Every day for two weeks, a woman in a
Lahore museum sits with her back against a wall of roses from morning to
evening allowing a slow drip of paint to cover her like blood. I was
told this by a Pakistani friend in a pub near Notting Hill, the
birthplace of the slain journalist, Marcia Henville.
I can see her funky fearlessness fitting
right in. She would have woven in and out of London’s streets with her
clunky jewelry, jewel colours, an Amy Winehouse heartbreakingly waspish
smile, her fearless armour covering layers of melted chocolate, ready to
pick up a stray kitten, or pause at a busker, putting her coin down
I rushed to the bathroom before setting
off in the cold only to bump into a young girl, her mouth stained with
wine, breathless following me. She flashed a smile at me, handed me my
fallen cell phone, and told me to “be careful” and disappeared. It was
kindness. She was young.
She could have been a shopgirl. It
taught me that she had been surrounded by kindness, so she gave it back
easily. I thought of home. Our surly shopgirls, workers in the gym.
Someone has hurt them from the time they were tiny. We snarl like hurt
puppies. We don’t look up. No smile. People don’t hold hands easily. No,
in an almost self loathing gesture we would rather thrust our hips
aggressively at a pole than smile at a stranger.
Marcia could have stayed here in the
country of her birth, but she went back to her parents’ homeland. She
saw beauty there, but not what a recently returned friend called “a nest
She saw it a duty. As work. She was a
multi-media journalist, working in print, radio, television, and film.
Marcia chose to do the work government hasn’t been doing, that most of
us as parents, teachers, social workers, civic citizens haven’t been
doing. To fill the poison land mines created by make-work gang leaders,
unschooled children, unmanned drug borders, corrupt policemen.
She chose to do the work parents left
undone, absent fathers, single mothers. She chose to do work that
thousands of social workers should be trained to do: The void of
parenting, schooling, teaching, social work left a nest of the unloved,
the resentful, hatred filled, dependent society. She chose to enter a
nest of vipers and despite all the warnings— don’t go there, you will be
stung, you will die—she entered, and created clearings, and ushered in a
dove of peace, or a cluster of fireflies in the night.
Just two years ago, before starting
Point Blank on TV6, where she would highlight at-risk communities, she
said in an interview: “I want to help those people who have nowhere else
to turn. The abused; the people who can barely read their names if they
saw it, far less to fill out forms to justify public assistance; the
woman living in the forest because she used to go and come, losing her
senses after her daughter was raped and murdered.
This is us telling our stories as a
society. Prejudices have divided society. In Trinidad, we have lost
empathy for others.
Once people said we need more social
programmes to alleviate crime. Now the conversation has changed to hang
them or kill them. How can you get people to take a broader view at what
is happening now and how it could affect all of us in the future?”
So take this woman whose heart was a
wall full of roses. Not wilting ones, but hot blood red, gentle for the
weak, thorny for bullies, petals that brought a glimmer of hope for
entire areas that never saw a way out of the cycle of violence and
Take those petals of goodness, of
courage, of bravery, of compassion and do what Trinidad does best to
excellence or kindness.
Kill her. A week ago, on Saturday
morning, she was murdered in her bedroom by a “close relative” who was
“held for questioning.” Right, that would be domestic violence. The
autopsy report “proved her throat was slit” that “she suffered multiple
stab wounds on her back and blunt force trauma at the back of her neck”
and that she was “set on fire” afterwards. Her children, 20 and 16, must
have heard the screams, seen the smoke. They were unharmed physically
but no doubt wrecked inexorably.
I wanted to make this a piece about the
Domestic Violence Act, the signs of abuse, and safe houses. But the
image of bleeding roses took over. It is a reflection of our society,
like Pakistan’s, where there is regular slaughter of the innocents.
There is it indoctrination. Here it is ignorance, lack of education.
There is it due to the guns. Here it is the same. There it is due to
extremist ideology. Here it is bacchus. Pleasure without reflection. A
lack of identity. There it is a grab for power and greed that starts at
the top and filters down like some kind of aspirational quality.
The greediest wins.
Without a culture of teaching the teachers, without a culture of social
workers to ensure the ugly cycle of abuse doesn’t repeat itself, vipers
will wind around roses, squeeze blood from petals.