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
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
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.