New Year 2017

Tynemouth Beach

As 2016 draws to a close,only two days and a few hours to go, and we reflect on all its challenges, changes and opportunities, let’s make some great resolutions for 2017.

I am the eternal optimist and see opportunities in every incident, in every crisis. Now is not a time to ease up and relax, now is a time to dare, to act and to endure.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer”. Albert Camus.

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It doesn’t matter what others do better than you, beat your own record every day and you will be a success. Pace, perseverance and perfection.

The only way to miss the success is to miss the opportunities that are in front of us.

Be confident and be that success.

Make your words [your thoughts] be manifest and come to life.

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My personal resolutions for each and every day are quite simple and are taken from Winston Churchill: “To have the courage to stand up and speak and the courage to sit down and listen, to never submit to failure, and to never be comfortable with mere personal successes or acceptances”.

There is a saying “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. I would like to add that evil will also triumph when the good SAY nothing.

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Author Anna Sewell [March 30, 1820 to April 25, 1878] put it another way: My doctrine is this, that if we see wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.”

Carry this into our home, play and work life and we will see it’s doing WHAT’S RIGHT, THE RIGHT WAY, AT THE RIGHT TIME, EVERY TIME, for each other and for this land we love.

eiffel-towerStay aware, stay secure and stay safe throughout the year.

Together we can.

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Burglary at Bougainville 1966.

Too close an encounter.

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Jay was tired. Throughout the evening his parent’s friends had been partying away. It was a week before Christmas and his father was keeping a ‘bring a bottle’ party. His mother had prepared finger food for everyone, and apart from being well tired, Jay was stuffed full.

Jay was eleven years old and in first form at Campion College, but even so he had taken a drink of his father’s Scotch. Johnnie Walker. Jay didn’t like it but he drank half the glass anyway. Since that night, Jay has never drunk Scotch again, didn’t like the smell or the taste. His father was a Scotch man, having one glass every evening after work at 6:00 pm. Never before.

Jay said goodnight to his mother and the people she was talking to and went to bed.

His sisters had already gone upstairs to their bedroom, secured by a grilled locked gate at the foot of the stairs. Jay slept downstairs, neajackfruit-treer to his parent’s room. There was a jackfruit tree outside his bedroom window, and Jay had got used to the smell that filled his room. Got used to it, but as Scotch, never liked it, and to this day he has never tried jackfruit, remembering the smell outside his bedroom window every time he sees one.

Outside the room, in the garden, but on a slightly higher level, Jay saw some party people talking and drinking by the swing.

He lay in bed, looking through the open curtains at the garden on three levels. It was big, the house was big.

Jay slept.

Sometime later he woke. There were people in his room. Jay thought it must be his father showing a friend around the house and he mumbled good night and rolled over facing the wall. Next thing Jay felt was a glove over his mouth and a voice he didn’t know telling him to be quiet. A flashlight was turned on and Jay saw three men. Right away he saw a crowbar in the hands of the tallest of the three.

One man was holding Jay’s model flintlock gun. Jay had built it flintlockfrom a set and it sat in its own cradle on a small desk. It was made of plastic,
and Jay had spent hours gluing it together and painting it. Jay told the man it was only a toy, the man looked at the model gun again and put it down quietly.

The shortest man told him to get up and Jay did. He was not going to argue. He got up, wearing his pyjama bottoms only, and the short man held him by his arm and led him out the room, into the living room, past the bar and dining room and outside onto the big back open patio.nicky-1970

They moved him in front of a wall where Jay used to sit and draw, and write. Jay was cold. He remembers the cold. And he remembers the knives, ratchet knives. Two of the men had ratchet knives in their hands. Jay had one hidden in his room but his parents didn’t know he had one. He had bought it at the little grocery shop in Constant Spring. The short man let him go then and asked where the money was.

Jay said what money and realised the men thought people paid to come to the party. He said to the short man that it wasn’t that kind of party, everyone just carried a drink, a bottle. Everything was free.

The crowbar tall man looked menacingly at Jay and said let’s kill him now. Jay looked at him puzzled and replied don’t bother with that. The short man smiled at Jay’s remark, and said they are not going to kill him.

