January 17, 1995

It’s a hot, sticky day when I enter the photocopy shop; I am wearing as little as possible, just a pair of shorts and a T-shirt – quite acceptable in Cairns, even in the middle of the city.

Inside the shop I meet Peter, a friend of mine.  We stand off to the side and talk animatedly about a project we are working on.  Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a woman; she is talking on her mobile.  She appears agitated, walking in and out of the shop as she talks.  Her two daughters follow close behind her.  A vague uneasiness sets in and my carefree mood dissipates.

I cast my mind back to an incident last December … but it cannot be her.  It would be too much of a co-incidence. This is, after all, a big city.  The chances of my running into the same woman twice are remote. Absolutely.  Unworthy of further consideration, I tell myself.  The woman is merely agitated over some day to day worry that people in big cities are prone to.  Of course it’s not her.  Although the shop is air conditioned, I begin to sweat.

But I cannot leave.  I cannot run.  I am caught up in my conversation with Peter.  What will he think if I just drop everything and walk out.  So I stay.  And talk.  But my mind is elsewhere and my conversation becomes disjointed.  Peter looks at me funny.

Out of the corner of my eye I see two policemen, standing just outside the entrance. They weren’t there before. They are not of course waiting for me; I’ve only been here for three minutes, maybe less.  Police can’t arrive on such short notice.  Can they?

“Peter”, I say, sounding supremely unconcerned, “how about we continue this another time?”  Peter leaves and  I  feel some sense of relief.  If I’m arrested he won’t see it.

The police are still there, outside.  They are talking; they are not looking my way.  Clearly, they are just doing their rounds and have stopped for a break.  Happens everyday.

But I dare not leave the shop.  So I busy myself making photocopies I don’t need.  The woman and her children are nowhere to be seen.  The shop becomes awfully silent.  A policeman appears at my elbow.

He says he wants to talk to me.  Could I please step outside.  I don’t know if that is a request or a command, but I am in no position to argue semantics.  I go outside.

“We’d like to talk to you, sir.”  Very polite.  “Could you accompany us to the police station?”   Is it a question, or a command?  What are my rights?

I enter the back of the police vehicle.  I feel eyes following us as we drive off.  Suddenly the big city doesn’t feel so big anymore.

At the police station, I am led through a stifling maze of drab corridors to a drab bench where I am told to sit and wait.  The two officers disappear.

And I learn my first lesson in criminal procedure:  one must know how to wait.


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