After Paradise
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The morning was pleasant enough. The surroundings were tinged with the soft soothing blue of childhood dreams. A breeze blew, almost imperceptible, yet carrying with it the sighs of a concluded fantasy. Cool, caressing, the ambient sounds of the earth awakening to greet the surfacing sun were but a vague whisper on the consciousness, pleasant, pleasant. A bird called, long-drawn and rousing, and the crickets chirped, familiar and reassuring. The sand softly crunched underfoot, and the pink streaks of early sunlight poured forth, in a rush to warm and arouse.

But all was not good.

My heart longed to be at peace with the world, to drink in the cold, crisp air and to yield myself to the hope of a new dawn. The drowsy wavefronts frothed and lapped beyond me on the sand, tumbling over themselves in the hushed bustle of a new day. Again the birds chirped, uncoordinated harmony, and again I remembered the simple joys of my youth, a happy dream of which I had the slightest impression, the memory of once having been fulfilled, but nothing more.

What once was.

The chirping was louder now, like the rising crescendo before a final resounding chorus. Daylight streamed across the sky, dissolving the morning haze in its relentless march. I hesitated a moment longer on the beach, hoping, waiting for some chance of inspiration, or hope. But the birds chirped on and all was the same.

I can’t explain it really. And I don’t think anyone would understand. It’s a paradox, by every conceivable yardstick and standard, I am more privileged and fortunate than our ancestors. There is no aspect in which I am in want, and yet, there is a gnaw, there is an anxiety. There is still a feeling of incompleteness, of inadequacy, and like butter that is spread so thin across bread that it soaks in and you can no longer taste what you remember, but that’s the best you have anyway.

As the trees shiver slightly in the growing dawn, their wide canopies rustle above the road I tread. Springing up among the foliage, smooth, milky polished marble houses are but humming gently with their activities. Wide verandas, open gilded windows, well-lit and with excellent airflow, these houses were the made-to-expert-specifications cotton candy of my childhood. Like spoons left in a bowl of cake batter, pitted iron lampposts rise up along the side of the neat ceramitar road I walk along. Their light bulbs bulge out and hang precariously from their sockets, providing soft unintrusive light in the night. I am fond of them.

The houses are tucked away from the occasional noise and light of the main road, each with the healthy amounts of open space and flowers. As I walk on, figures climb up their driveways, the sunlight shining through their frame, and give brief gestures of greeting. I nod back politely, I am after all, appropriately familiar with the denizens of this neighbourhood. It is under my purview. I am satisfied, they are keeping to the designated waking hours. And that is good for it is what best ensures their personal happiness and stability. A gentle purr, a bus has pulled up ahead, I quicken my pace and board it. The electric engine smoothly and silently does its work. The curved, soft frame of the bus with its partially open windows is completely at home within this seaside town. The trees and the fields rush on outside, I recline into my plush seat and make small talk with the driver, its not as if he needs to keep his eyes on the road after all.

Lieutenant Jarred stares at me through stacks of paper. A bright blue tuber sprouting up in between a panelled wood floor and a high, oak ceiling, leaning on my polished mahogany table, that’s him. The soft sunlight is streaming in strong through my large office windows, the sight of pinkish-green fauna softly swaying in the late morn wind and the gentle hum of people, the paraphernalia of a typical city centre. His piercing, probing eyes look concerned.

“You’ve been putting through a lot of cases recently.”

He pauses, and his face wrinkles, like a flour bag that’s been punched.

“I’m concerned for you. Burning through all that overtime day after day, you’ve hardly – not that I don’t appreciate what you’ve been doing,” he checked himself, conscious of committing the very crime he fought, “in fact, I love it. Our station has processed the largest number of incidents in the entire node this month, yet, yet, it’s not healthy. It’s not optimal for your well-being.”

I stare at him. I have so much to explain, but all I manage is some incoherent mumble that is more courtesy than actual meaning. I keep doing this.

“…after all, we can hardly fulfil our duty towards our brothers and sisters if we ourselves are in a state of tension, undue worrying and bad health”

“I know that, but what I’ve been doing is important. Take the recent case of that teenager — Adams? — and her deviant music. If I hadn’t combed through reports of over seven months from neighbours or her teleliber dial records—”

“We would have apprehended her eventually, just over more time and it would have been some beat cop rather than yourself. Admit it brother, you can’t let go of a job perfectly done can you?”

