Menace is the watchword


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 22 May 05


A casual encounter with a friend who was out shopping with her teenage son turned into a tense daytime drama.


“Where 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.


“You sent him alone?”


“Why?” asked my friend, panic on her face. “What’s the matter?”


“You don’t know they kidnapping in broad daylight now? Look lady, go and find your son!”


She 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.


She 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.


“A 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.


I scooted out and spotted him. An ordinary boy, rumpled shirt half outside his pants, untidy hair, backpack, looking around.


His mother saw him at the same time and to his bewilderment, hugged him tightly, her body convulsed with relief.


Menace 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.


This 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.


Will 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.


Yet 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:


“Some 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.”


In 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 the plains?


We 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?


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur