By Indranie Deolall
The crying crowds have gone, even as the candle-lit vigils continue across Trinidad and a few areas overseas. Nearly a week following the funeral for his only child, when a stunned nation jointly rallied behind him with their pink umbrellas, butterflies and t-shirts, while chanting her famous name, the grieving father Randolph Bharrat tries to keep busy but struggles to cope with the devastating loss.
In his neat, bright greenhouse, barricaded with burglar bars, in the north-eastern town of Arima, weeping strangers come by with their small and big children during the day to pay their respects and offer support and end up being counselled by the very man they travelled from all corners to comfort.
Evenings are the worst for the brave, bespectacled auto-electrician because it’s when his petite 23-year-old brainy daughter, the bright-eyed Andrea Bharrat would have strolled in, smiling as usual, having come safely home to her beloved Daddy, from her job as a young clerk at the Arima Court. The widower admits to the Trinidad Express that, “It’s like I’m in a big black hole.” Now, Bharrat does not have the heart to continue working, and tells the media house he is retiring, because he will not toil to “mind criminals behind bars.”
Nothing since 1985
On Monday, the sisters and relatives of high school mathematics teacher, the much-loved Juliet Tam remembered what would have been her 60th birthday. They are still waiting in vain for answers that may never come, some three and a half decades after she was snatched and disappeared, just after 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 5, 1985, while on a routine walk to her keep-fit classes within just five blocks of her Arima home.
Her sister, Stephanie wrote, “We have heard nothing since,” admitting the kidnapping and murder of Bharrat, who disappeared on January 30 have been particularly painful for the family.
“The last two weeks have brought back so many memories and emotions that I have managed to control over the years…feelings of anger and fear and resignation. I can only say…But GOD. We live not as those without hope,” she said in a social media post.
Public trauma, private pain
Miss Tam’s abduction was a defining moment in the twin islands memory of public trauma and private persistent pain, a sinister harbinger of the scores of other unsolved cases of missing people in the haunting years since. She was preparing to be a bridesmaid at a marriage that Saturday, and had almost finished sewing her own outfit.
“I remember her dress…a light blue kind of chiffon dress with a detailed bodice? I think. I was young…but I remember there was a wedding she was preparing for,” Stephanie recalled. In an old photograph the slim adult Juliet tightly holds her smiling baby sister, Stephanie, against a lush background of brilliant red ginger lilies.
Another sister, Marcia, replied, “Yes she was sewing the bridesmaid dress. It was in her bed unfinished when she went missing.”
The mystery of what happened to Miss Tam torments Trinidadians to this day. Students at the convent high school where she taught hailed her as a wonderful tutor, others remembered a beautiful, gentle and peaceful person, a deft table tennis player.
Lest we forget
“Andrea’s tragedy brought back memories of Juliet of which I shared with my children,” one woman admitted. Another acknowledged, “So much pain not knowing what happened to her I ALWAYS think of her…I have never given up hope. Always wondered and still remember when it happened and always pray and hope. Lest we forget.”
A student reflected, “She was my maths teacher in Convent…It was my first experience with something so seriously criminal. I was 12 (years) old then. It was the beginning of abductions…I’m 47 (years) now…And nothing has changed.”
Another pointed to the “unspeakable grief in this country for so many mothers (and fathers and siblings). After the shouting, the marching, the ‘mouthings,’ it still goes on. Some of us…tried to teach, to impart, to try to change hearts and behaviours, to empower and to strengthen – only to find out there was little true support out there, because that is the long uphill, much too difficult way. Only the Lord knows.”
Amidst the loss and agony, a cousin remembered Juliet as older by 10 years. “Her story made me much more wary of people. It is tragic that her disappearance was never resolved.”
‘The original kidnap victim’
A student from Tam’s alma mater, St Augustine’s Girls’ High School, termed her, “the original kidnap victim,” expressing regret that she had not reached out to the hurting family. “This was a sensational story on the same wavelength as the Andrea crime. The news media were alive and imagine social media wasn’t even invented. I prayed that she would be found. I hope wherever she is that she is at peace. So sad we are so advanced and yet our women remain more vulnerable than ever.”
Miss Tam’s sibling, Marcia posted, “We have lived without knowing what happened to you for 35 of those years. Juliet, know that if you are alive we love you and think of you every day, and pray and hope that one day we will know the truth.”
Candle flickers on
She continued, “A couple (of) years ago someone reached out to say that she saw Juliet back in 2003 in the Brooklyn, Queens New York (United States of America) area when they were looking for the Holy Cross Church where Fr Ian Taylor was saying mass.”
“This is a reach out to anyone who lives in that area to say whether the photo jogs the memory, of anyone who may look like her. Also, if anyone knows of a good PI (private investigator) who works in the NY area please let me know. Thank you all who have reached out over the years and continue to keep her memory alive.”
Meanwhile, in Andrea Bharrat’s simple bedroom, with her many certificates, trophies and books, a lone candle flickers on.
*ID hears the warning words, “We have become like a Little Red Riding Hood country. The child goes to the shop to get sweeties and never returns,” prominent Trinidad attorney Vernon De Lima said at a press conference years ago.