It had been a long night, after we got off at the station. As always, we decided to go out to the watering hole again. This is not even a decision that policemen make anymore. It is just an inevitable action. The invitation to all the people in the office is just a courtesy. All the detectives sit at one table. It was a hard drinking and joyous event like always, but somehow it was different. I realized that everybody was uninteresting and I did not have anything to talk about with them anymore. The usual conversation would be about their children, sport, politics and what they were going to do the coming weekend. I did not have any interest in any of these subjects. I did not have children or weekends off. Never have the conversations bothered me, but tonight I found them irritating. After the long and loud outing, I said goodbye and got into my old and uninsured car and drove home. My thoughts began to rumble. I tried to remember my motives, dreams and aspirations.
It now feels as if the undetermined amounts of beer and whiskey are burning holes in my stomach. I know I can’t keep doing this. The doctor says the blood I puke every morning is caused by the sores in my throat and my stomach. They were caused by me swallowing the poison every Friday, but what else should I do? What is left for me in this lifetime or in this country? Drinking and the occasional one night stand is all I have left. Platonic friendships and strippers are a social-delicacy to me. I saw Cindy’s face in front of me. Her smile is like that of the girl you loved for the very first time when you were a child. I think she is the first person I have loved in my life. To others she is just another stripper, but to me she is the sweet and innocent blonde girl. She ran away from her family home when she was just sixteen. When I met her, she did not ask questions. She did not treat me like she treated the other customers. Kruger warned me about her: “One day you will wake up and you will know she has ruined your life”, but she has only brought me bursts of happiness. She is the only one. I have been forsaken by everything and everyone. My family gave me nothing, not even a home. My job is all I have left. The only thing that keeps me occupied, but also offers a big dose of depression.
I have a detective’s pension, a small house on the West Coast and some unpaid alimony and life insurance premiums. Retirement is going to be the most excruciating experience I have ever had. I will live alone and sleep till late. I would have no purpose. My childhood dreams and fantasies would be far off memories. I will try many different hobbies and activities, but all will end up in the garage. They would be classified as “a drag”. I will think back to the golden days and wish I never walked out of public service. I will be a forgotten relic of the South African Police Department.
I served and protected a country in an unnecessary war and on the barbarous, merciless streets of Cape Town for twenty-seven years. I had nothing and will have nothing. “I wonder if they will let me keep my service weapon, then I can at least blow my brains out and be the cause of the last adventure of my life” I say jokingly to myself. The suburbs comfort me on nights like these, but I can feel and smell the filth and sin that fill these streets. It hides around every corner and behind every set of Cape Town eyes. The night makes the sickness of the city very obvious to a trained eye. The streets have become a large pit of destruction, tears and bad consciences. It is the politicians, economists and middle class captains that never walk these streets, who see life as a gift and move through their existence, completely ignorant to the truth. I am disgusted by the world. How much longer will I be able to live with it? I cleared my head as I pulled into the driveway.
When I closed the door, I knew there was something wrong. I was immediately alert. My attention was heightened and I became the man I was trained to be. The couch was standing out of place, and I would have never left the carpet folded over like that. There was someone in the house. The wind howled outside and the trees scratched against the window on this weird and warm evening in Cape Town one December. I was standing there, frozen stiff behind the front door. This has always been my blessing and my curse. I am a policeman, but also a perfectionist. The observant qualities contributed greatly to my job, but my obsessive and compulsive behavior contributed to my failed marriage and workaholic lifestyle. Tonight these so called talents are either my cause of death or my savior. My work might have put me in a position that is threatening my personal space and the last piece of innocence that fills my existence. Has my job brought the scum into my most inner of sanctums? Is it the gang that has come to torture me and kill me for the things I have done to their organization? Is it the murderer who knows I am on his trail? Where would they get this information? Has someone in the current taskforce accepted a bribe for the information? I have never been careless in watching my back when I return home. Have I slipped up this time?
