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2011 03 The Birthday

By Marc Rugani

 The Birthday

 
 
I love my job.
 
There are so many people who hate theirs, dragging their feet as they get up, depressed at the thought of the day that’s beginning, the work that’s waiting for them or the bosses they don’t like or are afraid of. They have to put up with them watching, commenting and sometimes criticising until the evening when the doors of the office, factory, workshop or building site close.
 
That’s not my experience.  
 
In the morning I’m enthusiastic, happy at the prospect of the hours to come. I sing, I whistle as I shave, breakfast is a party. When my beautiful Marie – my wife – is standing by my side and we’re enveloped by the aroma of black coffee, it’s perfect.
 
It’s a pleasure to put on my uniform.
 
I’m a police officer.
 
And I’m proud of it.
 
 
 
I’ve been in this job for five years now.
 
It’s a vocation; when I was little, just beginning primary school, I knew what I wanted to do later on. How many times did I tell my teacher, my classmates “When I grow up, I’m going to be a policeman”! And later on at primary school and at secondary school, I didn’t even care about the teasing!
 
A lot of young boys have the same dreams – they want to become astronauts, aviators or racing drivers – but their ambitions don’t last long, their thoughts turn to other things or to nothing at all!
 
Not me. My desire never weakened or changed: it was a policeman I wanted to be.
 
And a policeman I’ve become.
 
I’ve often asked myself – and sometimes I still do – what pushed me towards this job. My father didn’t set me an example – he was a self-employed roofer – and neither did my mother, who looked after the house and the family. I’ve searched through my memories for books, films or comic strips that could have influenced me. I’ve weighed up my upbringing, which was religious, my morals, awareness of right and wrong and respect for others. I’ve acknowledged that all of this must have played a role, but that plenty of other little boys of my age watched the same films, read the same comics and had a similar upbringing but still didn’t want to become police officers. So, then?
 
I haven’t found the answer to my question, but at the end of the day, is it important? What is important is that I love my job and I’m happy to do it. 
 
 
 
After five years’ service I don’t feel at all worn out or weary. Quite the reverse: my passion has grown stronger every day.
 
Imposing order and making sure the law is obeyed so that society functions well come naturally to me. As does coming to the aid of the weak and oppressed by confronting the thugs, the outlaws, the wicked, those for whom violence and force take precedence and by preventing thieves, rapists, perverts, criminals, drunk or drugged drivers who put peoples’ lives in danger from doing any damage. All those people who respect nothing and no one … there are so many of them! I feel a bit like a rampart, a sea wall protecting the population from storms and external threats, or like a knight from ancient times, on a mission. And my uniform is a sign of my commitment.
 
Many people caught up in their own selfish worlds with their own interests think my profession is ridiculous or laughable or that it shows a lack of mental flexibility or too much imagination – fighting a battle that is lost before it is begun. They don’t understand the passion that drives me. 
 
Could my altruistic personality explain it?
 
Anyway, I’m a police officer and I can’t see myself being anything else.
 
 
 
Am I scared?
 
Not really. I don’t experience fear, so to speak.  My family and friends are astonished every time they ask me about this. You can see the disbelief on their faces – they think I’m bragging or telling tall stories, but even so, it’s the truth.
 
Is it being a third dan black belt in karate and a second dan black belt in tae kwon do, practising my skills two to three times a week at the police and local clubs and having played rugby, a contact sport in which players receive and sometimes deliver blows, that reassure me and keep me calm?
 
I’m not violent. I have a calm character, level-headed and peace-loving, I never lose my temper.
 
No, I’m not scared.  
 
And when my colleagues and I move into troubled areas and groups of youths surround us during checks, their hate visible, threats just beneath the surface, no, I’m not scared. It’s not that I don’t recognise the danger, but that the danger doesn’t scare me.
 
Many of my colleagues tense up over the years: the physical blows and insults and the daily hatred, fear and contempt they have to put up with from the public leave their mark. Violence and fear stealthily spread through them. Not me.
 
I’m a bit like a boat in stormy weather, following its route without rolling or pitching, its hull pristine, free from algae and shellfish, immune to rust.
 
I’m happy as a police officer.
 
 
 
Three days ago, my team and I, along with about a hundred riot police, took part in a ‘lightning raid’ in one of the city’s troubled neighbourhoods.
 
It’s a neighbourhood blighted by small-time gangs, young thugs, all kinds of crooks, organising rackets and trafficking, mostly drugs but girls too. Small-scale crime that will grow and prosper if nothing is done. The youths are badly brought up, barely able to read and write, having given up on school very early, without morals, faithless, their only laws their own and those of their big brothers, also thugs. Their parents? They gave up long ago. And sometimes they’re involved too! The only authority these people recognise is force and violence – theirs and that of the police.
 
The operation went well: the neighbourhood was surrounded early and combed with great care. No one could escape the checks.
 
Of the ten individuals picked up, five remain behind bars.
 
Justice will now play its part, but those five should be staying inside for a good stretch: they’re really bad sorts.
 
I knew the place well, having lived in the neighbourhood in my younger years. The corners, nooks and crannies, ‘secret passages’, cellars and other landmarks held no secrets for me. The same goes for the natives: people on the fringes, crazies, big shots and those destined to turn out badly, set on the wrong path. They were people of all backgrounds – black, Arab, white and Asian. I had a mental portrait of all of them – their names and their families.
 
