I asked the policeman and said
How much must I pay for my freedom?
He said to me, son
They won’t build no schools anymore
They won’t build no hospitals
All they’ll build will be prison, prison
— Prisoner, Lucky Dube
“That is for allyuh young people to worry about.” The woman in Woodford Square who had fought for one of the few leftover chairs that were reserved for the invited guests behind the fence wasn’t interested in my question about constitutional reform.Old black woman with lined face and calloused hard-life kind of hands. A shameful stubby set of teeth and downturned sides of her mouth.
She wants to see her beloved Prime Minister and she’s chatting with her friends waiting for his arrival. Papa Patos is nowhere to be seen yet. I stand next to her, behind the six-foot fence separating the plebs from the nice people in their chic designer sunglasses protecting their eyes from the sharp glare of mid-afternoon sun.
Who would have thought that Woodford Square would have a VIP section? Papa Patos decided to throw a big show for all the party faithful but some party faithful are more worthy than others.
The woman sitting under an umbrella fanning herself from the mid-afternoon heat. Me sweating and fuming and feeling uncomfortable and upset.
In a sea of red and everybody happy like pappy.
Police and soldiers armed to the teeth looking hot and trigger-happy.
Another woman says she came all the way from the East to see Manning get his crown. She says it with such joy and pride I feel momentarily embarrassed and even a little jealous that I really don’t share her enthusiasm about Papa Patos’ return.
Not that the options were at all attractive.
I shared none of their joy as I ducked out of the way when the gates of Woodford Square were finally opened and they pressed their bodies up against the fence as if their lives depended on them being on the other side of the bars. I shared none of their joy as I watched them fight for the chairs left over from the VIP section and two heavily armed police officers passed by without as much as a sideways glance as a woman wrestled a chair out of a man’s vice grip.
Woodford Square still after so long named after some random English bureaucrat sent to see after the natives. Woodford Square where two generations confronted each other. Where some of us fashioned an idea of a nation in a time when to be a PNMite was to be something revolutionary.
Where perhaps at one time we thought ourselves to be something more than savages fit only to work for rich people for a few pennies. To spend our years toiling to make other people rich.
Here we are again. In Woodford Square named after a random English bureaucrat, 45 years after we thought that we were finally closer to some semblance of freedom. Talking about how wealthy we are.
From behind the fence the plebs watch their king receive his crown. Later they press and push to get a chance to touch his hand outstretched towards them with such piety that it could make you weep.
The people in the square are old. I search for younger people, people my age, my generation and I can’t find them, save a few in Cepep T-shirts.
They are old and poor. And if I had ever doubted it before, I know now parties like the PNM are built on the backs of poor old people who believe that something better is coming. Who have faith that if you look like them, maybe you might have their best interests at heart.
But maybe Papa Patos was right, if a little elitist, when he said the other day that we’re not politically mature enough to seriously contemplate constitutional reform. Like we don’t understand that development must come in the form of an aluminium smelter or that plenty buildings is a sign of progress even though you have to hopscotch through human waste to walk around this Athens of the Caribbean.
Watching them fight for chairs. Watching their rotten teeth. Watching their hopefulness and their fear masked in smiles wider that the gulf between the COP and Parliament.
If we lack this political maturity, it is because our politicians have willed it to be so. Uncle Bas and Papa Patos and all their little peons have aided and abetted a bankruptcy of independent thought and progressive living in T&T.
It is because the PNM has continued to enjoy the spoils of keeping their party faithful in blissful ignorance, staining their fingers for a party that would have them wallow in their own filth and the pollution of corporations unchecked by whatever puny environmental laws we claim to have.
Still I stand hoping that switch will flip and it will make sense to me why people would fight for a chair in Woodford Square but stand patiently on South Quay for two hours waiting for a car to take them home.
I don’t bother to ask the woman. I know she’ll give me the same answer.