Darcus Howe hears Stab Up sing

How Stab Up sang for the magistrate and was rewarded with mercy

So much of the news in Trinidad is about crime and punishment. Everybody screams for blood and incarceration, even of children, but sometimes mercy intervenes unexpectedly. The last time I was there, a couple of months ago, I visited a magistrates' court with a friend. His youngest son, "Boy Boy", had relieved a woman of a gold chain and was charged with robbery.

Waiting for the case to be called, we saw a young man in the dock charged with possession of an offensive weapon - a meat cleaver. The prosecutor said that his alias was "Stab Up". At the magistrate's request, Stab Up, who said he carried the meat cleaver in self-defence, demonstrated how he concealed it at his waist. He constantly shuffled around and adjusted his trousers. This discomfort had attracted the suspicion of the police.

"Stab Up," said the magistrate, "tell me why I should not send you to prison forthwith."

"Sir," came the reply, "I could sing. I could sing real good. I go make it big as a singer if yuh give me a chance."

"You could sing?"

"Yes, sir. I have some demo tapes and I take them to a record producer who tell me I good, I real good. I could make the big time. Gimme a chance nuh, sir. Is only one chance I want."

"You say you could sing? Then sing for me."

Stab Up rolled his shoulders, lifted his head to the ceiling, closed his eyes as the entire courtroom hung in suspense. And Stab Up sang.

A mellifluous voice filled the air. His diction and his phrasing were perfect. Soon the corridor close to the courtroom was packed and Stab Up rendered the song a cappella, his hand close to his mouth as though he were holding a microphone. When he reached for the high note, he bent his right knee and hit a magnificent pitch. He took his final bow.

The magistrate's face was wreathed in smiles. He clapped and a thunderous ovation exploded about the courtroom. Stab Up's eyes were darting all around. The magistrate told the defendant that normally he would have sent him to prison for 18 months. He knew, he said, that he would be pilloried in the press for setting Stab Up free, but he was prepared to take the chance.

Stab Up got two years' probation. I doubt he could reach those heights ever again. He saw bars as he sang - and they weren't musical ones.