Political demarcations within the community were rigid and once election season approached, bloodline no longer defined relationships. Rifts among friends and family members were not always as tame as that between my granny and grandfather.
While political divisions within the home had their jumpstart in like fashion, most spiraled into a larger, broader disunity rife with hatred, intolerance, and to some degree betrayal, and senseless fatalities like that which became the fate of the community milk-man.
On a hot Sunday afternoon, only hours after returning from another bird-bush with more stories than tales could tell, my granny permitted us to lay-way the weekly sweets on wheels.
By all indication, the day’s events conspired to remain as normal as normal gets. Another hour or two passed while we emptied our pockets on ice-cream cakes and rum and raisin inspired cones. We giggled as the Crazy Jim driver – his embonpoint noticeably more expansive than the previous week – dosed off. With the truck tires as an expedient to the dashboard, Tex attempted to snatch a pack of Smarties, but stopped cold in his tracks by the sound of what seemed like a hundred motorcycles approaching our vicinity.
We ran toward the tremor-igniting engines and witnessed scores of children who waited in the square for Crazy Jim’s return, crying and running to their mothers’ arms for shelter. We should have trusted the instincts of the smaller children who clearly sensed the danger in the wheels approaching. We dashed to the sidewalk as the gang of riders, suited in leather bike gear and tinted helmets, straddled ten pimped-out Kawasakis at hurricane speed without care of what or who in their path. The mysterious riders sped past blocks of shops and the police station and charged toward the home of the milk-man who was a known supporter of the PNP party.
Granny, acting upon the accuracy of her prescience, sent our uncle in search of us. My uncle had a look of terror in his eyes when he told us to follow him at once. We ran behind him and by the time we got to granny’s half our belongings were already packed. We ran around the house grabbing our books and accessories from nooks and crannies where they did not belong. By the time we said our unwilling goodbyes to granny and grandfather, it was too late to head east and away from what was about to be the most violent, politically motivated eruption in the history of the community.
Our driver tried his wit and sly to get past the roadblock and out of the community before night fall, but only disheveled the gatekeepers in the process. Police officers at the only exit and entrance road to Old Harbour were beset with ammunition as though they were on enemy line awaiting an attack. My cousins and I were silent, and remained this way for a long time after that day. When we returned to granny, she served our favourite before-bed snack. All eight cups of Horlicks grew cold as none of us thought it was appropriate to regale ourselves given the news of what unfolded just after my uncle removed us from harm’s way.
Despite granny’s attempts to veil the story to protect us, by Monday morning it was rooted in the grassroots news pipeline that the milk-man succumbed to numerous stab wounds inflicted during an ambush by the mystery bikers who were allegedly still at large in the area, as the roadblock was hastily erected to trap them.
Our granny sent us with our driver on two more attempts to leave, but they too, were futile. The blockade only grew wider as anticipation of the bikers ramming the police rampart escalated. Heavily armed law men swarmed the community, announcing on siren speakers that no vehicle, person, animal, nor traffic of any kind was allowed in or out of the area until the killers were discovered. Two days past. Nothing changed. No bikers in sight. And even more incredible, no bikes to be seen. As to why this still remains a cold case, is beyond me.
We stayed in the house until Wednesday, when we followed granny to the shop for grocery. We passed a bustling in the square and granny told us the ‘Labourites are setting up to start trouble.’ My uncle later countered granny’s claim when he explained JLP leader, Edward Seaga, was visiting to host a meeting in the square. Our request to accompany my uncle to the meeting was categorically denied by granny, who shook her head in disappointment as my uncle left to hear the message his party brought.
We remembered a television was in the house only because granny forbade us to venture out after three o’clock that day. While we watched JBC granny continued her embroidery design on some new hand towels that we were to take back as gifts once the roadblock dismantled. At about seven, my uncle came racing through the front door at the same time telling us to lock ourselves in our rooms. We held hands in the dark while we listened to what sounded like glass bottles raining in the square. Screams and shouts sounded like people were in pain and we held hands even tighter. We dived under our beds when gunshots sounded off and continued for what seemed like five hours.We slept under the bed and despite granny’s comforting words we refused to leave our safe zone. In the interest of preventing us from developing gas, granny endorsed our request and served breakfast to us under the beds the next morning.
Thursday morning was like Sunday. The market was quiet and no-one seemed interested in heading to the seaside. Weird.
Hours later, we overheard the adult’s accounts of the night before. The community cock fighter, a PNP supporter and farmer in his 60’s was attacked by some members of the crowd while he passed through the square of animated JLP supporters. In response he pulled his machete and the number of one of the attackers was called. The machete slinger was rescued from the stampede by his sons. The trio was then chased to their home, not far from the square. The house was target for stones, debris and an interminable round of gunshots. Every pane in ever window was smashed. The doors were kicked in and his two daughters were brutally beaten and one shot. The three managed to escape however, and there was another reason to hold the fort with the roadblock.
Another two days passed and the search for yet another killer came up empty. Apparently out of frustration, JLP supporters started an arbitrary stoning of PNP residents and that skyrocketed into another bloodbath that ended on Saturday.
On Sunday, the PNP area councilor alerted granny that news of the political uprisings reached Michael Manley, who decided on a short Sunday visit to speak to his comrades about ending the community civil war. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon and although we were warned not to leave the house, we did. As soon as granny closed the gate.
We tip-toed behind cars for a glimpse at the happenings from afar. Although Manley’s bodyguards were on the look-out, scanning the surrounds at five second intervals while he urged followers to forge peace, they were not positioned at vantage points where they could see a die- hard JLP disciple, bending behind a shield of joseph coats in his front yard, aiming a slingshot at Manley’s head. We froze with fear and as soon as the small rock was launched from the rubber and landed on Manley’s forehead, we hopped on our bicycles and sped home like bees fleeing a hive under conflagration. My heart pounded and my chest tightened as we waited for the verdict of this daring act against granny’s leader. My hyperventilation subsided when Lief passed me a brown, one pound paper bag for oxygen stimulant. Swarms of police and men without uniforms and guns on their waists combed the area in search of the rebel.
I climbed on granny’s bed to peek out her window and my eyes met the slingshot man who was hiding behind her curtains. I was about to spring out of my faculties with frantic screams but he covered my mouth and motioned with an index finger for my silence. I nodded in approval before he removed his hand. He told me to be his look-out. Nod north to south when the bodyguards are in our yard and east to west when they are out of sight.
I followed his instructions.
When six bodyguards entered our yard, my cousins uncovered the rice and peas and stewed birds and pretended to eat. They asked if anyone came by and we nodded east to west in unison. When one of the bodyguards entered granny’s room, my heart fought to flee my chest with pounds that turned into bludgeons. A trepidation that smelled like death and tasted like mourning planted itself in my granny’s house as the pleasant looking man with unpleasant intensions dispatched a search of every room. I told him I was the only person in that room. It seems my persuasive skills were at their prime in that moment. He relented and implored me to sound an alarm if I saw anyone hiding or attempting to hide.
Granny came home when the bodyguards had left and she immediately noticed we were one bicycle light. She told us never to whisper a word to anyone. How she knew what happened, is something I still think of today, more often than not, this specific memory moves me to tears.
Raquel is a communications consultant and writer in Toronto, firstname.lastname@example.org