The report I gave to my bosses was worth its weight in gold. When they were as well informed as this, the raid teams could work efficiently, cast an inescapable net and get a good catch.
 
My bosses appreciated it. “Well done,” they told me – they who are so stingy with their encouragement. They congratulated me on my information-gathering and on my actions during the raid: I was among those who got their hands on the head of the gang and his second-in-command.
 
I knew him, his parents and his little brother too; we had grown up together in the same block of buildings, we went to the same primary and secondary school, but then … we moved to opposing sides, he an adversary to fight, me an enemy. In fact, the younger brother had turned out worse than the older one, but he escaped the raid as he wasn’t in the area that morning. I spotted him at the end of the operation, far off to one side, concealed right in a corner, following what was going on, his brother in handcuffs and taken off in a police van: when our eyes met, I saw that his were filled with hate; and I saw his hand gesture clearly: thumb down.
 
I didn’t take any particular pleasure in arresting him, only that of a job well done. No sadistic pleasure or feeling of revenge, none of that, just the satisfaction of having completed a job and contributed to a victory of good over evil.
 
 
 
That was three days ago.
 
Today is another day and this evening it’s my beautiful wife Marie’s birthday.
 
I love her so much. She’s so pretty, so sweet, so affectionate.
 
She loves me as much as I love her and our love grows more beautiful every day.
 
And since the birth of our little Laura, two years ago now, my happiness – our happiness – is complete.
 
I’m full of love almost every moment: even at work, I think about them.
 
That’s just how it is.
 
I’ve bought a big bouquet of flowers.
 
This morning, over black coffee, I whispered lovingly in my Marie’s ear “Happy Birthday, Marie” and in the office, before leaving for the usual patrol I phoned her again. This evening, the good china will be sparkling on the white tablecloth embroidered with flowers. Marie, with her beautiful smile will mischievously tell me to “Guess, my darling,” when she brings in the surprise dishes she’s been preparing carefully all day, maybe even since yesterday, and an old bottle of vintage wine. From her high chair, Laura will smile and babble at us, until sleep carries her off into her childish dream world.  
 
The flowers are white daisies, red tulips and gladioli: Marie’s favourites.
 
I phoned to say I would be home a little late, held up by an operation. They’ll be waiting patiently for me, with happy hearts.
 
 
 
It’s 8pm on the dot. I leave the police station, where I’ve left my gun, as I do at the end of every shift.
 
I phoned Marie to say I was en route: a short message. “Marie, I’m on my way. I love you.”
 
It’s not late but night has already fallen. The metro is crowded, people crushed against each other. Eight o’clock is still rush hour. You can read the weariness on people’s faces. Everyone wants to be home already: office, factory, building site – that’s enough for today. I protect my bouquet as best I can.
 
Two changes, then out into the street.
 
I live in a quiet neighbourhood, with well-kept buildings. It’s not a thugs’ neighbourhood. Lights are shining in the windows. It’s dinner time – I see shadows moving in kitchens from which delicious smells escape. Television sets are lit up in sitting rooms – it must be the end of the eight o’clock news.
 
I feel good. The day went well. I walk home steadily, happy to return to my family.
 
A hundred metres more and I’ll hold my Marie and my little one, my baby Laura, in my arms. How lucky I am to experience such happiness!
 
A few metres more, the dark spot where the light isn’t working – the agent and the local authority have said they’ll see to it in the coming weeks – then the lift.
 
Suddenly something grabs my attention and my body tenses up. All senses on alert, my heart beating faster.
 
Silhouettes are moving silently in the darkness: three, no four.
 
All dressed in black, flashes of steel. I shudder. I understand instantly.
 
And I recognise the scene.
 
For this ambush, there are four of them, all with uncovered faces, no balaclavas, certain they’ll win and that they are untouchable, knowing I’m alone and unarmed. They want to kill tonight, quickly, silently, without witnesses, and they want me to know who they are.
 
Moving forward slowly, beating his iron bar against his palm like a deadly warning, one of them breaks the silence, spitting out his hatred. “For my brother, you piece of dirt, tonight you won’t be celebrating.”
 
 
 
Oh, my Marie, how I love you! Oh my Laura, my little one, if only you knew how much your daddy loves you too!
 
No, I won’t leave you tonight! No, tonight won’t be our last night!
 
No, these dogs won’t kill me!
 
No, Marie, you won’t be widowed on your birthday! No tear will tarnish your pretty face or your graceful smile! No, your heart won’t break in despair when you see me dead underneath our window! No, you won’t bring flowers to my grave every year, dressed in mourning clothes! No Marie, no! Nor will your husband be doomed to survive in a wheelchair, body impotent, wrecked and mind defeated until his dying day!
 
And you Laura, your daddy won’t die tonight! You’ll see him tomorrow and the day after, and all the other days! He’ll take you in his arms again and kiss you a thousand times, like yesterday! He’ll see you grow up, still smiling, happy! Oh, yes, we’ll play together again. Yes, we’ll go to school together, hand in hand. I’ll come to collect you; you’ll show me your work and tell me about your teacher, your nice classmates. When you’re older you’ll be proud to show me your pretty dresses – and how beautiful you’ll be!
 
I’m not scared.
 
No, these vultures won’t kill me tonight.
 
They are the ones who’ll suffer, perhaps die.
 
One thing’s for sure: they won’t be celebrating tonight.