Monday, June 21, 2010

The Man in the Yellow Shirt (Part 4)

¿Está vivo?” I asked. Is he alive? Gonzalez widened his eyes momentarily at that, and exploded into raucous laughter. The other policemen laughed with him. “¿Habla francés o inglés?” I asked. They continued laughing.

Frustrated, I shook my head and looked up at the fluorescent lights. Jen and I were sitting in dusty office chairs in the Managua National Police Force’s headquarters. The walls were painted a chartreuse yellow that made me nauseous. We were constantly shivering; the building was over-air-conditioned and freezing. The cops didn’t seem to mind. Some of them looked busy, but the majority of them hovered around us and made small talk to each other. They were like school-children; they persistently made fart noises at each other, mocked my Spanish, and threw racist insults at Jen.

Every time I tried to stand up and say something in protest, Gonzalez and his partner Rodriguez – a man who never laughed or smiled, sported an imposing mustache, and frequently furrowed his eyebrows at me – placed their hands on my shoulders and gently forced me back onto the chair. After I did it enough times, they resigned themselves to keeping their hands on my shoulders, which I repeatedly tried to shake off. Jen and I barely said anything to each other while we waited. She asked me a few times if I was okay and I would answer with a numb, faraway expression on my face that no, I was not really okay.

After what seemed like an hour, Gonzalez and his partner motioned for us to get up and follow them. We walked with them through the building and into the unit’s homicide detective’s office. The office was small and painted the same disgusting chartreuse yellow as the room we had just left. The detective was sitting in a computer chair. He was built like a truck, but he slouched to the point that his neck was touching the top of the chair. He didn’t bother to introduce himself. He just pointed at a computer monitor in front of him and asked me to identify anyone who looked familiar to me.

He began scrolling through pictures that he’d taken of criminals arrested in the past. I said, “No,” every time a new man showed up. It was an asinine task. After a while, I let out a laugh in spite of myself. They all looked the same. Every one of them had a mustache, and almost all of them wore wife-beaters. I told the detective that they all looked the same to me; he asked me to describe the men who robbed me in great detail. As I told the story of my mugging, he looked into my eyes, feigning attention, and sporadically glimpsed at the computer screen. I couldn’t help but notice that whenever he caught me making eye contact with him and not looking at the monitor, he would click on the computer mouse as many times as he could in order to go through the pictures faster. I couldn’t tell if he was naïve enough to really believe that I’d been tricked, or if he was just blatantly trying to get rid of me. I decided to just stare at him until he was done. He rapidly went through the rest of the photos. The detective said something to Gonzalez, who tapped me on the shoulder and motioned for us to follow him.

As we walked out I turned around to see what the detective had been up to before we’d bothered him. He was playing solitaire.

Gonzalez led us out of the detective’s office and into his own office. Rodriguez stood in the doorway and watched us. We sat in front of Gonzalez’s desk; I had my arms crossed and was still shivering. “Frío,” I told Gonzalez. His face showed no emotion. “Demasiado frío,” Jen added helpfully. Too cold. He gave her a weak smile but said nothing. He turned on his computer and looked out the window while it loaded.

His computer was slow. It took a long time.

Once his computer was turned on, he began asking me questions about the mugging. I answered to the best of my abilities but was somewhat reluctant to cooperate fully – I was still in shock at what they had done to the man in the yellow shirt – but I knew I needed the police report in order to apply for a new passport at the embassy. After I answered all of his questions, he printed out a copy of the police report and stamped it. He handed it to me and told me to sign it. I did. He signed the space next to my name. My sloppy signature looked like beautiful calligraphy compared to his own childish signature. He told me to bring it to the Canadian embassy. I nodded.

Jen asked Gonzalez if we could leave the police station now. He told her that there was one last thing for us to do before going. Rodriguez led us outside to a concrete walkway. The cracked concrete slabs led to a small jail. Rodriguez asked me to follow him but insisted that Jen stay with Gonzalez. I shrugged and followed him to the jail. He opened up a slot in the front door and asked me to peer into it. I did.

The man in the yellow shirt was in there. Except his yellow shirt wasn’t really yellow anymore. It was a mixture of colours and textures, of magenta, crimson, sand and soil. There were pieces of it missing. However, if he hadn’t been wearing the shirt I wouldn’t have recognized him. His face was brutally swollen. His eyes hid inside the puffy skin of his temples and cheeks. His jaw was set an awkward angle, and his leg, broken at the tibia, sagged away from him. There was sand and dirt in his wounds. He hopped a little on his good leg in order to keep himself balanced. Rodriguez yelled something and the man in the yellow shirt shuffled around until he was standing at a 90 degree angle from us. I looked back at Rodriguez and said, “No. Este hombre no robó.” This was not the man who robbed me. He was not pleased at my statement. He did an about turn and rushed back to Gonzalez and Jen at the other end of the concrete walkway.

I followed him back. Rodriguez shoved me towards Gonzalez and motioned for Jen to follow him. “It’s the guy they tortured,” I told her. “He’s in there. Rodriguez wants you to say that he’s the robber.” Rodriguez heard his name and pointed a finger in my face and screamed at me. I didn’t know what he was saying, but I assumed that he was telling me to shut up so that I wouldn’t bias Jen’s opinion on whether the man in the yellow shirt was a criminal or not.

Rodriguez asked Jen to walk in front of him to the jail. I watched as he stared at her ass and legs when she peered into the slot. It made me livid but I was too exhausted to even consider doing something about it. I turned away and looked at a pile of rocks leaning against a building. Then, Gonzalez spoke up.

Este hombre ha sido detenido antes. Es un ladrón y un mentiroso. Ha luchado a policía. El me ha luchado,” he said. This man has been arrested before. He is a thief and a liar. He has fought police. He has fought me. He smiled when he finished saying the last sentence.

I did not believe him. The urge to grab his pistol and shoot him was overwhelming. “Verdadero?” I asked. True?

Ah, si,” he said, chuckling. “Si.

Jen came back with Rodriguez following closely behind her. Tears rolled down her cheeks. He was still looking at her ass. He looked up and realized that I caught him in the act, but lowered his gaze at her thighs once more before Gonzalez barked, in English, “Come. Walk.”

Rodriguez crossed his arms and stood there, watching us. He furrowed his eyebrows at me again. I furrowed mine back at him. We followed Gonzalez into one end of a building and out the other end, back to the police station’s parking lot. He asked, “¿Quiere ir a la embajada canadiense?” I didn’t know what that meant, but I understood the words embajada and canadiense.

Canadian embassy.

Si,” I said quickly.

Gonzalez pointed at a young, bearded police officer standing next to a gold-coloured SUV. He motioned for us to go inside. I climbed into the front passenger seat next to the police officer. Jen sat in the back. Gonzalez leaned into the open window and told the driver to go to the Canadian embassy. The officer nodded silently.

Gonzalez stepped back and put his hands on his hips. “Goodbye,” he said in accented English. He smiled.

I smiled back.

Va chier mon tabarnak,” I said in French.

The driver stepped on the gas pedal and the SUV lurched out of the parking lot. I could see Gonzalez waving at us in the rear-view mirror. I sighed and slumped into my seat. Everything is going to get better from this moment on, I thought. I’m going to hang out in the embassy, get my passport shit sorted out, and get the fuck out of this hellhole.

As the truck drove onto the on-ramp to the highway, Jen tapped my shoulder from the back.

“Marc? There’s a gun back here,” she said.

I looked back. There was an M-60 machine gun sitting next to her on the backseat. There was a magazine clip in it and though I’d never shot an M-60 in the Canadian military, I immediately recognized that the safety on it was off. The M-60 was pointed right at her.

“Okay, Jen,” I said. “Listen to me carefully. See that little thing sticking out? That lever thing?”

“Can’t you just do it?” she asked. “I’m scared.”

“No, I don’t think this dude’s going to like watching me play around with his gun,” I said. “It’ll be less obvious if you just do it. Just flip that lever there and it’ll be done.”

“You promise it won’t shoot at me?”

“I promise.”

“This one?” she asked pointing at the safety lever. She sounded uneasy.

“Yeah, that one. Flip it up. Make sure it’s up and not down.”

“Will something happen to me if I flip it down?” Her voice cracked.

“No, nothing bad will happen. I swear.”

She fumbled at the safety lever until it finally went up with an audible click. The driver opened his eyes a little wider but didn’t look away from the road. I sighed and put my head in my hands. I looked at my ratty shoes through my fingers. I felt an intense desire to cry but found myself unable to.

