Sersant Dreyer leans on the counter of the reception area in his little police station, not noticing the fine layer of dust on the surface. It’s not necessary to clean it, anyway – nobody ever comes here.
He’s just written his monthly report to headquarters: no crime, no outstanding cases, no arrests to be made. Of course, like all the other reports, it’ll end up in some file on an archive shelf; just another unread document in the endless stream of paper the administrators insist on keeping going. As long as the forms are filled in, the generals can report that they are doing their work.
He watches the heat waves shimmer on the horizon, distorting the road to Grootdrink into a hazy, curling track. Like the documents, it seems without purpose – an endless road to an uncertain destination.
How often has he not thought of going back… A thousand times? A million? Usually he can stop those thoughts in time, before the pain of remembering cruases a circular memory that courses endlessly through the archives off his mind – like in that song she always sang:
Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever spinning reel[i]
Cathy McGregor wasn’t what one would describe as beautiful. Her figure was constructed with straight lines, her hair didn’t shine in the sun, and the lines on her face spoke of a difficult past. Most people would not even consider a second glance when she walked into a room; but then, they seldom had the opportunity to look into her almost-always downcast eyes.
Sersant did. He first saw those eyes pleading from behind the burly man’s back when the drunkard dragged her in that night…
“I paid her!” He shouted. “The full fee. Now she suddenly turns prude on me. Look, she scratched my face!” The huge, dirty hand unfolds to let a dirty finger point at the red line across his stubbled cheek. Sersant (he was only a constable then) didn’t know what to do. It was his first night behind te counter, and so far it had been a disaster. Nothing can prepare a young man (in reality, still a child) for the abused children , broken and bleeding men, and hysterical women that line up in police stations across South Africa every night.
The man was obviously drunk. Thenew constables had written a test on Public Intoxication the previous day, so Sersant called over some of his more sturdy colleagues and locked the man up for the night. She still stood in the waiting area when he returned from the cells. He wanted to tell her to go home, but she spoke first.
“Thank you.” He now saw her eyes – not like a moment ago – but this time it was as if she drew him into her mind with a hypnotic, lingering stare. Then her eyes left him to travel to the empty button hole in his tunic. “You lost a button,” she said.
He hadn’t noticed it before. The burly man had put up quite a fight.
“Give me the tunic,” she said.
And he did.
He often wondered about that. Here was a woman – probably with a most unsavoury background – and yet he took off the jacket and handed it to her. When she walked out of the police station, he had no doubt that she’d return. Her eyes held that promise. And she did, a few hours later.
“I had to go home first,” she said apologetically, “to get the right colour thread.”
By that time the stampede of complainants had dwindled and as he was putting on the tunic again, he heard himself thanking the woman and offering her a mug of coffee. Why did he do it? He still doesn’t know. And why did he offer to take her home when his shift was over? Equally, he still can’t answer.
He did, however, find out how far she lived from the police station and why it took so long to sew the button back on.
“It was my first night,” she said while he drove her home. “My father owes money, you see? The bookies and the horses…” Her voice trailed off. “It’s hard out here. If Pappa didn’t pay back the money, they’d break his arms or something. Then he can’t work, see?” She seemed desperate to make him understand. “So they gave him a choice. Either he paid them immediately, or they ‘borrowed’ me for a week. Pappa cried, saying he’d make a plan – but they didn’t believe him. He had lied to many times in the past, they said. Then they took me. When Papa tried to stop them, they hit him. Hard. Many times. And I said I’d go, they must stop hurting him.
“I thought I’d just close my eyes and pray while the men…you know? But that drunk, fat man…he… he…wanted to strange things. Bad things. Horrible…”
Sersant remembers how she told him all this. Almost mechanically, without emotion – until she came to the bit of the drunk man; then she couldn’t go on. Just sat there, stone-faced, staring at the shanties and shacks rushing by as he drove on.
He gave her the money, of course. One-hundred-and-fifty Rands. The price of freedom.
It was the look in her eyes, he realises now. He tries to sum up what he saw in them. Fear, at first, definitely. Relief, later. And gratitude, admiration, vulnerability, anguish, hope, despair…the list goes on. What she didn’t – or couldn’t - say in words, her eyes did. They were the only bit of the real her that peeked from behind the armour of her self-defensive isolation.
When she got out, he asked if he could visit her sometimes.
That was the first time she smiled…
Open up our eyes
The future´s in disguise
In the hobo jungle
Roaming like two moons up in the sky
We’re gettin’ by just fine
Living in a daydream by design