Hornets to the Rescue

Ezra Azra

Copyright 2022 by Ezra Azra

Photo by Gilmer Diaz Estela at Pexels.
Photo by Gilmer Diaz Estela at Pexels.

I was fifteen years old. I worked part-time for mister Hackner, grocery store owner. Others like me worked at the same job. On Saturdays and Sundays only; the other days were school days. Mister Hackner did not hire school-age persons on school days. He declared he did not wish to interfere with one's school education.

We delivered groceries that had been bought. Sometimes, we delivered by wheel barrow; sometimes, by heavy hand-carried canvas bags. Usually, the destinations were so far away, each of us could manage only two deliveries a day. Mister Hackner paid sixpence a delivery. Most of the time I made more than sixpence in tips from the grocery customers.

Every one of us had scary encounters during our deliveries. These experiences were the main, if not the only, reason none of us continued being Hackner's delivery boys for more than a month-or-two of weekends. In those times, twelvepence (one shilling) a weekend, was fabulous riches to a teenager; yet not enough to make the risk of serious injury worth it. Most of the boys left because of injuries incurred during deliveries.

Like every other boy, I suffered a few dangerous happenings before I quit. Here are the last two.

I had finished my last delivery and was on my way back. The sun had set. There was still daylight. I was hurrying. It was nearly closing time. My wheelbarrow was empty. I was running-pushing fast on a sidewalk. There were houses along both sides of the road. I could still arrive in time to be paid my sixpence by mister Hackner.

Rain clouds were beginning to spit. I heard screaming coming from one of the homes. Sounded like more than one person. Out of one of the homes ahead a woman burst through the front door and came running down the paved walkway towards the road. Towards me!

For a few seconds I thought of turning around and going in the opposite direction. But, then, I definitely would not get paid by mister Hackner. I moved off the sidewalk onto the road.

A man emerged from the side of the home and ran towards the woman. He grabbed her by the hair. They struggled as they stepped onto the road. They were ahead of me. I stopped. I hurried to the other sidewalk. I guessed I still had a chance to get passed them. The guess proved wrong.

Their momentum thrust them right into my path. I twisted the barrow to avoid them. As the barrow turned, it clipped the man's leg from behind. He screamed as he tumbled into the barrow, having let go of the woman.

She took off down the road, running in the direction opposite to the one I was going. I tilted the barrow. The man tumbled out.

I backed up the barrow a few steps to get clear of him. I ran with the barrow. Fear drove me so much faster that I felt I was flying.

The speed with which I fled that crime scene brought me back to mister Hackner's seconds in time to collect my pay.

This next experience was the last straw for me. After it, I never went back to work for mister Hackner.

The worst part of the job was attacks by hooligans. Those thugs would not attack us on our way to the customers. If they had dared, they would have had to answer to mister Hackner. Everybody knew mister Hackner was the most violent creature on Earth. Even criminals in their anonymity, feared him.

On our way back with our money tips from mister Hackner's customers, we were fair game for hooligans. Sometimes in our flight from attacking thugs, we would arrive back at mister Hackner's after closing time. Mister Hackner did not pay wages after closing time. And so, if we thought running away from the bandits took us too far out of the way to arrive at mister Hackner's in time to get paid our sixpence, we would not bother to return, if we did not have mister Hackner's wheelbarrows to return.

We were thankful for the abundance of virgin wild jungle not far from any main road in the suburb. The hooligans generally broke off their chase if we scooted into the jungle. Dashing through the undergrowth always incurred ripped clothes and bloody scratches and gashes. The hooligans were always well-dressed.

Then, too, there were wild animals in the jungle; but with wild animals we were safe if we made a lot of noise. Wild animals fled from noise.

Snakes, monkeys, jackals. The danger from the small rodents was the holes they burrowed into the ground. I had accidentally stepped into a few of those, and fell to the ground. One of my brothers had been bitten by a snake.

When there were monkeys in the trees, nobody dared enter the jungle.

In an area that was being cleared in order to erect a building, a whole skeleton of an elephant had been uncovered.
In the section of a forest I used frequently for a shortcut, there was a giant tree. In its branches was a massive nest of hornets, or wasps. I knew enough about dangerous wasps and hornets to know they were easily angered by loud sounds. When I passed that massive tree, I took extreme care to be silent.

I remember a band of musicians celebrating in a public park, who had to stop playing, and run for cover because their beautiful music incurred the wrath of nearby wasps.

It was a Sunday morning. The best time for mister Hackner's deliveries. On Sunday mornings, grocery loads were not as heavy as at other times. They were heavier even on Sunday afternoons.

I had completed a hand-delivery, and was hastening back to mister Hackner to earn a second sixpence. I was approaching my shortcut when I was shot in the chest with a pellet rifle.

I was wearing khaki shirts and shorts. Because khaki in those days was thicker than denim, it provided safer protection than the denim of dungarees. The rifle pellet did not penetrate my shirt; it stuck in it. I felt the impact, but there was no pain of injury. I lost my balance, but saved myself from falling to the ground.

Two young adult men appeared running at me from behind. I ran a few steps and dashed into the jungle, expecting that to be the end of their attack. It was not. They dashed into the jungle after me.

Why? My tip? It was a bunch of coins I had not yet counted.

I was terrified, moreso because that was hornet territory. My pursuers were making a lot of reckless noise crashing through the undergrowth. And they were shouting, too! To be aggressive with such determination, they had to be drunk or on drugs.

I dropped to my hands and knees and clawed my way on the ground directly towards the hornet tree, silently. I was feeling utterly hopeless. When I reached the tree, I crawled behind it and crouched against it, trying to make myself as small as I could, blending in with the coarse bark.

It was obvious to me that those thugs did not know about the hornets. When those hornets attacked, I was as much in danger as the thugs. They came crashing through. Had they paused to wonder at the tree I would not have been surprised.

It was so massive it gave the first impression of being a man-made stone structure. When Moona and I had first come upon that tree, months and months ago, when we stood side-by-side and stepped away from each other until only our fingers touched, we were still on the same side of the stem.

Had the thugs paused to wonder, they would have discovered me. I pressed myself against the stem, as tightly as I could, and held my breath. And held my eyes tightly shut.

The jungle undergrowth slowed them down, but they did not quieten down. They screamed in anger, louder and louder as they moved along, away from me.

The hornets struck! I did not see the attack, but from the screams turning into louder anaphylactic shrieks, it was clear to me what was happening.

I immediately crawled back to where I had entered the jungle. When I heard the sounds of several gunshots among the shrieks in the distance, I paused. I stood up and paused. I had to exit this jungle calmly so that anybody seeing me would have no cause to associate me with those other jungle noises.

By the time I arrived at mister Hackner's grocery store, I was so calm, none of my fellow workers took any special notice of me. Mister Hackner tossed my sixpence to me. I thanked him, and caught it in mid-air; deftly, from long practice. As would any of the other workers.

In the days that followed, I kept a keen ear ready for news about the hornet attack. I heard nothing; to this day. I recall that thug attacks did not diminish after that.

I never took that shortcut ever again. Some years later when we were about to go live in another suburb, I went back to that tree one last time, to thank those hornets.  

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