No body said living in paradise was easy but for the past two and a half years of living on this small rock I have felt privileged and incredibly lucky. Then a week like this one happens and I pause with a heavy heart hoping we made the right decision.
It’s the kids you see.
They were on a daylong school bus trip and a few parents were asked to follow the bus in cars to help with general law and order. More kids turned up for the trip than anticipated and instead of saying they could not be accommodated the school just shoved them all on. In each row of two bucket seats one child per row sat in the middle on the partition.
‘Are you sure it is safe to have the children sit like this?’ I asked the Transport Board bus driver.
‘Yeah. Dat is how we does always carry de children.’
‘How many people can you take?’
‘But that must be a certain number sitting and the rest standing.’
‘No. Once is ninety-six in all we good.’
It was only in 2007 that a bus crashed killing six and injuring thirty-seven people on their way to the Party Monarch Finals on the East coast. As Crop-Over draws near again our little society mourns this tragedy at Joe’s River. Somewhere, buried deep beneath a pile of papers on someone’s desk, are a series of proposals for improving safety on buses patiently awaiting implementation.
A few more children clambered on the already overflowing bus.
‘Hurry up! We running late.’
‘Are you sure you want to take on the risk of children seated like this?’ I again asked the two teachers who taught First and Second Born.
They sighed in resignation.
‘Fine. We’ll ask the principal.’
A few months ago the artist Corrie Scott and I embarked on a situationist dérive – the practice of abandoning one’s normal activities to experience a particular geography anew. Okay, so we only managed to ditch our cars and take a bus from Speightstown to Oistins and back. But cheese-on-bread the geography from that bus seat was totally new. I have never made it from one end of the island to the next so fast. Holetown was a blur. Bridgetown whizzed past our eyes. When we staggered off at Oistins it was only to fall into the nearest rum shop demanding soda water to settle our large and small intestines, liver and spleen back into their customary positions.
But it was all worth it for one reason. We shared the bus with a full bridal party. They too got on at Speightstown and off at Oistins. From our seats in the rum shop we saw the bride, in flowing white gown, and her beautifully turned out entourage, get off the bus and hail a ZR taxi. She and her party pushed in with the other passengers and sped off - presumably to the church where her groom was waiting. At least our bus had been on time or even ahead of schedule and we know ZRs will use whatever means necessary to get you to the church on time.
“The principal says if you have a problem take your children off the bus.’
So I did.
A couple other parents followed. But from the stinky looks all around it was clear that I was scornfully regarded as bringing my uppity foreign ways to bear on this Garden of Eden. Thirty-odd years ago my own parents would have shared their view. Our happiest summers were spent with another family squashed into their tiny car making our way from San Fernando to Mayaro beach in Trinidad. Five-year-old Mandy was perched on her mother’s knees in the front seat (no seat belt of course) and her slightly older brother Anton and I squashed ourselves between my parents. Instead of Nintendo we all sang songs, played “I Spy”, and waved or made faces at people in other cars. Life was simpler back then and we never considered the possibility of becoming road fatality statistics.
The first death I can recall was the loss of my much-loved Aunty Ruby when I was seven. She was always giving me presents of pretty dresses. The last one she gave me was white on top with a black skirt and a black velvet band around the waist. Her car crashed on the road between San Fernando and Mayaro. She died instantly.