There have been some endings recently. Or perhaps, the beginnings of endings. Yes, it’s over. But… There seems to be a “but.”
Firstly, the last combat troops left Iraq. They rumbled through the darkness towards the Kuwait border. The Petchary wondered how the soldiers felt as the desert moved by, as prosaic and as empty as ever, unknowing and uncaring. The images were sometimes stark, sometimes blurred by the dim light and the sand dust. First there were the rituals of flags and salutes and guns, under the white sky. And the soldiers were always there, lining up, packing out, shouldering their huge backpacks like little boys coming home from school, waiting to get onto a truck and then sit in long, huddled rows, lining both sides of a big-bellied plane that would ferry them home.
Then there was the joy of return, hugging, kissing, squealing, flowers and heartfelt, crushed welcome home gifts and children crowding for attention while their parents kiss endlessly and other family members standing awkwardly in the background with smiles fixed on their faces.
We never heard much of the other returns, draped with flags; or carried on stretchers with bags and tubes dangling.
But…now here comes the but. There is another place – also filled with dust, and men with lined faces carrying old guns, and young children with their hair uncombed and their eyes wide. It’s called Afghanistan. It has the second highest infant mortality rate in the world, in company with around twenty African countries. It has the highest food insecurity in the world (does anyone grow crops to feed themselves, or only to feed the hunger of drug addicts far and wide?)
The Petchary wonders where the end will begin, there.
Second…the oil has ceased flowing in the Gulf of Mexico, and a “relief well” is being dug, cautiously and carefully. An large lump of metal, which is being blamed for much of the problem in the first place, is being lifted out of the water. It will be “exhibit A” in an endless swirl of lawsuits and claims and inquiries and recriminations and millions, maybe billions of dollars. Lawyers are priming themselves for this final, extended and exultant round of money-making. And already, the lump of metal is being blamed…and the humans who were responsible for it, and its failure to stop the conflagration and the ensuing filth.
We know where the “but” is here, of course. There is talk about “where has the oil gone?” and “how can we make it go away?” And the long white beaches around the Gulf remain thickly speckled with black, like the surface of a bird’s egg, and the wetlands are tainted with blueish-brown sludge.
And has anyone counted the cost, and the continuing cost, in terms of the lives of fishes and dolphins and manatees and birds and frogs and snails and dragonflies and all the other creatures, large and small? We look at beaches and shorelines and waves breaking on those shores, but what is happening beneath the waves, down deep? There may even be a few giant squid, a mysterious and other-worldly creature. left in the Gulf; and there are the sperm whales, already dwindling in numbers. Are they sucking in oil along with the other creatures they feed on?
But there are, of course, those happy endings. This week, they seem to have been mostly small ones. A thirteen year-old girl gets her wheelchair back which was stolen. A dog left to die by the side of the road is rescued by a police officer, who decides to adopt him. A four year-old boy who went missing overnight was found in a place called Whiskey Canyon, very tired but having seen a “reindeer.”
What happy endings have there been for Jamaica, the Petchary asks? As they say, “I’ll get back to you on that one.”
Let T.S. Eliot have the last word, at the end…or is it?
What we call the beginning is often the end/And to make an end is to make a beginning/The end is where we start from