And he was right. Try as I might, it was something that could not let go of easily, something that was as ingrained into me as the nagging feeling of wanting something more.

I walked through the flapping batwing doors of the station, my shoes squeaking over the polished floor. The wide streets were mostly empty, depending on their work schedules, most would likely be in the office resting off the glaring, bleaching white afternoons. I clumped along the stony pavement, wandering my eyes over the rotund lithine architecture wearing the golden sunlight like a child his cape on one shoulder. There was a faint throb in my head and I opened my senses wide, drinking in the day and hoping to drown my migraine in it. Our node was beautifully arranged, it never failed to delight my sensibilities. Think of a wide road uncurling and growing out like a young shoot, and smaller and longer shoots branching out from the stem, innumerous and smooth. These branches are nourished by a healthy dose of reservoirs and parks. Think of the branch wrapping in around itself and within its circular fold, wide constructions bloom with spacious estate adorned with allamanda, hibiscus and orange orchard. It was in a series of such buildings I grew up, from my various parents’ bungalows during my years in the local Mutual Adoption Club, nourished in warm rooms, tumbling with that year’s siblings in the dusty yards. And then the opening of Act II in my life at eleven years of age, punctuated by a discussion to establish direction with my birth parents, finally deciding on an apprenticeship into policing. In a series of such buildings as I have described, I undertook my higher education, taking lessons reclined on a couch and discoursing on the nature of law enforcement in little Socratic circles, turgid air taut with hushed academic pursuit. And now, betwixt a series of such buildings I tread, unrelenting in my enactment of justice.

“What’s it to you what I wear, eh?”

I sigh. I’ve had this same conversation often throughout all my years after being inducted into the Force. I’m not particularly fond of going through this again and again, but hey, someone has got to.

“Madam, it is hardly proper for you to wear shorts that end so… highly above the knees. Think about the greater consequences. I’m sure we would all like to let loose sometimes but we can’t all be doing what we like. After all—”

“After all you’re all a hell lot of creeps!”

I cringe at the profanity. Thankfully, she is not the only one at the ice-cream parlour, a concerned lady steps up.

“Hardly now sister, is that the way to talk to an officer?”

“Is that the way an officer should behave then? Poking around, telling me I’m showing too much leg! Can’t bear to see some pretty flesh can you?” she jeers. The portly cashier and the women in the parlour gasp. I draw my breath in again, I would much rather not be arguing about this, did she suppose I was enjoying it as half as much as she did?

“Ma’m you have to think of the common good. We aren’t targeting you. Besides, despite previous reminders from your neighbours, you’ve been dressing in such a lascivious manner. Your impropriety has been noted last Thursday, three consecutive days the week before that and more than five times in the month prior. I’m afraid that I have to take you to the station for due procedure.”

She didn’t come quietly. The woman made some more noise along the lines of arresting people for not conforming to societal norms. It could have gotten violent had I not gone out of the shop and dialled the station on a nearby police box. They came quickly and took her without any difficulty, perhaps a ghost of a struggle.

Throughout the day, there were many more cases I had to attend to. Most of these would usually have been limited to an off-the-hook mention in a weekly report and nothing more would have had come out of those. But to go in there, into the homes and offices and schools where crimes were being committed, and to rectify an issue that could balloon up and easily become a source of detriment, that gave me great pride. I was doing something! And so I booked one for disrupting the neighbourhood’s peace by his habit of slamming doors. Another one I fined for their insistence on wearing shockingly bright colours instead of standard satin white on a working day. Still another I reined in for their hurtful comments towards a colleague. But there were more serious cases. Those two apprentice labourers smoking up a crudely stitched up fag. Or that gang of accountants drinking away behind a forester’s cabin. Never mind that teacher who told a student that the latter could do much more and attempted to give them more work than their optimal amount, pushing them unnecessarily. One after another after another, the various expressions and reactions as I march on across community clubs, shop counters, offices, alleyways, woods and schools, unwavering and unstoppable in my pursuit of what is right are always unique. Some of sullen passivity, others of sincere regret, still others of angry jibes and outcry. It all melds together throughout the day, as I repeat chastisement after chastisement, explanation after explanation. The details of individual cases hardly produce a twang on the strings of my heart, but their expressions always stick out. I keep repeating to myself mentally how I have made use of my day, how I have been efficient and productive, how I have apprehended so many crimes, how, how how I repeat, seeing little as some vague figure in his car, probably on a due family trip in the night waves to me while he idles, and I collapse in front his glaring headlights.

