Rescuing that grocery boy


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Category: Profiles Date: 27 Nov 05


As I was about to give up my search I found him. He was packing groceries away in the supermarket in the same worn T-shirt in which I saw him last.


He gave me a smile that made my heart turn over. I wrote about him two weeks ago. In case you hadn’t read that piece, here is an excerpt:


“We started emptying grocery 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 have, 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.


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.”


A response from this reader sent me back to the supermarket every day until I found the boy desperate to be a writer:


“Ira, I am disappointed with your perspective with regards to the 17-year-old boy, who asked you for help with his poetry, outside of the supermarket. You said (not in so many words) that society had failed him, but Ira, you also failed him.


“You failed by summing him up as someone who would never make it as a writer, based on his situation now. You failed by casting him as the typical ne’er-do-well. You failed him by walking away as fast as possible.


“Ira, this was a young man that approached you for help! Is his dream really over at 17? I think it will only be over if those who have gone before tell him so. People come into our lives for a reason.


“Even if you got him a job as a gopher at the Trinidad Guardian, he would immediately be rubbing shoulders with those of a different mentality, and he would begin to grow, to blossom, to become challenged, to be more than a supermarket trolley boy.”


My reader deserves a response. This is it:


“I was writing about a boy who wanted to be a writer. Like any journalist, I felt I was doing my job. Giving the voiceless a voice. I hoped that people who read it would understand the subtext.


“That this boy was just one among thousands who are neglected by teachers, parents and the State. That he is a symptom of a countrywide malaise.


“My story provides a tiny piece of the mirror that journalists together assemble on crime, Parliament, sport and society, anything newsworthy to reflect the world. That’s our job.


“Just as a cricket commentator can’t will a team to win or lose, a journalist can’t will a government to double teachers’ salaries or create a compulsory teaching training college or force people to be responsible fathers.


“We tell the story. Politicians act. People act. It is ultimately in their hands.


“With a stroke of a minister of finance’s pen, whole communities can be displaced, entire generations lost to dependency, illiteracy, poverty.”


My reader pointed out that doing one’s job is no longer enough. He set me right. So I haunted those grocery aisles for a week until I found him. His name is Keithon de Bique. He has four O-levels.


I took his number, which I will gladly give a prospective employer. It’s a crime not to do more.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur