Every day for two weeks, a woman in a Lahore museum sits with her back against a wall of roses from morning to evening allowing a slow drip of paint to cover her like blood. I was told this by a Pakistani friend in a pub near Notting Hill, the birthplace of the slain journalist, Marcia Henville.
I can see her funky fearlessness fitting right in. She would have woven in and out of London's streets with her clunky jewelry, jewel colours, an Amy Winehouse heartbreakingly waspish smile, her fearless armour covering layers of melted chocolate, ready to pick up a stray kitten, or pause at a busker, putting her coin down respectfully.
I rushed to the bathroom before setting off in the cold only to bump into a young girl, her mouth stained with wine, breathless following me. She flashed a smile at me, handed me my fallen cell phone, and told me to "be careful" and disappeared. It was kindness. She was young. She could have been a shopgirl. It taught me that she had been surrounded by kindness, so she gave it back easily. I thought of home. Our surly shopgirls, workers in the gym. Someone has hurt them from the time they were tiny.
We snarl like hurt puppies. We don't look up. No smile. People don't hold hands easily. No, in an almost self loathing gesture we would rather thrust our hips aggressively at a pole than smile at a stranger. Marcia could have stayed here in the country of her birth, but she went back to her parents' homeland. She saw beauty there, but not what a recently returned friend called "a nest of vipers." She saw it a duty. As work. She was a multi-media journalist, working in print, radio, television, and film.
Marcia chose to do the work government hasn't been doing, that most of us as parents, teachers, social workers, civic citizens haven't been doing. To fill the poison land mines created by make-work gang leaders, unschooled children, unmanned drug borders, corrupt policemen. She chose to do the work parents left undone, absent fathers, single mothers.
She chose to do work that thousands of social workers should be trained to do: The void of parenting, schooling, teaching, social work left a nest of the unloved, the resentful, hatred-filled, dependent society. She chose to enter a nest of vipers and despite all the warnings–don't go there, you will be stung, you will die–she entered, and created clearings, and ushered in a dove of peace, or a cluster of fireflies in the night.
Just two years ago, before starting Point Blank on TV6, where she would highlight at-risk communities, she said in an interview: "I want to help those people who have nowhere else to turn. The abused; the people who can barely read their names if they saw it, far less to fill out forms to justify public assistance; the woman living in the forest because she used to go and come, losing her senses after her daughter was raped and murdered.
This is us telling our stories as a society. Prejudices have divided society. In Trinidad, we have lost empathy for others. Once people said we need more social programmes to alleviate crime. Now the conversation has changed to hang them or kill them. How can you get people to take a broader view at what is happening now and how it could affect all of us in the future?"
So take this woman whose heart was a wall full of roses. Not wilting ones, but hot blood red, gentle for the weak, thorny for bullies, petals that brought a glimmer of hope for entire areas that never saw a way out of the cycle of violence and crime.
Take those petals of goodness, of courage, of bravery, of compassion and do what Trinidad does best to excellence or kindness. Kill her.
A week ago, on Saturday morning, she was murdered in her bedroom by a "close relative" who was "held for questioning." Right, that would be domestic violence. The autopsy report "proved her throat was slit" that "she suffered multiple stab wounds on her back and blunt force trauma at the back of her neck" and that she was "set on fire" afterwards. Her children, 20 and 16, must have heard the screams, seen the smoke. They were unharmed physically but no doubt wrecked inexorably.
I wanted to make this a piece about the Domestic Violence Act, the signs of abuse, and safe houses. But the image of bleeding roses took over. It is a reflection of our society, like Pakistan's, where there is regular slaughter of the innocents. There is it indoctrination. Here it is ignorance, lack of education. There is it due to the guns. Here it is the same. There it is due to extremist ideology.
Here it is bacchus. Pleasure without reflection. A lack of identity. There it is a grab for power and greed that starts at the top and filters down like some kind of aspirational quality. The greediest wins. Without a culture of teaching the teachers, without a culture of social workers to ensure the ugly cycle of abuse doesn't repeat itself, vipers will wind around roses, squeeze blood from petals.