50 Minutes at the Police Station – Madara Ranmuthugala

They wanted us to come make an entry, at least now…

So my father and I went, in the evening, to the station ten minutes away. At the reception desk -or what passed for it- we were directed to a space inside, hidden away till you got there.

My father went up to a police constable, and explained, “We were asked to come and make an entry, about a robbery at our house last year. An officer came in the afternoon, said they caught the thief and that they found the stolen things. He gave me his phone number and wanted me to come to make the entry.”

The officer looked at my father like something the cat dragged in, and said “He is not here, you have to go out from here and….”

“No”, my father said, “we were asked to come here and make a statement.”

The police constable looks at the list of stolen items my father is holding out to him and tries, but fails to make a decision. Finally, he says, “Tell the mahattaya here”, pointing to a Sub Inspector. My father moves forward again, and explains to the SI what brought us to the police station. The SI listens attentively for a minute and then asks, “Why didn’t you come earlier, it has been nearly a year.”

My father explains that the last time he was here, 15 years ago, he did not get the goods that were recovered by the police, and that he was not even told of the date of the trial. He is a bitter man, my father…

After much back and forth in which he mentions he was himself a police officer a long time back, the SI says, “Then you should have come, isn’t it your duty as a former officer…” My father loses a bit of his minimal patience and explains that it is because there were no results that he doesn’t come anymore, even though there have been more break-ins. The SI walks away without a word, leaving the two of us to fend for ourselves. We decide to sit down on the chairs near the door and wait for someone to attend us.
While this is taking place, I notice the other officers, three men and a woman, going about their business. One male officer languorously walks to his seat and takes out a file, which he proceeds to read held aloft like a newspaper. The lady officer next to him seems inordinately interested in her arm, forgetting her writing. Two others tap away at typewriters, looking like insects prodding an unknown artefact. The racks next to them are filled with rows of files, the most interesting being the two files for 1999 and then immediately following it, two for 2002. The room is open to the backyard because the latticework behind the officers is broken, a big gash in the middle, inviting mosquitoes inside. This police station looks like a dilapidated house that no one cares about anymore.

The male officer speaks, and the female officer stops her writing yet again; her attention span is lower than that of a goldfish. Then, she re-focuses on her arm, this time I realize, to swat away a mosquito. Having rid herself of the offending mosquito carcass, she brings up the pen to her eye level.

“I don’t know if this will write anymore, look at how low the ink is”, she says, peering at the pen owlishly.

This leads to a four-way discussion, with the two typists joining in. By this time, we have been sitting 15 minutes, and unattended for as long. There is no sign of the SI returning, and we wonder whether there is even a point of us sitting here and waiting. I can hear my father grind his teeth once. Holding onto his patience is always tough for my father when in the company of police officers. He has never regretted leaving the police force, even though he was a brilliant policeman.

Suddenly, I hear a loud scraping. A chair has been pushed back. One typist leaves; just gets up, grabs his belongings and leaves, saying “I’m going”. No one notices. No one seems to care. The remaining typist mumbles something, and the lady officer loses her scant concentration again. As I begin to feel this will go indefinitely, the first PC walks in, throws down a complaint file and prepares to take our entry down. We are called to the chairs in front of him while he opens the large ledger-like book and takes out his pens. My father walks forward, leaving me seated at the back.

The PC glances at earlier entries on the book.
“When did the robbery occur?” he questions my father, and slowly begins to write.

“It happened ten months ago, when we were not at home. We called the police, and they inspected the location, and said they will get in touch with us,” my father adds for good measure.

The PC continues to write and question my father. However, this becomes a difficult task, as he keeps on saying “Ah?” every few seconds. My father must repeat his statements which even I can hear, seated a distance apart. To complicate matters, the typist now takes to walking about, questioning and talking to the male officer. The female officer has left, and the SI has returned. The typist talks about going to Kalutara, and then wonders who can be sent to courts tomorrow. He says, “I can’t find the A files”, to which the other replies with the question, “did I write them”?

The officers are questioning and talking to each other while the PC is questioning my father. There is much buzz in the office, not only from the officers but from the mosquitoes dancing around us. The conversation is peppered with loud slapping noises when officers try to get the mosquitoes bothering them. I have 5 or 6 pimples from where I have been bitten.

Watching the spectacle of officers coming and going and hitting mosquitoes without focusing on their work, even my patience is wearing thin. I decide to re-focus on my father and the progress of the entry, which I notice is nearly at an end. Sadly, at this time, the PC dumb-wittedly looks at the list my father has made of the stolen items and waits for explanation. My father, in his turn, I feel, can be bitter, as he reads off the list, saying “Ah but that is not valuable”. I poke him with the big book I am carrying. My father turns back to see why.

“Just tell everything; don’t try to make judgments about the value”, I tell him quietly.

The PC decides he wants to know what I said and says “Ah?” We both ignore him, and I sit back down while my father scowls half-heartedly at me, at the admonition and returns to reading off the list.

“2 gold chains, 2 bracelets, a pocket radio, a watch….,” my father prattles on.

The mosquitoes meanwhile have not been idle. They have bitten me in too many places to count. Later, my father and I decide they carry the poison and the viciousness of the officers they usually feast on. Thankfully, by now, the writing has come to an end.

“I was a police officer too, a long time ago,” my father tells the PC. “I even worked in this station.”

Finally, the man deigns to smile. My father’s crotchety charm has worked whereas, mine has decided to make a run for it. Surprisingly, the PC ends a sentence with “Sir”, one I had not heard since our entrance into the station.

“We will look into this matter, sir,” he assures us with a smile, and points us in the direction of the SI.

My father moves on to the SI, who has sat in the same place, in the same attitude for the past half hour and finalizes everything.

“When will I know?” My father asks the SI.

“Come in one week, on Tuesday, in the morning, and speak to the sergeant who came to your house. He will be in charge of your case,” the SI tells my father before turning back to his contemplation of the world.

We finally walk out, having spent 50 minutes at the police station.