Monday, February 22, 2010

The Man in the Yellow Shirt (Part 3)

The cop forced the gun downwards into the man’s face to stop him from smiling. The man flinched from the pain but kept smiling anyway. The policeman looked back at us, still holding the gun to the man’s face. The cop didn’t look as relaxed as before. I could tell he was bothered by the fact that we were walking away from him. The crowd looked like it was going to explode any second. Suddenly, he pointed the gun to the ground and walked towards us. I started breathing again. He turned around every few seconds to make sure no one from the crowd was going to attack him. He spoke on his radio as he walked towards us. He looked at me and a small smile crept to his lips. He spoke into his radio again and grinned. The crowd looked on, perplexed.

He was only a few metres away from us. “¿Dónde están ellos?” Jen yelled to the cop. Where are they?

He chuckled and scratched himself indifferently. “Está aquí.

I was suspicious. The cop looked way too calm. He didn’t seem worried at all. Where the fuck is the back-up if he's so fucking calm? I thought.

He looked back at the crowd again and spoke into his radio. The man wearing the tattered shorts was gone now, and the crowd was slowly dispersing.

I wasn’t ready for what happened next.

The cop spoke hurriedly into his radio one last time and then sprinted towards the crowd, gun still in hand. The crowd reacted instantly and scattered. One man in the crowd seemed to realize that the cop was running towards him. He was wearing a yellow t-shirt and black shorts. He was barefoot. He took off running and the cop chased him down the street. Out of nowhere, a dark blue pick-up truck appeared and blocked the man’s way. Painted on the side of the truck was a crest with the words “DELEGACION DE POLICIA, MANAGUA, DISTRITO No 3” written inside. In the bed of the truck were six cops carrying AK-47s and M-16s. The man in the yellow shirt froze; the cop chasing him took the opportunity to tackle him. Two cops jumped out of the truck and began beating the man. After they had each punched and kicked him a few times they helped him up and threw him into the bed of the truck. They jumped in with him. The truck peeled out of there and drove down an alley, leaving a trail of dust in its wake.

We were alone.

“Where the fuck did they go?” I asked. Jen took my hand and I squeezed it, hard.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. “The best thing we can do is just keep our cool and walk slowly.” I cracked my knuckles nervously. “Don’t panic, and don’t run.”

“Okay,” she said. She looked much calmer than me.

We walked down the street towards where the truck had been. There were only about two dozen people outside now. A few of them approached us and asked me questions, but I couldn’t understand them and I didn’t care. No one was laughing at us anymore. The same woman that had offered her cell phone earlier offered it again. I didn’t say anything to her. I just shook my head whenever anyone approached me.

We got to the point where the truck had been. I had no idea what to do, so I walked past it.

Then there was a commotion behind us. I turned around and there was the pick-up truck, back where we had been before. The cops were beating the shit out of the man in the yellow shirt. He was screaming. They looked at me and yelled; I couldn’t distinguish what it was they were saying. They motioned for me to hurry up and run towards them - they did it the Latino way, with the palm facing down.

I looked at Jen and grabbed her hand. “Run,” I said.

We ran towards the truck. And then it took off again.

“What the fuck?” I yelled. “What the fuck is the matter with them?”

I let go of Jen’s hand and clenched my fists. I took a deep breath. “Okay,” I said. “We’re just going to go back to where we were, and we’re just going to wait.” Jen said nothing.

We walked back to where we had last been standing.

We stood there in silence until the roar of the truck engine materialized again. The truck burst out of an alley – it was momentarily airborne – and stopped a few metres away from us. The police officers laughed as they were thrown forward by the truck's sudden halt. Then they started shouting at us in Spanish. I still had no idea what they were saying. I couldn’t see the man in the yellow shirt but I assumed he was laying down on the bed of the truck. I opened the rear door and helped Jen climb in. I pushed her ass with my hands to force her to go in faster. Then I climbed into the truck after her and saw that I had shoved her into a policewoman’s lap. The cop helped her sit up, and Jen immediately started to complain about what I had done in my hurry to get into the truck.

