The report in this newspaper on August 21 was stark: “Around 21:30 hrs last Saturday, the man was reportedly beaten to death by his drinking partner, for the remaining alcohol that was in the bottle.” According to eyewitness statements, the men were sitting at the table sharing a bottle of vodka when an argument erupted as to who should be taking the last shot. On many occasions, that ‘last shot’ is elusive; the one for the road is the road to hell, a fatal one, because it never ends: not with that bottle or in that session, or on that day.
The proverbial, traditional ‘last shot’ in this sad, fateful instance was literal. It is a troubled world that is either obscured from, or avoided by, or denied by, less-than-thoughtful, less-than-honest Guyanese. Other than for an occasional glimpse, through a frank and searing writing or comment in public, from some well-meaning soul, this alcoholic culture in Guyana goes largely observed (how can it not be?) but largely unaddressed and untouched.
We have seen them, haven’t we? Take a frank look, those who dare to not avert their eyes. There they are: the helpless figures among well-dressed family and friends; the almost naked, sometimes dirty creatures, always visible shadows on every corner and cranny of the street; the sly strangers, who talk up many a clever storm to get closer to the next dollar that holds the passage to their liquid (or smoky) paradise.
The next dollar for that next drink, that next puff, the next sweet rush of solace and the passing flash of that healing, relieving, soothing, lifting, loving spot. There is a problem with that supposedly ‘last shot.’ Or last draw. Or last snort. It is not the last one, or the second-to-last one, or the one before that. Whether the individual swagger of not going on ‘one foot’ (in Guyanese drinking idiom), or the carnival of a drinking, smoking, injecting bacchanal, the last one (whatever it happens to be) doesn’t last long.
Tomorrow (or later today and, sometimes, at any hour of the night), there comes on tortured feet another craving, still more thirst, of mind and body long battered and tormented to a certain feeding of nostrils and lungs. It wants another, then more, and then still some more in an endless, harrowing cycle. Sooner or later, there arrives that practice of fueling starved cells crying, screaming for the boost, then the blur of blessed unconsciousness. The ‘head built’ and the ‘sweet’ state of satisfaction and the bliss of not knowing nor caring nor thinking nor living.
A nation living partially on rum manufacturing: blends formal, foreign, and famous. Then there is the other side: the products from under the cover of forests, as in ‘bush-rum.’ Drink is more than an industry in this country; it is a settled way of life, a national pastime, almost a national religion: alternately loved and hated. Worshipped too. As if these are not enough, there are thoughtless political promises in this already drunken election season about lifting that sensible 2 a.m. curfew. Perhaps, the noise nuisance will distract from the nuisances that are each other.
At the commercial and foreign exchange levels, money comes in from local and overseas registers ringing. It is satisfying. How about some money – real money for real facilities and real interest and real caring experts – for treating what is really a national tragedy?
Real money would lend a helping hand to those minds and bodies and hands that once lifted bottle and glass in casual and reckless disregard for present, future, and forever, but are now crippled in the throes of prisons made from liquids with names like gold and premium. Those warning labels are nice, but given as much attention as some news headline about the detection of life forms on Jupiter.
Frankly, there is little help coming, outside of the charitable and the private. Thus, in the haze and agonies of harrowing withdrawals, there is one sighting: the next newcomer, the latest newcomer: marketplace, traffic light, church, street, from under storefronts. Objects of assistance: something in that purse, in the pocket, in the car, in the house. Got to have it. Remember: the fix. It is a final solution that is not so final, in that it extends and extends for a lifetime wasted and made wretched.
There is palpable and alarming danger. It can be destructive, when unleashed in full uncontrolled madness. It is nothing personal, simply of addressing the hurting, demanding, disabling, infuriating need of the moment. There is vulnerability and menace: Will not take ‘No’ for an answer. Will harass, even intimidate; will steal anything and sell for anything all the way to zero. Got to have it.
Got to get that next ‘shot’; that next drag, that next thrill that fills and eventually kills. Trouble is that the innocent could end up being killed. Who is listening and doing something? Anything?
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