After a while, the SUV grinded to a halt in front of a building surrounded by a barbed wire perimeter fence and dozens security cameras. A Canadian flag flew in the front yard of the building. A Nicaraguan man carrying a pump shotgun sat in a cabin on the street side of the fence.

Uno momento por favor,” I told the driver. I got out of the SUV and walked towards the cabin. Jen stayed in the truck.

“Are you open?” I asked the security guard.

“No,” said the guard in accented English. “Open Monday.”

“Okay,” I said, gritting my teeth. “Thanks.”

Discouraged, I walked back to the SUV, trying in vain to keep myself together. I got into the truck and looked at the driver. He looked back at me, waiting for me to say something.

“Can’t your shitty country have embassies that are open on a fucking Saturday?” I asked him. My hands were shaking. He looked at me, unsmiling.

Lo siento,” he said. “No entiendo.

“Yeah, no fucking kidding. None of you do,” I said. “You’re all too busy fighting crime, right? I bet McGruff leaves his machine gun loaded in his backseat, too.”

“Jesus, relax,” Jen said. “He didn’t do anything to you.”

I turned around to face Jen. “I don’t care about this guy. I cannot leave this country. I am stuck here. Until that changes, I’m going to treat this guy however the fuck I want.”

“Okay, but that isn’t going to open the fucking embassy any faster,” she said, rolling her eyes.

I shuddered at the realization that I was going to be stuck in Managua for a while. Two days at least. Probably more than that. Probably even a week. I crossed my arms and looked out the window at the embassy. I wanted nothing more than to be inside of it, to speak to my family, to feel safe again. I’d have slept on the floor if I were allowed to. I’d have starved for the privilege.

Jen asked the driver if he could drive us to a hostel in her Lonely Planet book. He nodded and stepped on the gas again. The ride to the hostel took a long time - he had to drive through the neighbourhood I’d just been mugged in. I couldn’t look out the window. I looked at my shoes again and didn’t look up until the SUV stopped in front of the hostel.

Jen thanked the police officer and we got out of the truck. Jen still had her bags. I had mine, minus my passport, camera, wallet, and money. I kept feeling my pockets just in case I hadn’t really been mugged. Each time I checked, I felt an intense wave of pain at the realization that I wasn’t getting my possessions back. I felt powerless. After remembering that the muggers had put their hands in my pockets, I hastily took my hands out and spit on them and furiously rubbed them against the ground or on my jeans. A family, presumably the owners of the hostel, watched as I did this. They looked amused.

We went inside the hostel and checked out one of the rooms. It had hot water, a rare luxury. We took it. There were no other tourists staying in the building; it would only be us and the family who owned it.

Jen paid for the room and immediately jumped in the shower. I sat on the front steps of the hostel and cradled my face in my hands again. Every time I closed my eyes I saw the man in the yellow shirt through that jail slot, looking back at me but not seeing me. I felt someone put their hand on my shoulder. I looked up and saw a Nicaraguan kid, probably about ten years old. I yelped involuntarily and put my hands up in reflexive defence. He stepped back and said, in English, “I am sorry.”

I realized that he was the hostel owners’ son. “Why are you sad?” he asked.

“Your English is really good,” I said stupidly.

“Thank you.” He smiled. “I go to school. Why are you sad?”

The boy’s grandmother came out to check on him and sat down next to me. For her benefit, I reconstructed the story of my mugging and the events that followed in broken Spanish. It was tough, and I had to ask the boy to help me translate parts of it. They listened impassively until my story was over.

“That’s why I’m sad,” I said.

The boy put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it.

“It will be okay,” he said.

They both stood up and wordlessly went back into the hostel. I was alone. I shoved my face into my hands again. I thought of the injustice of my being robbed, and then I remembered the man in the yellow shirt and felt like a fool, like a selfish, white, privileged fool. I wondered if he was ever going to get out. I doubted that he would have a normal life afterwards, if he did get out. I wondered if the robbers were happy, and I wished with all of my being that they would die, that they would die an excruciating and dreadful death. And then I remembered that once I got home, my quality of life would be exponentially better than any life those thieves could make for themselves, and I felt guilty again. They would probably die before me, and it wouldn’t necessarily be deserved. Not to mention the man in the yellow shirt. His death in jail, if it came, would be because of me, and he didn’t deserve to die.

I desperately needed to manifest my anguish into tears. I closed my eyes and tried to cry. I couldn’t. I never was able to.