Mr Gee was a careful man. Nothing he could do about it, he was made of careful genes. At fifty nine he looked like a 59 year old man. He was medium height, a little flabby and had wispy grey hair. His facial expression range went from thoughtful to considerate to frightened and back to thoughtful.
He suffered the ignominy of having been made prematurely redundant from his work. He was out on the heap. He was no use to anyone. He had been a mortician’s assistant all his life. Just after Mr Gee’s fifty ninth birthday the mortician had died and Mr Gee had been promoted to mortician. Only for the company to go into receivership a month later and he was ousted. They gave him a lump sum.
Early in his career Mr Gee had learnt how to undertake risk assessments. The process of doing this fitted him nicely and he applied it to everything. A mental undertaking of a few seconds before every action directed his life.
It went like this: identify the hazard in crossing the road at this point (might get knocked over); consider the likelihood of this happening (on a scale from 1 – 10. This would be 6); judge the severity of the incident (might die so would be a 10); multiply the two numbers and you get a risk rating (RR) of sixty. Whereas if he crossed at the pedestrian crossing the RR would be 1. Always choose the lowest RR.
Mr Gee lived alone. He had never got into the habit of conversation; certainly at work no-one ever spoke to him. At this low point in his life he wondered if he had somehow missed out. His holidays had been spent in Aberdeen (RR 15) or Aberystwyth (RR16). He was working his way through the alphabet but kept going back to these favourite places, for safety sake.
At the very lowest point Mr Gee hit on an idea. For a limited space of time choose the highest RR instead of the lowest. He wanted to live. For two weeks. He had his lump sum to spend.
So he planned a holiday abroad! The highest RRs in the world were war hot spots – and his genes wouldn’t allow him to consider going there. Highest RR of non-war spots was Jamaica, RR 45.
So, he went. He had a great time. Now, he was sat on board a plane at Kingston Airport, ready for take-off, on his way home. He had lived for thirteen days.
His allotted seat was between two sisters; one had booked a window seat, the other the aisle. Window seat sister kept up a barrage of comments and shuffled her various pieces of hand luggage under Mr Gee’s feet, over his head, into his ribs. The other one smiled at him apologetically. They had a 10 hour flight ahead of them so while the Bob Marley vibes streamed through the plane Mr Gee closed his eyes and re-lived his holiday.
He had stayed at Rafjam’s bed & breakfast in Trenchtown (RR high). He had wandered alone, even after dark because of the risk factor, having read that Jamaica had one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world. He wasn’t after getting murdered but this was where his RRs had taken him. He had tried to sway to reggae music in notorious night clubs.
Wherever he went, all over the island, he met warm, generous people. The proprietor of Rafjam’s, Kymani, made him ackee and saltfish or goat curry every evening. This took some getting used to as a meat and two veg man.
The sun and the rhythm of the island had started to thaw him. He had on a green souvenir t-shirt, his normal deathly pallor had now changed to an orangey yellow and his balding pate was a startling red. Mr Gee now resembled a traffic light.
The plane was moving along the runway, picked up speed and in no time they were airborne.
‘OhmygodOhmygodOhmygod’ shrieked the window sister and dug her nails into Mr Gee’s arm. Mentally he had nicknamed her ‘squawker’ and it suited. He extricated his arm from her nails and closed his eyes again.
He relived swimming in the warm, crystal clear sea at the bottom of a waterfall, ‘tubing’ down the rapids of White River, frolicking with dolphins near Mobay. But the biggest adventure had been bungee jumping. Whilst souvenir shopping in Mobay he had seen the advertisement on a billboard:
Come and try this extreme activity! Not for the faint hearted!
Now Mr Gee was faint-hearted. And this activity involved jumping from a tall structure while being held up by an elastic cord. It was probably the highest RR activity he had even thought about!
As his heart said no his feet kept walking towards the tower. In a semi-trance he paid his dollars to the rastaman.
"Brethren, you follow a mi now."
They climbed. The rasta was slinky. Mr Gee was robotic. Through the struts of the tower Montego Bay opened up. The warm wind blew into their faces. Mr Gee felt sick. His legs kept working automatically while his heart pumped like a hammer from within. Up and up. Could he change his mind now?
"Er, excuse me!"
The wind swept his words away. The rastaman was at the top of the tower now, beckoning Mr Gee.
Up he went, to the platform at the top. Mr Gee couldn’t speak.
Once Mr Gee was positioned correctly, his friend (he needed him to be his friend now) fastened the harness round his middle and to each ankle. He nudged him forward. The blue of the sky met the blue of the sea ahead of him.
Mr Gee tried to swivel round to beg and managed, "I – don’t – want ..."
"Me say anyting ‘bout want? You jump now. You ah hear me"? Mr Gee’s body was rigid, his legs bent and his torso bending backwards.
He would still be there, to this day, if Rastaman had not placed his hand in the small of Mr Gee’s back and pushed.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrgghh!" Death coming to meet him! A strip of sand hurtling towards him. Ruuuuuuuushshshshing wiiiiind. A wind that cushioned him as he hurtled towards death. He knew his head would hit the sand or sea.
Then stop – and up – and swinging in the blue. Swinging, swinging.
As he sat in his plane seat he could still feel the motion of swinging in the blue. He smiled at the memory. It would never leave him.
Several times he was disturbed by squawker, squawking. To anyone who would listen. At one point she gave out jerk chicken from a portable fridge (much better than the in-flight meal which had been little plastic squares of ham and cold mash). A female flight attendant, who must have been at her first day at work, so unaccustomed was she at dealing with people, tried to assert authority and failed.
Mr Gee made valiant attempts at ignoring her. This was his personal policy. It was too risky talking to people. He watched a film on the overhead TV, took a few strolls and settled back into his seat to snooze.
The pilot announcing that they would soon make their landing awoke Mr Gee. The airport was on the outskirts of the city where Mr Gee lived. As the plane descended Mr Gee could make out different landmarks. There was the motorway that circled the town. There the river running through. Would he see his housing estate? He was peering over squawker’s shoulder to get a view. There was only one tall building that he could think of and he tried to identify that. Nothing. It wasn't there. He tried to get another view past squawker as the plane banked, but it was no good - the tower block wasn't there.
The plane circled the area several times. Mr Gee started to think about getting his things together. He looked to his right and sister number two was smiling at him.
"Hello. I didn’t want to disturb you before. You’ve been smiling in your sleep. My name’s Janine."
Now this carried a high RR. Striking up conversation with a stranger. He mentally calculated it at 86. You never knew what would happen. Better by far not to get involved. Then he remembered his commitment. Still one day left. He swallowed hard, turned to her again and said,
"Hello. My name is Paul."