“Ow, what the fuck? You’re such an idiot.”

“Shut the fuck up,” I said.

“You’re a fucking asshole,” she said. “You know how fucking bad you could have hurt me?”


She did.

As the truck got onto the highway I looked out the back window. In the bed of the truck were the same cops from before: the six cops with the semi-automatics. The man in the yellow shirt was indeed with them. One of the cops held him in a half-nelson, and the other cops took turns pounding his arms with the butts of their weapons. Eventually, his arm broke. I could tell because he wasn’t able to use it to defend himself anymore. When the truck got to a red light, they changed positions and laid him on his back. One of the cops pressed his thumbs into the man’s eyes as hard as he could. I heard the man in the yellow shirt scream. Another one of the cops tapped on the window and motioned for me to pay attention.

“Hey!” I yelled, tapping back. “Hey! What the fuck are you guys doing? Stop! Hey! Stop! ¿Por qué? ¿Por qué?

I looked at the policewoman sitting next to Jen. She was skinny and had shiny black hair pulled back in a ponytail. Even with everything going on, I thought she looked beautiful.

“Hey!” I said. “Hey you! Policía!

She looked down at her combat boots and stayed silent.

“Hey! Fucking bitch! Look at me!” I said angrily.

I poked Jen on the shoulder. “Tell her to stop all this shit. Now.”

Jen translated for me. The policewoman shook her head solemnly.

“Now tell her she should be fucking ashamed of herself. All of these motherfuckers should be fucking ashamed of themselves.”

Jen translated. The policewoman hung her head lower and said nothing.

In the passenger seat of the truck was the first cop we had dealt with, the one who had kicked the man wearing the tattered shorts in the balls. He was chatting with the driver and evidently thought the whole ordeal was quite funny. The driver, a chubby woman, laughed at everything Jen said.

I grabbed the cop in the passenger seat by the shoulder and asked him, “¿Qué es su nombre?What is your name?

He laughed. “Es Gonzalez,” he said. He laughed again.

“Tell him he is one of the worst people on earth,” I told Jen. She did.

Gonzalez and the driver both howled at that. The cop sitting next to Jen stayed silent. I turned around to watch the man in the yellow shirt again. The cops were kicking him in the face now.

“There’s nothing we can do,” Jen said. “If we try to stop them, they might do the same to us.”

“I know,” I said. I didn’t really believe it, though.

Jen and I sat in silence for the rest of the ride. I stared straight ahead and tried to ignore the screams coming from the back. I didn’t look back again. It seemed to take a really long time for us to get to the station. Finally, we arrived at the police station and got out of the truck.

The six cops threw the man in the yellow shirt out of the truck and onto the pavement. He screamed. They took turns stomping him. He screamed again.

!Espera!” I yelled at them. Wait! The six cops all stopped and looked at each other, unsure of what I was about to do or say. They all had smiles on their faces save for one man holding an AK-47, whose face was sweaty and cold as steel. His eyes were partially covered by long black hair. I took out my Spanish translation book and desperately flipped through the pages in the “Dealing with Crime” section. Finally, I found what I needed.

¡Eso no lo es! ¡Eso no es el hombre que me robó!” I said. That’s not him! That is not the man that robbed me! Some of them didn’t seem to know what to say. Some of them kept smiling. And then the man in the yellow shirt slowly stood up by himself. His arm hung at an unnatural angle. He gazed into my eyes; his were brown and glassy. His bottom lip shook uncontrollably and tears and blood were streaming down his face. He said something in Spanish, and then he repeated it again. And then he said it again, louder. Jen turned to me and said, “He’s saying, ‘You see? This man even says that I am not the robber. He says I am not the robber. I have done nothing wrong.’ He’s repeating it over and over.”

Jen said something to the cops in Spanish that I couldn’t understand. The man in the yellow shirt started limping towards me and one of the cops kicked him in the knee cap. The man in the yellow shirt collapsed and raised his one good arm to me. One of the cops batted his arm down and grabbed the man’s leg so that his foot was touching his ass. The sole of the man’s foot was unbelievably filthy, and the cop was visibly repulsed. The cop muttered something to the others, and in the next instant the officer with long black hair smashed the butt of his AK-47 on the man’s tibia. A sharp audible crack pierced the man’s scream, and I knew that his leg was now broken. He made a noise that I had never heard before. It was the most primal sound of desperation imaginable, a combination of sobbing and screaming. It was a wretched, terrible sound. Dark red blood ran down his leg and formed a puddle around his foot.

I turned and looked at the cop named Gonzalez. He was smiling and had his arms crossed. The policewomen were gone.

The cops talked amongst themselves again. Two of them grabbed the man’s ankles and started to drag him away. He struggled violently to free himself. The cops let go of him and his legs crashed to the ground. He yelped at the pain. He raised his one good arm to me and yelled something. I tried to look away but I couldn’t. Parts of his yellow shirt were now purple from all of the blood and gravel that had rubbed into it.

“What is he saying?” I asked Jen.

“He says, ‘Please help me. Help. You are the only one who knows I did nothing wrong. Why? Why is this happening to me?’ He’s saying a bunch of stuff like that. It’s pretty random.”

I felt helpless and unable to move. “Lo siento!” I told the man in the yellow shirt. “Lo siento!

I’m sorry!

They were the hollowest, vainest words I ever produced. Saying them felt worse than saying nothing.

The two cops hoisted him up by the feet again and began walking away with him. I could hear the man’s torso scratching against the rough pavement as they towed him away. His face bobbed up and down as it was forced over potholes. His shirt bunched up around his armpits. He shrieked like a banshee. For a moment he attempted to free himself but he soon gave up. He fell silent and stared straight into my eyes. Even as they pulled him through the door to the police station, his eyes never left mine.

I forced myself to stare back. There was tremendous guilt and nothing else. His pain was my creation. So I stared back at him.

It was the least I could do.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

City of Bridges

I remember one time, we were hanging out under that tree that was halfway between my place and yours. I knelt down and picked at the wood chips on the ground surrounding the tree, and I asked you, “Why can’t you walk?”

Please understand that I didn’t mean to be tactless by that. I didn’t see you as some permanent part-boy part-mechanized entity. I saw you as my good friend, and I wanted you to be able to walk like me, to ride a bike like me. You looked sad when I asked you that. “I was born like this,” you said. “I’ll never be able to walk in my whole life.”

I remember that I stood up and I looked you in the eye and I said, “Sure you can. If you try hard enough, you can do anything. So you can definitely walk if you try really, really hard. You just haven’t been trying hard enough.” You shook your head, but I saw hope in your eyes. I was young and naive and believed that you could walk. You were young and, I assume, feared the reality of endless confinement to your wheelchair.

So I remember when I unbuckled the belt in your lap and grabbed one of your legs and put it on the ground. “Ready?” I asked. You answered, “Yes.” I put your other leg on the ground, and then grabbed your torso from the front and lifted you up. I let your shrivelled legs make contact with the ground. You were unable to stand on your own, of course. But not from lack of trying. Our faces were inches from each other, and I remember vividly the look of determination, the struggle on your face.

“I’m going to let go now,” I said.

“No,” you said. “Please, don’t.”

I let go of you. Of course, you crumpled to the ground. You didn’t cry. You sat there for a moment, just breathing. And then I watched you as you crawled along the ground - the manure glued the wood chips to your body, but you didn’t care - and climbed up your wheelchair again. I remember I said, “You can still do it. You just have to practice and keep trying hard.” That was unfair. I wasn’t aware of it then, but I recognize now that I was overly callous. Please understand that I wanted to help you, even though my attempts hurt you.

