Wed | Oct 21, 2020

Mark Wignall | Seven seconds of hell

Published:Sunday | September 13, 2020 | 12:06 AM

It was just another ordinary, boring Tuesday morning, and I was out and about in my usual haunt. In the 1980s and 1990s, it would be Ackee Walk, Grants Pen, Casava Piece, and Bull Bay. In the nights when Tino Geddes was alive it would be Denham Town and Kencot. For a brief while I befriended some folks who were regular patrons of a house bar in upper Arnett Gardens.

Then there was another dive at the corner of Matthews Lane and Water Lane. At these places, the people I would meet would be the good, the bad, the indifferent, the lovelorn, and just those who came to vent and promise violence on those who they said had done them wrong. Many just wanted someone with a calming voice to speak to them after a good listen.

In time, as I befriended many, I gained unusual insight into many of those who were poor, powerless, and voiceless. And especially those whose working tools was the gun.

Last Tuesday, I left the ATM at Lees Food Fair and stopped by one of my favourite haunts on Red Hills Road. I was in the car for about 15 minutes in a phone conversation with my friend who lives in Ocho Rios.

After I exited, I walked inside the bar-cook shop. Chupski loves the chef’s liver and fried dumplings. That was not on the breakfast menu that morning. In any case, she would not be fully awake until 9:30. I bought a beer, walked outside, and sat on a rickety wooden bench to the right of the door. In COVID-19 times, I just wanted the bench to myself.

WORLD EXPLODED

Another friend of mine living in Florida called, and it was during that call that my immediate world exploded. It was close to 8 a.m. Out of seemingly nowhere, there was gunfire. Looking back at it now, I do not recall what instinct drove me to hit the deck, get flat.

From the first sound of gunfire to when it died, it could not have been more than seven seconds, but to me it was a lifetime. As I remained flat ,the car with the gunmen aboard was speeding off down a road heading south. Fragments of concrete just above my head were chipping away, and again, I found the time to twist my head too see the car speeding away, two hands with guns still firing.

I could tell what colour the car was not. Not red, green, yellow, blue, silver. It could have been either grey or faded white. While still on the ground, I noticed that I was bleeding from somewhere near my right upper arm, but I was still in a horrible state of confusion. Was I dying? Or maybe, was I dead?

There is no playbook for responding to fear

My immediate fear was that I would not be able to stand up. I used my left hand to raise my right sleeve. The bicep muscle was gashed, but crazily, against my T-shirt was a smashed bullet. I could make out the lines of copper against the lead. What was it doing there? I placed it in my pocket as I stood up.

Well, I was standing. I strode into the cook shop and asked the lady to rip a piece of cloth to make a tourniquet of sorts above the bleeding wound. I then headed for my car with the intention of going for Chupski to carry me to the hospital. Then another reality hit me. What would I tell her if she was not to go raging mad with fear herself.

As I opened the car door it occurred to me that other people were wounded. “Mr Wignall, yu a go hospital?” said someone. I told him yes

It was at that time that something else tripped in me. The fear of facing the lady was ripping away at me. My objective changed immediately. By then, I had determined that one person was shot in the upper leg and another in the belly region.

HEADED TO THE HOSPITAL

I drive a seven-seater. Persons nearby placed the person with the more serious shot in the gut in the seat immediately behind me. The other person was placed in the passenger seat, and away we headed to the University Hospital.

As I drove, I could not help but gaze down intermittently at my still bleeding upper right arm. By then I was, basically, driving with my left hand, and the right was simply resting on the steering wheel. The man behind me was expressing his pain in silent but terrifying moan after moan.

At one time, as I neared Hope Pastures, I felt as if I was about to pass out, but I realised that it was not anything physical. Maybe the fear had begun to sink in. Immediately, I started to psych myself into backing out of that low feeling. Just something I had learned over the years.

At the hospital, the A&E was, surprisingly, not jam-packed. Eventually, my wound was dressed, an X-Ray was done 45 degrees apart on the arm and on the chest. On Thursday morning, I visited Mannings Hill Health Centre to change the dressing. And, of course, I am on an antibiotic regime for at least the next week.

On the very day of the shooting, I received a text from a lady thanking me for carrying her brother to the hospital. She indicated that he was having surgery to have the bullet removed from his gut region.

WARRING FACTIONS AND TOO MANY GUNS

On Thursday morning, a senior policeman called me. “Mr Wignall, if you should go back to the scene of the shooting and look at the wall just right behind the bench where you were seated, you will realise that you are one of the luckiest men alive. Pure gun shot holes in the wall. We recovered 14 spent shells, but they probably fired more than 14 rounds. We know you were not the target, but sleep in the same place yu sleep the night before it happened.”

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.