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Category: Reflections Date: 13 Nov 05


Emerging from the grocery with the boy wheeling a trolley with my purchases, I was taken back with the abrupt onset of darkness, and the signs of rain gleaming like oil in puddles in the car park.


Normally, the thought of swift darkness brings on pleasurable anxiety of a long festive season. It’s that time of year already, I thought with surprise, of soft breezy grey evenings fading to black.


Now there was no pleasure. Instead, I thought, I need to get out of this dark car park fast.


“You are de writer?”


I turned to look at the boy asking the question. Couldn’t be more than 17, a gangly teenager wrestling with a swiftly-growing body. Baby face, intense eyes; faded mismatched clothes. Clearly poor.


Before I could reply, another question:


“Or, are you the journalist?”


“It depends on what I’m working on,” I said. Sensing his disappointment I added: “You can be both.”


“I write,” he offered.


“What do you write?” I asked.


“Stories, hymns. I does write it all.”


I wondered about the grammar of the writing; the books that he had read; all the unarticulated thoughts and stories in him; the fact that he looked like he hadn’t finished school; the raw yearning, the fact that he probably would never make a cent as a writer.


We started emptying the bags from the trolley into the car.


“How long I go ha to train to be a journalist?” he asked.


“It depends,” I said, feeling like an unhelpful villain in a bad film, knowing I would lose him with my answer, that no colleague of mine would consider him for employment, unless it was to run errands, on “your current level of skill.”


“So what to do?” he persisted. “I done write to them and none of them reply me.”


“Try again,” I said impotently, holding an encouraging smile as I drove away.


If I had seen this young man in a dark car park approaching me I would have shied away from him. But he was as far away from a criminal as you could get. He was a writer, a poet in waiting.


He could, if he had the right parents to push him through school, the right teachers, the right school, a decent economic background, have been a writer.


To the world, he was a potential menace from whom you would shy away in a dark car park. He was stuck with an image of himself that didn’t reflect him, trapped inside a concrete block image.


That left him as powerless as the puddles we stepped in until a predator offers him cash, a gun, a ready-made identity.


I remembered exchanging stories about my years as a student in England with my husband. I told him how I would cross the road when I came across football hooligans drunk after a match. “Funny,” he said. “I had the same experience. As a young black Indian man in Manchester with a shaved head, I found old ladies crossed the street when they saw me.”


No wonder then, the contempt for a middle class, “white” march against crime. No wonder, then, the grassroots‚ support for a Mugabe-style, Islamic leader who wants to take from the rich and give to the poor.


We produce these young men with guns. We neglect them. We create them.


There is another way. I witnessed it at the St Mary’s College debate. Young articulate boys, they will all go to university; lead this country. If old ladies cross the street when they see him they will laugh.


Colour won’t matter. I was overjoyed to see Selwyn Ryan’s son Kwame, who took London by storm recently with his debut at English national opera, where he conducts Strauss’ Salome, put a British reporter in his place.


When asked whether his career was affected by the colour of his skin, Kwame said he had never thought about it, treating the query as irrelevant; a stupid question hanging uselessly in the air.


Still, I think of the trapped minds of the boys who’ve never been given a chance, of my mute poet in the car park.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur