When I opened the gate to a man who
looked like he was starving and on the verge of collapse 17 years ago, he
already looked old. He had no teeth. I opened my doors to him, allowed him
to have a bath, fed him and got him insulin because he was so polite. His
gentlemanly demeanour was incongruous with the cumulative stench emanating
from an open wound on his arm, his filthy torn clothes and matted hair. I
thought then, he could have been somebody. But he became a state statistic,
rather than a public figure.
He was let down by the state.
He was one of
the hundreds of thousands who left our school system without any passes;
became a third-generation URP worker whose contribution was lost swallowed
up by state-initiated dependency; whose state legacy of neglect, illiteracy
and dependency was passed on to his six children, three of whom were shot
dead in a country that now has the third highest murder rate in a
non-warring country worldwide. Over 17 years he would call, asking for
medication, for help, and there were times when he appeared to do well. He
died last week of complications from diabetes—a manageable disease for which
public awareness is entirely lacking.
funeral passed without mention, notice or mourners. He may as well not have
lived. But his is the story that is lived by hundreds of thousands of our
people. His is the story of our land. Of our people. Last year, Mclean (he
never told me his first name) and I had a long conversation and I recorded
it, thinking I would write about it someday. Here it is. He was invisible
while he was alive. On his death, as a tribute to him, he tells his story in
his own voice. June 2008: “I am a 60-year-old man living in Laventille,
McShine. Three of my four sons have been shot dead.
converted to Islam. They were all members of gangs fighting amongst
themselves. “The remaining son, who was freed of a murder charge three weeks
ago, is in the Muslim gang business. “Two nights back there was a shooting
near us. My brother-in-law and wife were murdered in their beds. A rival
gang is claiming my son is responsible. Now they want revenge.
“Yesterday, three men came with guns to my house. They were looking for my
son. They asked me for my daughter who was nursing her newborn. They
insisted she come out. When she came to the door they told us we have until
12 o’clock to ride out from the place. “My daughter has two children with
two different fathers who are in Muslim gangs but they don’t give a s---
about her. They will kill her in cold blood if they had to. When her
brothers lived there Muslim men used to come to the house and pray, and do
gang business. That is how she got involved with them. There are photographs
of different mosques around the house.
“Out of fear
for my life, I left her there. I will never go back on the hill. I am
staying in a shelter in town. I eating from people who feed the homeless,
running for a sweet drink. “My daughter wanted to come with me, but she has
a five-week-old baby and they don’t allow babies here. I only came with the
clothes on my back. We have a TV and fridge like normal people, but I can’t
interfere with that. People are saying I could go with police and get my
stuff, but I have no where to carry anything. If I do they will mash up
everything and burn down the place. “I was born in Belmont. I left St
Margaret’s Boys RC School in 1962 without any passes. I don’t think I ever
worked. I got money all my life through the ten-days. I once sold breadfruit
and sno-cone outside Belmont Junior Secondary.
“I had four
boys and two girls. When my wife and I separated I had a restraining order.
The children lived with her. “My wife was sick with the Aids virus. My first
son went to trade school in John John. I can’t recall if he went to
secondary school. “I don’t know if they went to school or what, maybe just
till they got fed up. They had no supervision. “They don’t have any passes.
They would rob people to live. That was their style. Stick up a store, go in
and take six pairs of shoes worth thousands of dollars. “The bottom line is
they were not willing to work for money. If you or I have a proper home or
car, they are trying to take that. They figure if they have a gun they have
a right to anything.
“I wasn’t present when my first son was shot at 20. His nickname was
Theifing. I believe his brother shot him dead. They stuck together to cover
the terrible impact of that. “Their mother was too sick to tell them
anything. I didn’t even know they were so vicious, so far gone in the
gang-related business. I was devastated when I heard. “My second son died in
the ghetto in Nelson Street. They called him Stumpy. He was gunned down
there. He was 18. I can’t remember him, but people say he was just like me.
“The smallest one was gunned down in John John. He was 17. Just after his
brothers died he picked up a gun. He wanted to follow his brother’s pathway.
“They are not
my responsibility. I was absent during their upbringing. I didn’t go to the
house for 12 years. I had a restraining order from the court from the
premises. I didn’t go to their funerals. Well, maybe one—I can’t remember
for which son. “I was on the streets. I was on drugs. Still, I wasn’t lazy.
I know how to earn a shilling. My parents grow me up as an Adventist. How do
I live? I pick up bottles, clean a yard, sell sno-cones. I suffer with
asthma, and I am a diabetic. I don’t have regrets. “I don’t take
responsibility. You make your children you don’t make their mind. From the
time you talk to children concerning anyone else they say that is their
brethren. “My son could gun me and his sister down in cold blood any day. “I
can’t say I was ever happy. Life is a struggle. It’s about how you accept
it. To achieve life you have to live one day at a time. ”
-As told to
Ira Mathur in June 2008.