Thirty-two years ago , Marlene Andrews went to work as normal.
She was a parliamentary attendant at that time and part of her duties included assisting Members of Parliament in the Chamber.
“A short while into Minister (Joseph) Toney’s contribution, the Honourable Prime Minister, Mr ANR Robinson, seated on Minister Toney’s left, motioned to me to take a note from him to an Opposition member,” she recalled.
Just as Andrews was about to take the note, she heard loud noises.
“Although not understanding what was happening, I headed for the front door and was almost knocked down by members of the Prime Minister’s security detail who were rushing into the Chamber towards him, while persons from the public gallery were scampering, obviously trying to get out of the Chamber as well,” Andrews stated.
She too made a run for it.
“Only God kept me going and I found refuge in the Accounts Department, where I met my co-worker, Gertrude James, a few police officers and a man, whom I later learned was in the public gallery,” she said.
They all huddled together.
“We remained there wondering what was happening and when it would be over, as we continued to pray for rescue,” Andrews recounted.
Around 4 am, Andrews said they heard footsteps in the corridor and it appeared as though whoever they belonged to were kicking doors and presumably checking the offices.
“But luckily, we had locked the door,” she said.
Andrews said after some time elapsed, and the footsteps receded, one of the officers indicated that they would have to make a move while it was still dark and advised that they roll down the corridor and then run down the stairs which led to the Register General’s Department.
“As we made it down the stairs, Mr Basanta, an estate constable, recognised me and quickly unlocked the gate which allowed us to access that area. A burst of gunfire erupted and we scampered in different directions, with me ending up in a toilet stall by myself. When the gunfire stopped, I could hear a voice calling for help and realised it was Mr Basanta,” she recounted.
“I stood on the toilet seat and was able to see him with blood oozing from his body. I was petrified. I continued to pray for God’s intervention which would bring safety to me,” she added.
At 5 am, she heard the Trinity Cathedral clock chime and decided to get out of the Red House.
“With that decision made, I now had to jump over the body of Mr Basanta, the man who really made it possible for me to get away from the Parliament level of the building. I made a dash for the window, jumped out and as I hit the ground, it was speed, running eastbound towards Frederick Street,” she stated.
“Again, there was the sound of rapid gun fire, which seemed to give me more speed as I ran past the church, across Hart Street, looking for somewhere to hide. I spotted a door which I thought would lead to somewhere, anywhere, from the Red House and soon realised it was the holding area for garbage just before what we now know as Subway,” Andrews stated.
Andrews said she remained there, barefooted, amongst the maggots and whatever else might have been there until the door was opened at around 6.15 am by a man.
“I later learnt that he was a looter looking for empty boxes to carry away his looted items. The man asked me if I was a Red House staff member and I nodded as I could not speak, I just continued crying. He then held my hand and took me over to soldiers who were on Frederick Street,” she stated.
“Still not quite aware of what was taking place, I could only tell them of my experience in answer to their questions. It was only then I knew what had happened and apparently was still happening,” Andrews said.
While the soldiers wanted to take her to the army base, she begged them to allow her to go to her home, where her husband and three children were all traumatised as they were aware of what was taking place in the Parliament Chamber.
“Thank God they agreed and when asked to give a contact number for my husband, it took me three attempts to finally give the correct one. When they contacted my husband, they directed him to come into Port-of-Spain via Broadway to the corner of Frederick Street, facing north, with his headlights on and blinking,” she said.
“The soldiers were kind and wanted to lift me as I was barefooted and the street was littered with glass but feeling safer and knowing that God was with me, I opted to walk, I was just anxious to get to my husband. After about half an hour, I was escorted by the soldiers to my husband’s car. I remember seeing tears in his eyes watching me as I entered the car. It is only then I really felt safe,” she stated.
Andrews said they drove straight to the Holy Trinity Church in Arouca, where the priest prayed with and for her.
“We thanked God for my safe return to my family and prayed for the safety of those who were trapped in the Red House. Then it was home to my children. To date, that was the worst experience of my life,” she stated.
Andrews said she often reflects on those who lost their lives.
“I pray that their souls rest in peace. I thank God every day for sparing my life and try to live my purpose for which I believe he caused me to escape death,” she stated.
Andrews’ account of that fateful day was recounted and provided to Guardian Media by the Office of the Parliament with her consent.
Her recollection of that day can be seen at the Parliament’s Rotunda Gallery, along with other artwork and memorabilia commemorating the 1990 attempted coup.