Column this week
For Permanand Persaud
What are your favourite childhood memories? Mine usually involve me being by myself – I was a quiet child, given to activities that involved observation and introspection. I don’t remember all that much – I’m not one of those that remember childhood occurrences like they was yesterday, but a few, select memories stay with me. I remember I liked walking to and from school, even though my dislike for walking in general is part of family legend. What I enjoyed was not so much the activity of walking but the things and people I saw along the way – the flowers in people’s yards, the very white clouds in the very blue sky, the people in the area making their way to work or perhaps, taking their own children to school.
Sometimes my mother would go with me or meet me after school, but as I got older this became less frequent, as age brought maturity and increased personal responsibility. I remember there was a wooden lamppost that lay on the side of the road. Every morning and every evening I would practise my balancing on this increasingly slippery beam until one day the inevitable happened and I slipped and fell. I went back home with moss covering the entire front of my blouse. I don’t remember if I told my mother the truth, but I doubt it.
Sometimes I’d walk home with some of the other children from school. These walks would often turn into mini adventures, as they sought more challenging shortcuts, dragging me half reluctantly, half excitedly along. One of these shortcuts involved jumping over a large drain. My legs were too short to make the jump and I slipped on the edge and fell, cutting open my lower lip. I’ve always paid heavily whenever I chose to ignore the voice of my mother that constantly played in my head, warning me of possible danger. On odd occasions my mother would think I was taking too long to get home. She was able to ask people along the way if they’d seen me; they knew who I was, with my large book bag and house and land umbrella during the rainy season. It was part of an unspoken understanding, the adults looking out for the children, helping us cross the road, quarrelling with us if we misbehaved, intervening on the odd occasion when there were fights.
I wonder what memories the children nowadays will have. Do children still walk to school, with the constant threat of bad drivers and kidnappers that we face? My mother, overly anxious as she was, still allowed me to make the walk home alone at times, not only for convenience but also because she recognised that as children grow older, you have to let them go in varying degrees, to teach independence and also responsibility for their themselves. How do these learn these lessons now, when any attempt at independence can have such horrendous consequences?
I’m writing this column this week thinking of Permanand Persaud, the 13-year-old boy that was brutally killed by a neighbour. I’m also writing this column with Sean Luke, Dane Andrews and Akiel Chambers in mind and also, all the other children that you and I know will eventually make the headlines of the papers, shocking us all with their brutal and senseless deaths. And it breaks my heart to have written that last sentence, because we know it is a certainty that there will be more children killed by people they know, doing the things they are accustomed to, following rules that should guarantee their safety but won’t.
I’m trying to think what I was afraid of while growing up and can’t, even though I was a timorous child. I know what children are afraid of now. They’re afraid of rape and torture, of strangers taking them from their family and their homes. They are afraid of abuse and the silence that surrounds it, even when it leads to their deaths. They are afraid of not reaching adulthood, or of reaching it scarred and destroyed by society’s failure to keep them safe. Our children are all our responsibility, whether we have given birth to them or not. My mother could have asked our neighbours along the way about my welfare and took comfort in the fact that they would watch out for me. Children still deserve that sense of protection. A child is not supposed to be afraid to be kind, to be good, to go fishing, to go swimming, to be with friends. The very least they deserve are good memories. Will we give them that?