Thursday, 15 December 2016

Evil and the Faces of Death in Trinidad & Tobago

There in the Deaths and Memorials section of the newspaper was the face of someone I had known. At 25, a newspaper reader tends to spend less time on that page than Grandma and Grandpa who would spread the Guardian out wide on the dining room table and read each line: “Son of so and so … Brother of so and so.”

The picture was the kind you took for your passport at the time. Pretentiously officious specifications – no glasses, eyes fixed on the camera lens, face occupying between 25 and 35 mm within a frame of 51 by 51mm. Do not show your teeth, please.

I remembered him. He was a short guy, very churchy. He liked cricket and bowled impressive right-handed off-breaks. We met at church camp and, thereafter, occasionally along the parade of life as young men. We hugged and routinely related the same anecdotes – he had clipped the bail between the off and middle stumps, zooming at 90 degrees around my bat. Hahahahaha …

But there he was; in the Deaths and Memorials section, looking past the camera straight at us. I still don’t know how he found himself there. Since then, I rarely skip that page and I look more carefully at the pictures that tell stories.

Last week, I had occasion to piece together the stories behind a few faces I had not seen before. Never met these folks, but there was something in those faces.

Page One and there was picture number one. Mark Lyndersay and Andrea De Silva would have noted the heavy re-touching on her beaming face, hands wrapped around her neck as on a cup of hot Chinese tea. Facebook perfect. Or was it for a mantle piece at home? An interested suitor? A smile held a second away from being lost as the photographer maddeningly fiddled for control. Klatak! Klatak! Steups.

That day, she would have fretted with her hair – a friend, mom, an old aunt, the lady at the beauty salon drawing gratuitously from the numerous gels and other hair products. She had bagged the job and this was her moment away from the facelessness of the congregation.

On Page Five, a more mature woman in black and white. The smile of the proud. Someone had taken that shot perhaps at a family gathering, a party, some get-together valued as highly as her carefully plotted curls and big, looped earrings and measured smile. The kind of smile that blots the sad curve of your eyes. Look at the picture long enough, though, and you cannot quite capture the precise emotion.

Back to Page One and inset, two guys. One younger than the next. Keep your eyes on the camera. Don’t move. A drivers licence, no doubt. The next one the kind of shot that goes behind a laminated workers ID. The one you display proudly to family having bagged the job. Klatak! Klatak!

The day before, Page Three and grief. Sleepless eyes, bloodshot from tears. Hair pulled back hurriedly, grey strands like sun-flares around her head. Is that a tear on her cheek? A mole? An imperfection captured by the camera in her house some unwelcome hour of the day?

Same page. Three faces near the crumpled car. Two wore chains. The cock-eyed one had a silver chain his mother probably did not like and the other young fellow wore beads, his eyes brimming with the confidence of youth. A struggling goatie for effect and what looked like a cigarette-stained lower lip. Below him a defiant face. I bet he played football and was good at it.

Pages One and Five tell stories that have invoked, in the public domain, use of the word “evil” – a moral rather than a legal construct, thereby requiring, for some, a response beyond the realm of human responsibility and accountable society. Yet, there is seamless resort to such a description in the context of pervasive violence and death and grief and a dichotomy that contrasts “evil” with “good”.

The late (great) author/poet, Wayne Brown, once wrote many years ago in a newspaper column headlined ‘The Child of the Sea’ that he had known people “so evil that, when they hated, a literal stench would come from them.”

Then, Page Three and the crumbled shell of metal, glass, rubber and speed – lots of it. The end probably came loud and quick. About 15 years ago, there was the slow, crunching sound of car on asphalt and my grip on the steering as if turning wheels in the air brought direction and control and … life.

In this case, those faces were the faces of death. There is a deep sadness in all of this that yields as much paralytic anger as it does tears. The kind of emotion that spins the steering wheel even in mid-flight.

In my country, there are faces of death and we witness the passing parade even in the noise and the haze of revelry and mindless strife. Turning the pages has thus become an even more arduous task.

First published in the T&T Guardian on December 15, 2016

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