train journey from Edinburgh to London, a fragile sunshine coats the
English channel with bridges, neatly rolled bales of hay, grazing sheep
and enervated cows, clusters of forests, apple orchards, stations on
which I will never get off, like Newcastle and names of towns with ugly
industrial buildings I will forget instantly. Ever since I was very
young, I was always thrilled by train journeys holding promise of the
unknown and the unexpected, which for me is a powerful drug even if I
experienced the same journey ten times. Over the years it has become an
analogy of life itself. The only constant is change.
it was the teeming station with passengers shouting for their luggage to
be carried by coolies, bent into a C under their bundles, their heads
protected only by a coil of dirty soft cloth, the steel trunks (a
colonial relic), suitcases; it was hot glasses of tea and samosas being
passed through the rail windows by vendors; of women bearing tiffins
marching ahead to stake their seats with a swirl of excited children,
the frantic waving of flags as the most daring of passengers or the
people seeing them off swing on, and off from the train tracks, the
final shrill whistle and the beginning of the journey.
an expanded moon, daylight pollution shattered into fine gold dust at
dusk, night trains picking up the first slow thundering of wheels into a
dizzying speed, snaking on circuitous tracks, stopping at crossings for
shadowy figures of old men with sticks and cattle and little families
are especially unforgettable. On an on we rumbled, across the unending
land, villages, tenements, towns barely glimpsed, then gone, to a trance
inducing state where reality and dreams merge. Memory is selective.
These days as our country lives under the shadow of thousands of guns
and the recent memory of too much murder, it is easy for us, an entire
population to forget that even now, perhaps as you read this, the bamboo
Cathedral in Chaguaramas is like an impressionist painting come alive;
in some cove a child is looking at a jellyfish by a sun-warmed rock to
the rhythm of unending waves.
we have no time for the call of our birds in our rainforests which
nourish our land, we may take for granted the women and many men who
everyday, despite the horror of murder and lawlessness that has become
the daily business of our lives, are busy this Sunday, as they are every
day, laying new foundations for our shattered country by supervising
homework, cheering on football and cricket games, ensuring that each
child understands that there is a time to receive and a time to give
back. There are fishermen out in their boats and cyclists and adventure
racers doing their hundred mile rides and long runs and kayaks and
following dreams of excellence and pianists who are practising their
scales and its a day to visit parents and grandparents.
there is an aching beauty in Trinidad that keeps us here and perhaps
outside your window, as I remember mine in Port-of-Spain, is a mango
tree rustling with sunshine. As I write on the train to London, the
sleet against my window reminds me of a winter decades back on another
train journey to Edinburgh with my student friends. It was one of the
coldest winters ever. We didnít know where we were going to stay, we
were broke, freezing and ravenous but that was forgotten as we argued
for 12 hours non-stop about the Middle East and whether we would do a
parachute jump for Jews or Palestinians.
arrived to a fairy tale Edinburgh, its castle and cobbled streets
covered in snow to meet a black South African friend of ours, Mbuyiseli.
He was born in Port Elizabeth after his father was murdered, hadnít
allowed apartheid or his motherís sadness to make him bitter or racist.
His hunger for learning had long passed the boundaries of race,
religion, socio economic profession and country, and even the then
racist regime could not keep him back from gaining a scholarship to
Oxford to study Classics, and then to Edinburgh to do his PHD. Murders
in South Africa were a daily reality for Mbu, apartheid a cruel evil. It
was well known that Mbu was an insomniac, but that didnít stop him
quoting the metaphysical poets to us as we walked around the medieval
old town and through the castle. He had an old world unfailing genteel
courtesy, and his praises were quaintly Victorian delivered in a strong
South African accent.
time I saw him was eight years ago on Oxford Street with his fiancť, a
tall, elegant woman. They were young, educated and wealthy. They were
going home. There was work to be done there. Last year I heard he died
after a long illness. I thought of Mbu's scholarship, his tiny book
packed rooms in Oxford where a group of us would go from London for a
taste of refracted glory of Christchurch College. As the train rumbles
on, I remember his perpetually furrowed brow, working out some complex
idea, but also the memory of hardship, of a cruel regime that had sought
to humiliate his entire race was ever present in his eyes which remained
sad even when he laughed. Mbu taught me a new way to look at the world,
through the lens of beauty. It is he who I think of now, thinking of my
country under a curfew as we go under a black tunnel.
Mbuís hunger for knowledge that must have affected me when I was a
careless young woman, something about the reverential way he showed me
300-year-old books in a library in Oxford University, made me think we
can all, even if we remain on an island, live without borders, with
perpetual curiosity in our heads. No journey is as we envisage and
sometimes when we think itís the end, it goes on, and when we think its
going to go on, it ends. What makes this life worthwhile, with its
seemingly unfair balance of grief and hardship and poverty in lives
around the world, is beauty.
remember now as the train slows down, after covering a story on poverty
in Trinidad, both myself and the cameraman stopped simultaneously at a
sight I will never forget. A boy standing on a rubbish heap playing with
a kite looking at a fiery sky, his hair a bronze halo. An angel on the
garbage. Points of beauty are deeper and more poignant after they
overcome darkness or grief, proof of human tenacity, I thought as the
train ground to a halt at Kings Cross (restored after the terrorist
attacks of 05). Remembering as I walked into the gleaming station the
spectacular fireworks over Edinburgh Castle on our last night there, as
clusters of moving colour lit up a dark sky.