Before You Were So Very Certain of the World

Monrovia at night

I am driving on United Nations Dr at the intersection with Center St when the two men on the motorbike overtake me. I can see that the driver wears a t-shirt and shorts and flip-flops that hang off his toes and dangle from the foot pegs. The man who rides pillion wears a green beret and a dark blue police uniform and the motorbike says ‘POLICE’ in stenciled letters across the tank. They pull ahead of me, and the passenger in the police uniform looks back and waves me to the curbside.

It is a Sunday and we are on our way to the Mamba Point Hotel for a visit to their sushi restaurant. Previously, I have been very much against sushi because of its texture and because I had found no compelling reason for me to be for it. But recently I want to make a change so I have decided to be for it. The evening is very dark because the days have grown short in the winter. Also, the street is dark in this stretch because the businesses are closed and the streetlights are spaced far apart. The man in the police uniform motions again very aggressively and the driver mirrors me closely as though to prevent me from maneuvering around.

Greg at Mamba Point Hotel

‘Fuckers!’ I grumble.

After clearing the intersection, I pull slowly to the curb because I decide not to be rushed. I try to signal to Jess to continue ahead but it is not necessary. She knows what to do and how to be safe.

As I come to a stop, the policeman has leaped off the motorbike and jumps in front of me. As I jerk to a stop and throw my feet to the ground, he grabs the keys from the ignition.

You have to take my fucking keys? I think. Can we not do this with civility?

His face is very dark in the shadows of what little light there is but when I better glimpse his face I can see that it carries a severe meanness.

‘Where is your license plate?’ he shouts. ‘Do you have registration?’

I am suddenly very angry in that way that you can only be when it was the very furthest thing in the world from your thoughts only a moment ago. Very slowly I remove my crash helmet and cradle it over the rearview mirror. I am looking past him as I do this and, when it is done, I tend to a nonexistent kink in my neck before I slowly turn to acknowledge him.

‘What is your trouble officer?’ I ask as though I have not heard his shouting.

‘Where is your license plate?’ he says.

‘It is being printed at the Ministry of Transportation,’ I say.

‘I want to see your registration.’

He is scowling at me as though pulling me over has put him out.

I am carrying a photocopy of my registration in an envelope in my pocket. Slowly, I withdraw the envelope and I flip through the pages before I offer them. As he reviews the registration documents, I see that he is younger than he appeared at first and this makes me angrier.

Young fucking prick! I think. You think you’re going to put on a uniform and bully me?

‘I want to see your passport,’ the policeman says.

His driver is next to him now and a passerby has approached and stands behind me and to the right. I observe this and then I scan ahead for Jess. She has pulled over up ahead under a streetlight and the road is clear and well lit around her. I see her running lights and I know that her engine idles and she is poised at the controls. Good girl, I think, before my attention returns to the policeman.

‘I do not carry my passport,’ I say, which is not true, ‘but you can see my driver’s license.’

‘I want to see your passport,’ he says.

‘It cannot be because I do not carry it with me,’ I say.

‘Why do you not have a passport?’ he shouts angrily.

‘I have said I do have a passport,’ I say very slowly, ‘but I do not carry it with me.’

‘Show me your license,’ he says.

I glance around again and I take measure. The driver is not threatening and the passerby is interested but he maintains a distance. The policeman is the only aggressor and he carries no weapons. He wears boots and he looks nimble and probably they have taught him something before they gave him this uniform. I could take him if I have to, I decide, but it would not be clean and, anyway, he still has my keys.

I take my driver’s license from my pocket and he snatches it from my hand. He reviews it from both sides twice before he looks back to me.

‘This is not a license for a motorbike,’ he says.

‘It is a license for everything,’ I say.

‘The motorbike license is a D,’ he says.

‘This license is a B,’ I say. ‘B is Chauffeur. It means that I am a driver of all vehicles and of passengers.’

He looks at it again and then he looks back to my registration documents. I see that he has decided not to pursue the topic of the letters on the driver’s license and I snatch it back from his hand as he has snatched it from mine. He scowls at me as I replace the license in my pocket and then he returns his attention to my documents.

‘You have no license plate,’ he says.

‘As you remember I have said it is being printed at the Ministry,’ I say.

‘You must have a license plate,’ he says. ‘The bike may not go without a license plate.’

‘The bike may not go without registration,’ I say, ‘and there you see in your hand that I have registration.’

He thinks for a moment and the scowl on his face is unresolved.

‘You have no insurance for the motorbike,’ he says.

‘I do,’ I say but really I do not.

