Wednesday, November 16, 2005

We win

I didn't leave the office till after four this afternoon, more than two hours after the match ended, so I missed the most immediate & spontaneous celebrations--people streaming out into the streets waving flags etc.--but from the moment we turned onto Long Circular Road it was clear something extraordinary was happening. Cars went past with their horns blaring, headlights on in broad daylight, flags streaming from windows. People stood on the side of the road waving flags at passing cards, matador style. Little knots of people had formed outside bars or rumshops. And everywhere: smiles.

A friend on the phone from St. James, astonished: "All I can think is, this must be what it was like when the war ended."

Traffic was crawling round the Savannah, but no one seemed to mind. Actually, I don't think I've ever seen people looking so happy to be in a traffic jam--because it felt so much like a parade. Outside the Sagicor building on the western side of the Savannah, a rhythm section had formed, & people were dancing & singing, cars slowing down, drivers waving or shouting.

We decided to head for Woodbrook first. A block above Ariapita Avenue we could hear the roar of the crowd. "It's like a cross between Carnival Friday & the last day of school," Georgia said. The centre of the action was the intersection of Ariapita Avenue & Carlos Street, just outside Crobar--pavements thick with people, a sea of red, flags in the air, policemen trying to divert traffic. And--at five in the afternoon!--almost every car heading into town, many filled with more cheering people, horns still blaring.

As we stood in Adam Smith Square, what looked like a small Carnival band came chipping up from downtown. Georgia began interviewing anyone who would stop. "I cried in '89," one middle-aged man said, beaming. "You could imagine how I feeling." The gutters were already stacked with empty beer bottles--green underfoot, red overhead. We pressed through the throngs a block & a half to Veni Mange, where Roses Hezekiah sat with a small group of people on the pavement, looking dazed. Next to her, her sister Alyson Hennessy was trying to make a call to Bahrain on her mobile phone. A friend was helping. "Hello? It's Alyson Hennessy trying to reach Dwight. Is that Dwight? Hello? Where is Dwight?"

Back outside Crobar, the crowd was thicker, spilling into the street--cars could barely pass, but the only people still driving past here were themselves celebrating--young woman waving through sunroofs, horns making a continuous fanfare. Everyone seemed innocent with joy--I've never seen or felt anything like it. I didn't realise how desperate we'd become--after all the trials of the last few months--for something to celebrate, something inarguably good.

I counted at least a dozen people in vintage football jerseys from 1989--I still have one too, somewhere, & can probably still fit into it. But today, having dressed in a hurry this morning, I was wearing a bright blue t-shirt, & I stood out in the crowd.

I spotted some Belgian acquaintances on the pavement, managed to make my way to them. They were wearing red, had the same look on their faces of bewildered delight. Belgium didn't qualify for the World Cup--they'll be supporting Trinidad & Tobago next year--& so would "everyone in Belgium", they assured me. Georgia was asking people if they'd expected the "Soca Warriors" to win. To my surprise, most said yes. (I certainly didn't--right up to that goal this afternoon.)

It was dark by now, with a big yellow moon rising. We decided to check out St. James, but first we swung down Wrightson Road to see what was happening downtown. The celebrations there were more subdued, concentrated on Independence Square, where people clustered round the Cipriani statue. A big cement truck was squeezing its way down Frederick Street, blasting its powerful horn, & people were cheering it on as if it were some kind of celebrity.

The Savannah was quiet by now.

Western Main Road was closed for six or seven blocks, so we wove through the back streets of St. James & parked near Bournes Road. Another rhythm section, chipping along, then pausing outside a bar. Western Main Road itself was so thick with people we could barely move. Red t-shirts, red flags, a tassa side, people dancing. Modest fireworks were bursting overhead. We managed to take up position in the middle of the street right outside Smokey & Bunty. There was a big screen rigged up, displaying messages of support for the team & showing replays of highlights from Saturday's match. This was clearly settling down into an all-night party. Over the music & the noise of the drums & of thousands of gleeful people, a man on a loudspeaker was trying to make an announcement: holiday declared tomorrow. So no need to go home early.

But I needed to go home. It's been too much of a week already, & it's only Wednesday night. Too much to think through, too much to understand. We going to Germany! people kept saying, & somehow it happened: we are. But in another sense--a more fundamental & urgent sense--all of us here in Trinidad and Tobago are partway through a collective journey, & still have a very long way to go, & this journey is the far harder one. We're celebrating tonight, & thank God for that. Tomorrow we'll sleep it off. But after that, we have to strap on our sandals, pick up our burdens, & plod on. (Or, as Lloyd Best put it the other night: "Pick up your bed and walk!")

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