casual encounter with a friend who was out shopping with her teenage son
turned into a tense daytime drama.
is your son?” I asked. She told me she had sent her boy down the
corridor to the card shop for something. The shop assistant heard. Her
eyes widened, her expression disbelieving.
sent him alone?”
asked my friend, panic on her face. “What’s the matter?”
don’t know they kidnapping in broad daylight now? Look lady, go and find
went dashing off, leaving her purse and shopping bags behind. I went after
her. The card shop wasn’t where we thought it was. A guard said it had
moved, gestured towards its new location.
didn’t see it, darted about directionless. I found the shop. It was
empty. He wasn’t there. The cashiers couldn’t be sure if he’d come
in. Could I describe him? “No, no,” they shook their heads.
teenager?” Surprise on their faces. “What is he doing wandering around
alone? Doesn’t his mother know it’s dangerous?” She shook her head
disbelieving of such negligence.
scooted out and spotted him. An ordinary boy, rumpled shirt half outside
his pants, untidy hair, backpack, looking around.
mother saw him at the same time and to his bewilderment, hugged him
tightly, her body convulsed with relief.
is the watchword of our everyday lives. Last week I noted in this space
that so many of our people are grieving. Over dead sons, over kidnapped
people, over abrupt shootings in the midday sun downtown.
week I have to report what you and I know already. We are rapidly turning
into an abused people. Battered by the State intent on witch hunting and
vote-payout programmes, and an impotent, self-seeking Opposition. Like
battered women and men, we cower, unable to stand up for ourselves, unsure
when the next blow will come.
it be bandits pumping a bullet into an innocent man’s head, kidnappers,
news that the morgues are overflowing, a labour force disappearing into
the bowels of make-work programmes, falling trade, more school children
crippled with the landmines of schools that have become extensions of
criminal society, emptied out of teachers, headless without principals.
we are here. We have not bolted ourselves in. We continue to engage. There
is courage in that. Resilience. A passage in Isabelle Allende’s novel
Portrait in Sepia helped me understand the deep attachment we Third World
people (oh yes, we are with our poverty and high illiteracy) have for our
countries destroyed by politicians. Her helpless love is an exact echo of
ours. Allende writes:
extraordinary early mornings, limp with shared dreams, and in that
semi-conscious state of absolute tenderness, we fall into the temptation
of going somewhere else. To the United States, for example, but then we
wake up with the sun peering in the window and we don’t speak of it
again, because we both know that we could not live anywhere but here in
this Chile of geological cataclysms and human pettiness, but also of
rugged volcanoes and snowy peaks, of immemorial lakes scattered with
emeralds, of foaming rivers and fragrant forests, a land of impoverished
people still innocent despite so many and such varied abuses.”
these islands, we have our mountain ranges, dense rain forests lit with
our thick, bright flora where jewelled birds jet about, chattering
wildlife, cane fields, our lake of bubbling pitch. How can we not love our
impoverished people in the hills, our people drunk on rum without hope in
need to believe in the essential innocence of the illiterate boys with
guns and the men who rape children, that they were never taught better,
were spoilt by the State and so remained like underdeveloped children,
otherwise how else could we bear the menace about us?