Sat | Aug 18, 2018

Book review:'Wednesday' is poignant and enthralling

Published:Sunday | August 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Title: If I am not back by Wednesday

Author: Geoffrey Haddad

Publisher: Kingston Communications/Great House Books

Reviewer: Paul H. Williams

In December 1967, five Jamaica College students, including Geoffrey B. Haddad, decided to hike to the peak of the Blue Mountains via an uncharted route. It was by chance Haddad got into the group, it seems, as one of the original hikers had dropped out. Yet, he didn't tell his father, Badia 'BS' Haddad, for whatever reason about his trek.

It was a fellow hiker who divulged the 'secret', and though helping to prepare Geoffrey for the trip, father and son avoided each other. "I honestly do not remember if it was I who told my father about the trip being more than a day's hike, or whether he had heard it from George. I'm pretty sure, however, that I never saw him at all that Saturday morning as I got ready to leave," Geoffrey B. Haddad writes in his book, If I am not back by Wednesday, which is named after a comment he made to a friend prior to embarking upon the trip.

Well stocked and equipped, the youngsters set off into the hills. But the virgin territory they were to chart tuned out to be much more challenging than they could have ever imagined. And by Day 4 they had run out of water. In an effort to find such, they found themselves lost on a precipitous ridge. The days and nights to follow were filled with untold suffering, misery and fear, and narrow escapes.

For instance, Haddad writes, "I gambled and waited. The seconds that followed seemed protracted and unreal. When the moment passed, I saw I was again clinging to some tiny tree, with no memory of how or when my arm stretched to grab on to it. I lay there still groaning, but holding on for dear life. I felt dazed, with my thoughts coming hard and fast, fuelled by the fear that this was the start of the end. I won't be able to walk, I thought."

Many thoughts were in the youngsters' heads melding and wallowing with their frustration. One such reflection for Haddad was on what he had said to a friend about the trip: "I'd last seen my trusted friend, Robin Crawford. I told him that our hiking plans were unconventional and asked him to keep them secret, especially from my father. Why worry him needlessly? 'Call out the army,' I remember saying to him, however jokingly, 'if we're not back by Wednesday, December 20'."

It wasn't just the army that was called out, for back in St Andrew, there was much alarm and panic. Even the newspapers followed the story. Haddad's home became the epicentre of the flurry surrounding the efforts to find the young men. Family, friends, and acquaintances were overwhelmed by anxiety and fear that they might not be found.

In the mountains, Haddad was hoping that Crawford would be a key element in their rescue. "Now, I was hoping and praying that Robin would remember the half joke - and take it seriously. I had said it in such a glib manner, and now Wednesday had not found us safely home. ... I hoped now that my friend's intuition about trouble would spur him to do something. My parting words to Robin gnawed at me. What had been flippant to my mind turned out to be deadly to his," Haddad writes.

Eventually, daring helicopter rescues saved the young men's lives, and now, more than 45 years later, Haddad's book about their ordeal is ready. "This is the story that burned inside me for more than 40 years every year, especially on the anniversary. I am still haunted by the events of my 1967 Christmas season; in fact, I had nightmares about this ordeal every December for 20 years. I've told the story to myself and others many times over, always arriving at the same conclusion: I really shouldn't be alive."

Alive he is to tell the tale of the trip he would never forget, according to his father, after hearing of the trip the night before their departure. "I remember being curious about the conversation George had with my father the night before ... George was quite sure my father had said to him more than once that this was 'a trip we would never forget'. It was vaguely unsettling to hear that. Was my father referring to the jungle beauty that we would encounter on our trail? Or did he somehow have an inkling that we were asking for trouble by taking an outlaw path up the mountain?"

Those questions were perhaps never answered, but Wednesday, Haddad writes, is "in loving memory of my father, Badia 'BS' Haddad (1911-2001) who gave me everything, including his heritage and his good name, and for Isabella Rachel, the joy of my life". It was inspired by another book, The Search, written by Hartley Neita, which documents the 1939 loss and rescue of five boys, also from Jamaica College, in the Blue Mountains.

Among other things, Wednesday is a poignant yet enthralling story of youthful naivete, adventure and survival told with admirable candour. It also gives an insight into the lives and lifestyles of privileged Jamaicans in the 1960s.