Where Are The Men?

“I imagine myself putting my hand on that policeman’s holster and pulling out his revolver.” A short story.
Read The Walrus’s blog on men and manliness: Act Like a Man, by Edward Keenan.
“But I love it here in Toronto, in this city, though I wasn’t born here. I only live here. And yes, I work here. More than twenty years now. But when all is said and done, it is more like I exist here than that I live here. I am just scotching off here, like sitting on a school bench that has no arms or back; and with people at one end, pushing me off the bench, accusing me of taking up too much space. More than I deserve, they say. I was not lucky enough to be born in Canada, and therefore to have rights to be on the bench, this bench without a back and with no arms.

“Getting back to last night,” she says, now talking to herself as if there is someone else in the basement apartment with her, when the searchlight was shining on her, piercing the thin sheers at her front windows, catching her flat on her back in her bed, suffering from insomnia, she had barely escaped the powerful beam that was searching for her hiding place in the dark bedroom. With no lights on and the television turned off, she is lucky that in her semi-nakedness her black skin contributes to the concealment of her body, breasts and hips, nipples and thighs, and her round belly, from full exposure to the penetrating beam of the prying searchlight. “Who would invade my privacy so?” she wants to know, asking invisible witnesses that only she can see. But it does not end here. Just as she crawls to the window, flat on the gritty linoleum on the floor, moving like a soldier on her belly, she hears the rattle of glass, broken glass, and the clatter of cans and bottles — from which she had eaten Jamaican ackee, green peas, and grapefruit marmalade, and had drunk ginger beer, and Diet Coke with Jamaica white rum — rolling over the cement of the sidewalk in front of her wrought iron gate.

And there he is, this man she can barely make out in the early-morning darkness, going through her three garbage bags, whose face she can see in the early-morning light, as she could see the colour of the grass in the park, across from her apartment on Shuter Street. There he is. Going through her garbage, just like women pass their hands through bins of second-hand clothes, touching them for quality, and bargain price, dresses and sweaters and jeans — never a pair of good panties! — then discarding them back into the bins of the nearby Goodwill store.

But she doesn’t put it past the police to be shining lights in her basement apartment: they are always in her community, like flies; in their cruisers, on their bicycles, dressed in short pants like schoolboys back home in Barbados. The prying searchlight could have been in the hand of a policeman investigating a stolen suv; circling the park in silence, and sometimes on horseback — questioning young black men, who are afraid of horses, as they fear dogs, who sit in the park on cold benches made of concrete and iron, and are scattered by the police circling like crows, and like the small black birds that inhabit the stout maple trees, that run from the approach of squirrels. She had counted thirty-one of them the day before, on a cold November afternoon, wondering why she was intrigued by silly little black birds.

When the searchlight was moving like a man’s hand, groping in the darkness, brushing back, in one direction like a slight wind, the thick hairs of her warm thighs, she was wearing nothing but a loose-fitting pink imitation-silk nightgown.

Her father was a policeman. He was a constable in the Royal Barbados Police Force for years and years; and it was a testament to his honesty that he never arrested one single suspect. And for his dedication and being a policeman who was a gentleman, he never rose above the rank of constable. He joined the force as a special constable, and retired as constable. That was the mark of the man. First class. Black. And a gentleman.

And he would tell her, “The law is here to protect you.”

She still has a snapshot of him. In her Bible.

There he is, uniformed; his skin shiny as the gloss on mahogany furniture; smiling in his dress uniform, white cork hat with a silver strap under his chin; teeth clenched tight, in angry British colonial spit-and-polish sternness, as her mother always said he was — standing stiff, with more silver in the five buttons on his chest, in his tunic; and a stripe down his black serge trousers, red as a river of blood.

The head of police, Commissioner Somebody, a white man who was brought in from England — in those colonial days — but that was years and years ago, so she cannot remember the name of the commissioner, who was quite satisfied that his favourite constable, her father, was being honoured at a ceremony and a parade, and awarded the Police Service Medal for Proficiency, and for Long Service, longer than was to be expected, beyond the call of duty, unblemished and unspoiled: “not a suspect,” the citation read, “not a criminal, not a man arrested and charged with the larceny of a fowl, for manslaughter in the first degree; nor for carnal knowledge, with a boy or a girl”; rape nonexistent in the little island of Barbados; no note noted in his little black book, pure of sin and crime, as the pages of her Bible. Her father made a note in his little black evidence book, “not a man arrested for stealing a chicken, a pullet, a duck, nothing, nothing.”

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