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Category: Reflections 27 Sep 09

We came home after seeing you off at university, somewhat shell-shocked. Where there were four of us, there are now three. Like every mother who has to, at some point, let go, here I am, grappling with it, slipping, failing. Here I was, thinking I was teaching you with my nagging mantras: “Say hello; look people in the eye; be disciplined; brush your teeth; keep your word; be on time; be extra kind to the vulnerable, the disabled, poor, elderly, ill and lonely.” Work for what you want. It takes a big man to say “please,” “thank you,” and “sorry;” use deodorant.

Only insecure people are mean-spirited, and on and on.” But sitting now on your unslept bed, in your room, where I rifle through your schoolboy days, copy books and medals, globes, geometry sets, books on dragons and dinosaurs, progressing to the complexity you relish, economics and philosophy, I have an “aha” moment. It is I who have been doing the learning; you, the teaching.

You were fresh off the 1990 coup attempt. Born one July later. The people of this country were cracked open like an egg shell by 114 men, 114 guns. Eight-and-a-half months into my pregnancy, having time to ruminate over those horrible events, my first lesson: I learned that some human acts, be it carrying a baby to nearly full term, or an amnesty to insurgents shoving a gun down a prime minister’s mouth are irreversible. I couldn’t change my mind about having you, and we couldn’t change our mind about the amnesty.

The smoke from that fire in the Red House turned into a menacing, invisible poisonous gas that spread throughout the land, finding its way into crevices, where children found guns a powerful alternative to books; where gang leaders, killers, drug pushers, hit men were absorbed, into, and respected and honoured by mainstream society. Once the lines between lawlessness and the institutions that hold up the law were blurred, there was no going back.

So a nation was spawned where the police and kidnappers became interchangeable; the judiciary, like every other institution, became malleable. That’s why the latest imbroglio of allegations of political interference on a judicial matter is no surprise. The drip of blood from the attempted coup became a gaping, unstoppable wound from which blood would flow every day, giving us the notoriety of having the second-highest murder rate in the world.

That’s why, just this month, a man could walk into a bar and shoot five people dead, another pump five bullets into the body of a retired citizen. Tobago is notorious for the murders of elderly tourists, rather than the beauty of its beaches. Our good citizens are daisies crushed by men with guns. My second lesson was no human being, even when entwined with your flesh for nine months, can be a possession. When I became your mother, an extraordinary thing happened.

Semi-conscious in the hospital bed with you in my arms, a thought came unbidden. You were on loan. I was a trustee whose duty was to ensure that you become all you can be; that you contribute more than you take from the world. Then I have let go. Everyone is born to be free. The day that felt so far away came too quickly, leaving memories as sharp as a knife.

Third lesson: On a first day in nursery, you in an oversized crisp, shorts and shirt (the red lunch kit overpowered you). Me leaving in tears at the urgings of the teacher who wanted the separation to be “quick,” and sneaking back, tip-toeing at the window to see if you were okay, only to see another mother meeting my eye on the opposite window. We smiled, tearfully, at one another. In that instant we were interchangeable, without identity or ego. The commonality of the moment erased an essential human loneliness and created an empathy I had never experienced before.  

Fourth lesson: The lawlessness preys mostly upon the young. You were 14, sitting in your class in the most prestigious government school in Trinidad when your fellow students put a paperbag over your head and stole your cellphone. If the brightest in our country are sucked in, where is the hope? So I wept when the sno-cone vendor who we took under our care lost four sons, aged 17 to 21, one after the other, to the bullet.

One month after you got your driver’s licence you were a miracle survivor.
The car was crushed like a match box, three feet away from fading roses marking a spot where a boy you knew, lost his life. I feel for every parent who has a child with a driver’s licence, who stays up, waiting. The absent policing, burdened courts, on the roads amounts to state murder.

Fifth lesson: You and your little sister taught me that pity should never enter compassion. You watched your uncle dying in a Baltimore flat one Christmas, and challenged him noisily at monopoly, chess not allowing your faces to reflect fear or horror.

Final lesson: I didn’t hear from you for a week. I thought I had lost you. I remembered my mistakes, my harsh words. Then you wrote, with a voice that brought you back in this, your room. And I now know, thank you, that love, however flawed, given unconditionally, always comes home.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur