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Category: Reflections Date: 11 Jun 98


That morning I should have shut out the familiar slit of sun in my eyes, and burrowed under the warm cotton sheet. Instead, I left the house with unbrushed hair, and a hastily pulled on leotard to meet my destiny.

 

Within minutes my feet and heart were thumping to music in an aerobics class. Beads of sweat gathered like a carnival costume all over my body. To the loud boom boom back beat of pop music, I was flinging my arms and legs about, jiggling hips, being wild and uncoordinated.

 

A split second later, I was a crumpled heap on the floor. A ligament in my ankle was being ripped apart like a piece of thawed chicken. Good thing I didn’t know that then. I sat like a yogi in a complicated position on the floor. Replay in slow motion: Limbs cross and intertwine the ankle twists to one side. A burning pain. The shock is a pleasant surprise. I sat on the floor wide-eyed and helpless as a child. I was no longer responsible for myself; I couldn’t do anything so I didn’t. I waited for Mummy to pick me up. This euphoric state lasts only a few seconds.

 

I got a few concerned glances but the music continued and the instructor kindly led me out, looked at my ankle politely, requested ice and went in to finish his class. I went into denial. Ice is for people who have injured themselves. I left it to melt, and standing on one foot chatted to a friend on the treadmill. “I just fell down, how embarrassing, isn’t it funny?” And returned to the class. I stomped and stomped on that ligament. Reduced it to mince. Then, I got on the bicycle for 10 minutes, and hobbled home. Ignoring the throbbing pain I got dressed for work, strapped on platform heels, and limped down the stairs. At work I could not walk on it anymore and hopped home.

 

I was in denial for another week but the inevitable happened. “Two weeks,” said the doctor rolling on the hateful cast like a prisoner’s chain around my ankle. “It would have been better if you had broken a bone, ligaments take up to 12 weeks to heal.” Twelve weeks of no aerobics, no running up and down stairs, no dancing, no working which involves walking, no standing around doing nothing, no lifting up the children, or weights, two weeks of this hideous white cement-like thing around my ankle.

 

People can get used to just about anything especially if they have no choice. Even lying immobile in bed. Day and night blurred into one another. I read, napped, hallucinated half awake, came up with many conspiracy theories against me, longed for a cigarette, a cocktail, anything unrelated to this bloody ankle. The hardest thing about being alone for most of the day is that you have to face yourself, really be alone with yourself. Some of the time I sat immobile and blank, but my mind, as if compensating for my body, began to work overtime.

 

I began spewing thoughts like a crazy popcorn machine. Death, life, love, religion, a little Gucci dress. I began to sort them out. First, I decided to “come to grips with death.” Concluded that I will have to accept it. Consoled myself that human beings can only live life fully because they are aware they will die someday.

 

I thought of marriage, and how so many couples are grit-your-teeth irritated with each other and came to the conclusion that the fairy tales were wrong: Each of us is responsible for our own happiness. I raged over the friend who said to me “the problem is you are not a Christian,” and reflected that religion is the soul of a people’s history, of their culture, a way to ensure that people keep their humanity. It is ultimately a very personal thing. But when he said that my problem was I was not a Christian, I saw its ugly side. The dogma, the bigotry, the way people are brainwashed and frightened by hellfire and hogwash to become part of a narrow-minded tribe which only defines itself by reviling others. Conversion forces people to relinquish their identity and history. Dogma puts up a smokescreen so human beings are unable to see the irony of killing and persecuting in the name of God.

 

My pulse lowered again when I thought of friends. How they lighten a grey day, and make you feel irresponsible and happy again. The crutches are difficult to get used to. Have you ever tried to make a cup of tea with crutches? Have you tried to take a cup of tea up a staircase with crutches? Perhaps I’m being a bit touchy about a two-week cast but I think disability brings the best and worst out of human nature. Some are so kind it brings tears to your eyes. But we are more animal than human so some human beings, smelling blood, a wound, go in for the kill.

 

Call me paranoid but when some machinery in your body breaks down, you get the feeling that people also think your mind is affected, that you are demented or deaf or just not that bright. My cast will be cut out in a week but I can sense in this state, the difference between pity and compassion. Pity has something of contempt in it. Compassion is thinking “that could be me” and going out of your way to help.

