You don’t forget those expressions – astonishment, disbelief or fear; and the sniggers.
The negative assumptions about your character can leave a sting that burns for a lifetime.
Notorious characters, some of them Buxtonians and others like Fineman brought terror to our peaceful places and much of the terror saw its end in graveyards.
There were times when you would have felt a nagging shame. A shame that made you want to deny a part of yourself; pretend that you did not know or that you were not a part of a beautiful village some twelve miles from Georgetown on the East Coast of Demerara. There were times when to escape the interrogations and the looks and the sniggers and the assumptions about my character that when asked where I was from, I digressed. Few occasions they were, not proud moments, but significant because what would have brought me to that point? How could I have ever been afraid to say that I was a member of the second village purchased after Emancipation for $50,000 by 132 ex-enslaved Africans who pooled their resources together? A village that produced prominent Guyanese of every calling. Names like Eusi Kwayana Educator, Writer and Politician, June Griffith – Collison athlete who earned the first medal in a women’s event as a Guyanese in the Pan Am Games in 1979, the late Mammie Fiffee renowned herbalist and the late Clyde Roopchand who worked with every government after Independence and received the Cacique Crown of Honour; just to name a few. I could never deny our rich heritage.
But there were those times in the past – during that time when vehicles sped past the village, children returned home because they were unable to get public transportation to school and the blood flowed. The blood of the innocent and the guilty. Ruined childhoods of children who saw too much. Some of those children would have become inmates of Camp Street Prison like Andrew Philander who was one of the seventeen dead by the fire last year.
Almost two weeks ago Camp Street Prison burned again. My mother called from New York, worry in her voice, “What is going on in Guyana?”
I began to explain what I knew about the fire and that there were talks about escapees.
“I hope they don’t go to Buxton!” she exclaimed.
A disappearance into the silence beckoned. The fear many Buxtonians harbour, had reared its ugly head. Would it be that just so suddenly after some nine years of peace, the beast had returned?
A few minutes later my sister who lives in the village typed in our private messenger group “We just heard gunshots.”
Had it been even three hours since the fire started? How could it be that the haunting had started already? Deja vu. Flashes of 2002 and the five escapees reemerged like a rushing wind.
Jumbled thoughts were running through my mind, but intelligible enough to form sentences like:
“I am not ready for this.”
“I am not ready to deal with the stigma anew because of where I was born.”
“I am not ready to live in fear again.”
“I am not ready for the headlines about bodies shot, stabbed, floating, assumed buried, burned in our village.”
I had to stop myself. The creative mind can sometimes toss one into unnecessary mental turmoil.
On social media, a journalist posted about a police chase that ended up in Buxton. The first comment was of a woman saying, “They (the escapees) are going home.”
It angered me. She represented the archetypal ignorance when some people think about Buxtonians. Painting us all with the same brush; giving life to a false narrative of collective criminality and innate hooliganism.
I wrote a comment referring to her in a derogatory manner, leaving it for fifteen seconds before deleting. I took deep breaths because I could not allow my anger, my fear and my frustration to control me in that moment. I silently whispered that I was in control. I was not to give into the negativity.
I noticed fellow Buxtonians sharing their griefs and prayers.
“Buxtonians want peace!”
Peace. Stability. Norm.
Why won’t they leave us and our village alone?
To distract myself I started listening to music, but in actual fact I could not be distracted. Could not ignore the messages I saw flooding my inbox.
“What’s going on in Buxton?”
“What are your relatives saying?”
“Is it true there was a shooting?”
With headphones on I began to hum.
But how could I divorce myself from the police sirens I heard or the helicopter that flew overhead several times. Later as I watched a report clarity was provided as to what occurred in the village. There was a road block and a car being driven by an unlicensed driver in trying to avoid the road block turned around and ended up in a trench in Buxton. It had nothing to do with the fire.
Was that all? Why were the police firing shots in the village then? Was Buxton some war practice zone? Were they just waiting for an event to resurrect the haunting in the village?
In the days that followed I tried to maintain my calm during various conversations. Even with the revelation that at least one of the escapees was Buxtonian.
“I don’t think the boys will go into the village now,” one person said to me.
Was anyone asking for them to go into the village now or ever? No. We are not a people thirsty for punishment. Wasn’t one of the reason we voted for change to maintain our stability?
In the following days, a couple of the prisoners were caught. None in Buxton. The silence prevails and Buxtonians continue to hope that our village would be undisturbed.
All over this country we have witnessed heinous crimes. It is difficult to comprehend recent events like the attacks on the elderly where one was raped and murdered and the other was robbed and had her teeth removed. In most places where horrible crimes occur it is not the community that it is guilty, but a few members and it is no different with Buxtonians. Collectively we are a peaceful and hardworking people. We want peace in our village. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors who toiled and built our village. We will never forget how we suffered for years under the previous government when terror reigned. We do not want to experience the haunting again. Escaped prisoners, Buxtonians or not, are not welcomed to use our village as a haven. The police are not welcomed to use our village as practice zone for firing guns leaving babies terrified. The demonization and stigmatization of entire communities must end because of a few wayward humans. It is not just innocent Buxtonians who have suffered, but I am sure people of Sophia, Agricola, Albouystown and Tiger Bay can also relate.