By Robert Lalah
It all happened so quickly. The shirtless man with the towel on his head darted down East Street, downtown Kingston, like he had just been fired from a cannon. Every four or five strides he looked over his shoulder.
Now there's something about a man with no shirt on running in Kingston that causes everyone around to take notice. Especially when he's running like his life depends on it. And so it was in this case that happened last week.
People stopped what they were doing to watch him. When things like this happen, the thinking is that the runner is either a thief, trying to catch a thief, part of a bloodthirsty mob, or being chased by one of these mobs.
It wouldn't be long before it became clear which category this fellow belonged to.
At the intersection of North and East streets, they appeared. Three or four men, all wiry with pinkish faces - the result, I imagine, of skin bleaching or some cruel form of dermatitis.
"Hold di bwoy!" one of them shouted. Someone at the other end of the street replied with a question: "Weh him do?" With the noise of traffic and the commotion of all this running around, the response, if there was one, got lost in the wind. But this didn't do anything to hamper the efforts of the pursuers.
Joining the chase
People who had just a few seconds earlier been going about their own business, without hesitation joined the chase for the shirtless man. Vendors abandoned their stalls, schoolboys dropped their knapsacks and one bicycle rider deposited his passenger on the sidewalk, all to carry out the instructions of three or four pink-faced men.
The last I saw of the man being hunted, he was making a left turn at an intersection with no fewer than nine people chasing him, some holding objects that, from a distance, looked like broomsticks. I still can't figure out how they got their hands on these so quickly.
The most alarming part of the ordeal occurred when the driver of a Coaster bus slowed his vehicle and stuck his head out the window to ask, "Wah happen?"
One of the pink-faced men who had by now stopped running, since the baton had been successfully passed to others, gave a response. "Run go ketch di bwoy! Kill we ah kill him today!"
It seemed that was all the bus driver needed to hear. With that, he stepped on the gas and joined the chase. The bus, which was full of passengers, by the way, rounded the corner with great speed and then disappeared.
I have no idea what became of the shirtless man or the mob chasing him that morning. Where I was standing, it took only a couple of minutes for things to quiet back down. Those who hadn't joined the pursuit soon went back to what they were doing before all this happened. The pink-faced men, looking quite pleased with themselves, walked calmly down East Street, I suppose, to check on the work of their new-found minions.
This kind of thing is not unusual. Especially now with mob attacks being the preferred method of executing of justice.
You have to wonder, though, how people can be so easily convinced that someone they have no prior knowledge of should be killed for his sins. It's even more troubling that there were so many people ready to commit the act themselves. It's hardly likely, after all, that having caught the shirtless man, the mob would have led him gently to the nearest police station to be questioned by those trained to do so.
His guilt was decided the moment someone yelled, "Hold him!" And that's a scary thought. What if it were a case of mistaken identity? Suppose the shirtless man was actually being robbed and trying to outrun the thieves? Maybe the thieves knew how to get gullible people to do their dirty work for them. You'd have to give them credit. That plan would have worked perfectly.
We're all fed up with criminals. But even in our frustration, we should try hard not to become those we most despise.
Robert Lalah is assistant editor - features, and author of the popular Tuesday feature, 'Roving with Lalah'. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.