John McCullagh October 13, 2005

Stealth Riders on a Wing and a Prayer

Just outside I pulled on my helmet in an attempt to hide my western features as there was a large crowd gathering just down the road where a convoy of trucks had stopped.  Having no other choice I headed straight for the crowd and made my way through.  

Arriving at my girlfriend’s home at the rear of the Cathedral grounds and within a stone’s throw of the hospital I informed her about what had happened and that I had to leave.

I decided to go the next night at around seven o’clock but I had to inform my colleagues in the city that I was coming – but how?  Then I remembered that the priests had a phone in their office just a few yards away from the house.  I rang my friends and informed them of the situation and that I would leave on the morrow and hopefully arrive in the city around four o’clock in the morning.  This done, I packed my bags.  My girlfriend insisted on coming as she thought that if got into any problems, that she being a native could help me out. I reluctantly agreed.

At around eleven o’clock we heard a commotion coming from the hospital and I gazed cautiously through a small gap in the curtains only to see bands of militia roaming the grounds.  Shots could be heard, but whether it was high spirits or at actual targets was unclear.  A little later we could hear someone screaming incessantly and this continued for what seemed like an eternity.  After a time the head of the household decided to go to see what was going on.  About half an hour later he returned to tell us that militia had shot some pro-independence people in the hospital and that the man who was screaming had his tongue cut out across the border and needed morphine.  There were other reports that people were being dumped out of trucks and being killed with swords and machetes.  Again the blame for what was happening was being placed squarely at the feet of the so-called meddlesome westerners.

I had very little sleep that night but what was even more worrying was the fact that I was putting this family in extreme danger. If the militia spotted me or got an inkling that I was here, they would ask no questions and they were not in the mood for taking prisoners.  I hid all day hardly daring to go to the toilet that was just outside or even attempt another phone call.  Day turned into evening; the time was drawing near for us to leave. Having prepared the motorcycle and a stock of provisions for the journey I put on as much clothes as possible to cover up my identity. At seven o’clock precisely we left the house and headed into the night.

By now the town was absolutely full of what could only be termed as refugees and militia, so I took all the back lanes till we reached the outskirts.  The road out was no better and there was definitely a lot more people on the move than I had first anticipated.  Reaching the forest I had travelled through so often in the past, I smelt the strong stench of death.

"People must have been killed here", I thought.

The circumstances were getting more terrifying by the minute and there was still much traffic on the road.  As we passed my home and then the monastery there were many people seeking refuge.  They may have been travelling for days as the roads in most parts of the island were nothing more than tracks.

Onward we travelled passing all shapes and makes of vehicles most of which had militia riding in the rear.  I had not noticed them before but as my eyes had become more accustomed to the dark I could see what resembled well-armed dark overlords.  It looked like these lords of hatred were making sure the convoys were going far beyond the border.  We had only two things going for us; the number plate was from this part of the island, and the fact that we melted into the crowd. But this was short lived as every now and again we had to slow down and armed men standing by the side of the road were taking a closer look. However the fact that I was well covered up and my girlfriend who would take her helmet off on these occasions was so obviously a native we managed to scrape through. We were not to know how long our luck would hold out.

It was getting too dangerous to keep going and I decided to see if a friend of mine from the west was still living at his home some seventy kilometres out and about twenty kilometres from the next town.  His residence was just off the road in the mountains and I hoped against hope that he was still there so that we could get some respite from the danger lurking all around. On getting there I knocked briskly on the door and by his reaction on seeing me he knew something was badly wrong.

"My God!  You and your girlfriend are still here!" I exclaimed when I saw him.

"Yes, and why would we not be?" he replied, in a quizzing tone.

"Do you not know what is going on?" I stated in a surprised manner.

"No!  Please tell me.  I am curious", he inquired, but now with a much more serious voice than before. 

We all sat down and I told him about the most recent events first and as the night wore on I imparted the whole sequence of proceedings right from the beginning.

Looking in the direction of his radio which had a neat coating of dust, I said,

"Turn it on and listen to the reports".

After tuning into an international news station it become clear to them what had developed and was continuing to do so. I could hardly believe that he did not know but he explained that they had been working all week on the farm and had not heard or noticed anything.  He suggested lying low until the worst might have died down.  In what I can only describe as a rigid tone, I informed him that, "It would only take one person to mention, even innocently, that there was a westerner living here and they would come looking for him."  He got the point very quickly.

"But what shall we do", he said nervously.

I suggested that we try to see if there some sort of pattern forming with the convoys passing, and if we find one, we should use the opportunity to get to the city.

It took some three days to realize that there was a haphazard pattern which could give us an option to leave at around six o’clock in the morning, about five hours after the last vehicles had passed by.  His girlfriend, an inhabitant, decided she would stay behind to make arrangements regarding the farm as she considered that she would be safe, and he agreed.  We slipped down to the village that night when we had an opportunity and filled the bikes with enough fuel to get to the city without having to replenish. 

Taking the lead we left the relative safety of the house and headed into the unknown.  Some thirty minutes into the journey we arrived in the first town only to find bands of manic militia milling around.  My friend was behind me as we picked our way through the melee and just as we were reaching the outskirts, two commandeered vehicles pulled out from a side road and were now right in front of us.  The windows and doors had been removed and it was quite obvious where these had come from.  The occupants were in the same state of frenzy as those we passed minutes earlier.  I decided to slow down and sit behind them while trying to formulate some sort of a plan.   Providence once again played its hand in our favour because, about two kilometres up the road they turned off to the right, much to our relief. I chanced a glance behind at my friend who had clearly sensed the same relief as I had just experienced.

We were still about two hundred kilometres from the city, a long way to go under these conditions.  After about three hours hard riding we had not passed anything for at least an hour when all of us decided to halt for a break on the outskirts of a small village.  There was an ideal spot by a very large tree which I had often stopped at before on my journeys.  The tree afforded an obstacle to anyone coming up the road from seeing us and since it was a considerable time since we passed anything, this location was ideal for a five-minute break.

After stretching for a minute or so we sat down to eat, when we heard a light truck coming at high speed up the road.  None of us dared to look at what was approaching for fear of giving our position away.  It was unbelievable! As the truck passed I noticed they were wearing the uniform and insignia of the most feared and hated militia from the other side of the island.  We sat motionless, frozen with fear and anticipation, but even in this state we knew if they saw us and stopped, we would have to leap on the bikes and race for our lives. To our relief they were far too occupied in what they were discussing and not one of them was looking back in our direction.

Was it fortune?  I will never know. Once again we had cheated probable loss of life from militia justice.  Forty minutes later we were entering the city and we began to relax a little but remained aware that there might still be danger, as units of the militia had evidently got to the city days before us.

 

 

 

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