None of the motorbike drivers carry insurance but I have learned that it is better to say that you have a thing even if not. It is easy to talk in circles or to discover a misunderstanding, but it is when you admit that you do not have something that they have asked for that they will set themselves on ‘fining’ you for it.

‘It is not here,’ he says. ‘I want to see it.’

I reach back into my pocket and I retrieve my SOS International card, which provides an international number to call in case you require medical evacuation.

He reviews the card and I see that he is puzzled by it.

‘This is not an insurance,’ he says.

‘It is an insurance,’ I say.

He reviews it again and then I take it back from him. He still holds the photocopy of my registration documents in his right hand and my keys in his left.

‘There is no insurance in these documents,’ he shouts.

I look at the meanness on his face and in his voice and I almost tremble with anger.

‘I have just shown you my insurance,’ I say, trying as best I can to measure my tone.

‘Your insurance must be here with the registration and it must say the license plate number,’ he says.

‘I have shown you my insurance,’ I say again, ‘and this insurance covers me for everything I drive and wherever I go.’

‘I see no insurance here!’ he shouts. ‘You will pay me ten dollars.’

‘For what will I pay you ten dollars?’ I say before the words choke under the fumes from my gut.

‘You have no insurance here so you will pay me,’ he says.

Now the driver steps closer and tries to reason with him.

‘Maybe he does not know that he must have insurance,’ he says. ‘You can let him go this time.’

I am practically in a rage now and I can feel the blood burn in my cheeks.

‘I will give you nothing tonight,’ I say loudly and slowly so that there is no equivocation.

‘Maybe he does not know that he must have insurance so you can let him go this time,’ the driver says again.

‘He has no insurance so he will pay me ten dollars,’ the policeman says to the driver and then he turns back to me. ‘You will pay me ten dollars because you have no insurance!’

‘But if he does not know then you can let him go,’ the driver says.

I know that the driver is trying to help and that to go along with him will probably be the easiest way, but I am much too angry to want anything to go easy now.

‘Do you hear me that I will give you nothing?’ I say.

Now I am not hiding the anger and the scowl on my face is as severe as the one on his.

‘You will pay me ten dollars because you have no insurance,’ he says but for the first time I see hesitation.

‘I will give you nothing,’ I say. ‘Do you hear that I will give you nothing?’

His hand that holds the photocopies is close to me and I snatch them back.

‘This time you can let him go,’ the driver suggests.

‘I will pay you nothing,’ I say.

‘Next time he will have the insurance with the registration documents,’ the driver says.

‘Do you hear that I will pay you nothing?’ I say.

‘You will pay,’ he says and then he looks to the driver.

‘I will pay you nothing,’ I say. ‘You will give my keys and I will pay you nothing.’

My voice is stronger than his now and my anger is severer. I see that his right hand that clutches my keys is now closer to me.

‘This time he can go,’ the driver urges. ‘You see next time he will have insurance with his registration.’

He has my keys but now he sees that the driver is giving him the only way out.

‘His insurance must be with the registration,’ he says to the driver.

He brings his hand closer and I retrieve my keys. I want to say one last time that he will get nothing from me but, even through my anger, I can reason that it would be inelegant. And, after all, I think, wasn’t it his approach that was what sparked me in the first place?

He has returned my keys and now he stands awkwardly like he is without a place. How did this all go so wrong? I imagine him thinking, standing there, his scowl gone and him looking bewildered in front of my bike. He continues standing, looking bewildered as only you can look when only moments before you were so very certain of the world. Then, very slowly, he turns and he follows the driver to where they have parked their motorbike. I watch them drive off as I replace my documents and arrange my pockets. I glance back and I see that the passerby has dissolved into the darkness and that I am alone straddling my bike. I take a breath and I try to swallow the taste of venom that is sticky in my mouth. Then, I replace my crash helmet and I catch up to where Jess sits under the streetlight.

‘Is everything OK?’ she says as I pull alongside her.

‘He tried to bully me for ten dollars for having no insurance,’ I say.

‘So you did not pay him,’ she says.

‘No, I did not pay him.’

‘OK. Let’s go for sushi!’ she says.

She shifts into gear and she pulls out ahead out of the streetlight so that her taillight becomes the only thing that I can see. She rides straight-backed and tall on the small motorbike. She does not slouch and her feet do not hang off the pegs. I will get crab rolls, I decide as I watch her become only a taillight, the little ones with the slices of avocado and the caviar on the outside. What are those called? Dragon something, I think, or maybe it’s Golden something?

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