After that, you wanted to play video games with me at your house. It was a steep hill down to your place, remember? Down Ridge Point Circle, I mean, not Lark Tree Circle. Really steep. Most of the streets attached to Hunting Ridge Road had pretty sharp inclines. Do you remember how I would let go of your wheelchair sometimes and let you ride down really fast, and you’d be scared, but then I’d catch up to you again and make you stop before you hit a parked car or a tree? You pretended that you hated it, but you always had a smile on your face whenever I caught up to you, and you never had your hands anywhere close to your emergency brakes, because you knew I would never have let you hit anything. And because you knew that I wanted you to know how it felt to go real fast, to do regular kid stuff.

Once we got to your place, you got out of your wheelchair and crept up the stairs to your room. We went to your room and played Ecco the Dolphin on your Sega Genesis. I remember that your mother was strict and religious and never wanted me to eat supper at your place, so I had learned to go home before she could stomp up the stairs and condescendingly ask me to leave. I’d eat supper at my place and then watch cartoons in my parents’ room, patiently waiting for your phone call so we could hang out again.

In 1996, I moved back to Canada. Before I left, we both hugged and I promised to come visit you again. I remember that we both cried, and I said I’d miss you. I meant it – it was a long time before I had an opportunity to see you again. In 2000, my parents finally decided to take us back to Pittsburgh so my brother and I could visit our old friends.

Remember Brian? Well, when I went to go visit him, I went to watch him play baseball against some other school. It was our school, South Fayette, versus some other one. It didn’t matter, because Brian’s team - our team - won. After it ended, we sat on the bleachers and watched two other teams play. I asked him if he knew where you lived now and he didn’t answer me. I asked him if we could hang out with you after the game, and he still wouldn’t answer me. His face got white. I asked him if you were okay, and then he turned to me and said, “Timmy’s dead. He died last year.” For a moment I didn’t react, and then I started to cry. I asked Brian how you died and he said you died of heart failure. I imagined you on your death bed in the hospital, with translucent tubes vainly pumping useless liquids into your body, while I was in Quebec riding my bike and playing video games with my friends. My world unchanged, but your world crumbling around you.

I sobbed uncontrollably. Every family on the bleachers stared at me, but I didn’t care. I kept asking Brian if he was joking. I wanted it to be a joke. But of course, it wasn’t. Brian asked if this was going to ruin my vacation, and I said yes, yes it was going to ruin my fucking vacation. And even then, I thought of how you would have gasped if you had heard me swear, and I cried harder. I felt like I was alone in some dark, empty cosmos, just crying there. Timmy, the tears were so bad, I had to throw my shirt away. I couldn’t bear to look at it after that.

I ran through all of my memories of you. There was the time where I pretended to smoke a cigarette butt I found in the street and imitated a scene from Saved by the Bell and you freaked out and threatened to tell my mother and I ran away home, scared shitless, and you followed me up that hill, by yourself, and you rang my doorbell over and over again to apologize. I remember when we had super soaker fights in the summer, and you crawled behind trees and made jokes about peeing in your water gun so that we were extra scared to get hit by you. I remember us both wanting to be Brooklyn from the Gargoyles cartoon whenever we played, and arguing endlessly with you on which one of us would get to be Leonardo when we played Ninja Turtles. I always ceded to you and chose Donatello, and you’d call me girly for choosing the purple one.

And now all of that became hear-say all of a sudden. No one could really prove that any of that had happened. You were gone. Vanished. It was like you had never been alive. And once I went back home, you really were a ghost; there was no one else that could acknowledge you. My parents were so busy with their lives and it had been so long since I had seen you that you were barely even a memory to them. You haunted me, and only me.

Every once in a while, my parents go back to Pittsburgh to visit their friends. They always offer to bring me along, but I've always refused to go. Because I know that if I go, I’ll have to go back to where I lived, and I’ll have to see that tree and that hill. I’ll think of how unfair this was for you. And I’ll think of what we had and I’ll feel the gargantuan pain of losing you again.