I am sweating. That is what I first realized when I came to. I am laid out on my bed at home, the morning is well through and I feel like a slate wiped blank. As I groggily make my way around my home, I see a note in my teleliber chute and my heart sinking, I know what it means even before I open it. A mandatory rest order for the whole of the next week, co-signed by Jarred. He’d been notified of my collapse in public the previous night, and had deemed it appropriate, with confirmation from health experts, that I needed to take time off. I sighed, there was not much I could do about this, but there was not much I had to do for the next seven days either. I dialled the library on the teleliber followed by the numbers for a pleasing mix of Moszkowski’s classical repertoire and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I listened, let my mind wander and conquer castles in the sky.

While the records from the library played on, I shuffled around the house, trying to occupy myself. I dextrously twisted the rotary dial around, ordering coffee and a light breakfast from the Agathon Buttery via the teleliber, sure enough, I had sufficient credit for the warm fare to arrive in the chute. I munched into it, mulling over my plans. Life in these houses were rather simple after all. No one had any chores to run around getting done, except perhaps the occasional dusting or two. No one was strapped to computers as they did back then either, having one in every house, facilitating long days and short nights of continuous, unhealthy work. In these ergonomically designed residences, spacious and well-lit, you were free as a child to romp and make memories, and as an adult to pursue the finer and greater conquests in life, beauty and truth.

Between spending my evening at a Communal or at the library, I decided, with rather arbitrary reasoning, for the library. Dusk had long begun its campaign, the houses were like embers glowing muted golden. Children could be seen coming out into the yards, to cycle and run and walk. The road had the occasional purring car, perhaps an early-released office worker going out with friends to the beach, more common were the petite, long buses ferrying one and all across the node. A flock of birds rushed across the titian sky, loud, like a paint brush dragged along a palette, and I drank in all the sights and sighed.

Not too many people were at the library, I did not expect there to be at this time. Most of the books were in the audio record format that we remotely accessed, there were but a few print editions on the shelves. I browsed through them all, from Divine Comedy to Gulag Archipelago, without any discernible purpose.

It was then that I saw her. On a curvy, generous seat holding a book open in one hand, bent in deep concentration, and absent-mindedly stroking her hair with the other. She was a young girl, pubescent I guessed, and my assessing enforcer’s eye was pleased with her compliance to the letter of basic moral expectation. She wore a long, neat skirt and a sleeved blouse, her hair being tied back gently in plaits. Her eyes moved quickly across the book in hand, absorbing and assessing it rapidly. She looked driven, with a tinge of urgency. And as I looked on, I felt strange. My chest was being punched repeatedly by an unknown force, and a dark animal thrill ran through my bones, to the very tips of my hairs. I was standing on the edge of a precipice, what lay below was shrouded in a veil of mist.

I quickly realised that I had been staring for too long, to the point that it was shockingly indecent. I quickly averted my eyes, and darted around, avoiding looking at her, trying to nonchalantly browse through the offerings. But like a moth being attracted to the flame of a lone candle, I too could not help timidly levitating around her.

I hummed around rather inconsequently, when she looked up right at me. My heart dropped. Her face was inquisitive, perhaps slightly welcoming as she regarded me. Then she spoke.

“Why, hello brother. Could I help you?”

Her voice was smooth, confident, gentle and luxuriant, much more than the mewling violins at a concert hall or thee pandering voice of a celebrant at a Communal.

“Ah w-well. I just happened to be browsing around you know, saw you, sister, and wondered what you were doing here so intent in your reading. Did you also receive a rest order for the day?”

Her eyebrows arch up inquisitively, her mouth tugs pulls into an amused smile. Her face’s
motion, so smooth!

“A rest order! I wish we had even just one of those to understand what they mean. No such
luck for an apprentice I’m afraid, but it is the weekend.”

