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
long as the fittest don’t see it as their responsibility to give
something back, there will be bandits’
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
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.
1 (I love life. Caption: Man with a tattoo):
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.
is it?” I ask, half in dread, mostly curious.
says, ‘I love Ira’.”
light up, prepared to forgive, then he says, stalling, “It says, ‘Ira,
heart pounds, savouring this moment of glory, a manifestation of the
passion I have inspired.
unveils the tattoo slowly. It is Arabic calligraphy. “I didn’t know
you had turned religious,” I said, startled.
(trying not to be angry because it was not after all an indelible stamp of
his adoration of me), “Why did you do it?”
was pretty,” he says.
I was bored, wanted something different.” (As if he was changing his
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.
2 (I love life. Caption: Let the baby die. Save the car):
had swung into the Westmoorings car park when this young, pretty woman
shouted out in a Latino accent, “Do you have a cellular phone?”
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.
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.
hailed out a car and borrowed a cell and tried again. Still engaged.
ran, cursing and tripping over my high heels, to the guard out front for
help. He strolled across to her posh new car casually.
child is quiet and red in the face, strapped into a car seat.
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).
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
backs off. “I’ll inform the front security.”
takes another ten minutes and Latino Mummy and I both begin to worry about
the child suffocating.
our relief, this large, elderly security guard approaches us.
this time, we have decided that the window must be broken.
the glass,” she pleads. “Break the glass,” I say. The child began
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.”
refuses, “It’s not my job. If you want to do it, do it.”
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.
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.
break the glass.” Even he, in awe of the new car, wouldn’t. Finally, a
man seeing it as a challenge, broke the glass.
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?
3 (I love life):
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.
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:
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.
- She showed us, her children and grandchildren, that real love is not
only the ability to give love but to receive love gracefully.
- 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.
of my aunts, or you, could have been what you are without this.
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”
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
4 (I love life, I love life not. I can’t decide. Caption: You want
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.
5 (I love life not. Caption: No bandits “out there”):
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.
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.
6 (I love life. Caption: When a man loves 10 women):
builders took the foreigner out for a round of drinks. They needed to
straighten him out.
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.
love life yes.