Good people say so

 

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Category: Trinidad Society 08 Apr 07

 

Last week, a seamstress from Belmont who was twisting me around, pins in her mouth, adjusting fabric, stopped abruptly, and, with pins still in her mouth, dropped two tears on me.

 

She said: “I lost two sisters to HIV/Aids and a mother to diabetes. My 18-year-old niece takes care of three small children.

 

“I left school at 15 to help see about my mother and my younger brothers and sisters. I gave up a good job to go to New York with my husband where we lived in a tiny room with relatives.

 

“I came home one day after working as a cleaner at the airport to find him in bed with my best friend.

 

“Now he lives with her and refuses to give me child support. Many days I eat plain white bread for dinner.”

 

That night, I slowed and then stopped my car. I saw an elderly woman stand stunned in the middle of the road as an impatient young driver, driving as if he was on a race track, narrowly swerved past her, swearing as he sped off.

 

I offered her a ride. A wary look gave way to consent. She told me she worked as a housekeeper in Goodwood Park, and that her husband, a carpenter, would take a taxi from Arima and meet her downtown so he could escort her home.

 

Sure enough, a kindly man with huge glasses and teeth, who must have been over 70, was in the spot she expected him to be.

 

They were unabashedly glad to see one another and thanked me so profusely I felt new rage for the driver who carelessly almost killed her.

 

Her husband took her hand, walked into the night. The next day, I got talking to a gentle giant, a middle-aged man from Laventille.

 

You could hear his grandmother’s echo in his voice, telling him right from wrong. He began to sound angry as he spoke of his frustrated application for government housing.

 

Rare smile

 

He’d applied when his children were toddlers. Now, they were teenagers, influenced by gangs.

 

It had been 16 years of waiting and he looked like he was waiting for an excuse to knock someone down.

 

Later, I was stopped by a young female guard at the guard booth, whose voluptuous mouth is always down-turned.

 

“This is my daughter” she said, gesturing at a sweet-faced teenager. I saw a rare smile.

 

Two years ago, she got a call saying one of her sons drowned. By the time she composed herself enough to ask “which one?” she was told both.

 

She was working shift at the time. Her husband was with another woman (a common story) and the boys, eight and ten, were unsupervised. Her remaining child sometimes sits in the guard booth with her.

 

In this strange week of conversations, a young man who appeared with his meticulous exterior, carefully-gelled hair, to have the soul of a clerk, an unquestioning sort of fellow who would do an eight-to-four job for 50 years till he died.

 

A law-abiding man, who believed a conventional life could keep him safe. Yet he was agitated. His brother-in-law was on cocaine. His family life was a string of eruptions as he, his wife and child battled with this drug addict who pulled out vegetables from the garden, broke in and stole jewelry, money, stood in his yard and swore, took off his tyres, stole his daughter’s bike.

 

He would “do him something” one day, this mild man swore.

 

The personal is always political.

 

I saw a society ripped by lawlessness, by fathers who abandon wives and children, by drug addicts, by reckless drivers. I saw the spread of crime, HIV/Aids, diabetes fed by illiteracy and poverty.

 

I found out, because as David Rudder sang because “good people say so.”

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur