When Fear Turned Into Fun

Ezra Azra

Copyright 2023 by Ezra Azra
Photo by Radu Vladislav on Unsplash
Photo by Radu Vladislav on Unsplash
I was running for my life. My pursuer was almost twice my size, and so I was not about to stand and fight. Mind you, if he caught me, he would not have had it all his way. Both of us were Clairwood ghetto gang members. His gang had more members than mine. Notwithstanding, pound for pound, every Clairwood ghetto gang member was equal to every other one in capacity for mindless ruthless violence. Notwithstanding, the most capable gangster is like every person in that anger always makes us careless in our actions. He was consumed by anger; in my flight, almost consumed by terror, I was thinking, calculating.

If I was cornered, I knew a few tricks about dirty street fighting. Here, I was following the first rule in ghetto fighting: if outnumbered, run. There were no heroes in our Clairwood ghetto.

That was many, many years ago in my childhood. I think I was about eleven years old. In all the years, I never figured out why he was so intent on catching me. I was empty-handed. I had not challenged or insulted him.

Our gangs met on the wild field at the end of the ghetto, by accident. From the first sighting, my gang kept a safe distance. We did not know they had planned to attack us from two sides. While we were on guard against one side, some of them came at us from the other side. It was not difficult for them to stay hidden until the last minute. The field was overgrown with wild knee-high vegetation. Everybody said the City was planning to make the field an extension of Clairwood's existing graveyard, sooner or later.

Just about everybody in Clairwood made regular visits to that field because of the wild blackberries. Free food. A gold mine for the poor people living in Clairwood. If ever otherwise cut-throat hooligans did a good deed, we ne'er-do-wells in Clairwood were heroes by declaring we would kill anyone found damaging blackberry plants while plucking the free food.

Morning-noon-and-night there were people in that field. Gangsters were there, too, to e and to ensure the plants were undamaged.

Wherever there are rival gangs, violence is bound to erupt. Why that gang came after us, I do not know. Many, many years in the future, when I had become a righteously law abiding person, I opined an hypothesis; criminals are similar to the Wild Dogs of Africa in that when the herd naturally reaches a mysterious number, members are driven into cannibalism within the herd.

It was Maynard, our leader, who first sensed the trap. Just in time. He had only time to shout, "Scatter!" That gave us about a one second head start; that's all we needed in any crisis. There were about five of us. A few days later I would learn that although the other four successfully fought their way out, it was not without serious battle injuries; to both gangs. When my gang had a head start, we either won, or ran away, undefeated cowards.

I ran straight for the edge of the cliff. Along one of its ends, the field ended in a sudden vertical drop. None of us had cared to explore that cliff. It was not intelligent for me to run toward the cliff edge, because my pursuer would know I would not dare to leap over the edge.

The nearer we got to the cliff edge, the thicker the knee-length wild vegetation got. That was to my advantage. I was smaller, and so I could crash my way along faster. He was slowing down. I did not know how near to the cliff I was getting. That was not safe. I had never been to the edge of the cliff. The density of the vegetation had been the deterrent.

I decided to guess I was close enough. I flung myself mightily to the ground. The weeds prevented me from falling straight to the ground. I somewhat expected that, and so I started crawling frantically when I sensed I was horizontal. I had guessed accurately. Seconds into my desperate crawl, I suddenly felt myself tilting head-first. I was over the edge of the cliff. Only the vegetation was preventing me from catapulting head-first down.

I heard a scream from above, and a lot of crashing noises. Weeks later I would find out that my pursuer had hurtled over the edge, and was never seen again.

I gripped vegetation, and slowly maneuvered my feet to be below me. I was wearing my usual clothes: short pants and short sleeves. And no shoes. As I twisted and turned myself, I was cut and scraped by leaves, and sticks, and stung by insects. If not for the density of the vegetation, my exertions would have caused me to catapult to the bottom of the cliff.

I inched down, carefully probing with my bare feet for firm ground. My fear was growing with every inch of descending progress. The vegetation got thicker and more impenetrable as I climbed lower. And darker in more and more shadows. The sun was out. It was hot. Because both its heat and light did not penetrate the thick vegetation more than a few inches, while my back burned, the opposite side of me felt cold and moist. I expected to be attacked by a wild animal. In the middle of my increasing fear and hopelessness, my feet touched firm ground.

I stopped. I carefully explored with my toes to discern the extent of the firm ground. When I guessed there was enough extent, I slowly placed my entire foot down. I stepped backwards slowly, making full use of support from the tall vegetation scraping against me all around, bottom to top, side to side.

My feet felt gravel stones. I stopped and dared to turn. I saw where I was. Railway tracks! I knew where I was! My fear converted to joy so fast, I vomited.

Sometimes when we had the fare, we would catch a train to and from school about five miles from home. This cliff was the high edge of a deep and long gash in the hillside along the tracks.

When the train reached this colossal hillside ugliness, we passengers would rush to the windows. The engine drivers seemed to encourage us by slowing down the train. The gash was about as long as a five-coach train. When the engine was  a steam engine, instead of electric, the engine's hooter would sound a few times.

I was so happy to have survived that cliff drop, I did not feel any of the bruises and cuts on my body as I walked home. At home, I felt them for the next few days.

I tried but failed to persuade my gang to explore the gash, at least from the lower end where the tracks were.

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