I spent most of last Sunday happy in the company of an overseas-based esteemed friend who also is first by a long shot on my short list of heroes. A fellow worshipper had arranged in his honor a special luncheon with other birds of our feather.
While the attendant wives and other fine ladies prepared a fish feast, their men relaxed with choice libations in the host’s sumptuous veranda overlooking one of the more pacific sections of the Caribbean Sea, shooting the breeze, dealing deliberate low blows to fragile egos, howling at our suitably salted recollections of—to borrow from Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al—“past incidents and accidents, hints and allegations” that at time of occurrence were anything but funny. (What a great healer is Dr. Time!)
A particularly touching moment: the host has just shared a treasured memory; a special kindness done him by a dearly departed, a remembrance at once sad and inspiring, particularly in these depressing days of dog-eat-dog. Our visiting guest of honor hears it differently. His famous face suddenly expressionless, the Looshan in the intellectual giant groans: “That’s how a lotta bullers get their way!”
It wasn’t long before we got to Lashawn Lambert, recently dragged out of anonymity into the limelight. Our honored guest had actually heard about the Bois Patat teenager: that while being interviewed by me on TALK about the tribulations of Saint Lucia’s youth, he had let slip that some of his particularly frustrated friends were “plotting to kill the prime minister.”
My hero had missed the particular episode and although he had purchased the weekend’s STAR featuring Lambert on its front page he had not yet read it. His wife had grabbed the paper and disappeared with it.
“That’s serious,” he mused, “a plot to murder the prime minister? Did he say that on TV? The police should look into this.”
The rest of us soon brought him up to speed. No one had actually said any such thing on TALK. The discombobulating rumor had been conceived at SLP headquarters and disseminated by an unthinking media under siege.
The truth was that an unemployed friend of Lambert, frustrated out of his mind, had blurted out to my young guest over the phone that he felt at times like shooting the prime minister and then taking his own life. I informed our guest of honor that a PAHO study of youth in the Caribbean had not long ago revealed too many kids were “sad, depressed, angry, suicidal, irritable” and so on.
The report blamed much of that despondence on fat-cat politicians perceived as altogether disconnected from the day-to-day realities of the young.
The last observation opened the Pandora’s Box of Caribbean politics, at any rate what passes here for politics. One especially well-informed member of our group elected to explain to our guest of honor how an overseas financial institution could buy another country’s debts (much of that sounded to me like Greek, although I am fairly au fait with what now confronts Venezuela’s Maduro).
“Good thing we haven’t actually bought oil from Petro Caribe,” said the finance whiz on my right, “even though we signed on to that too-good-to-refuse deal.”
Our special guest had learned from his gardener about the Labour Party’s most recent convention. By all he said it seemed his informant was not all that supportive of the current administration; neither of the opposition.
“In fact,” said our guest of honor, “the message I’ve been getting as I move around is that politics in Saint Lucia has, well, gone to the dogs.”
“To the pitbulls and the poodles,” someone said, a loaded statement that I demystified for the benefit of our verseas-based guest, a process that somehow took us on a guided tour of the recently prayed over and opened $11 million Bois d’Orange Bridge that had been expected to cost a little over $3 million.
He elaborated: “That’s what’s so sad about this country. We’re flat-ass broke but that has not stopped the geniuses at the finance ministry from borrowing to pay our ever-mounting debts, which is how we landed in this cesspool in the first place.”
The particular viewpoint, in one guise or another, dominated our postprandial exchanges. Our guest, who in silence had been patiently listening, abruptly tossed an aggressive curve ball.
“So what are you guys gonna do about all that stuff you say has been going on uninterrupted all these years?”
Our host shrugged, lazily leaned forward in his chaise longue, dead eyes focused on his sandaled feet: “Nothing. What other choice is there but to wait for elections in two years?”
I interjected: “So now it’s you who determines when the country goes to the polls? What’s to prevent Kenny from calling elections in April? You know, immediately after a jobs-jobs-jobs and millions-for-all Budget?”
Our guest of honor returned to his unanswered query. “What difference will it make who wins the next elections?”
Our host again: “None. No difference whatsoever. No one can do anything.”
Eyes wide with surprise, our guest persisted: “So everyone will just sit on his duff while the country goes down the toilet? Is that what I’m hearing?”
“We’re already down the toilet,” said our host, as if shouting from the bottom of a deep pit in the ground.
“Is that why you guys are so full of shit?” asked the guest of honor, no longer calm. “Don’t you care about this country of ours? Don’t you care that you’re breaking my heart? You’re my best friends. Don’t you care how I feel when you tell me the situation is hopeless? This country has been and continues to be everything to me. It’s all we have. Are you just gonna sit there and let it die while you talk a whole lot of shit about there being no answers, no solutions, and nothing anyone can do?”
Our host groaned, feebly: “Our courts don’t work. Our police are under investigation for murder. We have one criminal-court judge. Citizens are rotting in prison, without even a trial date. Rapes occur every other day. Fifteen-year-old girls hang themselves in their clothes closets. One man alone has the power to make a difference, if he wants to. And obviously he does not.”
I thought about Thomas Paine, referring to Edmund Burke: “He mourns the plumage and neglects the dying bird.”
In self-defense, I said: “I’m doing something. I write weekly, I talk, I go on TV, I call the radio stations, I meet people, I . . .”
“That’s not good enough!” our guest of honor bellowed. “It’s obviously not enough. Otherwise Saint Lucia would not be in the shit hole all of you tell me we’re swimming in.”
I tried to duck the uppercut en-route to my nose. “The solution lies in our young people,” I said. “They need to organize, they need to . . .”
“That’s what they said in Nazi Germany . . . and we know where that went. That’s what happened in . . .” Desperation, disgust and deeply felt disappointment were warehousing in his artist’s soul.
Somewhat sheepishly, I said: “But this is different. I’m not talking as Hitler did of the Jews. I’m talking about
getting our young people to understand and believe they are not only the leaders of tomorrow, they’re also the leaders of now. What they inherit tomorrow will depend on what they do today!”
“Then you better steer them right,” said our guest of honor, heading for the head. “Otherwise we’ll all be left with just one alternative . . . and still more trouble!”
No one dared to ask what might be this one alternative. I suspect we all knew only too well!