The weekend? I’m puzzled before I realize that the school week of apprentices are limited to
four days, to facilitate more relaxed and comprehensive learning.

“I wish I took advantage of my longer weekend in those days. I used to feel really inadequate about myself, felt that there was nothing special about what I did and crammed my Fridays full of additional work. I was in policing, by the way. How about you?”

“Oh, social sciences. I’m planning to become a professor soon. And I wouldn’t say I’m too free either, in fact I’m working on a research project, and part of it encapsulates review of existing literature on the nature and role of law enforcement. In fact,” here she pauses, and wraps one leg over another, lifting her skirt a little, the sight again filling me with a renewed excitement. “you could tell me something from an officer’s point of view, the personal touch you know?”

And so she asks me about how it has been, arresting countless different people over the days for various crime. I tell her the truth. I tell her that it’s a fulfilling job but that very often the paperwork that goes into some of these cases can be daunting and crushing. And when no one else appears to share your zeal for enforcing what is right, you do feel isolated. But you think about all the lives you’ve improved, and even without overt appreciation form anyone, you feel satisfied. I tell her about memorable incidents taking in colourful characters and also about times when I’ve gone through my own struggles, and weakness. And yes, I do believe that our modern criminal justice system is sustainable and balanced. She nods, cute little thing, she listens attentively and laughingly, jotting down neatly in her little pad while brushing back her hair. Her eyes are open, inquisitive.

Then there is a hiatus as she consolidates what I’ve told her and consults her notes. She looks up, thinking, her eyes drifting around the room before settling on mine and asking encouragingly, “So what do you think of rehabilitation for these erring citizens?”

And this leaves me stumped. Strangely enough, after all my years at this job, I had absolutely no idea of what took place after I diligently heaped another offender into the station, and told her as much. She was slightly surprised, her face pulling into an alluring depiction of mild incredulity. We went on to make small talk, all the while her confidently dissecting this treatise or describing that culinary festival, while I, hesitant and self-conscious held back and stumbled on my words. When she left, I felt as though warm blood coursing through my veins had cooled and coagulated.

The following day, I made it a point to head down to the station. Jarred was slightly taken aback on perceiving my countenance there, I smiled, told him I was enjoying the rest order and he relaxed. I asked him if I could hang around the station for a while.

“Promise me you won’t attack the stack on your desk with more vigour than fruit flies do my grapes in the height of summer.”

I chuckled and promised, he waved me in. He followed me with his eyes for a while, but after seeing I was doing little more than stroke my hand on the smooth walls, and dropping in on brother officers to chat around, he lost interest. After a while, he left to make some inquiries regarding the upcoming Summer Festival, and then I moved in. Making a casual beeline for his desk, I browsed through the letters and forms in his second drawer, the one he always used when there was an arrest. No one stopped me, they barely noticed and had no reason to anyway.

Over the following days, I tried to meet up with that girl more often. Her paper was coming along, and without fail she would come to the library in the afternoon to read up for it. There was something solid, something definitive about the printed word that both she and I missed in audio records dialled up on the teleliber. Besides, consuming literary feasts on your own with nothing else to do was hardly palatable, discussing them with a like-minded person was intrinsically much better. For a girl so young, her biting analysis was both astounding and refreshing, quite precocious. She was quite conscious of keeping to morally upright interactions of course, a pinnacle of decency. But over time, as we chatted about school days and festivals alike, much of her initial reserve, her tendency to answer quickly and abruptly to my questions, her hushed tone, her occasional tendency of being taken aback when I spoke all melted away and we became quite good friends. The days of the rest order passed in a blur, each day spent lackadaisically, “singing in the sunlight”, so to speak.

On the penultimate day of my rest order, I took an auto-cab to the neighbouring node, a good five hundred kilometres inland. Possessing a copper badge does make poking around public offices a lot easier. In the evening I returned to catch an old Soviet flick, At Home with Strangers at the nodal Culture Cinema with the girl. It was either that or and believe me, I have no time for black-and-white surrealist confabulations.

We were on the beach. The sun had completed his steady climb and was now taking a breather at the top before his descent. The sunlight was shimmering on the water, and the air was dosed with lethargy.

