with a tattoo):

I live with this man who has a map of Trinidad tattooed across the entire spread of his back. It’s a real tourist reproduction because it even has Trinidad and Tobago on it - in case you didn’t recognise it. It came with him when I married him and over the years it has become as familiar as his face. He comes home last night with a bandage across where his heart is and gives me his Cheshire smile, teeth stretched across his face, making me suspicious.

“What is it?” I ask, half in dread, mostly curious.

“It says, ‘I love Ira’.”

I light up, prepared to forgive, then he says, stalling, “It says, ‘Ira, my love’.”

My heart pounds, savouring this moment of glory, a manifestation of the passion I have inspired.

He unveils the tattoo slowly. It is Arabic calligraphy. “I didn’t know you had turned religious,” I said, startled.

Then (trying not to be angry because it was not after all an indelible stamp of his adoration of me), “Why did you do it?”

“It was pretty,” he says.

“But why?”

“Because I was bored, wanted something different.” (As if he was changing his hairstyle).

There is something endearing in the way he carefully dresses his wound every night, and takes off his shirt whenever he can. A sudden tattoo says so much about a man - male vanity, a certain aesthetic sense (“pretty”), spontaneity, mingled with a desire for pain (they inject ink under the skin with a needle gun), a certain appealing recklessness.

 

Snapshot 2 (I love life. Caption: Let the baby die. Save the car):

I had swung into the Westmoorings car park when this young, pretty woman shouted out in a Latino accent, “Do you have a cellular phone?”

I had not, but something in her voice made me stop. She had locked her toddler and key in a car with the windows rolled up.

She asked me to call her mother for the spare key (while she stayed outside her car to talk to the trapped child), which I did from the gym. It was engaged for five minutes.

I hailed out a car and borrowed a cell and tried again. Still engaged.

I ran, cursing and tripping over my high heels, to the guard out front for help. He strolled across to her posh new car casually.

The child is quiet and red in the face, strapped into a car seat.

By now a crowd has gathered to stare at the show of this young mother pleading with her toddler, “Lean forward, baby, unlock the door for Mummy.” (How we love spectacles).

The child looks back impassively, wondering why his mother is making so much noise and so many faces. “Do something,” I tell the guard, “get the door open.”

He backs off. “I’ll inform the front security.”

He takes another ten minutes and Latino Mummy and I both begin to worry about the child suffocating.

To our relief, this large, elderly security guard approaches us.

By this time, we have decided that the window must be broken.

“Break the glass,” she pleads. “Break the glass,” I say. The child began crying.

The security guard takes one look the brand new expensive car and says, “Get a spare key.” The panic surfacing, she screams, “Please, break the glass, there’s no time, the baby will die.”

He refuses, “It’s not my job. If you want to do it, do it.”

A bystander says, “He’s right, it’s illegal.” Another man whose cellular we borrowed and in whose car sit three children, stays impassive, just staring. It felt like a nightmare.

The child had gone eerily quiet. “Please,” we shouted and begged, after our efforts to break the glass failed. Then, spotting some stones in a construction area, I asked a young man to fetch me one.

“Now break the glass.” Even he, in awe of the new car, wouldn’t. Finally, a man seeing it as a challenge, broke the glass.

The baby was unhurt. The mother relieved. I drove away forgetting what I had come for, thinking “they would rather let the baby die than damage the new car.” What does that say about us?

 

Snapshot 3 (I love life):

January 30: Five women, their husbands and children gather in a verandah at St Augustine in the cool shade of large trees in joy and sorrow to celebrate Eid and commemorate the passing of their mother this time last year.

One of them produces a letter written to her by her son that morning and reads it to the gathering. With their permission I have produced an extract:

“Mom, On Grandma’s first death anniversary these are some of my thoughts. Life: Nobody’s life is forgotten. The legacy that lives beyond our personal memories of those we have loved and lost is their beliefs and mannerisms handed down, unconsciously or not, through generations - to join the vast flow of life.

“Love - She showed us, her children and grandchildren, that real love is not only the ability to give love but to receive love gracefully.

“Fortitude - She was in the forefront of major changes in her community - from her wedding to her children’s parties she pushed the boundaries, changing the norms of behaviour acceptable for women in this country.

“None of my aunts, or you, could have been what you are without this.

“And she did this without lasting bitterness in her community because she and her husband were always beyond reproach in their behaviour. This to me has been a real lesson. Your son”

The parts I liked most are the ones about our lives contributing to, and influencing the pool of life through everyday contact with the world (it makes the inevitability of death, ours and that of people we love, meaningful instead of futile) and about pushing boundaries but remaining beyond reproach.

 

Snapshot 4 (I love life, I love life not. I can’t decide. Caption: You want shoes?):

This week in a shoe store on Frederick Street I inquired about a particular kind of footwear when the bored salesgirl looked at me incredulously and said, as if I was out of my mind, “You want shoes?” We wear the fact that we are not a “service”-based country on our sleeves with a kind of national pride, not realising that “service” is fueling entire economies in the Caribbean, and when the oil and gas run out we will have to do the same. Last week in the grocery a well meaning woman came up to me and, looking at my full shopping cart, said in a charming lilting voice, “You’re buying groceries?” Which made me remember the time I crossed the road to the 610 building some six years ago when I was given my most memorable chat-up line in the same sing-songy tone -  “You’re crossing the road?” Our inertia/vacuity has reached to the point where we state the obvious, but its value lies in the communication/contact it provides. 

 

Snapshot 5 (I love life not. Caption: No bandits “out there”):

“He died for a bag of garbage, for nothing,” said a colleague of the sound engineer who was shot point blank by a bandit. It’s war now. The wealthy against the poor, the powerless and the powerful. In these wars there are many victims who didn’t even know they were in the war zone.

I am sick of people wondering “why”. It’s all linked. In an increasingly liberalised economy (which is responsible for a mini-boom now) only the fittest survive as any businessmen will tell you. Fittest meaning skilled, educated, qualified, experienced, those born into contacts, the disciplined and determined. Anything else and you become part of the underclass. There are no bandits “out there”. They are people who have nothing to lose, no affection, family, ambition, or skill because they have never been given it anyway. People who have never been able to take basic human rights of food, shelter and education for granted. As long as the fittest don’t see it as their responsibility to give something back, there will be bandits.

 

Snapshot 6 (I love life. Caption: When a man loves 10 women):

Three builders took the foreigner out for a round of drinks. They needed to straighten him out.

The first said, “There are ten women to every man in Trinidad.” Which meant that each of them had eight women to go and the foreigner had a lot of catching up to do. The second said it is vital that he gets a next woman before his wife gets a next man. Women, said the last builder, don’t know how to treat men anymore. He was angry because he packed his suitcase that morning to leave his outside woman and she didn’t even beg him to stay. He was going back that evening.

I love life yes.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur