I have learned not to scream for help. The barracks we live in houses some of the most hardened criminals I know. Those are not the people who will get up and come to your aid. I still don’t know why I stay. I don’t know how it continues, and I do not know how to stop it. Every time I hear the men talking and joking about the latest spousal abuse victim, my heart plummets. Change has not come home.
I don’t know why I became a police officer. I always liked that they meant safety – and they seemed so proud in their uniforms during parades. I liked the order – growing up in a big family didn’t provide much order for me. After high school, which my mother worked so hard to pay for, I decided to become an officer of the law.
The pay is shitty, the hours are long, and depending where we’re assigned, the people can be really hard to deal with. After almost ten years as a policewoman, I am still surprised at how the justice system works in my country. I have seen murderers walk out free, rapists let out early only to come back in for the same crimes. I’ve seen thieves out and about, roaming free, while paperwork has been shuffled and somehow lost, so that any justice is delayed, until the robbed give up in frustration. I have also seen innocent people harassed, beaten, extorted – it’s always the poor who suffer. Those with money seem to be untouchable.
When I was transferred to San Pedro in Ambergris Caye, I was happy to have a different place to start fresh. So much for that dream.
After my shower, I put on some makeup to cover the bruise, and then I dressed in my uniform, heading out for my evening shift. Most of the evening shifts included sitting around at the station, and if I was paired up with the other female officer in the unit, Lisa, then at least, we’d have some time to talk and have fun. When I walked in to the front of the station, I saw Lisa already at her desk. I was so glad to have female company.
The night seemed to be crawling, and the seconds ticked by slowly. The phone rang once in a while, just general complaints or commentary. The radio remained silent. I tried to organize my desk, filing some papers, reviewing a few break-in statements, trying to think, and trying not to tire my eyes too much. The bruised eye, my right, was throbbing slightly but I refused to rub or touch it. I wanted to draw as little attention to it. Lisa had seen it of course - she had been one of the few who had tried to come to my aid in the beginning – and had learned early on not to intervene.
When I had yawned for about the fifteenth time, I decided to take a walk around the office. Other officers kept coming in and out, some ambling, some rushing, but always making it seem as though their duties were the most important. The chief was with one of his whores probably, nowhere to be found. I always wondered whatever happened to his wife and daughters. I know he had a daughter who had been in hospital for a long time, but you would think he had no ties to family, the way he slept through the number of prostitutes from the various bars no-one went to raid. Growing up, I thought that being a police officer was honorable, something to be proud of. Seeing the rot and filth that made up our officers of the law now, well, I sometimes laugh at myself. But why am I still here? I am unable to do anything, I cannot change the force. I am but one woman, a policewoman whose police boyfriend beats the shit out of her.
The walk proved effective, and I thought of my various forms of escape. What could a former policewoman do in civilian life? What would my mother think? She had always maintained that she chose to be single because it was better than to have a drunken asshole hit her every time he felt like. I was strong once. I was never as strong as she was – but I didn’t let people take advantage of me. Being alone here, lonely for family and friendless (except for Lisa) – somehow my defenses wore down. For the past few months since I have been with him, he has hit me four times. The first time it happened, I screamed for help, I fought back clawing and kicking, but he held me down on the bed, cuffed me, and using his baton, open palms, balled up fists, hit me. The humiliation and pain paralyzed me, and fear as I had never known in my life, consumed me.
My fear never went away, and seeing the jeering light and open contempt on the other officers’ faces made me realize that nothing would ever happen to him either. Sergeant Paulo would never pay for his transgressions. That I remained in the same room with him at the barracks, and still cooked and cleaned up for and after him, I don’t know why I did it. I don’t know why I stay. I just don’t know.
After my circle around the building, I came back to my desk, where an excited Lisa was hanging up the phone. “Something big babygirl!” she exclaimed. “Murdered girl…apartment…right up the street…boyfriend just called.”
He must have done it, I thought. Almost immediately, I felt ashamed for jumping to conclusions. Gathering my things, I headed outside, where one of the nicer officers sat on a golf cart waiting. The patrol vehicle was getting full use somewhere down south with its four passengers – including Paulo. I didn’t want to know what he was up to, I didn’t care, I was glad he wasn’t around for this. I liked to work with my colleagues, but I hated how he made me feel useless when he was around.
The drive was short, and as I drew up to the two story white cement building, I could already see a crowd forming. Lots of people in their sleeping outfits; one woman in her fluffy slippers, old fashioned nightgown and a single roller at her crown - I almost laughed – it was a caricature so unexpected. Up the stairs we went, my companion and I both hoping for… what? A clean scene? I don’t know what to expect any more. I have been to my share of death scenes, and it’s like I have seen it all. At the top stair, my nostrils picked up the iron-y scent of blood. It’s very hard to mistake that scent - a metallic tang that is sharp and acrid. I also smelled urine, so I knew I was in for a mess. Most people pray for old age death in bed, during their sleep. I also pray for many things, including a clean passing away. Even if I die young, I don’t want to leave a mess.
The victim is young, and maybe she was pretty once. Her skin is marred with a lifetime of bruises, purples and blacks showing up all over her naked body, her face has been smashed in on the left side. Her tongue is sticking out from the asphyxiation she suffered at the hands of her attacker. I have not seen her boyfriend, but I am sure he will never forget the sight of his once pretty girl dying an ugly death. I look at her, and I wonder – who did all this to her? Some of the markings on her body are from a previous attack. Her face is scratched, two black eyes, her jaw and right cheek show fist sized marks. Her nose is broken and her blood caked nostrils and lips show suffering before final blessed relief of death. She only has a towel covering her lower body – it’s draped hastily over her. I wonder who did that, the killer, or her boyfriend? Already, I think that it can’t be the boyfriend – I don’t know why exactly, but the age of some of the scars tell a history of abuse. The father perhaps? I don’t even need to know why. It seems that there is no need for reason when such senseless killings happen.
I process the tiny apartment, going through the young girl’s things, finding few clues as to her life before her brutal death. In her bedside drawer, a photo album shows a chronicling of her life from baby to graduation. She went to sixth form; I envy her. One photograph is torn – there is a headless person hugging her, and she has a strained smile on her face. The rip is ragged, and I can imagine her tearing off his head, probably wishing it was real, and she was indeed decapitating the man next to her. I think it’s her father. I search for more clues, stumbling on a notebook. Mostly recipes fill the pages, small doodles, and at the very back, a phone number. Where was this young girl from, who was her family, how did she die?
Already, the doctor called in to help process the scene has done his work. It amazes me the kind of “work” done on dead bodies here. Maybe I watch too much crime TV, but I wonder if people in this country only do the bare minimum, hiding behind their titles, speaking a lot of jargon, hoping the illiterate and ignorant will be awed, and there is no further questioning of their methods. I steer clear of the body, and when she is removed and brought downstairs, I stay behind and try to make sense of what is left behind.
The pattern where her body lay looks to be so tiny and frail. She was not frail, she was a sturdy girl, healthy in size. Yet this girl died at the hands of someone she knew, someone she let in. I think of the ways that Paulo has been increasingly violent. His baton has played a role in the past couple of incidents. I don’t need to look at the blood around my feet to imagine it could be my scene. I look at my partner. He has a wife and two daughters – I can only imagine what he thinks of Marley. That was her name. My partner looks up at me, and he blinks as he takes in my face, almost as if he is seeing me for the first time. Automatically, I touch my bruised eye – he looks away, but I have seen the look on his face.
I could be Marley in the future – an older version – and my death would be at the hands of the one who stands for protection and safety. The bile rises in my throat, and I have to walk away.
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