The title of Alan Paton's classic novel has been haunting me of late. I seldom blog about the runaway crime situation here in Trinidad. The horrors are too rife, piling one on top of the other everyday, shocking past the point when you think you can't be shocked anymore, escalating beyond the point where you thought it couldn't get worse.
I'm sitting here at five before midnight, blogging when I should be editing novel number two, and a gunshot rings out. That particular sound was virtually unknown to this nation up to a decade or two ago; a loud explosion used to mean that someone's old jalopy was backfiring. Not anymore.
A week or two ago it was the rape and murder of an eight year old child. Days ago it was the murder-suicide of a couple who lived mere houses away. I didn't know them, but that is irrelevant. A man across the street was gunned down yards away from his home two years ago. The secretary who worked at a school where I taught was strangled and tossed over a cliff by a male acquaintance a month or two ago. A guy who used to belong to my hiking group was found knifed to death on a coast road. One of my old students, a lovely, joyous girl, was found strangled in a ravine just a year or so after she graduated high school. And every day, almost, the body count of 'gang-related' or 'drug-related' murders soars. One night recently there were six murders. Six. Few of the murderers are ever brought to justice. And no wonder - the few witnesses to murders who have the temerity to testify for the state tend to meet grisly ends.
All this on an island with a population of less than a million and a half.
This used to be a beautiful valley. I still go outside in the middle of the night and look up at the stars, gaze at the moon, savour the touch of cool night breeze on my skin. But now I am watchful and wary. My reveries are tainted by the expectation of gunshots shattering the night. By blacked out police helicopters and blimps that circle the skies for hours, the choppers sometimes beaming their ferocious spotlights down on the houses. What do they seek with that bright beam? Robberies, kidnappings and murders in progress? Criminals skulking in the shadows of fences?
We used to call this land a paradise. Poets have written so many paeans in its honour, from the classic calypsos to the patriotic songs that now seem to recall an imaginary place. I think of The Mighty Sniper's Portrait of Trinidad, Gregory Ballantyne's Calypso Rising, David Rudder's Song for a Lonely Soul with nostalgia and sadness.
The chopper is circling now. How did we come to this? Where do we go from here? Whatever happened to Paradise?