Keiran King: Depression tastes like Jamaica
Keiran King, Online Columnist
We've all seen a rat in a glue trap. An awesome and gruesome
sight, watching a living creature struggle against the inevitability of death.
At first, it is certain of its escape, and tries to rip itself loose. But that
only entangles it further in the lethal paste.
Now the fear comes. It sets to work gnawing away at anything it
can reach — the glue, the plastic, its own limbs — desperate for freedom. Then panic washes in, palpable and
recognisable. Using its last reserves of strength, it thrashes about — violently,
recklessly, and in vain. It is now hopelessly trapped, stuck in the tiny
spotlight of its tiny stage until the final curtain falls. And so it stops. Its
last moments are that of pathetic, paralysed terror, silent and still, unable
to move, barely able to breathe, slowly succumbing to its exertions and
That's life in Jamaica.
If you live abroad, Jamaica is disappointing. You read online
about the violence and shake your head. On the phone with your sister, you hear
about the crime and empathise, secretly thankful for the intervening distance.
You alleviate your nephew’s poverty, sending down supplies and urging him to
come up for school. You visit — briefly — and lament with your spouse the
missed opportunities and downward spirals and how very sad and very bad and
what's the word, oh, yes, disappointing it all is, from the safety of your dual
But we who live in Jamaica are not disappointed. Disappointment
would be a vast improvement in our outlook. We would be overjoyed to be
disappointed. No, we are still working our asses off in the blazing-hot sun,
watching our hands and feet get thicker and uglier each year. We are still
sitting in traffic with a metastasising army of cabbies who will surely jump
the line in Heaven after they find themselves prematurely at its gates.
We are still afraid to go out too early in the morning, too
late at night, in too large or small a group to too crowded or isolated a
place, and certainly not in our nice clothes or new car. We have visited anger
and fatigue and disappointment and found them wanting. Truth be told, we're
In the Nat King Cole classic, ’Mona Lisa’, he croons about an
elusive woman: "So many dreams have been brought to your doorstep / They
just lie there, and they die there." That's Jamrock, a graveyard of dreams
piled higher than the Riverton City dump, and twice as pungent. Success is something that happens far away,
and if it happens to us, we stand and stare at it in dumb shock, like a child
greeted by a stranger. Then we recover
quickly, before other people smell it and come running. Because success in our island is a rare and
wondrous thing, not to be expected and not to be hoped for too fervently,
nightly prayers notwithstanding.
Yet we feel even more private with our failure, as if the
reason our dreams do not flourish in this barren wasteland is our individual
gardening skills. We come up with excuses and rationalisations, delays and
procrastinations. We plant more seeds, different seeds, better seeds. We try
shade and less shade and no shade, more water and less water, fertilisers and
dances and that thing we laughed at openly when it was first suggested. To no
avail. Come Monday, we have the same job in the same office, with a different
title and the same salary.
And so eventually we give up, for it is in the nature of
depression to win a war of attrition. Like the wretched rat, we stop fighting.
We lie down in the glue, and wait. This is what you see when you walk the city
— the vendors selling newspapers, the workers digging up the road, the nurses
at the bus stop. It looks like we're busy, but we're really just waiting. We
have been beaten — by the heat, the hustle, the humility of repeated failure.
The woman who answers the phone when you call, the man who is
fixing your bathroom, the manager who runs your branch — all broken by a
slavery greater than our capacity to withstand it. We are a defeated people,
born and living on a new kind of plantation, or as we like to call it — home.