Up to now, Jay was not afraid. And he still was not afraid. He was more annoyed than anything else. Later would be time to be afraid, but not now. Now he was just cold. The night air was cold.

The short man laughed quietly and said again they weren’t going to hurt Jay, they just wanted the money. Jay replied that there is no money. The short man held Jay again by his arm and walked back into the house, the other two following behind Jay and the short man. Jay knew the short man was the leader.

They went straight to the room down the passageway from Jay’s room, and as they were opening the door Jay called out loud. He got punched in the back of his head and pushed into the room. By then his father was out of bed, and his mother was getting up, both seeing quickly what was happening.

Jay knew his father did not have a gun. His mother started shouting at the top of her voice then, as did his father. No matter how the men pushed and told them to shut up, they kept on shouting. The house was big though, the garden was big. Jay wondered if any neighbours would hear.

The men had no time to look through drawers or anything as there was so much noise now. Jay thought the neighbours must hear. He watched as two men grabbed his mother and pulled her out the room, leaving crowbar tall man with Jay and his father. Jay saw his father box the tall man, and grab onto him. The man hit him with the crowbar, on his father’s raised arm.

Jay was scared now. And he shouted.

His father pushed down the tall man, kicked him hard in his jaw and ran out the room, Jay following as fast as he could. Shouting. Through the living room and to the long dining room with the long dark mahogany dining table, Jay saw his mother with her back to the bar, lifting a bottle of rum in her right hand, the short man struggling with her.

As she lifted the bottle to hit the short man, he brought the ratchet knife down hard, slicing her forehead.

His mother dropped the bottle. In slow motion, or that’s how it seemed at the time, Jay watched as his father scooped up the bottle before it hit the ground, and holding the neck smashed the bottom part on the bar. He moved towards the two men, everything happening in an unreal frightening slow motion, the jagged bottle in his father’s extended arm, slashing as if to stab them in their faces or necks.

Jay did not even know that the tall man had run out the room behind them, but all he saw was three men forcing themselves out the double doors they must have broken into earlier. Two pairs of shoes stayed at the doorway. Jay figured one of the men had kept on his shoes. He smiled.

And then it was quiet, real quiet, his father pressing a rum soaked bar cloth on his mother’s forehead wound while calling the Constant Spring Police. His mother kept telling him to stop pressing so hard, it was no big thing. Jay wondered how she knew, when all he could see was the cloth, now dark red, drops of blood spilling onto his mother’s nightie.

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Jay walked onto the back patio, looking to see if the men were still around. He walked as far as the swing. No one. He walked to the neighbour’s three strand barbed wire fence. No one.

The Police came to the house. The station was about ten minutes away. The officers walked around the property, along the partial fence lines, guns in their hands.

The side of the house on Stillwell Road only had hibiscus plants as a barrier, and there was an opening with cimg_0433oncrete steps leading from the road to the back patio. The driveway from Old Stony Hill Road did not have a gate.

The Police said the men walked from the top corner, where the neighbour’s house met ours. They showed Jay the footprints and cigarette butts. There was a spliff end as well. The Police said it looked as if they had been there a while, watching, waiting.

The Police left one of their team, the Sergeant saying they would pick him up in the morning. Jay thought that was good of them.

Jay’s sisters were still asleep. His mother said leave them alone, they could hear all about it in the morning. At breakfast four hours later they sat in awe as Jay told them what had happened.

During the day friends of his parents came around. They all wanted to speak to Jay. They wanted to hear his story. He was the star. He didn’t feel like a star. Everyone said how brave he was. Jay didn’t feel brave. Jay thought his father was the star. And the brave one.

Jay remembers Miss P the most. She always had something good to say to Jay, to say about Jay. Even in his rude boy days later on, and after. Always a kind word, encouragement. To this day. Always making Jay feel good about himself.

Jay was just glad it was all over. And no one was hurt badly. His mother’s wound had been stitched by the family doctor who came around early on his way to work. Nine stitches.

