Your name will not be forgotten. Your relatives and friends and colleagues and the thespians will make sure of that. For days, I fought with idea of penning my thoughts, finding it difficult to even start for never would I have imagined that you would be the centre of these circumstances. But do we ever imagine anyone leaving through such tragedy? My mind kept going back to the last time I saw you a little over a month ago on that Kingston street, happy and smiling as usual on your way to pick up your son. And I think about that Monday afternoon at the hospital when at the last minute I decided that I did not want to see you like that; that I’d rather the last memory be of that afternoon on that Kingston street.
Rest and Rise in Power Sister.
Am I more angry, sad, tired or scared? And you? Have you also pondered on the question, but with no definitive answer? Have you been sleeping through the nights? Or has every creak of the door or the sound of the frogs or some imagined ghost lurking been constantly interrupting your dreams?
And how are your days? Have you spent time thinking about her small body broken and bleeding, bruised and unconscious, dying, in the grass, by the bushes, by the cemetery where they left her? Isn’t it cold and quiet when all you can do is stare at the walls? Isn’t it so dark when your eyes are filled with tears because, again, they killed somebody’s child? Again, they murdered somebody’s grandchild. Again, they have defiled a human body. Again, evil has shown its face.
Kescia Branche was somebody’s sister, aunt, cousin, friend and colleague, but most importantly she was the mother of a little boy who just turned three. Again, they killed a worthy member of our society–a teacher, an actress, a young woman who had everything to live for and so much to give. How could they discard her on some street corner?
Are the streets safe? Am I safe? Are you safe? Are we as a collective safe from foes who could bring an untimely death? Or is it timely for some greater lesson? Like the idea that everything happens for a reason? To remind us of how safe we are not; that we are not as free to be as we would like to imagine? But why her – a mother whose son will probably not remember her? Could it not come a different way? Why when the pain is far greater than the joy and often justice seems like a fleeting idea?
Are women safe? The many who have been murdered, if they could live again to tell the tale, I am sure would say no. The survivors, I am sure, would also say no, as many still live with the fear, trembling and crying when thoughts of their oppressors are overwhelming in a society where restraining orders are so easily disregarded.
Are the children safe? Have they not violated them too and discarded them like their lives meant nothing?
The continued disregard for the value for human life has shown us that no matter how far we have come, how equal our rights are, there are those among us who will do harm, who are wicked, who will disrespect and who will judge when judgment is not warranted. It hurts when it happens to strangers, but when it is somebody you know or knew, it is torture.
I met Kescia Branche at the Theatre Guild some years ago. She was a young actress with a pleasant personality and a distinctive voice that is hard to forget. I remember being pleasantly surprised when I learned that she was a teacher. In 2013, she played one of the characters in a play of mine, titled ‘Before Her Parting.’ It is a play about violence against women; a play that asked the question: what if the women could talk after they would have died by violent means? What would they say? What would be their regrets and would they make the same choices again? When I realised that Kescia had died, like so many who knew and loved her, I could not help but cry. And I remembered the play. Life imitating art? But it is life that informs art. It has been difficult to process.
But as tragic as the circumstances surrounding her death are, there are those who have judged and continue to judge her. With their labels and condescending words about where she should have been and what she should have done and what was decent and what was expected – they, who have never met her, who had no clue about who she was, have judged her. She was 22-years-old. She had the right to socialise and not die because of it.
But the victim blaming, victim shaming, victim lynching over and over again continues to seep into cases even where women may have hidden in their homes and still met some gruesome death. Difficult as it is to comprehend, I have to accept that this is a very hypercritical society.
Pseudosophistication and religiosity makes hypocrites of many of us who continue to abide and force archaic ideas, thus in many cases delaying or denying our evolution. Can they not see that desecrating people’s characters makes them even worse than the people they judge? And sadly, it is women who are judged the most and the harshest.
If she is raped: What was she wearing? How was she moving? Did she give him wrong signals? Was she asking for it? Was she saying no or was it a no that meant yes?
If she is beaten: What did she do? Did she provoke him? Maybe she deserved it. Maybe she needed to be taught a lesson to be reminded about her place.
If she is murdered: Maybe she should not have done that or been there or said that.
Sections of our society continue to support the patronising and sexist views of women. Sadly, it is not only men who offend, but fellow women who are often the harshest critics. Until we can unite, until we can condemn wrong for wrong, injustice for injustice, without somehow believing that the victims are always partially culpable, until we can truly be our neighbour’s keeper, until we start a revolution which is serious about working to change the mindset of our people, to teach that violence is not the answer and that women have the rights to the same freedoms that men enjoy without being judged and condemned, we will continue to be hurt and harmed and killed. Their tormentors and their killers will continue to feel empowered and justified and, sadly, we will continue to forget their names.