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Raffique Shah


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Nightmare at Woodford Square

By Raffique Shah
Sept 05, 2010

It's still dark, wee hours this Sunday morning, the steady drizzle having no impact on the growing crowd that is gathering at Woodford Square. I am dressed in a Rasta wig, fake-Shabaaz beard, jacket sans tie, looking more like a vagrant than the men at the ticket booths at the two entrances to the Square. It's going to be a good day for hangings. People are queuing, some jostling, others scalping, but all more than willing to pay the $100 entry fee to witness the country's first public executions since the days of slavery.

A few weeks earlier, Finance Minister Winston Dookeran had announced that public hangings would be a revenue-raising measure that the People's Partnership Government will implement in view of the deficit Budget he presented to Parliament. "Mr Speaker," he addressed Wade Mark, "Government will stage public hangings every Sunday morning, and twice on public holidays. We have listened to the words of wisdom from the Hon Minister of Justice—hang them high, and in a public place. Cabinet duly considered this manna from heaven, and saw the possibility of raising an estimated $200 million a year." Loud thumping of desks on both sides of the Chamber.

"Mr Speaker, should this measure yield the expected returns, we intend to raise the viewing fee to $200!" Deafening applause from the public gallery and thousands watching proceedings on big-screen TV in the Square. "Make it $500!" shouts an old geezer. "I'll spend all my pension money to see dem criminals swing!" Dookeran continued, "Mr Speaker, the benefits of this measure cannot be underestimated. It would stimulate business in the city. Besides stores that will open all night before hanging days, vendors will serve corn soup, breakfasts, and sell miniature nooses, the latter manufactured right here, I should add."

"All told, revenue earnings should top $1 billion in the first year," he proudly proclaimed. And it came to pass a new law allowing for convicted murderers, and all those who oppose executions, be publicly executed. Which is why I am heavily disguised, hoping not one bloodthirsty Trini would recognise me. After all, while I have serious reservations about capital punishment, I do not plan to subject my short neck to a noose.

I spy Jack Warner, escorted by some FIFA-types, supervising ticket sales. Most ministers are seated on the bandstand from where they get a ringside view of the triple-gallows (three necks a pop, Minister Volney boasted in a media interview). Conspicuously missing from the stage is Minister Cadiz: word from the crowd is he has gone into hiding.

I see a special queue, deep inside the Square, facing AG Anand Ramlogan. Ah! They are being interviewed for the plum position of hangman. But wait, I know two of the fellas there...they are known criminals who, I am told, have some "ghosts" to their credit. Say what? They are citizens, and best of all they may get to hang some poor sods who are paying for their crimes. Only in Trinidad, I mutter under my breath (I have to be very careful), and maybe in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The Square is full now. Jack motions to the ticket collectors to shut the gates. "Next time," he stammers, "we will add big-screen TVs at the stadium! Clearly, Dookeran did not see this opportunity to earn extra revenue. The man knows nothing about making money!" Jack looks in my direction, but from the disgust reflected on his face, he must take me for the Rasta-vagrant I am trying hard to look like.

The public address system comes alive. Bob Marley's ‘Redemption Song' erupts from the huge speaker-boxes. PM Kamla has arrived. She is escorted to the bandstand, smiling all the way. The crowd reaches out to touch her. Her hat for the morning is in the shape of a noose. She goes directly to the mike and pronounces: "Let the hangings begin!" Rapturous applause explodes like fireworks, welcoming the sun as it peeks over the hills to the east of the city.

I peer past the crowd, look at the three nooses, and try to make out the convicted murderers who will make history. But wait...the first is an African woman! Who she? She walks proudly, baldhead upright, to the first noose. Oh Jeezanages! It's Verna! "Nooooo!" I shout, in spite of my disguise. People look at me suspiciously. A little Indian fella follows, his hands securely bound behind his back. Sh**, I mutter: they got Kevin! Before I could explode in anger, a short, balding, whitish fella, smiling (he must be high!), is escorted to the third noose. BC Pires...who else?

Now I explode. I rip my wig from my head, throw the wet jacket to the ground, and unleash every expletive I learned from my primary school days. "Allyuh mudder! Allyuh fadder! Ah go buck up all of you!" I reach for the sub-machine gun secreted under the jacket, now exposed. I chamber a round.

"Aye!" shouts a bearded man. "Yuh ‘ent know dis is Ramadan month?" "Get him!" ten, twenty others shout, interrupting proceedings on the gallows. I fire a burst into the blood-lusting bitches. Bodies fall. I continue firing and cussing. I feel a hand grab me. I resist violently. A voice screams, "Raf, you are hitting me! Wake up!" It's my wife. I was sweating profusely: nightmare at Woodford Square. I stammer apologetically, "Wake me up when the bloodletting is over."

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