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Not a Fete

This is not a fete in here/ This is madness – David Rudder

The hard part of an early morning walk around the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain’s open green space, is not the thick exhaust fumes from the cars speeding by on the roadway, nor the 70 per cent-plus humidity, even at 6am, that, after 200 metres, has you sweating like you’re swimming; no, the hard part is figuring out which of the people you pass are crazy.

A lot of early morning Savannah people are, no doubt, crazy about fitness; but many are just plain firetrucking crazy.

Like the little guy with the long hair who wages shadow swordfights by himself, defending Middle Earth all along the Savannah pitchwalk: Finance Minister Colm Imbert could eat soup of his head, he’s that short, but, in his head, he’s Aragorn, slashing away at orcs and goblins and Sauron’s forces of Mordor. He’s also mean enough to bully any single women he encounters by pretending to slay Saruman or Gothmog just as the women pass him, his battle cry making them jump out of their pants.

You can tell he’s not all there.

Like the unfortunate young man, just barely out of his teens, for Chrissake, who’s been in the same rotting shirt-and-pants for the last fortnight, perhaps the last month, maybe the last year. (How long does gabardine last? How long does it take for a human being to fall apart?) A barber would estimate his time in the open more accurately but it looks to you like a few weeks’ worth of hair-growth on his head. Every morning, he walks barefoot through the grass, come rain or come shine and, every evening, sleeps in the same place and under the same conditions. One morning, in his version of an armchair – the buttress roots of a tree on the Savannah perimeter – he sat smoking a joint, his grin getting wider with each pull.

He clearly ain’t all there; and neither were any of the rest of us, for him.

Is this the best he, we, could have done? That someone so young could already be so lost? One sidelong glance at him and you look farther away, walk in the road rather than downwind of him: his is the bouquet of insanity, an arrangement of derangement, and it carries deep into your lungs. He rummages in the dustbins of Newtown at dusk for such nourishment as he gets; his last worry would be obesity.

But what about the woman, bent 45-degrees at the waist, walking belligerently towards you, flabby triceps swinging like tossed pizza dough as she pumps away at either side with her homemade, guava tree-branch alpenstocks? Isn’t the mere act of Trini-Nordic walking certifiable? Shouldn’t it be? Could she not find a pair of old juice bottles and fill them with water, the standard Savannah-improvisation technology? She hasn’t lost an ounce in years – but, then, she hasn’t gained any weight, either, so it’s at least a holding pattern.

And maybe not so crazy after all.

Anybody sitting on a bench is suspect, by the mere act of sitting itself; anyone lying on a bench is almost bound to be: if you weren’t insane when you became homeless in the Savannah, it wouldn’t take too many hours of watching million dollar-cars speed by without seeing you to drive you firetrucking mad; but, of course, that could have happened before you got there.

All joke aside, including the ones we hide our tears behind, in Trinidad, now, it’s hard to tell who’s crazy around the Savannah.

Bare feet don’t necessarily mean homelessness, which itself doesn’t mean madness; the first two just make the last one more likely.

But bare feet are two socks away from football togs and some small goal in the Hollows rather than small hope in clinical depression.

How many of the very many people you see muttering to themselves on the pitchwalk are mulling over something unfair at the office, how many over something unhinged in their own brains?

Is that the choice in our time? Not, “Go Big or Go Home” but, “Go Mad or Go Home”? Is that what we’ve been reduced to? Hold on, or fall apart?

Walk off the Savannah and down Frederick Street, taking shade from the rising sun in the shadow of buildings, and the mad ones are easier to spot, by the way they’re dressed: they’re either in rags or in jacket-and-tie; the former just crazy, the latter crazy about money & status. Who is more insane? The man driven mad by money? Or the one driven mad by power? Can money or status hold your hand in a hospital waiting-room?

Rejoin the Savannah at the top of Dundonald Street, in the shadow of the Haagen Dazs your doctor won’t let you eat, and take your life in your hands – or, rather, feet – as you cross the Savannah roadway/Indianopolis 500 without someone pressing the pedestrian button at the red light above or below you.

The pedestrians are joke-mad, compared with the motorists: they can hit 90mph on any stretch of the Savannah.

Someone on the pitchwalk, jogging, chewing gum, cheeks slapping time with his running pace, eyes rolling back in his head.

Long distance-runner’s exhaustion?

Or looney-firetrucking-tunes?

He’s wearing nearly new, expensive woolen track pants.

Not mad, then.

Probably.

Behind him, lurching your way, an overweight, middle-aged man, with a haircut he paid for, didn’t do himself, in house clothes demoted to exercise gear.

Mentally ill?

Or just not rich, and trying to get physically healthy?

You really can’t firetrucking tell any more.

There’s only one thing to do.

Say hello, or nod sligtly, or raise an eyebrow, or otherwise acknowledge everyone you meet.

And say goodbye to the world as you knew it.

BC Pires is walking in circles to stand still

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