Timmy, do you remember that song we used to sing? We used to sing it a lot when we hung out as kids. You know, the one about us being super heroes and best friends at the same time. It was really nerdy. I don’t remember the words exactly, but I remember the gist of what it was about, and the music too. Timmy, I never forgot it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Man in the Yellow Shirt (Part 2)

I looked back at the elderly couple on their rocking chairs nearby. How could they have just let this happen? I found myself thinking.

My moment of clarity was short-lived, and I went back into a sort of trance. Jen was speaking to me, but I couldn’t really hear her. My whole perception of the world was warped. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how it happened so quickly. I stuck my hands in my pockets again several times and felt the same feeling of perplexity each time they came back empty. A plethora of thoughts swirled around in my head, all fighting for dominance. The predominant feeling was terror. How am I going to get home? I wondered. Am I even going to live through this day? I walked around in a small circle over and over again, staring at my feet. Every once in a while, I grabbed at my socks to feel the debit card and the credit card I had hidden in each one – it gave me a momentary sense of relief each time I did it. Jen and the elderly couple watched me perform this ritual.

I felt the wind tugging on my hair and the heat of the Nicaraguan sun on my skin, and I was deeply afraid.

“Hey,” Jen said. I looked up. “Are you okay?” she asked. I nodded, even though I wasn’t.

I looked around us. There were half a dozen people walking around; most of them must have witnessed the mugging. “Why didn’t they do anything? Why aren’t they helping?” I asked. Jen didn’t answer me. I stared at the ground, helpless.

“We have to go get them,” she said. “Those gangbangers are going to fucking die.” Searching for them seemed like the worst thing we could do, but I gave her a small nod anyway. Part of me did want revenge.

“We need to call the police or something,” I said. “What’s the number for 911 in this piece of shit country? It’s 112 or something like that, right?”

That’s when I saw the police officer. He was about 100 metres ahead of us on the sidewalk, walking in our direction. Jen and I screamed at him simultaneously. “Ayuda! Policía! Ayuda! Policía!” The police officer’s reaction was subtle. He picked up his pace but not by much. He was still only walking. I couldn’t believe it. “Why is he so fucking slow?” I asked Jen. I decided to run towards him. I sprinted as fast as I could. When he noticed me running, he stopped walking. When I got to him he had a smile on his face. I was too upset over the mugging to ask him what the fuck he thought was so funny. In broken Spanish, I succintly told him that two men had just robbed me. As I tried to explain what had happened, Jen caught up to us. Her Spanish was superior, so I let her describe the whole event to him. He nodded but said nothing. He then dramatically took out his pistol, making a big show of it.

I didn’t have a good feeling about this. The cop started walking up the sidewalk, back the way we came. We followed him. We pointed at the ghetto where the two thieves had run off to, so he turned onto the side street and led us there. He occasionally waved his gun in the air as he walked, almost as if he was batting at flies. There were a few dozen people sitting outside in the ghetto; everyone stared at us. A small boy dressed in nothing more than glorified rags walked up to Jen and asked her what was going on. After she answered him in a few words, he grabbed a wooden stick and followed us. Many other boys saw him and decided to follow suit.

The cop clearly had no idea what he was doing. He brought us to the back of a public school – a building so decrepit that I was concerned that pieces of discoloured brick would fall on us if we got too close to it – and made a spectacle of waving his gun around, as if he was looking for the men who robbed me. Meanwhile, a small band of nearly a dozen stick-carrying boys followed closely behind, pretending to shoot at invisible robbers. It was laughable and pathetic. I wanted to kill the cop for not taking this seriously.

I wanted someone competent to help us with the situation. “Back-up?” I asked the police officer. He looked confused. “No hablo inglés,” he said, chuckling. “Okay, then,” I said. “Can you please bring mas policía? Mucho mas fucking policía, por favor?” He closed his eyes and laughed, hard. I struggled not to punch him as hard as I could in the jaw. I pulled on my hair out of frustration. “Si,” he said. “Más policía viene.” He took his radio out of his pocket and spoke into it. All of the boys got excited upon seeing this. I grew more frustrated. Is the back-up even going to help?, I thought.

