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Joining the dots of criminal neglect

Published: 
Thursday, March 31, 2016

Let’s join the unholy dots that appear to chart the path to the passing of forest ranger Keith Campbell and the injuries sustained by his colleagues. In the process we encounter everyone and everything else victimised by collective criminal neglect and indifference over the many years. The time we spent content to sit around, groan and await the next assault.

Begin the journey somewhere in a house in rural or urban T&T. It does not really matter, for the rot is ubiquitous. The children stand around a conflagration while Dad throws the last of the trash or leaves or tree branches into the inferno. “Watch it grow. Watch it glow!”

Up the hill, there is another co-ordinate where they return the favour with resounding success. The blaze that clears the rich ground has the power to down mango, teak and palm alike. In their place, tomatoes and pumpkins and meaty cucumbers to feed us all and help some “make an honest living.”

How dare you suggest that to create there need not be destruction? “Where you want us to go? What you want us to do?” It’s all a cycle. The land renews and regenerates, because out of nothing, they believe, something can arise. God’s nationality is truly established here.

Now take the pencil and move to the other dot on the page. See that one? It’s something we call the law. It’s simple, really. You need to set that fire? Go to the nearest fire station. Fifty years ago an Agricultural Fires Act. It’s there in black and white. There’s another one that seems to suggest that forests are important. A Forestry Act. The man on television said something about the soil, the trees, the watercourses, the natural life, the future.

The lady on Facebook talks about the man admiring the blaze in his backyard on Hutton Road and the other three, “sitting on the side of the road,” who looked on in glee as the tiny flame they fanned to keep alive grows and grows and grows. It’s moving fast and furious as the “rum and beers and chaser” make the round. “Cheers, forest ranger, cheers to you.”

“Jess so. Jess so fire does set in this dry season.” The passive voice to take away the guilt and the blame. Much like the driver who “loses control” of his car. Those are not his hands on the steering wheel nor his feet on the accelerator, you see. Cars does bounce jess so, jess so.

Down the page, in the lower right hand corner resides the other dot. A police station closes its doors to keep out the smoke and the complainers. There are killers and bandits and rapists aplenty to catch. Important stuff. These guys carry guns and hand grenades, not boxes of matches and canisters of gasoline. And how do you know it’s not the caustic, magnifying glare of the sun on broken rum bottles anyway?

Who’s going up the hill? “Bandit territory.” They earn a “decent living” this way. “You self want de tomato.”

The ashes that land on the roof mingle tree and shrub and roasted animals. It’s hard tell which is which through the stifling, noxious haze. At night you hear the cackling toast of leaves and lizards and other creatures that once broke the early dawn with happy calls. On the hill, next year’s murky, destructive deluge looms in units of burnt and hardened clay.

Near that co-ordinate, we find a parliament and the votes that made it whole. We recall Eden Shand’s career-ending declaration and the votes still lost. This dot is no ordinary dot. It is a blot upon the page. Splattered there in brick red and the hues of blood and flames.

“De price of progress is high. What you expeck?”

On the highway at night, you see the glow—another dying sun. The morning procession wheezes past, some more quickly in flashing blue through the thick and lingering smoke. Quick, quick and out of there to the House that shields them from the blinding blaze. Another day, another forgotten law.

Join the dots with heavy strokes. It takes the form of something and someone familiar. It’s island-shaped. Around it the ragged edges of an encroaching tide.

At the foot of the burning hills are eyes looking up at the flickering lights. Far enough, ent? At crop time in years past, the glow and ensuing haze used to fill the plains. Today, the emptied garbage bins and hard, dried branches of the ageing tree do the trick quite well, thank you.

“The story of the September flood does not begin with dark skies and the falling rain,” says the journalism instructor. “It actually begins in February under searing sun. Write the story from the start, not the end.”

Perhaps that way we would have encountered Mr Campbell much earlier than now. Then back to the top of the unfolding maze the final, important co-ordinate. It marks the spot where stands a teary-eyed crowd standing around a deep open, rectangular hole in the parched land. It’s where we pause for just a minute and think about a dystopian fate and whether we haven’t already got there.

It’s the moment we decide that enough has actually been enough. We have joined the dots. We have painted the scene. We are so sorry. But sorry just won’t do, I suppose, Mr Campbell. The dots, you see, plot the co-ordinates of a collective guilt and if we don’t see it now, when will we ever?

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