“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!
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!
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.
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.
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.