SATURDAY’S CHILD: Fire in we wire
Three men – an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman had joined the French Foreign Legion and after a few months of the intolerable Saharan desert heat, attempted to desert. They were caught and tried by the authorities who felt that they should get their just deserts – death by firing squad.
The Englishman went first. He was put to stand in front of a wall, blindfolded, and heard the commander say the dreaded “Ready” followed by “Aim.” At that point, the Englishman had an idea. He yelled “earthquake” and the soldiers panicked, dropped their guns and ran off. The Englishman took his chance, climbed over the wall and deserted for the second time.
The irate commander berated his squad and then called for the Scotsman to be brought out. When he heard “Aim” the canny Scotsman shouted “Flood” and when the firing squad members panicked and ran off to the safety of the fort’s lookout tower, the Scotsman escaped over the wall.
It was the Irishman’s turn. He was ready and had gone over his plan several times, deeming it foolproof. He had chosen another natural disaster to scare the soldiers. He heard the “Ready” and the “Aim” and then with all the confidence in the world that he, too, would cause the troops to drop their guns and run off in fear, he shouted, “Fire!”
The essayist and novelist E.B. White wrote a satirical piece about the way we were increasingly becoming supersaturated with information and yet needed to feel we had a handle on things. His solution was condensing all the facts and events into one word, the “word of the day”, which would satisfy our insatiable need to know.
Given the avalanche of information in today’s world, I have taken the idea further and am now postulating a word for the year. Think of it. First, we look at the trends of the present year, especially the final four months or so, talk to the futurists to find out what they believe will happen in the year to come and put all the ideas, advice and predictions together and come up with a word for the year. I went through all this and more and have, like the Irishman in the story, come up with the word “fire”.
I grew up in the midst of cane fields, so that “fire” was among the first words I learnt. In those days, the wages of sugar workers were linked directly to how much cane reached the factory. A cane fire was not just a threat to the lives and property of the villagers but also to their livelihoods. The whole village got involved. I also heard, many times from my uncles and father, the expression “fire one”. “Leh we go and fire one,” my uncle would say and he and my father would head over to the rum shop and call for a “petit quart” (one eighth of a bottle) of rum, or even a “nip” (half of a flask or a quarter of a bottle). Sometimes they stopped at one drink each and after tossing back the puncheon or over-proof rum and chasing it with water would head off for work or whatever, but most of the time, firing one led to an entire conflagration of alcoholic consumption as more and more of their friends arrived at the rum shop on the same mission.
Trinidad has become very much a drinking society. Perhaps it is because of the fires that rage internally and externally in a society on edge. It is an inferno of road race and rage, murders, assassinations of character and characters, drivers in a hurry rushing God-knows-where, breaking red lights with impunity but then, paradoxically, reaching late for work, and people hot under and over the collar and colour. The crowded bars, the roadside drinkers, the intoxicated drivers, all fired up and raring to go and wreak havoc are all part of the need to fire one, two, three and beyond.
It is getting worse. The economy is in recession. The present government does not accept this diagnosis yet fired (that word again) the governor of the Central Bank for claiming this is so and yet by its behaviour is confirming that things are going to get worse. There is no question that in the midst of circumstances beyond their control people turn to alcohol, extremist religions, illogical behaviour, gambling and conspiracy theories for solace and solutions. This is already happening.
What is even more interesting is that the term “Fire One” has become the name of a fireworks or incendiary-vending company and that the company, its presence and its products are indeed appropriate to the kind of place Trinidad is, has become and will degenerate further into. The first resort in today’s TNT is fireworks, both verbal and physical, for every occasion. Noisy squibs, rockets, stars and strikes abound.
In the meantime, the gunfire and murder by firearms show no sign of cessation. As we head towards the end of 2015, there are already 409 murders and we are all certain that there will be more gunfire as we end the year and start the New Year with a bang, if not a vengeance. The fire seems reserved for people suspected or known to have been hired by, or supporting, the previous government. The only fire that will inevitably cool is the enthusiasm with which this government was greeted. One of the facts of political life is that people prefer to change their government than their lifestyles.
• Tony Deyal was last seen saying that when tempted to fight fire with fire remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.