Since our newly formed basketball team had a very small half-court to play on, we used a nearby field to run drills and build our stamina and smooth our rhythm. On one of these practice sessions, we were running a 3-man passing drill the length of the field. I was the last one to catch the ball for my trio and was going to finish with a dramatic slam dunk pantomime, but pushed off of a rut, severely twisted my ankle, and landed in a writhing heap.
Apparently this was very funny to my teammates. The whole gang of ten scrambled up to surround me with ridiculously panicked looks on their faces. I grinned through my grimace. Someone shouted, “Oh my gaawd. Don’t move him. Get a stretcher.” This is when I started to get that I was in for it. The wooden stretcher was there in the time it took for four young legs to chew up the two hundred yards to the infirmary and then back.
They got dirt in my eyes and ears dropping the thing next to me, just about all twenty hands tossed me onto it, and without a pause or a count or anything resembling coordination of effort, they hoisted the stretcher in the air, assuming I would manage to come along with it. I hovered there for a moment while they tried to run away from each other, then they skittered one way then the next, before finally striking off in the general direction of medical attention.
Their rescue plan took shape: Get the stretcher to the infirmary; it was the patient’s responsibility to remain aboard. As we barreled along – with me placing “Oh Jesus” and “Oh shit” between moans – I looked down between my feet – one throbbing and flopping, the other pawing desperately at the edge of the stretcher – to see the grass-walled building that housed the kitchen, laundry, and infirmary bouncing toward me at an alarming rate. We had a raised path, an embankment, a road, and a second embankment still to clear before we were at the building. If I survived that – or even if I didn’t – my rescuers would have to negotiate three steps, a thirty-inch wide door, and a sharp left turn to place my tortured foot in front of a nurse.
I was sure we’d be slowing down any minute. After leaping the path, they increased speed on the downward embankment, presumably to build momentum for the upward bank on the other side of the road, which they cleared with a glory cry. I hooked both edges with every limb – including the one that was nearly twice its normal size and thumping in protest – and tried to grab the hard, bouncing flatness beneath me with my butt-cheeks to keep from sliding backwards off the end and landing in the road on my head. Had that happened, I probably would have watched from a quadriplegic haze as they charged ahead, thrilled by the increase in speed brought on by suddenly being 170 pounds lighter.
As it turned out I managed to hold on, but enjoyed no relief as our breakneck continued over the last 40 feet to the porch. Someone shouted that the stretcher was wider than the door – which was open, thank God. No problem. As they lowered me from overhead to torso level – without breaking speed as far as I could tell – they turned the stretcher sideways and we charged through the door – peeling carriers on both sides – with me suspended from the crook of my left arm and leg, and my injured foot dangling just inches above the floor. The remaining six of them swooped the corner, dumped me in the middle of a bunch of laughing whitecoats, did the job-well-done dusting off of their hands, and sauntered out of the room without a word.
We were all we had – and needed – in that timeless moment of freedom.
(Stephan Jones is a frequent contributor to the jonestown report. His other articles in this edition are Johnny Brown: Taking Care of His Own, Death’s Night, and Reunion. He was also a speaker during the Griot Institute of African Studies lecture series entitled Jonestown: 35 Years Later at Bucknell University; his presentation appears on this page (scroll down the videos). His earlier writings for this website appear here. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)