This is what it sounds like when boys cry.

It is an awful sound.  Guttural and raw.  A teenaged boy sobbing.  It is the worst sound and it twists my insides and I am fighting back tears.  Not for the boy these boys are weeping for. I did not know Zac Olumegbon.  Or more correctly, I do not remember him.  He was the little brother of my little sister’s best friend.  She had the most serious face, I remember. I always wondered why children here always looked so serious. Like they had the world of worries.  Perhaps they do, living in this corner of Babylondon.

And if I have run away from Trinidad hoping to escape the endless statistics of little black boys killing each other for honour, to regain their misplaced manhood, I have run to the wrong place.

Brixton, despite the gentrification and the nice gastro pubs and the belligerent foxes, is one of those London places where crime happens.  I don’t see the Eastern European whores in the park anymore and outside the Library they’ve made it all shiny and new.  But there are still old homeless people and young drugged up people and sad drunk people of all ages.  They do not go away despite the shiny new surfaces.

The sight of crying children is unbearable.  I guess because I take such a pragmatic view of death. It happens. It is natural.  Zac’s life as one of the speaker’s says, has been stolen.  Like a chain from someone’s neck.  Like the childhood of all these young people who have to say goodbye to a boy who has not yet lived.

They stabbed him.  Children stabbed him.  Children like him.  What can they possibly know of life to warrant killing a 15 year old.  What could they possibly be so sure of that they can take another life?

I look at the faces of my sisters’ friends.  They are young and old at the same time.  Too much living too soon.  I cherish my own sheltered childhood.  That I got to doubt myself and make believe and wish and dream and never once wonder if someone was going to deny me the chance to make mistakes.

My fought back tears are not for Zac.  They are rather for his friends and family.  Hundreds of them.  Gathered in grief on this bleakest of summer days.  There are long silences punctuated only by half stifled sobs and sniffles.

The police stay a respectable distance.  No profiling now.  No microwaving of leftover sus laws.

A young man read/raps Psalm 37 in the rhythm and truth of his Sath Landin twang.  The cheeky boys from the bus hold each other and cry silently, and then wipe the tears away as if they are angry with their leaking eyes.

My fought back tears are for them.  For their anger and grief.  For his mother and his sister and my sisters and all the young women here who will have to find a way to keep loving these men who are at war with themselves.

What war the Pastor asks. What war can they fight when they own nothing? What post code, what block belongs to them?  What property do they own when they live in state provided housing, are second generation immigrants? Where do they belong? Not even to themselves.

These children cry and my mother instinct moans helplessly.  There is no consoling for this kind of grief.  You can’t stick a dummy in the mouth of a generation that is becoming accustomed to burying their own.

I leave before it is finished.  Leave his mother reading the mountain of tributes.  Leave behind  Zac Olumegbon, who was the little brother of my little sisters friend.  They hope he has not died in vain.  All these people who have come to weep for him.  They hope no more will have to shed tears like this again.  Still, sirens wail in the distance, louder than Zac’s mother, louder than the thud of a boy fainting from grief, louder than the shaky voices of his school friends crying out to Christ for mercy. On this bleak summer day.

At the crossroads: black eye peas and other new year considerations

It’s almost 1300hrs on New Year’s Eve and I am dithering with various things, while I steel myself for a mad dash to the shop around the corner for black eye peas.

Outside is the kind of cold that is unrelenting even through several formidable layers. Or at least I imagine it is so. In truth I haven’t left the house since Monday, prefering to watch from within the safety of double glazing the London winter go from mild one weekend to nasty the following.

I am considering what misfortunes may befall me if I don’t get my black eye peas on. In spite of my distance from Trinidad and from the mother I woke up this morning knowing that this task had to be completed by the end of today.

Black eye peas being symbols of prosperity we brought a sense of with us through the Middle Passage and beyond. They are also the favourite food of the Orishas who offer protection to the community. It is no accident that old people long time in Trinidad would ring in the New Year standing at crossroads and it was essential for you to eat black eye peas and rice. What led them to know to do this I don’t know. It’s as if Eshu himself, guardian of crossroads, trickster of great repute planted the seed in their heads.

Staying in us like ancestral memory. Like my father’s mother who died when I was two, who I dream every now and then; who dreamt me before I was born with her dead mother in yard of a house in Lucas Street in Grenada that I still haven’t seen.

I can’t say what prompted me to get up this morning with a desire to eat black eye peas. Like I can’t say what prompts my father to speak to me now of things he has never spoken of before. Of his life as a boy, of his father and mother and his childhood friends. Of Maurice Bishop’s father and how he felt the first time he held the pages of a historical record in Grenada documenting all of his ancestors who had been hanged for taking part in Fédon’s slave rebellion in 1795.

