The smile they cannot kill

Debbie Jacob
Debbie Jacob

I HAVE stopped counting the people I know who have been murdered because I fear to count them will make them statistics rather than people. Instead, I recall the details of their faces: the way their hair fell on their foreheads, their laugh lines and smiles, the shape of their noses and mouths, the light in their eyes. I choose to gather happy memories and make bouquets like we make of flowers.

Last week we bid another young man goodbye. I knew Matthew de Silva who was shot dead in Hutton Road, St Ann’s, as he fought an intruder. His selfless act of trying to protect innocent people cost him his life. But I cannot dwell on that senseless act of violence.

Instead, I see Matthew as a boy who lived in a house shaded by a gigantic bay leaf tree that cast its shadow over the bend in the road I took every evening on my way home. He and other boys in the neighbourhood played on that corner. I see them all evoking a tired smile from me after a long day at work.

Matthew, a gregarious child, grew into a joy-filled teenager liming on that corner by his home at a time when that was a simple, safe way to pass the time and form a sense of community.

My daughter, Ijanaya, grew up with his sister Kathrine, and Matthew was the big brother, sometimes protective, sometimes annoying as big brothers tend to be. Everyone who knew Matthew is willing to paint a generous picture of him that had room for tiny flaws.

Ask anyone about Matthew and they will say he was “kind, helpful and selfless.” Ijanaya says, “He would always find time to assist anyone who needed it. He always greeted you with a smile or had something kind to say.” I can vouch for that. I was often on the receiving end of his smiles or his assistance.

Matthew grew up and married a beautiful, soulful, hardworking and loving young woman named Megan. At 36, he was the father of three children. He was a property manager, and he also remodelled homes, transforming spaces with a creative knack that everyone admired. He installed security cameras in people’s homes.

His idea of liming was to invite friends over to his home almost any day of the week – but especially weekends – so that children could be part of a family celebration. They pooled their money and bought chicken for the men to barbecue while the women made macaroni salad.

For some time, this was my daughter’s weekend lime, and I felt comfort in the safety of those gatherings. I used to think: old souls and young hearts.

Matthew’s loyal friends like Tajh shared a camaraderie so deep they never needed to deviate from the routine. They chose the comfort and the safety of Matthew’s home to share their joy. Last week they shared their sorrow there while Matthew’s wife Megan put on a brave face. “He was amazing,” she said. “There are no words.”

Kathrine, his sister, said, “I have alopecia (which results in severe hair loss) and he grew his hair for a few years and cut it to make me a wig. Last week, I put the wig in a bag with birds on it that Ijanaya made and put that in a tea box to give Megan as a part of her husband.”

Matthew’s friends and family held a candlelight vigil and sang his favourite songs at the spot where he was killed. His childhood friends, Adam, Chad, Matthew and more, turned empty beer bottles into flambeau and lined the road from where Matthew once lived to where Matthew lived until he died.

An imaginary line connected Matthew’s life from one point to the next, and I thought: it is a fitting tribute for a young man who once made his home a warm and welcome place in a cold-hearted country that no longer offers young people a chance to grow old. Matthew lived and died for that elusive feeling and that noble principle that family should be the core of our existence.

We all have a right to feel safe and secure in our homes. Sadly, this is no longer the case. In the end, Matthew left his friends and family a blueprint for living a simple, happy life in this unhappy, violent place.

Rest in peace, Matthew. Someday, I believe, people will stand up for a better TT.


"The smile they cannot kill"

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