On a hot and lazy Tuesday afternoon, two weeks before Labor Day, there was nobody to be seen on Sutter Avenue in Crown Heights. The only sign of life to be seen was at Police Service Area #2. The officers were darting in and out through the door. The radios chattering. The sirens wailing.
It was a few degrees cooler inside than outside. At the front window the lights were on and a brown cardigan was hanging on the back of an empty chair, as if someone had just left it for a minute to make coffee or chat with a colleague, though the impression was deceiving. A middle-aged man was convulsively shuffling through his documents, vividly expressing eagerness to be served. Against the opposite wall, his wife, folding her hands on her knees, was resting on one of the two plastic chairs available.
Despite their seemingly indifferent looks, they were all eyes and ears, intently watching the scene in front of the half door that separated the waiting area from the police working space. A woman with a messy hair in a red tank top was spluttering out her story to the female officer, who seemed to struggle to understand the situation.
“She’s always been like this… Always using kids to get what she wants… She is so manipulative.”
The officer had apparently lost the thread of the story: “Who?”
“My sister!” the woman cried out.
Her teenage daughter was leaning on the wall, carefully listening and nodding from time to time. “She did not do anything wrong,” the woman went on.
“She threatened to kill,” the officer explained, adding some legal language.
“She did not mean it! She loves her children!”
The officer shook her head and continued with even more complex judicial words. The woman did not seem to listen. She looked like she was enjoying the drama. She was vigorously spitting the words as soon as the officer stopped, wringing her hands, restlessly shifting from one foot to another and discreetly observing the audience.
“Can you let her go?” Negative nod.
“That’s my sister’s fault! She did not do anything wrong!” The officer looked completely befuddled: “Who?”
The officer breathed a sigh of relief when she finally straightened out the story in her mind. “Don’t worry. Your mother is not in the cell,” she said. “She is handcuffed but in the open air. She is fine.”
A second of silence. “She is not in the cell”—the phrase was repeated for reassurance. The woman dramatically clasped her arms to the chest expressing a sign of satisfaction.
“Please, let her go!” Negative nod again. The officer seemed to be looking for solution: “You can bring her food. She is probably hungry by now. I will deliver it for her.”
An awkward pause. The woman drooped her head, pulling on the edge of her tank top. She made eye contact with her daughter. She seemed to think about something. The officer shifted her gaze from one to the other waiting for the response.
“Well… She is so picky…” Silence filled the area for a minute.
Everything was different after that. The officer was still patiently listening but it seemed to be a different type of listening: no compassion or emotion involved. Just doing her job.
The man in the waiting room broke the silence, as if suddenly remembering his reason for coming to the station. The officer hailed someone invisible to help the man. The man’s wife, tired of sitting, went outside. Police officers kept darting in and out. The sun was still shining. The woman and her daughter no longer seemed to be of interest to anyone.