I felt the cold sweat sticking my shirt to my back and the drops run down my neck. A hole filled up my stomach. Every muscle of my body, pulled back to fire. I stood in the living room, holding my breath, listening for the slightest of noises. I awaited the action that would determine the rest of the evening, but nothing seemed to be moving or breathing. I took a few careful steps forward to look into the kitchen and hallway for any movement or foreign objects. I saw nothing in the dark rooms of the house and began doubting my judgment. These recent events have increased paranoid feelings. It has heightened my perception, except for tonight. My thoughts raced over the movements I had made when I left the house that morning and I thought about the movements I had made since I came into the house. Could I have been in such a hurry that I didn’t notice the couch or the carpet this morning? Could the person in the house be aware of my presence and gone hiding or watching me right at that moment, waiting for me to drop my guard? I took out my service pistol and held it very faithfully close to my threatened body. I moved slowly into the kitchen, but saw nothing. The kitchen was dark, but the streetlights shined in through the curtain less window and I could not see anything out of place. I smelt the smell of burnt food and unwashed dishes. My house is filled with signs of desolation.
I moved along the wall back into the centre of the living room. Is it possible that the threat has left? I started moving slowly in the direction of the hallway. The walls in the hallway felt as if they were closing in on me. The sweat between my hands and the weapon became more and more. “Don’t let it slip!” I told myself over and over again. By then my eyes had adjusted to the dark in the house. The wooden floor in the hallway, my ex-wife had put in, had a creak at a specific spot in front of the spare room. I always forgot this, but tonight it sounded louder than ever. I stood for a moment to pause in silence and knew that if there were someone in here with me, they surely would be aware of my presence now. They have come for me. Either that merciless animal that mutilated and cut up the bodies of his victims or the gangs that have threatened to kill me so many times before, have come to fulfill their wishes. Van der Merwe was murdered three months ago in his one-room apartment in Sea Point. His girlfriend has been arrested for the murder, but it could just as well be the gangs acting out. He also refused the bribes they offered. Bekker’s car’s brakes failed on the N2 North, just before Somerset, last month. Is it my turn now? I feel the pressure being put on my conscious mind.
This is why my wife wanted the divorce. She couldn’t take this anymore. The long hours accompanied by my drinking. I was working almost every weekend, taskforce after taskforce of cracking down on the filth. I was also checking up on her every day to insure that she was safe. This became too much for her to handle. Our lives were also in constant danger, because of those personal threats made. She felt that a family cannot be built under these circumstances. I was to be an “absent father and husband”. She left me with the house and moved to Durban. Last I have heard she was marrying a much younger doctor of some kind. At this moment I could not care less about that self righteous, aging bitch.
All the doors in the hallway were open like always and I could easily clear the rooms, but grew more nervous as I moved closer to the bedroom at the end of the hallway. I always kept this door closed and it was closed now. If there was something in the house it had to be in the bedroom. Again, I started doubting my judgment and thought that if this turns out to be my paranoia, it was definitely time to retire. I quickly brought my thoughts back to the situation, because I did not want to be the “Retiring cop, who got killed in his own home”. There was something or someone in my bedroom. It could not have been my imagination. I have never been wrong about these instinctive feelings or my observations. I stood there in the dark hallway about seven meters from the dark silhouetted bedroom door. I suddenly heard breathing and a slight presence on the other side of the door. I suddenly struggled to control my breathing and movements in this threatening situation. My thoughts ran a thousand miles per hour and in that moment; I had no idea what to do. My mouth dried up and I felt thirsty. A drop of sweat ran down my temple. The next thirty seconds felt like two weeks. I looked around to gather a plan and make a decision. I suddenly remembered the panic button in my study, a direct line to the station and my colleagues; it was only five feet behind me. “Should I step back and push it?” I repeatedly asked myself and quickly came to the conclusion: “No, I would look like a weak and frightened policeman who couldn’t even defend himself in his own home, and I would still be in danger when the alarm rings. Should I run into the bedroom and start firing shots?” The person is trespassing and is threatening my life, even if it is only a burglar and even if it has left already, but then I would look like a fool if it turns out to be the neighbor’s annoying cat again or an open window. All these thoughts racing through my mind as I stood there, feeling very vulnerable and scared. I thought of my training and felt stupid for not being able to make a decision while I am in my own home. Suddenly, I heard two steps softly and quickly give two slaps on the wooden floor. I realized it was definitely a person and it was definitely still in my bedroom. No animal can produce that kind of sound. I know that sound well through all my years in service, after dozens of times waiting for movement, after hours of working to bring in the scum of the earth.
I can’t believe after eleven years with murder and robbery and five years on the border, I still choke in moments like these. It is perhaps all the shit one does and sees. It crumples up inside of you. It fills you up like a trashcan. The piece of shit we have been chasing for the last four months has been found dead and mutilated yesterday between the Fynbos bushes close to the pedestrian bridge in Mitchells Plain. He became a victim of his own lifestyle. This does not ease the mind. He scattered his daughter and her mother’s body parts in dumpsters around Tygerberg and Plattekloof. Now he is dead and we have nothing to go on. He will never get what he deserves, even after what they did to him. Was he guilty? We could never pin anything on him. Is it his murderer that has come for me tonight? He knows I am on his trail. No matter how many times you see things, every time a little bit dies in you. The fact that every American and every Twenty-eight gang member wants to put me in my grave also brings a certain amount of paranoia. It causes heightened perception and alertness, at least this is what the therapist says. “Focus now!” I told myself. I am in grave danger and standing there, leaning against the wall in my own home, waiting for a potential killer to make his move and I am thinking about other cases, paperwork and retirement. “Get your head together” a little voice told me. I felt the sweat between my hands and the weapon again. I wiped my hands dry on my pants one by one. I took another faithful grip on the weapon that has seen the deaths of an armed drug dealer and a raping pedophile. I held it tight and ready for any unsuspected movements.
The neighbor’s red Christmas-lights shined through the other windows in the house and all I heard is the wind and a car far down in the street. A dog barks somewhere in the neighborhood and for a small moment, I envied the animal for living such a simple life. I felt the heavy feeling of being alone to face the evils of the world. “Can someone help me?” was my thought at that moment. Did I have to be in this situation? Why am I in this unwanted position? For the first time in years, I am scared. If I am dead by morning it would almost be a liberation to me. It would possibly be the only way to get out of this place I am in. To trick my retirement. I can be free from all the knowledge of the bad and the sickness of people and their actions. I will be remembered as someone brave, a patriot, a man who served the public and his country and I would not even have to deal with retirement. This is possibly the best opportunity I have been given in years. What if this was destiny? It suddenly filled my mind. What if me being here at this specific moment when a random burglar shoots me dead was planned from the beginning? This was my end. I lived by the sword and died by the sword. I made my choices a long time ago. Another drop of sweat ran down my temple and I felt it leave my body to fall on the ground.
All of a sudden I heard a scratching sound in the bedroom and a soft whisper. Again I thought of them waiting for me to drop my guard or move in front of the door and now they got me exactly where they wanted me. Now they are going to finish me off. I felt so vulnerable and stupid when I realized they could have been luring me to the bedroom for the easier kill. The door was only seven steps away, in front of me in the dark. Like the gates of hell it waited for someone to open it. I knew that a reaction would not be far from that moment. I thought to myself that if this threat was going to do something, it was going to do it at any moment now, and I should be the one to act first. I took a deep breath and with a quick stare, I acted. I jumped forward. My steps bumped hard and noisily against the floor as I stormed into the bedroom. I slammed the door open and saw someone standing in the shadows. I pointed my gun and wanted to scream something to the person, talk them into surrendering and getting them on the ground, but the person bent over quickly and reached for something. It was going for its weapon. I fired. When I realized what had happened, I already fired four shots into my target. I smelt the gunpowder and smoke. The bedside lamp turned on and I saw Cindy next to the bed. She dropped down in her purple satin gown, drenched in blood and her phone in her hand. I knelt down to catch her. I sat there with here bloody body on my lap. I felt my stomach fill up with guilt and anger. I took her head in my hands. I saw her eyes leaving. I was alone in the house, again.
She wanted to surprise me. She must have gotten off early at the strip club.
Karel Kopbeen, or David Steyn, is a poet, writer and musician. He was born and lives in Pretoria, South Africa. He is currently studying Language and Literature (Creative Writing) at the University of South Africa. He has written several entertainment articles and reviews for publications such as Mahala.co.za, Perdeby student newspaper and SAMusic. His short stories and poetry has been featured in New Contrast – the South African Literary Journal, Ons Klyntji, Jip culture newspaper, Alt.SA online magazine, in Prufrock magazine and on LitNet. His independent debut poetry collection, Bloeddig, was published in 2012. He is also the organiser and co-owner of Die Dowe Digters, a monthly poetry and music session event hosted in Pretoria. He tweets @KarelKopbeen