Friday, January 23, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 8

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London
The Revo Blog. Part 6 - June-Sept 1983
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film

Right. You know about Grenada. You know about the Revo. And you know about me. I've set the scene and assembled the cast. There's nothing for it now but to embark on the part I've dreaded the most. From here onwards, I'll be using the detailed diaries I kept at the time to ensure accuracy.

So this is it. The beginning of the end.


September-October 1983. Rumours

On 23rd September, the last of our overseas guests leaves. R is a good friend and I'm very sad to see him go, though I relish the thought of having our space back and being able to focus on our reason for being here.

On his last evening, R and I climb to the top of the hill behind our house. From here, we can see for miles in every direction, across seas and forests and mountains. But what we have come for is the light show in the West.

As we stand awestruck, the sun drips into the ocean, staining sky and sea alike with colours so vivid and outrageous, no artist could recreate them and be believed. It's one of those Caribbean sunsets that is so over the top, it's almost too much to handle.

'Y'know,' I say, 'When you get something like this that's so spectacular that it's overwhelming, it's a good idea to tear your eyes away for a moment. What you see as you look in the other directions may well be more subtle but just as beautiful in its own way.'

As I speak, I pivot slowly on the spot. As I turn my back on the pulled-out-all-the-stops sunset and face East, I gasp, tears welling up in my eyes. High in the sky is the thinnest brightest sliver of new moon. And curved over it with flawless symmetry is a perfect rainbow, arching over the crescent like a protective mother sheltering her newborn child.

I don't know whether I say the words aloud, but I do remember thinking them.
Sometimes it feels like life here is too perfect.
R leaves the following day and we attempt to occupy our space and regain our focus. But life has a habit of ignoring the agenda you've composed for yourself and imposing its own. There are tensions between the men in the house and inevitably these spill over onto us.

On 1st October, a week after R leaves, H becomes ill with a high fever. Her lover, B, has never been what you'd call gregarious, but is now becoming more and more withdrawn. The two of them retreat to their room, emerging rarely. Over a week later, H is still ill. N and I are sponging her off and are alarmed to see the sweat is literally spurting from every pore. It's clear she is seriously ill with something that isn't going to just run its course and be shaken off.

H is admitted to hospital in St Georges on 13th October and diagnosed with Hepatitis B, probably contracted from an insect bite. In the hospital, she has a bed and medical treatment. But that's all. Sheets, pillows, food etc all have to be brought in. I will have to get up in the morning, cook, take the food to hospital, sit with H a while, return home to cook again, then back to the hospital ... There isn't much room for anything else.

At home B has gone down with bronchitis, but, more worryingly, his mental state is giving cause for serious concern. When we'd first arrived in Tempe, we'd taken up the carpet floor tiles, worried they might get damaged. One of B's many anxieties centres round his feet coming into contact with the concrete floor. He lays tracks of carpet tiles around the house, linking the bedroom with the toilet, bathroom and kitchen and on his rare forays from the bedroom he follows these tracks with a rigid intensity.

People fear madness. It's too close and too real. It's almost as if we're scared it's contagious. And who knows, maybe it is. Whether or not that's true, with H in hospital, B's condition freaking out anyone who comes into contact with him, and constant arguments raging, our home has moved in the space of a week from being a cool place for people to come and hang out at all hours of day and night to a hollow shell filled with bad vibes and a tense and poisonous atmosphere.

It's a micrcosm, the turmoil within echoing the increasing tension in the island as a whole. The day after H is admitted to hospital, we hear that Maurice has been placed under house arrest. On my way to visit her, I find town is buzzing and rumours are flying. People are angry and confused, demanding to know the reasons for the arrest and to hear Maurice speak for himself to explain. Although the determination is clear, I sense an undercurrent of fear too. There are crowds gathering in the market square and lots of army vehicles visible on the streets.

In the afternoon, Radio Free Grenada relays a statement from Coard's office, saying he'd resigned as a result of rumours circulating last week that he and his wife, Phyllis, were plotting to kill Maurice. The statement goes on to say that 'certain elements led by an insurance company owner' had then seized weapons with the intention of killing the Coards.

There follows a message from the Security Forces - saying that anyone found spreading rumours will be arrested! After that, there's the news in which we're told that Maurice's chief of staff has been arrested for starting the original rumour.

The news says nothing about Maurice's current whereabouts and neither confirms nor denies that he is under house arrest. So rumours, now apparently illegal, are the only thing left to fill the vacuum. On the streets I hear various versions: that Maurice is being held at home, in prison, on a Cuban ship ...

A party member who I know slightly tells me that Maurice had refused to share power and had started the assassination rumour himself and had therefore been arrested. It's vital to point out that he is one of only two people who I hear criticising Maurice and attempting to lay the blame for the crisis on him.
Photo of Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard from IPS News
To add to the confusion, L tells me he's seen the insurance company owner mentioned in the radio statement and that he's still free and walking around. No one knows what to believe or who to trust. Maurice himself is the one certainty. He could explain what's happening, given the chance. L also tells me that people in St Paul's are ready to take up arms to defend Maurice.

Except no one knows where he is. And those who do know, aren't saying.

6 comments:

BarbaraS said...

A cliff hanger - I really loved that bit about the sunset and turning to look at something else, and seeing something even more breathtaking.

wordtryst said...

I have had similar experiences when the beauty seemed too intense and perfect. Your description of the sunset scene nailed it exactly.

I'm almost holding my breath as you recount the unravelling of the revolution. In retrospect it seems like it was bound to happen, somehow. As for the brush with madness, I experienced something similar during my short stay on the island (I might have mentioned a certain editor to you) and I fully endorse your take on it; that was one of the most frightening things I've ever encountered, and the main reason I got the hell out of there.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Debi, you make this such easy and riveting reading. It's so well done.

Tania Hershman said...

Debi, it really is riveting reading, I was holding my breath too, as things seem to get worse and worse. I hope this is not too difficult for you to write. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Debi said...

Thanks, all. Hanging on in here ...

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Just catching up (sorry, been busy) - it sounds as if the dream is turning into a nightmare.