 

If I were to be in crutches for the rest of my life, bills would be unpaid, I would live on bread and cheese, I wouldn’t step into buildings with stairs, I would never walk on the street unless I had to, I would be terribly lonely. I would probably have to stop being impatient and become courageous and cheerful. I would try not to be bitter about the fact that my opportunities would be pared down to nothing, about not being able to think big dreams because people had a block against people who can’t walk up the stairs.

 

The other thing I had a lot of time to think about was Wendy Fitzwilliam. I was happy she won. She is stunning, and was the brightest of all the beauty queens at the Miss Universe Pageant. It was nice for Trinidad and Tobago. But gladness turned into horror when I saw the way this whole country went overboard. She received a scholarship that is worth more than a house, a reception fit for a queen, yet her people said she went away “empty-handed.” I didn’t like the way she expected a house. It was not gracious to speak thus of taxpayers’ money.

 

Doesn’t she already live in a house, asked my baby-sitter, whose house is always threatening to come down with a landslide in the rainy season? And all that obsequious “Your majesty, queen of the universe, queen of hearts” bit was overdone. For God’s sake, she won a beauty contest, for looking good in a gown and a bikini. Not a Nobel prize for discovering a cure to AIDS.

 

I’ll stand in the rain to meet someone who has done that. Despite her link to the Cyril Ross Nursery, I didn’t hear her saying she wants to devote her life to sick children either. She has set her sights on singing, Broadway maybe, or a ramp in Milan. When I was in England they wouldn’t even broadcast the show because it was seen to be sexist, parading women like sheep across a stage, trivialising them, fanning their vanity, rather than their intellect.

 

Wendy Fitzwilliam is a bright, charming woman with legs to die for. She deserves her victory and a great career. She has taken crime off our front pages for a week and for that I thank her. But if the government has to buy a house with my tax money, buy it for a homeless family, build a duplex for the children in the Beetham, get them registered as existing, feed them nutritious food, counsel them, get books to them, stop them from prostituting themselves for a few dollars.

 

The idea of a “national hero” is trite. Especially when they are young. If you kiss the ground they walk on you run the risk of creating tiresome prima donnas. I salute the people who’ve contributed in every field: politics, art, music, business, education. They are high achievers and also doing well for themselves materially. But real heroes will always remain unsung. They shoulder their burdens with courage and cheer. I was in the children’s ward for terminally ill cancer patients, for children with heart disease. And I saw mothers sleeping in a sitting position. They had been sitting there for days.

 

My queen of hearts are women in the prime of their lives who singlehandedly provide for their children, supervise homework, take them to the doctor, cook for them daily, put something by in the bank every month for their education. My heroes are disabled people to determinedly try to get out of the trap of weaving baskets, dedicated students with big dreams, people who read, good fathers who are role models to their children, teachers who inspire excellence, and the strong ones (all those NGOs) who lobby for the weak, pick up the battered and vulnerable and get them on their feet again. Surely the biggest gift you can give to someone who is down is to show you care about them. That alone restores faith in human nature, allows the most wretched person to go on with courage.

 

They are, I suppose, too dull to be given a second glance, but they ought to be wined and dined in President’s House. They ought to be given homes if there are any to give away. But then I remember a line from Evita and think maybe I’m being a bit harsh. Isn’t Wendy Fitzwilliam, after all, a “diamond in our dull grey lives?” Well, that’s the hardest kind of stone, it usually survives. She gave us some magic for a week, and perhaps I shouldn’t underestimate that.

 

Another thing I do now that I am confined at home is play on the Internet. What is going to get me over the final leg is this junk e-mail joke. Once upon a time, a beautiful, independent, self-assured princess happened upon a frog in a pond. The frog said to the princess, “I was once a handsome prince until an evil witch put a spell on me. One kiss from you and I will turn back into a prince and then we can marry, move into the castle with my mom, and you can prepare my meals, clean my clothes, bear my children and forever feel happy doing so. That night, while the princess dined on frogs legs, she laughed to herself and thought, ‘I don’t (fill in expletive) think so’.”

 

All I can think of now is the next time I write it will be without a cast.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur