How do people get to be so bestial? The puppy has been whimpering for hours. There are people all around but they don’t seem to hear it. They’re just going about their daily business- bathing the children and getting them ready for school. All the time, for hours, the puppy whimpers. In the same yard, a few nights ago- a girl child cried- “I want my mother. My back and belly hurting. You hit me in my back. I need my inhaler.” “I don’t care,” the adult woman beating her retorted. “You can dead right there.” The other younger children watched and giggled. I was in my apartment, but it’s not soundproof and the yards are pressed right next to each other, there’re no blissful acres of open space here, so the cries filled my ears. The whack of the hanger or belt or slipper or ruler as it landed on her skin was loud and clear.
I never thought of myself as extraordinarily sensitive or anything like that- until I returned to Guyana to live. Here, now, I feel like some kind of freak. Things like a puppy whimpering for hours and a child getting beat, which most other Guyanese people seem to shrug off- which they don’t even seem to hear in the first place- get me crying and raging. I don’t have children or dogs, so maybe there are things about minding them that I just don’t understand (bullshit), but I know a few things about violence and conditioning and it’s pellucidly clear to me, from observing Guyanese society for the last several years, that brutishness is our number one, national crop these days.
“Hello. You have to do something about that puppy.” There is a woman washing wares at the window and I’m speaking to her. She ignores me just like she ignores the puppy. A little boy in school uniform comes with a dish of water for it. “Where is the puppy’s mother?” I ask him. “In front,” he replies. “Well, you have to put the puppy back with her, or bring her here. Don’t you hear the puppy crying?” He looks at me blankly. “It’s been crying for hours,” I continue. “That’s cruel. Puppies need their mothers, just like children need their mothers.” Still the blank stare. The woman is still by the window, still washing her wares, and still ignoring me. “It’s going to die,” I try as a last resort. “Do you want it to die? Why don’t you put it back with its mother where it was good good before?” The child continues to look at me like I’m speaking Martian. I return to my apartment, defeated, and stick the headphones into my ears, turning the volume way up.
Empathy, compassion, understanding- are all things that can be learned, can be taught. Why are we not cultivating these qualities in our children and our society today? Why do more people not speak up and challenge the numerous examples of brutality that they witness in society daily? Why have we allowed fear to silence us? Why are we allowing violence to become the ‘norm’? “Is not my child.” “Is man-woman story.” “Is just a dawg.” “Mind your own business.” “Let the authorities deal with it.” “You want to get licks too?” Are you all happy/proud to live in this kind of society? Is it working for you? How come you’re not sickened to your stomach? Is survival, in the midst of shit, really all that we can hope/strive for? I hear a lot of people talking a lot about politricks. But I hear fewer conversations about empathy and compassion. The two are connected, you know.
I called the child welfare hotline the night I heard the child getting beat. I couldn’t go into the yard because the dogs were loose. The woman who answered asked me if it sounded like a bad beating. If it was really bad, she’d call the police, she said, though she couldn’t guarantee that they’d come. But if it wasn’t too bad, the best that she could promise was that they’d look into it sometime in the next 72 hours. The foolice. Those bastions of compassion. It’s been more than 72 hrs. I called the hotline back to find out if any action was taken. They had no record of my call. Woman, hold your head and cry.