It is an interesting note on which to end this year. Going back in order to go forward, knowing what went to know what comes next. I can’t say I am sorry to see the end of this year. I enjoyed it enough to be thankful for all the lessons it taught me. Few tears for big disappointments, many smiles for major joys. For mango dawns and nights of fleeting bliss like pan carried on the breeze that give your dreams sweet rumbling soundtracks. For unsaid words and unspoken prayers for missing ones and found ones and lost friends and found enemies. For music and dancing and jouvay and emails from nephews. For grandmothers who come back to remind me of what is true and valuable. For a mother who brings you messages in dreams full of yellow green rivers. And a father who speaks in rumbling verse.

I laugh at all Eshu’s tricks. I imagine that the lesson the universe is trying to teach me is never ever ever lose your sense of humour. Even when the joke is on you.

But joke is joke, I have black eye peas and rice to cook.

Happy new year.

Babylondon calling

I know sun is shining
Somewhere across the sea
I know sun is shining
That’s good enough for me
No need to worry anymore
No need to worry cause I know
The sun’s gonna break through the winter haze

The Camel, Fat Freddy’s Drop

The instinct to hibernate appeals to me. In a way I suppose it shouldn’t for someone who was born in the sun and loves the feel of it on her shoulders.
The instinct to hibernate brings me to Babylon-don. To bleak skies and days so cold that I am rarely tempted to venture out. So I camp out in the kitchen warmed by jazz and bursts of cooking and listening to radio documentaries and dramas. My television is the kitchen door that gives me a view to the back garden, which is teeming with London wildlife: fat pigeons and kamikaze squirrels and the occasional fox. Funny that I have to come to a big noisy city to find some peace. To unplug from the haste of island life, the noisiness and the bright colours.
Even the rain whispers, like a conscientious nurse careful not to wake a sleeping patient.
Friends can’t quite understand why I’ve turned up now. In the midst of a bad winter, in the midst of a certain financial crisis. Friends who curse me for not bringing the sun in my pockets to lighten their days.
When the spirit moves me I leave the house to engage with the cold on my face, fighting its way through my layers of wool and cotton and the Tribe Called Quest I blast into my ears to steel my courage against it all. I am relieved to discover it isn’t as cold as I think it’s going to be.
It is the winter of discontent, the winter of few getaways. The winter of sales before Boxing Day. The winter of no new stylish winter gear, no ski weekend in the Swiss Alps. It is the winter of more men asking you for spare change on the streets.
I end up in Camden to check out a band called Spasm, a real callaloo of musicians from all over the place. They play a Kuti-esque percussiony funk with a good measure of Midnight Robber whistling from the lead vocalist, a Trini poet called Anthony Joseph. He bobs and weaves like a soca-soaked preacher man and sings a lament for his grandfather’s cutlass that was so sharp it could leave a mark in water.
Later a New Zealand reggae band with full brass and the most beautiful Maori man rock the Roundhouse. The sun is going to shine again, he sings in a surprisingly soulful voice that makes me so full of love for London. He sings into the middle distance for a place I know. He sings for all the exiles/ ex-isles in the crowd, white, black, indigenous.
He sings for me and my Londoner sistren, home and away, different and the same. Searching for meaning and feeling and purpose in a world driven to the brink by greed.
He sings for all the runners. All of us who have used our escape hatch. All the shape shifters, moving in and between forms like music moving from blues to dub to funk and everything in between.
He sings for all who can afford to run. Who can’t bear the stagnation that is familiarity. For the thrill seekers and the big thinkers who can’t be held in the box of their little islands.
I wonder on the bus back to Brixton, what would be my sanity level if I couldn’t afford to run.
If I couldn’t skate out when I got fed up enough and bored enough of state of things in Trinidad what would I do with myself?
Who would I be if I had to stay confined to an island for all the days of my life? Imprisoned in a way of living and thinking.
I feel no guilt anymore for running away. For riding out temporarily in the interest of my own sanity. For disconnecting from the BS in which I am so emotionally invested.
The thing you run from comes to meet you, greet you, shake your hand and squeeze your shoulders. On a bus in Babylondon blissed out on New Zealand dub and sweet Trini funk I can’t deny my own responsibility for the mess that Trinidad finds itself in.
My own mountain of questions for which I have no answers. My own insularity and lack of vision and my own inflated sense of rightness that stops me from really working with others.
It’s a relief in a way to have a chance to be critical of myself and my motives. It is not a luxury we allow ourselves on the island. We have too much invested in the mutual friendly society and then cut you down behind your back.
I return to warmth of the kitchen, staring into that midnight darkness of the back garden. Glad to return to my self-imposed exile, my self-appointed hibernation. There is no guarantee of sun, rain, snow or sleet here tomorrow and I find that unpredictability quite endearing.