Tuesday, January 23, 2018

‘My strangled city’

 MONDAY morning’s commute was different.

I passed billowing white smoke from the dump. It sprouted like a huge, fluffy mushroom over the hinterland. The carrion birds (corbeaux) were no longer looming overhead but were perched like big fat flies on warped, deformed trees that scar the landscape. It was a scene straight out of TS Eliot’s The Wasteland or some post-apocalyptic film.

 “My strangled city”, a line from Guyanese poet Martin Carter, is one of the perfect ways to describe Port of Spain.You approach it through the heavy stench of rotting garbage from the dump, past the ramshackle slums of the Beetham estate. 

You enter City Gate, a tumbledown port of entry from all corners of the land, jostling with sleepy commuters, passing fake beggars (you know one has a daughter living in the States). Past the potholes and more street dwellers like the crazy one with the pink pants, no shoes and spriggy hair. Past the grandfather-looking one who sits and begs outside the bank. You see the traffic congestion, everyone pushing for a space on our tiny, ragged city streets. You rush past the stink of old urine and some more homeless folk, crusted with dirt, blood and sweat.

The pavements are empty but the narrow streets heave with hot traffic. You pass sparkling new Audis, Benzs and BMWs, then human excrement smeared on the pavement. The island dream of “make money, buy nice things, look expensive” permeates the air in the city. Eyes dart all around, fearful of lurking criminals.

But if you climb the snaky Lady Young road to the Morvant lookout, the city near dusk seems haloed by the setting sun. The Gulf of Paria never looks so placid, as though the recent oil spill never happened. The city looks sleepy, the buildings calm. No sounds of violence, no staccato gunshots, no wailing police sirens, no angry honking horns. Just silence over my strangled city. The Savannah throws herself at you, looking green in the rainy season and yellow in the dry. The NAPA building slices the scene like a well-cut shark, shining chrome-silver in a sea of rusty tin roofs and crumbling concrete buildings. Electronic screens buzz faintly near Independence Square, modern sentinels over my strangled city.

Suzanne Bhagan