Homecoming. Hills. Rain. Mist. Silvery scales of the ocean, streaked with moonlight, sunbeams, and scalloped waves. Our people's voices, faces carrying the DNA of four continents, the warm lilt of familiar voices, the words you've missed, picong that plucks at heartstrings, 'Aye stranger, you here?' 'Here I am. Here you are.'
I ask, 'How are you?' The answers were similar: they became a single lament, a chorus of our people in our time.
'Rain, so much rain, months and months of it, a soggy earth pothole deepening rain, roads collapsed into the hillside, a flash flooding kind of rain, bobol-filled potholes that get worse depending on where you live. Rain that fogs up accountability, unscrupulous contracts, and shoddy work. A rain so opaque ministers we put in power can draw a salary and still feel entitled not to answer how public funds are used. Public officeholders use taxpayers' money to 'refurbish' posh housing while their citizens fight up to empty rising water in their bedrooms and spend days mopping up rain.
'So much rain that keeps children stuck in traffic and people stressed about getting home and getting to work; Water falls from the sky, and spouts from leaky pipes, but is dry in taps of the kitchens and bathrooms across homes in this land. Rain that reminds us of tears, of how many of our boys we lose to shooting. Rain reminds us that we are helpless and that nobody cares. Yes, plenty rain.'
I had been following the news of home of the rising cost of living, the COVID economy, disappearing and gunned down victims of crime, and weary monitoring of jumpy oil production that determines the ability to buy food, to live.
'But look, the hills, how green!' I say. 'You not feeling this Christmas breeze?' I ask, relieved to be home, seeing the beauty of this place with fresh surprise. 'Yes', friends sigh, 'Christmas is coming, the hills are green, but oh God, the potholes!' 'You talk about Christmas when the nation is reeling with how homeless people were put out of Riverside Plaza on the streets because those entrusted to look after them were corrupt? Even the homeless don't trust the authorities and prefer the streets over being used to siphon funds. '
They ask, as we Trinis do, always thinking life is better elsewhere. 'How is it in the UK?'
Images come at me, and words choke up in my throat. How to say, despite it all, I'd choose our islands any day.
I arrived in London in the July heat and met a changed country to the one I once knew. As I moved in these five months from couch to couch of friend and child in various areas around London, I saw homelessness everywhere. More and more people are on the street, shops are shutting down, and people are withdrawing into themselves, getting colder. In the few months I was in London, I witnessed a post-COVID and Brexit-ravaged UK facing a freezing winter as energy bills skyrocket, the homeless setting up rows of tents and sleeping bags around the city (One in 53 people are homeless in London), rising unemployment, shut shops, and reports of people skipping meals. So when exaggerating tabloids claim that this is 'the worst fall in living standards since 1956,' I believed it.
I unwittingly became part of a tribe where non-white people of all races recognise one another, smile, and speak secretly of the real London. Even as I researched Windrush for an article, the decades of protest against racism ( labelled 'riots'), I saw the microaggressions towards people of colour. A West Indian security guard whispered in a BBC lobby about being humiliated in shops, followed around as if he were a thief. On the train, a British-born Asian woman in a hijab spoke of being spat at, told to go 'back' to her country. A Nigerian shop owner fitting me for shoes said the police came to investigate what she, a black woman, was doing in her own shop.
So, I am grateful for my country. But at least in the UK, politicians are held to account hence the revolving door of three prime ministers in as many months in Downing Street.
We can't allow our politicians to ghost, block and blank us. If we demand accountability over contracts, potholes and leaking pipes it will give us the courage to push them to be accountable for everything else and remind them they serve us, and if they don't, shove them through that revolving door. In the meantime, we have these hills, this ocean, the lilt of our voices, faces of four continents.