The policeman brought us away from the school building and back to the side street that had led us into the ghetto. By now enough commotion had been brewed by the children that a crowd of roughly a hundred people had formed. Seeing such a large number of people startled me. I was scared. Jen kept muttering to herself. I could tell she was about to lose it. People started to approach us, asking what had happened. She would tell each one, “La muerte a los ladrones!Death to the robbers! Many people thought this was hilarious. Some people yelled out at her, “China! China!” This made her furious. She started to chant the same words over and over again, screaming it at the crowd. “LA MUERTE A LOS LADRONES!” The crowd laughed back. The policeman laughed too.

I wanted this to be over. I wanted to be anywhere else but there. I didn’t believe in what we were doing; I knew that we were hunting these robbers in vain, and that even if we caught them it was likely that they had guns as well and would use them against us. On top of that, I didn’t trust the policeman, either. I didn’t want to die over what had been in my pockets. For a moment, I longed for my home. I wanted to be back in Quebec, gorging myself on vegan poutine and paté chinois, watching dvds, hanging out with friends, cold but comfortable in knowing that I could go outside any day of the week without feeling anything even remotely associated with fear. But I knew in my heart that this situation had to be dealt with now, and that I had to use everything I had in order to make it out okay. I couldn’t give up, just then. Not yet.

I opened my eyes wide and clenched my fists with new determination. A Nicaraguan woman walked up to me. I instinctively flinched and grabbed my switch-blade. She put out her hands to show that she meant no harm. I looked her up and down. She was wearing a torn dress, caked with mud. She asked me in Spanish what had happened, and I briefly told her the story. A few men nearby laughed at my attempt to tell it. She asked me if I needed to use a cellular phone to make a call, and offered hers. I thanked her but told her it wasn’t necessary. She nodded and disappeared back into the crowd.

I turned around and saw Jen still screaming, “La muerte a los ladrones!” She had let her anger take complete control of her. The crowd pointed and laughed at her every time she yelled it. It suddenly annoyed the hell out of me that she was taking this so badly when she hadn’t been mugged herself.

“Jen,” I said.

La muerte a los ladrones!

“Jen,” I said again.

La muerte a los madrones!

That was it.

“Jen? Jen! Shut the fuck up! They’re going to kill us if you don’t shut the fuck up!” I yelled at her. I grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. She punched me in the shoulder, but stopped chanting. She looked at a man standing close to us. “Muerte,” she said. She mimed having her throat slashed with her hand, the international gesture for death. I thought she looked like a fool doing it. The man giggled hysterically.

My attention was abruptly turned to the cop. He was arguing with a man. I couldn’t understand anything they were saying. Most of the crowd was behind the man, and openly supported him, taunting the police officer. The man had no shirt on, was wearing tattered shorts and two different shoes; he was holding a bowl of soup over his head and threatening to throw it at the cop. The cop pulled out his gun and aimed it at the man’s head. “Whoa!” I yelled involuntarily. The crowd gasped as well. I grabbed Jen and backed us slowly away from the cop. I wanted to put as much distance between us to send the message that we weren’t connected with whatever he was doing. I knew the odds weren’t good between us and a mob of roughly one hundred destitute Nicaraguans. Where is this fucking back-up? I wondered.

We were about 10 metres from the cop when he unexpectedly rushed forward and kicked the man in the balls. The man crumpled to the ground, but still managed to hold the bowl of soup upright with one outstretched arm. Not one drop spilled out of the bowl. Two men came forward and offered to help him up, but he refused to be helped. He stood up and made as if to throw the bowl of soup onto the policeman. The situation rapidly degenerated. They got into a shouting match until the man spat straight into the cop’s face.

The cop cocked his pistol and pushed it flush into the man’s face. Right next to his nose. The man sighed, closed his eyes and smiled.