One week later Jay’s father took him to the Constant Spring Police Station. When they got there the Officer in Charge told them that he was going to take them into a room where two men would be sitting on a bench. Jay and his father were to pretend they were asking about a missing car, but they were to look at the men and see if they recognised them, if they were the same men who had broken into their house.

When they walked into the room, there were two other Police Officers there, and two men sitting on chairs. Both men were bleeding badly from their mouths and noses. Both had bruised and swollen eyes. Jay noticed they were handcuffed to the metal bench. The bench was anchored to the ground as well.

Jay glanced at the men, so did his father. They asked the officer about their stolen car. The officer said they were looking for it.

Jay and his father looked at the men again and then left the room. The Officer in Charge asked if they recognised the men. Neither Jay nor his father had. The officer said they would process the men some more. Jay understood what he meant.

To this day, Jay does not know whether the men he was shown were the men who had broken into their house. There was no repeat and they lived there for 5 more years. And the fence stayed as it was, with no gate on Stillwell Road and no gate at the driveway on Old Stony Hill Road. The tall guinep tree in the corner of the two roads, and bougainvillea lining the front fence.

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Jay passes the house now and then. It has not changed, still no gate at the driveway. The garden has got smaller with two other houses built on it, and someone got rid of the guinep tree, replacing it with a solitary tall fir. And the bougainvillea still lines the front fence along Old Stony Hill Road, though the once low block wall is now partially collapsing.

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And Jay smiles every time he drives past the house, thinking about his family, his parents no more, and his sisters abroad. Jay remains in Jamaica. It is his home.

Jamaican Garrisons 1976

Ecclesiastes 1:9. ‘The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun’.

Jay stood by the gate, the white painted column to his right and the tall bushy tamarind tree at his back, both blocking him from walk foot and vehicle traffic passing by, allowing him to see everything happening on the road without anyone seeing him. These were rough times and Jay liked to keep a low profile. It was Friday night, four weeks before Christmas and two weeks before the 1976 general elections and Jay was waiting for his friend Blacka to pick him up. Jay just knew Blacka would pick him up, just like he did every Friday night and they would travel together through Kingston.

Jay had met Blacka when he needed a radiator repair man – he found him on Eastwood Park Road and Blacka fixed his Ford Anglia. Their spirits took to each other, and often times they would just sit and drink a Heineken, smoke a spliff and talk about things. Two years after their first meeting, Jay sold Blacka the Anglia – not working for 6 months, he needed the extra cash to tide him over, and used some of the money to buy an old black Honda S90 to get around on, not a ride to be wandering through Kingston on a Friday night.

Jay was 21 years old, and still hidden by the column and the tall tree, razor sharp in his black Arrow shirt, tailor made lengths and Clark’s desert boots, he started musing on friendships. He learnt early in life that when you have cash in your pocket, then friends are a dime a dozen – you can buy them a beer, or a spliff, or put on a chalice or two, or pay for them to go to a dance, but when you’re not earning you don’t see them.

Blacka was different. Blacka was the one who would check Jay now and then and see he was okay. Blacka would just pass by sometimes and give Jay a $2 note, sometimes more. And always a Heineken.

And then he heard the Anglia coming, the big muffler pulsing along Mannings Hill Road by Mary Brown’s Corner. Jay fixed his brown Kangol beret tighter on his head, walked out and got into the Anglia as Blacka pulled over by the column. Out and away before the car even fully stopped. Synchronised steppa!

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Blacka handed him a Heineken. And a $2 bill. Jay said thanks, but knew he didn’t have to. Blacka was just like that, he knew Jay would buy him a beer, it was how they moved.

Down Constant Spring Road, over Sandy Gully bridge, past busySONY DSC plazas and into Half Way Tree, calling out to the dreads selling pants lengths by the sidewalk, Blacka turning onto Hagley Park Road. Half Way Tree was alive.

Down the road to Three Miles, the roundabout was clear, Blacka held a second gear and the brown and white Anglia purred in and then out onto Marcus Garvey Drive and over the train line.

Blacka said he wanted to date a Twelve Tribes of Israel girl, said he liked how they moved and reasoned. Jay smiled. Jay had carried Blacka to a few Jah Love Musik sessions – Ilawi the selector and Brigadier Jerry as DJ. Blacka had been fascinated by the women with their red, gold and green wraps and their long dresses.

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They turned left into Industrial Terrace and then into Tivoli. West Kingston. Tivoli was a maze of roads, and Jay knew if he had to find his own way out he would be in trouble. They parked near to a group of men sitting around a small burning fire and got out the car, the smell of ganja all around and smoke from a chalice drifting ever upwards into the dark of the night sky.

Jay sat on a concrete block to the left of a standing man in a white string vest, a huge shining gun tucked in his waist. The man held a coconut chalice in his left hand, and chanted ‘Fire bun Joshua, kill, cramp and paralyse Michael MenLie and all socialist conception, praises ever to Uncle Eddie’, before blazing the cup, hiding his upper body and head in smoke when he exhaled.

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A little apprehensive when he was handed the chillum, Jay took a couple sips of the cup before passing it to his left. He was desperately hoping the chalice would not burn out on him on its return, as Jay knew he would have to light a fresh cup while giving praises. Lighting a chillum took effort, and he figured the men would be listening to every word he said. Blacka sat quietly smiling. He was enjoying himself. He knew Jay was not into politics.

They spent a couple of hours with the group, some of the men talking about politics and how the government was mashing up the country. They talked about destroying their enemies. Jay listened, nodding his head now and then when someone caught his attention with a comment.

He didn’t say much, the herb and the Heineken in his head. It’s how Jay got, a little withdrawn, and a little deep into his thoughts, thoughts now of how the political elite was wrecking Jamaica, how they brought about the tribalism that had the poor fighting and killing each other for the spoils and political patronage. He despised the politicians. They were not leaders, they were not teachers, they were vampires, only caring for what was in their own best interest, no real love for the poor of the land, making themselves rich off the back and sweat of the poor through corruption.

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Jay looked up and saw Blacka talking to the man in the white string vest, the huge .357 magnum glistening in the firelight.

The next moment they were on the move again, back into the Anglia, out of Tivoli, and about 14 minutes later they drove into Arnett Gardens, lovingly called Jungle. Concrete Jungle. Another garrison community, this time allied to the government in power.

Jay sat quietly, pondering, thinking this is so near general elections and he and Blacka have driven only 14 minutes from a labourite stronghold to a socialist one.

Garrisons. Guns. Gangs. In both communities. ag

He shook his head and must have sighed as Blacka asked him if everything was okay.

Before Jay could respond, a dreadlocked man with three upper gold teeth, each one sparkling with a diamond shaped coloured glass – red, gold and green – got up off a stool outside a small bar on a corner and walked over to the Anglia. The dread smiled warmly and Jay realised he had met him before, but he couldn’t remember where. The dread’s teeth flashed briefly yet brightly in the glare of a street light, and he beckoned Jay and Blacka to come.

Jay got out the car and the dread took them through the bar and out the back door, picking up three Red Stripe beers from a small fridge on the counter of the bar, telling the shapely bar lady to keep a look out. Behind the bar was a yard and house, and sitting around were 5 young men, all about Jay’s age, music playing quietly from two large speaker boxes set diagonally from one another. A sixth man was playing the music. Jay remembered hearing ‘Silhouettes’ by Dennis Brown. Three dogs were lying by a mango tree at the side of the house. Minding their own business, every now and then giving a low growl, as if to say don’t worry we are not sleeping.

One of the men was cleaning a sawn-off shotgun, his upper body and head moving to the music. He worked methodically. With pride.

The dread called a youngster and told him to bring the board and chalice. Jay thought not again, he was already quiet enough, but knew he would have to join in. The Red Stripe beer was going down a treat, no more after this one Jay said to himself.

Dennis Brown again with ‘If I follow my heart’. The music was background. Nice calm lovers’ music, and Jay was enjoying himself. Being a little away from the main was good, hidden behind the bar offering solitude and distance from passing people.

The dread was now seated and cutting up the herb, the youngster who had brought it from behind the house sitting next to him. The dread introduced him as his son, he must have been about ten years old. His name was Marcus. Jay looked at the youngster who nodded his head at him. Jay nodded back. He liked it here.

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Jay saw the chalice, made of grey PVC plastic and shaped like a V. Vikings? The dread blessed the offering, this time no political chants, just praises to the Highest, asking for protection from the forces of evil. Jay felt better. Much better.

The man cleaning the shotgun pushed a Honda 50 big head from the side of the house, and with the shotgun wrapped in a cloth hailed up everyone and went through a zinc side gate and out onto the road. Jay asked the dread if he would be okay, and the dread told him he was not going far, just down the road, and the area was well guarded. Jay nodded.

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But he knew deep down that the shotgun was to be used in the tribal wars, whether for attack or defense. A shudder ran through him. Politics again. The so called political elite, using poor people for their ends and means. Jay hated them and what they had caused, what they were causing.

The cup was passed around, the music playing. This time Bob Marley’s Concrete Jungle, still background. Jay was deep in thought and felt a gentle touch on his right arm. He looked around and saw the dread passing him the cup, looked into his sad yet kind and gentle eyes and remembered he had met him on Long Lane, opposite the National Water Commission treatment plant. He and Blacka had given him a drive down the hill to Constant Spring. It was the eyes, the sadness that Jay saw deep within them then, and saw now, the same silent sad struggle that Jay could only wonder about. He liked the dread, a kindred spirit, a nomad walking through the trails, and trials & tribulations, of this life.

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Jay knew he would be back. After elections, though. He was going to speak to Blacka, as moving like they did back and forth between ‘east and west’, between capitalism & socialism, was not safe. Too easy a target as political tribalism was just too raw, too contrived, poor people fighting for their lives and existence, for money and contracts, at the beck and call of the big man.

They both said their goodbyes and left the yard and bar, the dread’s son Marcus following them to the Anglia. Protection. It was a silent drive back to Constant Spring Road, apart from the deep purr of the car. No roadblocks tonight. Jay was glad.

When Jay was getting out of the car, Blacka said he wanted to go to the Twelve Tribes HQ next week. Jay said sure, but no more east and west for now, elections were too near. Blacka agreed.

Forty years later Jay looks back in history at Jamaica and its lack of growth, its indiscipline and criminality, it’s number 5 ranking in the world for per capita murders, it’s below standard education and its endless poverty, and he still blames and despises the political elite, those who brought tribal war to the land of wood and water, who keep the people impoverished for their own means, for votes, who all lived, and live, grown fat in their grilled & alarmed uptown houses while they manipulate the poor and less educated, the oppressed of the land.

And Jay knows that very little has changed in those 40 years. Cosmetic changes. The poor are still poor. And uneducated. What a waste of years.

With a sad and sombre look in his eyes, remembering the dread with the gold teeth, Jay thinks things may never change.

‘The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun’.

 

Angels are real

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“For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and cobra, the young lion and the serpent you will trample down”. Psalms 91 verse 11 to 13

Jay was an 18-year-old uptown rebel, just finished school and hanging out at herb camps. He had borrowed a friend’s Honda 500 Four for the weekend. Lovely bike, great sound, rode like a dream. His friend had borrowed Jay’s Ford Anglia.

On Sunday, Jay picked up another friend, Louman, and after burning a chalice at Sonny Beard’s in Brooks Level, they decided to ride to Cable Hut beach for a swim, a Heineken and some curry goat. They set out at about 1:30pm from Stony Hill. The road was Sunday quiet all the way through Kingston, down Mountain View, along Rockfort and onto the dual carriageway, the Honda 400 purring like a lion, past the Flour Mills and straight into a road block!

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The Police pulled him over, and Jay got off the bike and handed them the papers, explaining he did not have his licence with him. The Inspector asked for his name and Jay told him it was John Peterson [the actual owner of the bike]. He asked him where he lived, and of course Jay gave him John’s address. The Inspector smiled and told Jay to sit in the ‘jump-out’, an ‘endearing’ and feared term for the Landrovers with the open back – they enabled the Police to ‘jump out’ quickly if there was a problem on the roads!

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When Jay asked him why, he just smiled again and told Jay he was not being straight with him.

Jay begged Louman to get someone to bail him out, no family, and sat in the Land Rover. There were already 3 people there and after about 30 minutes they set off, reaching the Rockfort Police Station in about 10 minutes, Police officers riding the 4 motorbikes, dollying in and out of traffic as if they rode every day. Jay and the three men were all led to the guard room and told to sit down.

After about three hours at Rockfort station, the jump-out returned and they were told to get back in. When Jay asked where they were going, the Inspector said ‘Central Police Station’. In horror Jay said quietly ‘Just for riding my bike without my licence?’. The Inspector only smiled again.

Twenty minutes later and they pulled into Central Police Station, an old brick building constructed in the days of colonial rule, surrounded by a tall red brick wall, the bricks shipped all the way from England.

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They were told to get out, and were led to a desk where sat two huge Sergeants – they wrote everyone’s name in a log book and were escorted up a flight of stairs and along a corridor to a metal grilled gate. When their escort turned the key, all Jay heard from inside was ‘Hey, bring Jakes here’ and ‘I want Jakes as my boy tonight’ – cups rattling across the bars of the cells.

Jay thought this was it, he was in trouble now. He was going to have to fight all night.

And then he heard a voice, ever so calm, ever so sure. One of the men who was stopped at the roadblock, a tall commanding figure, maybe 40 years of age, in his quiet gravely tone said ‘Youngster, don’t worry about anything, you are with me. Those meagre dogs are just barking”.

As they passed the first three cells, those who were shouting out went very silent and stepped back into the dark rank shadows of the cells as the tall man passed, with Jay right by his side, almost tucking himself under the tall man’s shoulder. When they reached the fourth cell, it was opened and the four of them were ushered inside. There were already three people in a cell built for two. They key turned loudly behind them.

The tall giant seemed to know everyone – no, everyone knew him. And awe and respect filled the cell, almost like the morning mist on the Blue Mountains. They all talked for a while, not about anything in particular, just passing time. Dinner came, bun and cheese with syrup and water. Jay gave away his to two brothers who shared the cell. They had told him they had been there for two weeks without being charged.

Jay sat down to a long night, wondering if Louman had found someone to bail him, but then he remembered it was Sunday, no bail on a weekend. It seemed like it was really going to be a long night. The feeling of not being free to move more than 8 feet in any direction was oppressive.

A few hours later, nodding off with his back against a wall, Jay heard a key turn, then another, and then a voice calling for John Peterson. Heart beating, Jay called back, and one of the huge sergeants told him to get up. He did, and the Sergeant unlocked the cell door. Jay said goodbye to everyone, and shook the hand of his tall unknown saviour.

They walked downstairs. The sitting Sergeant looked at Jay and said ‘Now tell me your real name, or I will send you back upstairs’. Jay did so sheepishly and the two Sergeants laughed and said “If your mother was not such a nice lady, you would be in here until Monday”. When Jay heard the word mother, he shook.

He walked outside into the night air, a cool breeze blowing off the ocean – Louman and his mother waiting by the car, his mother as silent as the night. Louman said he couldn’t get anyone else. Jay shrugged his shoulders and got into the car. It was a very quiet drive to Louman’s house and then home.

A week later Jay met his tall man once more, at the traffic court. Twenty of them were lined up in front of the judge. Twenty of them were fined $50. Twenty of them lined up outside to pay their fines. Jay only had $49.50, as he had bought a ten pack of Craven A for 50 cents on his way to court. He knew he was going back into a cell.

A hand touched his shoulder, and he looked around into the kind eyes of the tall man, handing him 50 cents.

When Jay had paid, and was leaving, he looked at his tall man and nodded his head, mouthing the words “Thank you”. The tall man put his hand to his heart and nodded back at him.

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Forty-three years later Jay still doesn’t know his tall man’s name, but remembers his kindness, his strength. And his silent authority. For those two moments in his life, Tall Man was Jay’s ‘angel, guarding him in all his ways’.

And he wished he had got to know him then.