On the afternoon of October 16, I pulled into the tiny driveway of an off-the-grid supermarket in the north of the island. No, I did not have shopping on my mind. The purpose of my visit was to meet a 28-year-old chef and baker. He was waiting for me at the top of a four-step incline, looking out in the direction opposite me.
It will come as no surprise that he wishes not to be identified. What survivor of a robbery shooting would want his picture plastered in a newspaper? Let’s call him Johnnie. The incident had taken place a month earlier, on September 12. Johnnie agreed to relive his story after I expressed a desire to add a humanistic element to our crime epidemic; a voice to the statistics, and to further highlight the general population’s displeasure with the overall, poor socio-economic conditions to which most of us are subjected.
A resident of De Gazon, Grande Rivière, Johnnie had, only two years before his narrow escape, crossed over from his role as a chef to try his hand at baking. Today he trains others in the art of baking bread, pastries and other goodies in the very supermarket where he almost lost his life.
He ushered me into an open corridor that serves as an inconspicuous walkway to his workstation in the back of the building.
My first question: “Can you recall the details of what happened?” – as if there were the smallest chance he’d already have forgotten. He walked over to the under-counter freezer opposite the cashier, adjacent to the front door, half-concealed behind it. “It happened about 1.30 in the afternoon. There were two of them. They came in with their guns and said: ‘Don’t move!’”
He said they wore masks but Johnnie could see they were young. This fact and his strong “faith in God” allowed him to muster up his courage. He described how, with one gun pointing in the cashier’s direction and another at him, he pressed himself against a fridge off to his side and began feeling around for a broom.
“I wanted to take the broom to slam him in his head,” Johnnie recalled, “but just before I was able to do that he fired the first shot.”
Adrenaline now in overdrive, and unaware of the bullet in his back, Johnnie said he tried running to the back of the store to grab a cutlass. That is when, with a gun still pointed at the female cashier, the assailants proceeded to clear the till of its load—about $30—and quickly made their exit. Before entering a white vehicle, one of the two gunmen discharged another bullet in the air. Then they sped off.
Johnnie was driven by his manager to the Gros Islet polyclinic where he was informed that the bullet was still embedded in his back and he would have to go to Victoria Hospital to have it removed. He maintains he was left bleeding in the hospital’s emergency ward for over two hours before he saw a doctor.
“I lost a lot of blood,” he said. “The nurse was very unprofessional.” It was hard to tell from his tone which hurt more: the “unprofessional treatment” at the facility or the bullet when it entered his back. He said he requested something to hold against the heavy bleeding, to no avail. At one point a nurse re-entered his room, turned him around, stuck a finger into his anus and left the room without a word to the profusely bleeding patient.
It was not all bad news, though, at Victoria Hospital. “The surgeon, Dr. Tobierre, took good care of me,” Johnnie happily recalled. “He was a nice person; very professional. He told me to just relax and leave everything to him.”
It turned out the bullet was too close to Johnnie’s spine to be safely removed. “The doctor discharged me and asked me to return in four weeks.”
On days when public transport was unavailable, Johnny walked the fifteen minutes from his home to the hospital, still with the robber’s bullet lodged near his spine. It eventually “came out on a plaster,” said Johnnie.
I wondered whether he had any reservations about being back at work. He seemed surprised by my question. “Sure I do. This is where I got shot.” He paused before adding: “With God’s help I refuse to crumble. I am a Christian and it’s like a miracle I am still here. I could’ve been crippled. Or dead.”
Two weeks ago this newspaper quoted the police commissioner on the subject of crime. “Given the constraints we have,” he said, “I think my officers are doing very well in terms of successfully investigating incidents.” Most people would disagree.
“I gave a statement,” Johnnie told me. “The nurse at the Grande Riviere health clinic told me she gave the bullet to the police . . . but no officer has tried to reach me.”
He returned to his faith in the Almghty: “I think the Father put me through this so I could see who is here for me and who is not.”
He asked me to express his gratitude to the store owners and friends for their support throughout his ordeal.
“Say a special thank-you to Mary, Kurtney, Cher and Kermala. They were at my side all the time.” In the meantime he has difficulty getting in and out of bed, bending down and standing for long periods. But his faith remains like a rock!