Fo’daymorning. There are three of them, walking side-by-side.
From 30 or 40 yards away as I stride southwards along my street, I see them going west towards the park. I pay no particular attention. My mind is far.
Moments before leaving home at 5.30am, I saw an overnight WhatsApp question: ‘You hear that Sparrow dead?’
As a calypso fan, I know the history; as an avid news guzzler, I know the possibilities. So it’s on my mind…
I walk fast. Having played sport continuously for a decade and continued as a coach for another decade and a half, I never lost the training habit. Or the habits.
I can still hear the late Lenny Kirton shouting halfway across the QRC field, urging us to ‘swing those arms!’ Or to get up ‘on the balls of your feet, the balls of your feet!’
In maybe 100 yards, I close the gap on the trio.
As I draw closer, I can see without effort that these are matrons rather than maidens; not Naomi Osaka or Garbiñe Muguruza or Sloane Stephens but today’s Billie-Jean King or Evonne Goolagong or Margaret Court. Even in the half-light, the tell-tale midriff rotundity, the eloquent embonpoint speaks volumes.
She half-turns and sees me bearing down on her. Masked, of course! And wearing the Royalian dark blue from head to toe.
“Oh God! Ayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!”
The shrill scream rents the still morning air. She freezes, has a moment of sheer panic, shrieks and then makes as if to run away.
But in an instant, realisation dawns.
She raises both hands to her mouth and smothers her scream.
Just ahead of her, her friends have swivelled. They instinctively start to flee from this intruder before, for them too, the penny drops.
There is no danger. There is no kidnapper, no rapist, no bandit. Just another early morning walker. There is no malice aforethought. No nefarious intent.
“You snuck up on me!” She laughs nervously.
“Yeah.” Her friends concur. In chorus. “Why? Wha daiz about?”
“I did not!” I respond to her. “I was walking on the government pavement.”
“I never heard you. You gave no warning.”
“Warning? Of what? On a public street? Is this private property? And why should you hear me?”
“But why did you sneak up on me?”
“I did no such thing. Like you, I’m having my morning exercise.”
More nervous laughter. Sheepish.
“A misunderstanding.” She raises her left hand, turns the palm skywards. She is clearly embarrassed. “I apologise.”
“No need. I take no offence.”
And that is that. I go left towards the park. The threesome continue along the street, headed perhaps for the hills, chatting animatedly about who knows what.
The encounter leaves me uneasy. It clears Sparrow clean out of my mind as I reflect on what has just happened.
What if I had been a kidnapper? Or a bandit? Or a rapist? What defence would they have had? Safety in numbers? Is that enough? Is it enough to be a group of three at 5.35am? Is vigilance not required?
Can three women walking at fo’daymorning afford not to be more aware of their surroundings? Should they not look behind them occasionally as a matter of course?
Is that not one essential takeaway from the stories of Shannon Banfield and Ashanti Riley and Andrea Bharatt and Keithisha Cudjoe?
Besides, it’s not just the blue-collar bandits. Around every corner, danger lurks unseen. A friend’s daughter found that out to her cost in January. Ravaged. Savaged. By two dogs. On the public street. Unsuspecting. Defenceless.
Eyes—none in the back of our head—and ears wide open, Bobby, my sexagenarian fo’daymorning exercise companion, and I discuss the perils all the time. We see carnivorous canines behind half-open gates and/or low walls. We see men sitting alone in the shadows.
Sizing us up for something should the situation allow? Who knows?
Unarmed, we are not sitting ducks. We have made plans: A, if the assailant has a gun, B, if he does not. We discuss them from time to time, refine them as we see fit.
And we are able-bodied men—well, we think of ourselves as that!
Do our women, young and old?
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley once suggested publicly that women must take more responsibility for their ultimate safety. I am no PNM apologist but I have to ask this: how far off the mark was he?
It really never is what you say; it’s how you say it.
Just as it never really is what you do but how you do it.