“A beautiful day, isn’t it?” she looks back at me, her voice tinkling like little hand bells, her hair flying across her face in the strong sea breeze. Her face was looking back at me with a mix of expectation and simple happiness.

“I suppose so,” I say somewhat dolefully. Yeah, I know, not the stunning response you expected right? “I’m glad you agreed to come down here. God knows you need a break after all that continuous grinding. I come down here often when I get burned out in fact. Anyway, do you remember something you asked me during our first meeting? The one in the library? For your project?”

“I asked you about law enforcement. It’s so hard to get your answers straight from the horse’s mouth,” she chuckled.

“I guess. If I recall, there was one question I couldn’t answer, about the rehabilitation of arrested criminals. Well, these past few days of my enforced holiday, I’ve been doing some reading up, looking through old files. And I can finally answer your question. Ever wondered why life has been so easy and laidback for all of us? Has it ever occurred to you to wonder how our streets are as clean as a new-born’s hand? Or where a constant supply of machinery comes from to power our telelibers and our buses? When a person is pulled in for a crime, he never comes out of ‘rehabilitation’. The remainder of his years will be a never-ending cycle of labour camp after labour camp. These men and woman who spoke an unkind word, or dressed improperly, or were indiscreet in their mannerisms, they are our street cleaners in the night and our factory workers. While we have been happily reading Shakespeare and smelling the flowers, looking at the bees, teaching in schools and tilling our expansive farms, they have kept our cogwheels going round and round. And how do you think we manage to keep our men satisfied and happy? How do you overcome their urges and angst? Oh that’s simple — all those women who decided to be a bit bold, live a bit young? They become the ‘entertainers’ in our public houses! To this day I remember that night after the apprenticeship was over, the night we all trooped down, to relax, they said, and I sunk deeper and deeper in to the flashing epileptic lights and LSD and madness, forgetting my inability to socialise and to enjoy a party in their solution. They elevate decency and decorum onto a pedestal, their idols, their gods and they go on such long spiels in their Communal, calling for a cleaning anew, and a reformation, a rethinking and a life lived with the suppression of wild uncouth desires in the pursuit of humanity’s greater state! And yet, at the very core is a system of witch-hunting, victimisation and closeted debauchery! Why submit to a system of such hypocrisy?”

She is facing me straight now, her skirt flapping over her knees, her furrowed face having listened in concern and gravity, betraying barely a grimace.

“Because it is safe, it keeps us happy and satisfied and content, for the main part never clashing with each other or upsetting each other, realising our fullest potential, growing healthy and absorbing beauty and truth.”

“Pshaw! Sure, it all looks so well-designed and idealistic, but what’s the point? We have to constantly find more and more laws to be broken to keep our machinery running. And in our pursuit of knowledge and truth and stability, we ourselves overstretch ourselves, push ourselves to a breaking point and try to convince ourselves, only in vain, that all we do matters! All we do has a greater purpose, it is something! But all our life really is, is the act of a sad clown. We go through our exaggerated picturesque motions to a paper-mache audience we are nobodies, automatons enabling an elaborate system of constant movement. And so I refuse it! I refuse to be an animal in its little happy bubble, I refuse to compliantly munch the dewy grass and passively moo, I will not be moral, I will not be pure! I want depravity, I want irrationality! I want to be hated, to be a pain, to be disruptive and debilitating! I want to corrupt and to disappoint! I will be somebody, and no matter how selfish it is, how short-sighted, I will not be inconsequential! I will shock and violate. I will be corrupt.”

She looks at me a long time. I am no longer thinking of anything else. She smiles that charming, youthful smile, a smile of optimism and a smile of simplicity, of pure joy and no deception. Gently she undoes her sandals. She speaks, thrilling, gentle voice!

“Go ahead.”

And in the glaring, bleaching noon sunlight, as the seaside flowers tremble in the breeze, and the sea laps at the beach, as the birds soar and cry in the sky, I embrace her in her warmth and I greedily go all over the her red ripe lips, he ebony black hair, her smooth soft skin, petite and pleasurable, all sixteen years of her I have. A thrill runs through my heart, only my heart is left beating, my mind is but a distant memory. The sun was high in the sky and the air was pleasantly warm.

And all was good.

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