Chiyano’s Red Shoes
I can still hear his excited voice saying, “Aunty, can you buy me a pair of red sneakers to wear with my shorts, please?” I am speaking of my nephew, Chiyano Obryan Lewis, who was murdered on January 9, 2019.
I grew up in the beautiful parish of Saint Andrew Bull Bay, Jamaica, where our family has lived for generations. I graduated from college and became a music teacher as well as a professional singer. Life was great. My brother’s son Chiyano was also born in Bull Bay. He was the joy of my life. From the time he could walk, he charmed everyone with his charisma and a smile that could fill an ocean. His father and mother were young parents and could not take care of him adequately, so I unofficially adopted him. He was my son.
Jamaica is known for its lush, green hills, and white sand beaches. From my home on the plateau, we could watch the sunset above the water, casting a translucent, bloody shadow on the waves of the Caribbean Sea. However, this beautiful scenic place became a frightening place to live: a haven for criminal gangs who hid in the hills above our community after carrying out their murderous deeds. I worried constantly about my safety and about my nephew’s. After all, he was 23 years old and could easily have been drafted into one of these gangs.
My nephew joined a different kind of gang: a dance group at our local church. He became the dance instructor for many of our events. Everyone, young and old, wanted to participate when Chiyano was leading a dance. Meanwhile, he was also winning competitions and appearing in commercials. He even performed in a movie called “King of the Dancehall”. Dancing was his passion. He was very happy, so I was happy, too.
In December 2018, Chiyano asked for a pair of red sneakers for his birthday. We spent a whole day shopping but couldn’t find the kind he wanted: high-top Nikes. I told him I would ask my sister in the U.S. to buy some for him, but after waiting for a few weeks, my nephew got impatient. He went and bought himself a pair of cheap, red sneakers. He loved those shoes and wore them all the time. I hated them because they were cheap knockoffs. I wanted him to have the real thing.
On January 9, 2019, Chiyano went to meet his mother who lived in a nearby community. Because of the violence in the area, people from our neighbourhood could not go to the other side of the community without the fear of being attacked. I didn’t want my nephew to risk the journey, but he thought he was safe and went anyway. Of course, he was wearing his red shoes. I imagine they could have been seen from a mile off. When he encountered a gunman and tried to run away, he was shot. For days, I could not speak, eat or sleep. And even though it wasn’t entirely logical, I couldn’t help but wonder if he would have escaped if he’d been wearing high quality shoes with grips on the bottom, as he was a very fast runner.
My husband had already applied for me to immigrate to Canada. After the death of my nephew, I left as soon as possible. I could no longer bear to live in my once beloved community. In March 2019, I left Jamaica with a broken heart and a sorrow that can never be tamed.