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Rock-a-bye.

As you hold his bloody, trembling hand, the boy tells you that his father used to be a policeman, just like you. You ask him to tell you about his father; just to keep him talking until the ambulance arrives. He tries to reply but coughs and spits blood, and you tell him that it's going to be alright, and that he has to hold on, but you are scared because the blood stain on his shirt is growing larger by the second.

It has been eight minutes since you called the emergency hotline to report the hit and run. As usual, you hadn't been able to sleep and were hoping that a drive around the island would calm your chaotic thoughts. You decided to take a right at the roundabout, instead of your usual left, and had seen the car slam into the boy crossing the road. You check your watch. The ambulance should have been here by now.

The boy mutters that his favorite show is 24, not because of the guns and killing, but because he likes how Jack Bauer always does the right thing and follows his gut, although it may hurt people. You resist the urge to tell him that isn't how real life works, and most people aren't interested in doing the right thing, and you need a sign-off sheet to follow your gut. You don't tell him that just a few hours earlier, a woman who called in at the station to report her abusive boyfriend was just murdered by him, in front of her three children.

She was a young, frail-looking thing. The kind of person you'd expect to see as a nursery school teacher, hugging the snotty-nosed children and singing lullabies or rolling in wild grass with her husband, kissing and whispering sweet nothings to each other. She just didn't belong there in her lover's house; a place where anger was widespread and a fist was the first thing that welcomed her when the sun rose.

You don't tell him that your partner took hours to report the complaint; he knew that the woman called every month about her lover, but always dropped the charges when they arrested him. That you had pleaded with her last month to let the law do its job, but she was too scared and confused to listen, and that today when she called again screaming that he was going to kill her, you had a gut feeling it would be the last time you heard her voice. You can't tell him that, so instead, you tell him that 24 is your favorite show too.

He asks you if you have ever killed anyone, and reluctantly, you tell him that you were forced to shoot a man in self-defense. That you told the man to drop his weapon several times, but he shouted that he would die before he went back to prison, and tried to pull a gun from his pocket. You don't tell him that it happened three weeks ago, and you haven't been able to sleep since then.

You could have predicted the next question. After your friends and family thought that you had enough time to recuperate, they pulled you aside in the corridor at work, or while you were relaxing on the couch, and asked you how it felt to kill someone. Some looked at you, eyes filled with pity and concern, maybe wondering if now you've lost a bit of your humanity, while others reflected lust and eagerness, seemingly hoping that their turn to take a life would soon come.

"Have you ever had a dream so real that waking up seemed fake?" you ask him, but he doesn't understand. You tell him that it was scary for you, scary for you because you didn't feel anything at all, that you were numb. You feel a weight being lifted from your shoulders because this is the first time you've ever answered truthfully. You tell him that you never thought that a human could scream so loud, and that the scream stays with you, coming out sometimes in the wee hours of the morning while you're in bed. And when that scream pulls you out of your sleep, you need to take a few moments to figure out which state is dream or reality.

You sit there for a moment, caught in a swell of depression and remorse, but then you hear the boy softly reciting something. You think it's a prayer but as you listen closely you realize he is quoting the first line of the Police Code of Ethics. You are in shock, and you ask him how he could possibly know that, and he repeats that his father used to be a policeman. He repeats what your boss, your friend and your mother have all been telling you; that you were doing your job, and that the man made his choice, so you barely acknowledge the comment. Instead, you make comforting noises, and ask him again to tell you about his father.

You ponder about the Code while he is talking. It has been a long time since you thought about it; in fact, you haven't thought about it since you first joined the force four years ago. You remember your bright-eyed enthusiasm when you first walked through those gates, ready to serve and protect. That excitement dissolved the following day when you saw a colleague pulverize a frightened dreadlocked man for some information. You protested and he told you to get accustomed and not to be fooled by the innocent look, that most of those people were criminals. He told you that you were called the police force for a reason; you do what you have to do to get the job done.

Later you realize that the job gets done for certain people; the ones who can afford to send lucky dips filled with exorbitant prizes to your head of department.

You realize that there is a different protocol, depending on the color of your skin. When the drunk rich man drove into a chattel house and seriously injured the old lady sitting in the gallery, you were ready to arrest him at the hospital, but your boss gently held your shoulder. Wait, he said, this has to be handled differently. You fume silently at your desk, and applaud the public uproar and the people's demand for justice. A week later, you fume silently at your desk because now that a local celebrity wore a see-through dress to a restaurant, everyone has forgotten about the old lady in intensive care.

You realize that the law protects everyone, even the killers. You know who murdered the three young girls in the fields, but a small flaw in the procedure allows him to walk free in society. It would be so easy for you to sneak into that estate and steal the bloody heels rumored to be in his basement, but you can do nothing. You eventually realize that when everyone is protected by the law ... no one is.

You realize that you have been daydreaming, and the boy has stopped talking and the ambulance still has not arrived. You quickly check his pulse, notice that it is weak, and frantically call a contact at the hospital. She tells you that the system is down, and MILE has no signal, so it is utter chaos, but after you release expletives and threaten to call the head of the department, she says she will send help right away. Exactly one and a half minutes later, you hear the siren in the distance.

It is there, at that moment, lying on the cold pavement with the dying boy, that you reach your breaking point. You watch the paramedics treat the boy, and you think of the little garden in your yard, and the pen with a few chickens. In the hospital waiting room, sitting in a hard, plastic chair, you decide that farming would not be a bad career choice.

An hour later, a woman calls your name, and you look up. She sits next to you and holds your hand, and tells you that her son is in critical condition, and the doctor says that the next few hours will determine whether he lives. She says she's already lost her husband, and she doesn't know what she'll do if she loses her son too. You open your mouth to give your condolences, but she silences you.

She cups your face with sweaty, cold palms, and just says "thank you, thank you" over and over, for not leaving her son alone, for staying and talking to him. She bursts into tears and rests her head on your shoulder, and she cries, and you cry, and those salt sweet tears merge together, a mix of pain, regret, guilt and most of all, relief, to form a justice that allows you to close your eyes, in that hard, uncomfortable plastic chair ... and sleep.
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Author:Bourne, Shakira
Publication:Journal of Caribbean Literatures
Article Type:Short story
Date:Mar 22, 2013
Words:1501
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