We Are on Patrol

Monrovia-Gbarnga highway

‘Look at these guys,’ I said. ‘They look like they’re right out of the Hurt Locker.’

There were two of them, short and stalky, and they wore thick, black protective equipment over dark blue fatigues. The protective padding was at least two centimeters thick in every place and in their shortness and for the padding that forced their legs apart as they strode, they looked to me like trolls.

‘They must be on patrol,’ Jess said.

We were walking towards them and they towards us on Warner Avenue, which is just off the main boulevard that goes into downtown. We had just left the apartment and we were going to buy groceries and have a beer and a late lunch at the restaurant of the nice hotel where we could watch football if we decided to sit inside. It was the afternoon after a gloomy morning of cloudiness and rain. Now the sun was emerging from behind the spent clouds. It was becoming warm and humid and the wide puddles and muddy sidewalks were beginning to dry.

‘What’s with all the gear?’ I said.

‘Maybe they are afraid someone will hurt them,’ she said.

‘Yeah but, if they are police or soldiers, they haven’t any weapons or even badges or insignia on their uniforms,’ I said.

The two men stopped us where our courses met.

‘Hello. We are on patrol,’ the first said.

Jess greeted them and I extended a hand for shaking, which seemed to surprise them.

‘We are on patrol,’ the second repeated after the greetings.

‘That’s good,’ Jess said, which seemed the most appropriate response that either of us could come up with.

I looked at her standing beside them and I though what a fine funny sight they were: her so much taller and light skinned and gracefully slender and them so dark and short and thickset like bulldogs from the heavy protective equipment they wore all over.

‘We are on patrol and we haven’t any water,’ the first said.

We both paused and it must have seemed as though we were considering the gravity of their situation.

‘Yes, we haven’t any water,’ the second said as though to emphasize the point.

I looked at them and I did not recognize their uniforms. I had not seen any municipal police dressed as they were and I was not accustomed to seeing soldiers patrol the streets in this country. Mostly, I did not like that they had not any badge or name tag or insignia anywhere on them.

‘I’m sorry. We haven’t any water either,’ I said to them and I said, ‘Goodluck.’

They looked disappointed and a bit bewildered as though they had not prepared for the possibility of this response but they did not detain us further as we began to continue our walk.

‘I think they wanted money to buy something to drink,’ Jess said.

‘Maybe,’ I said, ‘but could they really not have a dollar to buy water with?’

She shrugged.

‘You know, once you start giving money to police or people who look like police on the street,’ I said without completing the thought.

‘Yeah,’ she agreed.

‘Anyway, it’s a far fucking cry from South Sudan, isn’t it?’ I said.

She smiled and we continued our walk.

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