Haircuts And A Close Shave
by Orville Green
I got a pedal car as a Christmas gift when I was about five years old. It was unlike any I had seen or have seen since, in that unlike most pedal cars, the body was made of plywood (unlike the usual all-metal construction), it was chain-driven, and it could seat two abreast. I don’t know where or how my father acquired it, but I could tell it wasn’t new. But, it was red! In retrospect, I suppose it was of British origin because it had license plates similar to those I have seen since in England.
The incident that stands out in regard to this car occurred when I was six and my brother Derek was four. We had gone in the car to get our fortnightly haircut at Barber Moses’ shop on Penn Street (opposite Sterret's bakery) and, having been shorn -- after spending much of the morning and a small part of the afternoon just waiting our turn -- we were returning home energetically by way of Brynes Street, then Love Street, and Manning Street.
Approaching Myers Street, I lined up for a right turn but maintained my speed as I made the turn, encountering an approaching cyclist almost immediately. As my car and his cycle collided, my instinct urged me to keep moving, while the cyclist and his bike parted company. My adrenaline kicked in like nitrous-oxide to a souped-up car engine, and I accelerated along Myers Street toward the safety of hearth and home. I dared not look back to determine the cyclist’s plight but plunged headlong toward the downgrade just before reaching Price Street, and within sight of home.
Common-sense over-rode fear sufficiently to make me slow down as we approached Price Street, which normally carried enough pedestrian and vehicular traffic so as to invite caution. I prayed silently that there was nothing coming from either direction on Price Street, so I would not have to stop. Miraculously, there was no traffic on the street. It was then that I heard very loud, unnerving shouts coming from the left as I cautiously negotiated Price Street.
Taking a quick nervous glance in the direction of the noise, I saw a large crowd of men approaching from several streets away. The noise was attracting other people from the side streets. It seemed that time stood still as I tried to make some sense of what was happening. Slowly, it occurred to my six-year-old mind that news of my encounter with the cyclist must have spread, and that the mob was in pursuit of me to seek vengeance!
Catching a second wind, I completed traversing Price Street and darted toward home which was now only a few chains ahead. I could see my father standing at our gate, and I wondered why people were running past me toward Price Street. It was then that it registered in my very confused consciousness that Derek had been bawling for some time; but I was too focused on escaping the angry mob to provide him any consolation. Then, within a few feet of our gate, I eased myself onto the seat of the car and abandoned it in full speed, dashed past my father and into the house, seeking refuge under my grandma’s bed.
Later, I learned that my father had chased the driverless runaway car and rescued its almost-hysterical sole occupant.
I also heard talk about mad people in the streets and rioting all over town.
Much later in life I confirmed that a traumatic incident had indeed occurred that day - it was a riot orchestrated by Alexander Bustamante, trade union leader, who eventually became Jamaica’s first Prime Minister. The day became known as Black Saturday.