I’m missing things. I’m missing people and a time in my life when i wasn’t trying to be a grown up. I’m missing my unborn children and balatas. I’m missing love and pre dawn kisses and my book of Martin Carter poems that I left in Zurich. I’m missing Darren Khan’s rare status updates, because he is dead, but he didn’t die on Facebook. I’m missing cold water on my locks-less scalp. I’m missing dairy free yogurt and Back Bay at dusk. I am missing having a dog. I am missing my grandmother’s sarcasm. I am also missing her pak choi and rice. I am missing lost time and walking in the bush in the dark.
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.
I’m writing to you as a big sister, as someone who has faced similar reactions to this crown we carry on our heads.
You have a light in your eyes and a promise in your smile that I hope these stiff-necked fools that run our country will never put out. I see your face in the newspapers and all I can think is, what a hateful, stupid society we live in.
You understand now why so many children your age and younger are being drawn into criminal activity?
Because we obviously don’t believe in our young people. We haven’t figured out that giving our children a chance to prove themselves is important. Sr Adrianna took one look at you and made a value judgment, in a way that is shockingly un-Christian.
I wonder if she ever turned away a child with a weave? If she ever thought that an 11-year-old with straightened hair was less likely to have a positive self-image than a girl of her age with natural hair.
Imagine that. God made you so perfect. In her own image and likeness God created you and here come these adults to tell you that something about you is not right.
It’s a kind of heights in a way. She expressed fears of you being indisciplined as if your hair being in its natural state was such a total and complete rejection of everything institutionalised religion has come to stand for.
Perhaps it is a kind of backhanded compliment that she is intimidated by your locks. That they said to her “no.” Which is not a word people like to hear in a “yes massa” setting.
Still, I want to apologise to you on behalf of all the adults who burden innocent children with all their many hang-ups.
Maybe when they were small, nobody told them they were beautiful and blessed.
I don’t want to just give you empty words. I want you to know that there are those of us who are ashamed but not surprised that in the 21st century people can be so backward thinking.
That we could be an independent republic but our Attorney General could have no qualms about saying that private institutions have a right to discriminate.
It’s more bitter than aloes to swallow. That you can be the most articulate, the most intelligent, the most respectful and people will still see you as a dutty, stinkin’ Rasta.
I urge you not to be disheartened. I’m sending you all the positive vibrations that you make the most of this.
Better you get it now, yes sistren. Better you learn at this crucial stage in your life when your other peers are going through their rite of passage of getting the kinks straightened out, just as they are coming into their sense of beauty. Better you have a grounding in who you really are and how you can only believe in yourself because if you had to depend on any of those stiff-necked fools you would die waiting.
Better you understand that people’s minds are still closed to anything that is not their narrow, limited view of what is normal.
If anything your locks are a symbol of commitment. A statement that you, guided by your mother, remain unshaken by trends.
You are still young and every day is a new experience. Every day is a new opportunity to learn and create. The only rule you need to know is that there are no rules. They’re all just making it up as they go along.
Learn this lesson now. Learn that this society is dishonest about its unity. Learn that we are fragmented and confused and led by people who say one thing about celebrating difference and do another by setting standards of what is normal and acceptable.
Learn now that religion defies God in so many ways. Religion distorts the message and the messenger. This God that Sr Adrianna serves must be a dotish one that creates beings that he does not love; gives them the choice to be but then condemns them for being the wrong thing.
Do not see it as a misfortune that you live in a society where people do not want to accept your difference.
That is the universe telling you that you are in the right place and the right time to make people change their minds.
That school, this education system, this entire society has done a disservice to you, Kalifa. I want to apologise to you since the ones who should say sorry probably never will.
Get what you have to get now out of this here Babylonian system that is in power now. Be in it but not of it. Understand how it works, arm yourself with information and most of all stay focused.
Because you know now that you have a role to play in making sure it falls.