Jerome died on Wednesday afternoon, savagely stabbed multiple times and left lying in his blood in Bourda Market. I wanted to know the exact spot where he died and to find out the kind of person he was, so I went around the market making inquires. The general sentiment of the vendors to whom I spoke was that he was a good and helpful person. Lenny pointed out Jerome's friend to me, Judah. Judah was the last person to speak with Jerome as he lay dying in the market. Judah showed me the spot where his friend fell and re-enacted how he knelt down beside his friend asking him, "Who did this to you?". Like the vendors to whom I spoke, Judah had nothing but good things to say about his friend.
Jerome was a "vagrant". That was how the news media characterized him in the newspapers the next day. That is how the individuals and groups who gave him food from time to time charactize him. That is how those to whom we have given the mandate of managing the affairs of State characterize him. That is how the Guyanese people characterize him. A "vagrant". And we do not have in view the word's denotation, its dictionary definition. We have in view the word's connotation, its meaning beyond the dictionary definition. He was a "vagrant". For us then, that means he was odious, disgusting, nauseating, criminal, loathesome, reprehensible, despicable, idle, purposeless, burdensome, scary, an object of scorn, a blight on our society. That's how we think of Jerome and "his kind". Before we even knew him we had already marginalized him, judged him, and passed sentence on him, in the same manner we have done the other "vagrants".
Jerome was killed around the same time I was hanging out with some other "vagrants" just around the corner. He made the news. And it was the only time he was brought to the public attention, into the public consciousness (assuming we read it in the newspapers or heard it over the radio or TV network). And sadly, he made the news only because he was killed. In fact, that seems to be the only way in which a "vagrant" would make his or her way into the public consciousness. He had to be violently killed or be found dead in a trench. And sadly, he remains in our consciousness for but a moment, for he is soon passed over and forgotten. The "vagrant's" daily struggle and suffering on Guyana's streets is not newsworthy because such struggle and suffering is not important to us. Or, it has lost its importance because we have become inured to it, leaving in place an insensitivity and a callousness.
Jerome became more important in death than he was in life not because of our desire to celebrate his "hapless" life but because of our desire to satisfy our curiosity, our morbid appetite for salacious details about the violent snuffing out of a life and with a vulturous and insensitive media only too willing to oblige, offering us mere spectacle and show while we watch uncaring, unfeeling, and unthinking. And at the place where the "vagrant" met his terrible death all is forgotten, life goes on, the market is back to business. One fewer "vagrant" to deal with. The news media awaits another story. We return to our day to day. Even his fellow road people, of necessity, must move on, for they cannot afford the luxury of lingering in collective sadness as they must continue to focus on their own survival. And so, Jerome, the "vagrant" is summarily forgotten.
[photo art by Ric Couchman]