Friday, October 03, 2008

The Visitors

I heard the neighbor’s dog bark, then the crickets stopped talking their sing song. I knew someone was approaching the house. The afternoon had slipped into evening and very few lights were burning, except for in my studio where I had spent all afternoon painting silk sarongs. I like it here in my little house in the bush, neighbors not too close, so quiet I hardly ever even hear car sounds from the highway a mile away.

Knock knock knock, at the front of the house, haloooooo anywan der? Halooooo, haloooooo, haloooo. Bam bam bam on the big steel door.

I think to myself, be gentle on that door whoever you are, or the newly installed alarms will announce themselves in the ear piercing squeal meant to warn me, and scare you.

I look at my watch, its 8 o’clock at night, pitch black dark. So absorbed in what I’m doing I haven’t put on the outside lights. No one comes a-knockin after dark unless its trouble. Even the Jehovah’s Wickedness missionaries only come to harass us in daylight hours.

I know its not my neighbor, Peanut with her baby boy, who lives across the way, because she hails me with her happy voice “Miss Lee Ann, Miss Lee Ann, whe yu deh, Miss Lee Ann.”

We don’t have doorbells here.

This voice calling me isn’t happy.

I walk down the hallway into the unlit living room and flip on the porch light. Its two women, one big and dark and angry, the other a Creole woman with her hair platted, and pretty face.

I don’t open the door, instead I haul up the miniblind in the kitchen and speak to them through the window. Rule #4) Never open the door at night.

“Is your husband here?” the Creole woman asks

I answer, “Why do you want to know?”

“We want to talk to him about something”

“What is it you want to talk with him about?”

And on it goes back and forth, with me not revealing that he is not at home, that I am alone, and them not revealing what they want to talk about. Each of us doing our verbal dance around the other.

She finally relents and tells me that she wants to talk with him about calling the court case off, which goes to trial the next day. I had already figured out what they were after. They want to convince Bigness to call off the court case, the case that we have been waiting 9 months to go to trial. She wants to appeal for her lee bredda (little brother) how he sowry fa doing da ting and he promise to nevva evva steal from us again.

I lie.
I tell them that he’s resting.
I lie.
I was giving him a massage.
I lie
He’s not going to get up out of bed to talk to anybody.
I lie.
That I know from my experience that he’s hard headed and once he puts it into his mind to do something, nothing changes his mind. Well, I didn’t lie about the last part. I tell them to not waste their breath.

But still they persist, they think they can work their feminine treasures on him.

I apologize for my husband’s bad manners in not coming to the door to talk to them.

They say, start with an apology before you drop the bomb.

I take a deep breath and then let loose.

“This was no random break in. Your Lee Bredda knew which house to target because someone, probably his family has been watching me from back there,” and I point with my lips over their shoulder to the area where they came from,

I have a problem with, once I start blowing hot air, I have a hard time stopping myself.

“Someone has been stalking me, watching my comings and goings. He knew no one was at home”
“Your brother didn’t just drive up one night and decide this was a good house to pick and then haul the big steel doors off the side of the house with his car.”

“What he didn’t know is that we have a neighborhood watch, and keep a check on each other in this here street. We all know who is who and what is what.

“He teif me and get caught red handed, the police did their job, there’s no discussion. I hope he can rehabilitate himself in prison, get his high school diploma, maybe take some computer classes so when he comes out, he will be ready to do something besides steal.”

"Ahright den." the ladies say as they turn and leave.

I turn on the rest of the outside lights and then scurry to the bathroom to call my neighbors and then the police to report the harassment. Why the bathroom you ask? Its the only room in the house which is semi soundproof.

“Ah Miss Lee Ann, you aright?” Peanut is the first on my list of calls. “Me and Carmel Corn (her husband) see de people come up to your house and Carmel Corn haul out de machete and wait right by de door for watch and see iffan you be safe Miss Lee Ann, we watch for ah.”

I call Maria next, then Mr. Tony and give them the all clear. This area has become a passing through area for thieves and gangbangers from Belize City and Democracia.

I call Bigness and admonish him for leaving me alone the night before the trial, he should know how his people are. He had forgotten, they go after the family. I didn't sleep well that night.

Trial and Error

I woke early and had to leave for Belize City driving along the Western Highway to reach before 9 a.m. I parked the car at the Water Taxi lot and walked the two blocks to the Magistrate's Court. The arresting officer was already there and introduced himself to me as we stood on the courthouse steps. Bigness had ironed his shirt, tucked it into his pants, ironed his pants, was wearing a belt and shoes. Already the sun was hot. There was a delay, one of the prisoners had escaped and they had to catch him before proceeding with the trial. Oh joy!

We stood outside, and stood and stood and stood, making small talk. Several women tried calling to Bigness and I over and over again. The family of the thieves trying to appeal to our sense of something or another. I turned my back on them and hardened my heart. Bigness gave them his monster face. Lots of people milling around on the courthouse steps and I asked Bigness who they were. Two of the three thieves were right there right nearby. The arresting officer realized I was melting and put us in a side courtroom which was air conditioned to wait out the negotiations. You see, the ringleader had hired himself Liar (lawyer) and was claiming innocence even though they were caught red handed with the stolen goods. It came down to, did we want to go thru with a big trial which could take months and months wasting the court’s time when there were murderers to prosecute, and in the meantime all of our stuff would spoil in the police lockup. Or, were we willing to let them offer a plea bargain. One of Belize’s problems is inexperienced prosecutors trying to make the best of a jacked up system. The prosecutor on this case was a police sergeant. I am not blaming him for what happened next, its just a cautionary tale. The criminal attorneys are experienced, they know the law inside and out, and have been working the system for years. It seemed like when the prosecutor was faced with going up against this attorney, he backed down. So the plea bargain was offered and accepted. Two of the boys got off with time served and one (the driver) got one year for handling stolen goods, a lower offence than breaking and entering with the use of a vehicle.

I asked the police officer how much the lawyer charged the family and he told me it was nearly as much as if they had just bought the stuff and not stolen it. It took several days to get our stuff back, much of it was broken, some missing. Brand new items spoiled forever.

I stopped caring right about when I had to stand out in the sun that morning with the thieves watching me and calling to me to please feel mercy. I now know who I will hire if ever I'm in trouble.