Drawing the Line by Oonah V. Joslin

Mrs Manderson lived beside a divide, not an interface. There was no gate nearby. Some of the wall was makeshift. She’ d shown me the section of peace line that ran alongside her garden as soon as I arrived for my two week stay. Her side was covered in red, white and blue paint but some bastard had climbed up and spilt green paint down it, so she kept having to repaint her union jack. The only way across from the Shankill was by Lanark and then down a series of little backstreets and alleyways that avoided the Springfield altogether. Still a fair number from the Falls managed to attend the coffee bar for peace on the Shankill. Everyone was welcome.

Saturday night. Word was, trouble at the Divis end so the Sunday school superintendent disgorged me from his car with instruction to 'go straight down there and don’t luk sideways if I was you.’ Then he turned the car by means of a three pointer in the back lane, and away.

It was close to midnight -- maybe just the other side and the alley wasn’t that well lit. I didn’t have any option so I took his advice but I didn’t like what I was hearing. Angry shouts burst into the August air with an accompaniment of beats on makeshift drums.

I thought it wise to peer round the corner before committing myself to whatever tribal drama was playing out on The Springfield Road. I looked to the left. About thirty paces away around fifty people had gathered, bin lids in hands, missiles at the ready, some bottles. Men, women, I didn’t look for detail.

To my right a line of British soldiers, riot shields at the ready; guns at the ready; a few bricks lying on the road between me and them. They didn’t look any friendlier than the crowd to the left but still I knew… I knew which side I was on.

And so I slung my shoulder bag across me and from the shadows I stepped out with my hands held high and my back to the mob. I walked towards the nearest soldier who pointed his weapon at my heart and took a step towards me. I kept to the wall until we were close enough to speak.
'I have to go up there,’ I said, indicating with a nod the Springfield Road beyond him. 'Bombay Street.’

He motioned with his gun I go ahead. Which I was more aware of, I cannot recall -- the rifle pointed at the ground behind me or the potential Molotov cocktails in the crowd. I looked straight ahead, answered the questions that were fired at me and I never looked back at the tall young man behind, nor at the ugly crowd. Once past the front line, his voice became less tense.

'I have I.D. in my bag,’ I offered.

'No!’ he warned.

My hands stayed in the air.

I opened the garden gate, walked down the path and rang the doorbell. He wouldn’t let me use the key. I’ d have to get it from my bag.

Mrs. Manderson and shouted through the closed door, 'Who is it.’

'It’s me,’ Mrs Manderson,’ I shouted. 'There’s a soldier with me and a gun at my back.’ She opened the door a crack. Her curlers and dressing gown seemed out of place.

'Do you know this person?’ asked the soldier.

'Aye, she’s staying with a few weeks - from the church.’

I stumbled gladly into the light and heat and warmth of Mrs Manderson’s wee house and burst into tears. The next day I went home.

'Tell them people at the church,’ I said, 'to shove it! ’


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