Saint Lucians are no strangers to hardship! That was the prime minister’s matter-of-fact unnecessary message to the people in May 2012.
“We are largely on our own,” he added, “and must rely on ourselves and on each other if we are to prosper. This is a lesson we already know; this is a lesson we have already lived; the lesson we have already mastered—and must now make the central pillar of our daily philosophy.”
It was indeed a discombobulating admission from a prime minister who, just five months earlier, days before Christmas 2011, had placed his manicured right hand on his gargantuan belly as he promised the nation jobs-jobs-jobs and the “immediate” hefty injection of a hundred million dollars into the economy, should he be returned to office.
Not that his line about hardship and deprivation was without truth. In all his years as a politician, the prime minister had never spoken truer lines. The inescapable irony, not to say horror, was that every five years—if only for the sake of their children—disbelieving voters had nevertheless elected government after lying government in anticipation of coming better days and an existence not synonymous with near starvation.
For the family of David Augustin, 33, life had been no bed of roses. But somehow he had managed to keep the wolf from his front door. He had a job with the construction company engaged in the eventual restoration of St Jude Hospital.
On the evening of December 24, last year, David’s plan following discussions with his wife, an employee at Chinatown in Vieux Fort, was to pick up his wages, do a little Christmas shopping at the town’s Super J, collect his 11-year-old daughter who was with relatives at Desruisseaux, his 35-year-old brother Desmond, and then David’s wife at her workplace—before heading home to Soufriere.
The rain had started by the time David, with his daughter at his side and his brother in his car’s back seat, set off from Desruisseaux. En route, when the rains had somewhat subsided, they were forced to stop and replace a flat tire. Meanwhile David’s frantic wife had been trying desperately to make contact with her family, to no avail. She would have to wait several hours before she learned the horrifying details of what her family had endured around 8.30 pm on Christmas Eve—from the only witness: her husband’s front-seat passenger.
Meanwhile, others had been using the occasion to underscore their voodoo conviction the rains that had come down without the smallest warning from NEMO was a wake-up call from the god of love—as had been the unproven “accident” at Morne Seon days before the elections that had returned Kenny Anthony’s administration to office for the third time and dumped the UWP.
As if to underscore their point, the “last days” propagandists took to Facebook and other social media garbage dumpsites to tell their own unsubstantiated stories about an angelic rescuer (regrettably, similarly uncorroborated and unquestioned reports are locally becoming more and more commonplace, even among regular reporters!).
But please permit a small digression, while I share a recent experience at my favorite hairdressing salon. (Feel free to call the place you patronize a barbershop, if that’s what you think it is, pilgrim; I entrust my own head to the main man at Emile’s, at Gablewood’s Mall: a well-appointed hairdressing emporium that caters to both ladies and gentlemen alike—and features staff who would not be out of place on the cover of SHE Caribbean or Vogue. So there!)
Yes, so there I was the other day making light conversation with the beautiful young patron on my right while Emile worked his restorative magic on me, when the topic turned to my second favorite subject: belief in belief; miracles; voodoo and all things religious. Then the lady let slip that she taught Catechism, part time. (Let’s not talk about my first favorite topic on this occasion!)
My reaction: “Obviously you’re a Roman Catholic. So am I. Or was when my mother insisted that I confess secrets to total strangers from foreign lands—secrets I wouldn’t dream of sharing with my own flesh and blood—and on my participation in rituals that today I have a hard time separating from paganism.”
Additionally: “I take it you realize the Catechism has more to do with church propaganda than with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?”
Are you shocked, dear reader? The lady certainly was not. Conceivably, she’d had good reason to decide a long time ago that if my own furrowed brow did not feature the world’s most famous horns, still I had to be at least a close relative of their owner. That, or she secretly agreed with my last observation!
Barely missing a beat, this was her response: “Then tell me, Rick, how do you explain what happened to that little girl on Christmas Eve?”
There was no need to elaborate. I knew she could not be referring to the only pregnant virgin the world has ever known, that the child she had in mind was some four years from 15 when she had her own special encounter with a heavenly body—or spirit.
“That’s an easy one to explain,” I said, feeling as I imagined the wise men from the east had felt on a well-known particular occasion. “It just never happened.”
“Gotta run now,” said my fellow Emile appreciator. “My boys are waiting for me. We’ll continue this conversation on our next visit in two weeks.” I’d never have guessed she had children, let alone two.
As I say, I’d heard all about how the Augustin child had survived the storm that had taken away her father and his older brother, her uncle Desmond. The mesmerizing details were all over the social media, aided in its dissemination by local believers in belief, who profess to abhor prevarication almost as much as fornication, natural and otherwise!
This is what little Keyana told her mother: Having changed their car tire on the evening in question, they were proceeding toward Vieux Fort when, about a hundred feet from the Deruisseaux gap, the road caved in right before their eyes, plunging them into what is normally considered a ravine but was now an incredibly angry river.
The little girl told her mother she and her father had somehow managed to exit their vehicle and he was hanging on to her when the water swept him and their
car downstream. Her uncle had been asleep in the back seat when the road collapsed. All alone, wet, cold and out of her mind with fear, the little girl nevertheless managed to stay away from the water’s reach. The next morning a man and his female companion saw her wandering near the area and took her to St Jude’s, where she identified herself to the hospital attendants. Her mother was contacted.
“There was no Indian angel,” Mrs. Augustin assured me when we spoke recently. She, too, had heard the inventions about an Indian angel in a white dress that had taken little Keyana by the hand and placed her by the roadside. No one had bothered to check the story, at any rate, not from those who knew the truth.
Which is not to say Mrs. Augustin is not absolutely convinced her daughter was saved by supernatural intervention. “There was no angel,” she repeatedly assured me, “but God put a hand. That’s why my daughter is alive today. God lent a hand.”
Extremely quiet spoken and convinced that what had transpired was “the way God wanted it,” Mrs. Augustin had kind words to say even about “some people from NEMO” who had visited her daughter at St Judes and finally “persuaded her to eat something.”
The prime minister had also visited the child in hospital. Other callers at her Soufriere home right after the storm included both Allen Chastanet and Harold Dalson, for once talking the same language. And I speak neither of English nor Creole. Unsurprisingly, on the occasion no one spoke of better days ahead or of the people’s relationship with unending hardship.
What everyone said was how very sorry they were about whatever had befallen the the families of David and Desmond Augustin, on the eve of the holiest of days.
Meanwhile, the gossip-addicted nation casually accepts the official silence surrounding the Cannelles road disaster, the real reason why there was no prior warning of the coming rainstorm, the inconsistent post-storm reports by NEMO, the Kenny Anthony government, the local MET office and the one in Martinique.
Maybe someone with influence will do unto the families of David and Desmond Augustin as was done for the relatives of the declared but never proved Morne Seon “accident.”