THE deceased vessel elicited of me a gamut of emotions, pity perhaps being the first, if not the primary: the carry box, once of loyal service, had been left for dead, flattened, on a perfectly pitched roadside, arched by a verdant parasol of majestic trees.
Not a fitting resting place for the box. Neither cremated nor buried, it lay there, white and multi-coloured roadkill, no headstone, no tribute. A more dignified end would have seen the cold container perched atop a pile of refuse, its integrity relatively intact and not reduced to collapsed cardboard, crushed by the car wheel of the car behind the murderers of boxes and environment, or of the car coming in their direction.
Short lived pity for the box from me. Anger skimmed mercy, for I knew that a greasy human hand—without thought for the cleanliness of a Covid-19 fighting T&T—had tossed that box once emptied of its chicken and chip contents out of a car window. A few flesh picked bones had probably been minced when the box had been steam rolled by the oncoming or ensuing vehicle.
The box was not singularly a source of sympathy or ire; it was a weapon of indifference loaded with insatiable gluttony. Throwing it out onto the roadway on the very morning of fast food liberation was the first shot fired on behalf of the enemy, Covid-19, a curious potent virus which with every passing day presented new characteristics and accompanying debilitating symptoms. In Trinidad and Tobago, it was as if the box meant life was back to normal. Normal meant being polluters.
In many other countries, the stay inside orders had resulted in a reduction of air pollution and commuters were being encouraged to walk to work and/or use bikes, safer and healthier than subways and other modes of public transport. Bicycle lanes would be added in large cities.
The benefits of coronavirus could be as valuable as its wrath was deadly. We, as in humanity, had enough time during the lockdown in which to contemplate our deleterious contributions to the environment. Now as we emerged to check if the sun was out, we should have a look about and see how clean our countries have been without us roaming and raping them.
But in western Trinidad, during the last days of lockdown and the first of the easing of restrictions, we behaved largely as if no lessons had been learned, as if Corona had come and gone, and with its departure our collective memory, like a hard drive, had been conveniently erased. There is the pity. What a pity! We had learnt that cleanliness was next to godliness without going to church or any religious gatherings, without Kingly interpreter. Seeing was believing and before us was physical, palpable proof of pristine present. We had made the miracle!
For heaven’s sake, had we not hoovered off the shelves all the Lysol wipes and spray and any product that would kill 99.9 per cent of germs or had 99.9 per cent of alcohol, and now we purchased the enormous containers of bleach, with which to disinfect our homes and yards? To the rhythm of our favourite tune or genre. God did not have to tell us to be clean; the scientists did.
But now, how long would cleanliness last? Would a sense of nostalgia for the good ole Corona days wash over us instead? As is the longing at times for colonialism from our elders. Would regular cleaning of public spaces and places soon be a practice of the past? Would the remains of Corona include any social distancing, hand washing and/or masks, as these were being removed with alacrity? Or we were being deliberately obtuse?
A week ago, Government had cautiously prised the door a crack for Trinbagonians to buy doubles and KFC and in return, citizens had broken the rules: littering as much as they were liming, or if you wish, “hovering” and “lingering” in places, as if starved of company for six weeks, as much as they were of takeaway and of throwing empty boxes out of the car.
One morning, about three or four days before the restrictions were slackened, I stopped to buy tomatoes and considered how another customer voided the social distance contract between us, reached over toward me, seized a handful of tomatoes, weighed my fruit out, defiant, craving I believe human contact, and handed them to the stall owner who bagged them. Mini revolt in front the mini mart. I was half hoping that given his expansiveness, the stranger would pay for the tomatoes, but the bill was mine.
Was I Covid cowered by the protocol breach? More like entranced and intrigued. By humans. Before Corona (BC) that man might never have helped me with the tomatoes, but here at the fruit stall was the chance for interaction that excluded whoever he was sharing his shut-in space with. Discourse over the price of a pound of tomatoes was more than ever jovial, deep, meaningful. At least I could still afford to buy a pound. Food prices were on the rise, globally.
Unlikely the tomato man and I would meet twice; unlikely we would recall each other, and if we did, the moment for Corona solidarity would be behind us. As would its sentiment.
Would I in time become immune again to the sight of abandoned boxes, each container flung equivalent to a tiny shot of vaccine, allowing antibodies of apathy to accumulate gradually? Would a crushed box soon enough elicit not pity, not anger, not nostalgia, but only a dismissive steups?