There are times when a single event, a single moment even, presents a tableau so pregnant with significance and consequence that it seizes the imagination and refuses to let it go. Such a moment came to me while I sat watching the television news footage of the return of Patrick Manning to this country.
It was the night before the Emancipation holiday and the airport was packed with hundreds of PNM supporters bursting with anticipation, excitement and pure joy. They had come from all parts, from Arima, from Port of Spain, from Diego Martin and, in huge numbers, from San Fernando East. And as the tassas ceaselessly thrummed the rhythms so did the cadences of their excitement rise.
Some of them held placards which expressed their sentiments. But the underlying sentiment was clear enough. They were there to welcome back their once and future messiah, the hero who would deliver them from their bondage, the "One" who would raise them up from their debasement and return them to the corridors of glory.
And then Mr Manning appeared and I was frozen in shock. On reflection I admit that it was foolish of me to expect the man who emerged from the airport to be anything like the man whose image I had in my mind. But that was the image I had. That of a rampant, redshirted Mr Manning, dancing at a podium in front of a huge crowd, finger pointed in the air and shouting, "Great is the PNM and it shall prevail".
That was the image. And, as the reality hobbled slowly forward, visibly weak and frail, wrapped in some kind of harness, using a cane and protectively shepherded by his wife and sundry bodyguards, an overwhelming sense of utter sadness washed over me and the tears came to my eyes.
That was the tableau which imprinted itself indelibly on my mind and which seized my imagination and refused to let it go. For days I walked around with this picture, this frozen moment in time, in my head, and every time I opened my inner eye to peek at it the sadness would return. I simply could not let that continue. (Especially not in this month.) So I decided to confront the picture head-on and let it lead where it might.
I am certain that I have not plumbed the full depths of the emotions which assailed me that night. Maybe I never will. But this is what I have gleaned thus far. For me the sad significance of the picture emerges in the first place at a simple human level. As the reader would well know I have been an implacable opponent of Mr Manning and his politics. But putting the politics aside for a moment, I felt deeply for Patrick Manning, the man, who had been meticulous about taking care of his body and who, before his stroke, seemed to be in excellent physical shape.
I could not begin to imagine how such a man, one of such boundless pride and monumental ego, could even begin to accept what he had, in physical terms at least, become. And I grieved for him that he had to go through that. But what I imagine would have been the humiliation of his physical condition must have become infinitely worse when he was forced to reveal that condition to hundreds of adoring supporters at the airport that night.
There have been suggestions that Mr Manning himself was instrumental in organising that welcome home. In different circumstances I would have had no hesitation in believing that. But not under these circumstances. The psychology simply does not fit, that Mr Manning, knowing himself to be in that condition, would willingly expose his state of weakness and frailty to his supporters.
That he was forced to do so must have galled him to the core. He could not speak and he was not in charge and his eyes told the tale of his utter chagrin. And for this too I felt sad and grieved for the man. Whatever I think of him as a politician, I know that he does not deserve and would not appreciate being made a pappyshow. And I pray for his continued recovery to full strength and health.
But the depths of my emotions on that night, the sadness which engulfed me, were not caused only by the grief I felt for Mr Manning. For Mr Manning was not the only figure in that frozen tableau. With him, surrounding him, in that now eternal fresco, was the crowd.
If Mr Manning's story is one of pathos, then the story of the crowd which journeyed to the airport to welcome him that fateful night can only be described as one of tragedy. At least that's how I felt it and still do feel it. To me the tragedy suggests itself on several dimensions.
I confess that I have never understood the phenomenon in which people become viscerally and vicariously wrapped up in the adoration of a leader, any leader. The crowd psychology involved in the phenomenon known as "charismatic'' leadership has always eluded me. But I know that the phenomenon exists because I have seen it. I have no doubt that it was something akin to this phenomenon which brought those hundreds of people to the airport that night. They simply wanted to warm themselves in the radiance of their hero.
But I also think that there was more at play. That crowd of PNM supporters, overwhelmingly Afro-Trinidadian, were there not only to adore but to implore. They were there because they are desperate and short on hope. They consider themselves now to exist in a condition of desolation and deprivation, and they cannot see, not in their party and not in their current leadership, how they are going to get out of Babylon and regain Paradise lost.
What they went to that airport to do was to tell Mr Manning just that and to demand that he should deliver them from bondage. That, of course, is a huge part of the tragedy I saw that night. After 50 years of political independence and a 175 years since Emancipation, we still find ourselves enslaved. This time the slavery is mental and therefore all the more oppressive since we are our own slave masters. So you will forgive me if I cry.
But the tragedy does not end there. For I ask myself what would have been the reaction of that crowd when they saw Mr Manning emerge. It was so obvious that he was in no condition to play the hero and would be leading no campaign for salvation. So what would they do now I asked myself. Where would they turn?
I do not know the answers but the sadness has returned and it overwhelms me.
• Michael Harris has been for many years a writer and commentator on politics and society in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean