Too close an encounter.
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, near 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.
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 from 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.
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.
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 concrete 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.
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.
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.