“You think it was a Trini who did it or someone from Tobago?” the beggar at the gas station asked.
He was referring to the fatal December 2019 shooting of MI4 Security Services guard Mark Nurse which had occurred some days before.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t there,” I said.
“I feel is Trinis coming over,” the man concluded.
“Trinis come over and do that” is a common accusation in the wake of increasing gun crimes committed in Tobago, the island thus far touted as the "good sister" of the republic.
Simple, sleepy Tobago where many homes still do not have burglar-proofing, fences or gates, where many front and back doors are often left wide open, where people still leave car engines running while they enter establishments to conduct business, where baton-only guards are sometimes seen dozing off on long, uneventful shifts.
Compared to Trinidad, where gun-related crimes have become an almost daily occurrence, the "trend" is new enough to Tobago for those of us who live here to express shock whenever we read of or hear about "another armed hold-up" by "masked men."
When security camera footage posted to social media showed a gun-wielding, cap-wearing youth robbing the cashier at a popular Bon Accord mini mart and cleaning the cash register of all money, shock waves spread island-wide.
"What happening to we sweet ‘Bago?" people lamented on Facebook.
Cries of “is a Trini” turned out to be true when the apprehended "pest" (as many social media users often refer to criminals) turned out to be a young man from Arouca.
While it is true that some "major" Tobago-based crimes (ie those that are not petty village theft) are reported to have been committed or influenced by Trinidadians, it is foolish to assume that Tobagonians are exempt from criminal activity.
"I don’t care if it’s my relative; I’m reporting them still," a Tobago man authorised to make arrests recently told a friend and me. "I’m employed to do that. It’s how I earn my salary."
On this small island, most people know or are related to each other. Word-of-mouth messages (factual or hearsay) can travel from one end of the island to the other almost as swiftly as WhatsApp voice notes. Imagine this word-of-mouth service being used for rapidly informing police of the whereabouts of weapons, drugs and known criminals even those who are your "good boys", relatives, friends or tenants.
In December 2019, I encountered a man who had "certified gangster" tattooed in capital letters on his inner left forearm.
Curious, I asked if the tattoo was for style or if it was an announcement of what he is.
Laughing, he told me that the tattoo was from younger days when he lived the gangster life. But now, as a father, “ah have to behave.” He pulled out his phone and proudly showed me a photo of a woman standing outdoors holding a young girl, their daughter.
Love can plant its seed in the rockiest soil, inexplicably moving even a hardened criminal to one day make the choice that is always there for each of us to be an agent of positive change and healing in this world.
While serving an eight-year sentence for attempted robbery, the recently deceased Wayne Chance opened up to his divine calling — the founding of the ex-prisoner rehabilitation organisation Vision on Mission.
His mission to give ex-prisoners like himself a second chance by providing opportunities to find their potential, live their purpose and return to society as nation-building citizens did not go unrecognised.
In addition to touching and transforming thousands of what society might consider "hardened hearts," both the organisation and its founder went on to win prestigious awards, example the JB Fernandes Award for NGO excellence, 2012; the Hummingbird medal (silver) 2010 for community service.
Wayne Chance’s life story could and should be made into a powerful motivational film — to be shown in schools, prisons, community centres, film festivals. A tribute to an ordinary man, once socially deviant, who became a visionary role model, sacrificing himself for the betterment of others and the nation.
I ask any gangsters who are reading this — would you rather be remembered as a hero who transformed and uplifted this nation or a zero who killed it?