As media personnel, events (joyous and otherwise), dates, statistics and names become ingrained in our memories. Three Saturdays ago Saint Lucia recorded its second and third road fatalities for 2018. It is quite possible that Bradley Cyril and Brandon St. Omer spent their last seconds in a panic, realizing death was imminent. How many reporters got out of bed last Sunday with thoughts of another road fatality? Just imagine having a story for this week’s paper drop in my lap only to realize its central figure, who carried my family name, was the most recent road fatality. The press release: “Nick Elibox, a nineteen-year-old resident of Bexon, Castries was the driver of motor vehicle registration number PE 8350 which veered off the road, colliding with an earth embankment. He was transported via ambulance to Victoria Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries about 3:00 am on Sunday, February 4, 2018.”
On Sunday I dreaded having to report on the sudden death of my own cousin who, in my mind, will always be his normal, lively self with his charming smile, light-brown eyes and playful nature. I had not seen him for months but, until now, I never thought of him in the past tense. And while it has become customary for detached journalists to shove their microphones and recorders in the faces of the bereaved, all for a sensational comment, I wondered how I would find the strength to face Nick’s mother, my own relative.
But my publisher never tires of reminding reporters that our job is to write about life. More precisely: “The things you write are always about your life.” So, this is not going to be a regular report about another Sunday morning road fatality. How could it be?
By the time my sister stirred, about an hour after me, my father had already called to warn that I shouldn’t wake her, that I should let her find out on her own. She stormed out of her room screaming at me a question to which she already had the answer: “What happened to Nick last night?” Even as I write, she remains as inconsolable as my other siblings and cousins, all in the same age group as Nick.
Bradley Cyril whose funeral my sister attended last Friday, was her friend. In their secondary school years, Nick was best known as her favourite cousin. Bradley and Nick both attended Castries Comprehensive Secondary School and graduated in the class of 2015. Both were promising athletes. I had served as Manager for Sports House Heron and was honoured to work with Bradley, regardless of the mediocre setting. He was always kind and helpful, well mannered with a fine sense of humour. He teased me more often than I deserved about my height and size, despite that he was younger than I.
Nick was seldom seen without a cricket bat. Many of his neighbours in Marc, Bexon remember seeing him hop aboard a bus in his uniform, his bat glued to his hand as if it was an appendage. He represented CCSS at every match he was allowed to, and with a special goal in mind. When his English classes posed a challenge he was disciplined enough to prioritize so that his grades never jeopardized his cricket opportunities. Nick played for Saint Lucia and Windward Islands cricket teams. He travelled to England on a cricket scholarship in 2015.
I felt so sad reading the posts that immediately followed news of his death, from his fellow players, sports enthusiasts and organisations, Daren Sammy and Shawn Edward among them. There were also on social media pictures of Nick in his uniform. One of the final messages referenced Nick as: “A model young man, represented schools, clubs and country with absolute distinction! Such a loss!”
Michael Peterkin, a teacher at Castries Comprehensive Secondary School, and an efficient resource for athletic students (called Cardinals) was particularly saddened at having to attend in less than twelve months the funeral of a fourth student. It seems, he says, “like CCSS Cardinals are under attack”. Last year Zhané Williams died in similar circumstances. Mr. Peterkin remembers Nick as an encouragement to other aspiring athletes at his school. The staff of CCSS and the Class of 2015 have acknowledged being emotionally drained after the number of deaths in the last ten months or so, three of them the consequence of road accidents.
I was by three years Bradley and Nick’s senior. Another cousin and I had formed a family partnership at school and spent lunchtimes together. We became a trio when Nick arrived at CCSS, when I was in Form lV. It was always hilarious when a young lady or two would throw daggering stares my way, only to discover the two “cute boys” were my cousins. Even funnier was when clearly awestruck girls at school would query with intent: “Nick is your cousin?” At the time, he still had his boyish features. The girl crushes increased as he grew up more and more striking, with added muscle in all the right places, to paraphrase Mae West.
Contrary to what might be expected, Nick was never cocky or full of himself. There was nothing about him that might suggest he was a seeker of attention. I remember asking him to let me use his image for a column I wrote for 2Nite Magazine, called Man Crush. I mean, why shop around when I had drop-dead gorgeous cousins to choose from, right? But Nick refused to cooperate: “No thanks. I don’t want people looking at me,” he insisted. “And anyway I have no pictures.” Of course I knew the last sentence was a bold-faced lie. I’d seen many pictures of him in his team uniform, taken by professionals. His image had graced a calendar a short time earlier.
He was a peacemaker in the Elibox clan. Nick was serene, except when he was enjoying a party. He was out at Verve on Saturday night with one of our cousins who called to ensure Nick had arrived home safely. His call was about 3:48 a.m. by which time Nick had already been pronounced dead. He, like the rest of us, is desperately trying to cope with the loss. So are his teammates, old classmates and friends.
I implore grieving relatives and friends, people who never knew Nick too, to be more careful on our roads. As they say, the life you save may be your own. Think, too, about those left behind after every road fatality. I urge you to consider that Nick hadn’t reached the milestone of twenty-one years, that his name will never be listed in the West Indies Cricket Team catalogue, as almost everyone had anticipated. His mother has outlived him but, like most other mothers, would gladly have taken Nick’s place if that meant he could live long enough to realize his full potential. There are some things only mothers feel . . . especially at the loss of their youngest son!
Rest In Peace, Nick.
N.B. The story behind the extra “e” in my surname is a complicated one. Nick and I are still from the same family.