Cried Wolf – Short Fiction by Steven Jerram

By Steven Jerram

Just after two am, the young man walked through the automatic doors of Fitzroy police station. He scanned the empty waiting room, the rows of plastic chairs, the vending machine and the payphones against the wall. He walked up to the glass booth. The police officer (a woman in her late fifties) looked up, unsmiling.

“Um,” said the young man. “I have –”

“Could you remove your hood, please?”

He pulled his hood back.

“I have … information,” he said. “About a man. I saw him – on television.”

The woman’s demeanour changed. She narrowed her eyes.

“A man on television?”

“No. Not – on television,” he said, struggling to express himself in English. “I see him – wanted by police, on television. I see him tonight. He –”

She held up her hand for him to stop. “Hold on. Now, what was your name?”

The young man looked confused. “What … was my name?”

“What is your name?”

He told her. She asked him to spell it. He was then told to sit and wait.

The woman made a phone call. As she spoke, she watched him carefully through the glass. After a few minutes a door opened behind him and two men – one dark-haired, one balding (with a close-cropped haircut) approached him. Both were wearing white collared shirts and both were carrying blue-plastic binders.

The dark-haired man gestured for him to stand.

“Would you be all right coming to an interview room?”

The young man nodded and stood. He followed the two men to a concealed doorway at the rear of the waiting room. One of the men used a lanyard to scan the sensor beside the doorway; the door opened automatically and the dark-haired man gestured for him to walk through. They were then in a long, blank, brightly lit hallway. The dark-haired man spoke to him:

“What’s your name?”

He told them.

“Where does that name come from?”

“From? My mother.”

“No,” the dark-haired man said, “I meant, where are you from?”

“Democratic Republic of Congo.”

“How old are you?”

“Eighteen.”

“Eighteen? You look younger. Which room do we have?”

The young man was confused by the question before realising it wasn’t for him.

“Uh,” The other man said. “This one, I think. It’s probably the cleanest, at least.”

The two men laughed. The young man was shown into a small room – inside was a scuffed plastic-wood table and a collection of hard plastic chairs. The young man sat. The two men sat opposite him and both opened their binders.

“Do you have any ID?” said the dark-haired man.

“Yes,” said the young man, shifting to one side and pulling a wallet out of his back pocket. He removed a card and handed it to the dark-haired man. The man looked at it and showed it to his colleague who took it, leaned his palms flat on the desk and stood up.

“Do you mind if I make a photocopy of this?”

“Will I get it back?”

The two men looked at each other for a moment.

“Yes…” said the balding man. “Of course.”

He left the room. The young man and the dark-haired man sat silently looking at one another.  The young man seemed uncomfortable. He was small, very dark-skinned, and lean. His enormous hooded sweatshirt bunched around his arms.

“You … said you’re from Congo?”

“No. Democratic Republic of Congo,”

“Uh huh. Are you a refugee?”

“Yes.”

“Do you … have any family in Australia?”

“No. My father killed. My mother … missing. My brothers missing.”

The man nodded.

“You live with others from … your country?”

“Some,” he shrugged. “But most who live near me … from Sudan. When I first arrive I speak French only. I don’t speak English and they do not speak French.”

The dark-haired man compressed his lips and tapped the lid-side of his pen on the table. He opened his mouth to speak but the door opened and the other detective leaned in.

“Can I borrow you for a sec?”

He looked at his colleague strangely, “Yeah…” He turned to the young man. “Could you wait a few minutes, mate?”

The young man nodded.

“Won’t be long. Can I get you a drink or something?”

Again he nodded.

The door was closed and he was alone in the room. He looked around. All four walls were lined in faux-wood panelling. He noticed there were metal loops built into the formica desk in front of him, presumably for attaching handcuffs. He wondered if there were hidden cameras watching him.

After a few minutes the men returned. The dark-haired man was holding a small stack of papers. He handed the young man his driver’s license. The other man was holding a can of Pepsi, which he then handed the young man. The two men sat down heavily and once again opened their binders.

“Ok,” sighed one of the men. “Go ahead. What’s your information?”

The young man took a deep breath.

“Tonight, I walk home to my building. This happen one hour ago. I walk –”

The dark-haired man interrupted him:

“Your address is listed as a unit on Napier St, Fitzroy. Is that department-housing?

“Yes.”

“Uh huh. And where were you coming from tonight?”

“I am walking back from … seeing my friend.” As he spoke, he thumbed open the Pepsi.

“Okay. Keep going.”

“I am … walking in one street, and I see him – the man on the news. He –”

“Which street?”

The young man shook his head.

“I do not know the name. It is … near the big park. The big park with the … museum.”

The two men nodded.

“And I see the man from the news. He is at the petrol station filling up his car. A red car.”

The two men looked at each other and said nothing for a moment. Then the shaved-head man spoke.

“Now, when you say the ‘man from the news’, I’m guessing that you’re talking about a West African man called Joseph Abdou, who is accused of raping a young woman last night.”

The young man said nothing.

“Is that correct?”

The young man finally nodded. He coughed.

“Now, if you had seen him tonight, filling up his car. His … red car, as you say, well, that information would be very helpful to us. But … we’ve got some concerns about the … uh, legitimacy of your information,” he said.

He picked up a sheet of paper from the stack in front of him.

“In September of last year,” he read, “You accused a convenience store owner of assault. Now – this was investigated by police, and CCTV camera footage cleared the shop-owner of any assault and the charges were dropped. Then in … let me see,” he turned the page “Ah … January of this year, you made a report about one of your neighbours, claiming he sexually assaulted a young girl on the Atherton Gardens estate. It was investigated by officers – from this police station in fact, and again, the accused man was cleared of any wrongdoing.”

The man cleared his throat and placed the sheets of paper on the desk.

“Now, what both these men had in common was their background. Both were African immigrants. Just like you.”

“Yes,” said the young man. “But –”

“Now, because you were under eighteen when these incidents occurred, you were referred to a DHS case worker, who interviewed you and spoke to your immigration officer. A psychological assessment was also done at that time,” he pulled a sheet of paper from the stack in front of him.

“In the assessment, which I have here, it states that –” he began reading from the sheet, “…because of the trauma he experienced after witnessing his fathers murder, and the alleged abuse he suffered in a Rwandan refugee camp, it is reasonable to conclude that he is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. This is characterised,” he said, pointing to the paragraph in front of him, “by episodic paranoia and a tendency to distrust other members of the African community…”

He looked up at the young man. The young man looked away. He said, quietly:

“I am not lying. I see him.”

“Well, frankly we have a bit of a ‘boy who cried wolf situation’ on our hands.” He looked at his colleague, who nodded.

The young man looked down at his hands:

“I know what you think. But I am not lying. I see him.”

“Well. Well – anyway. We have your report, and your details. If anything comes up … we’ll get in contact with you.”

“That’s all? That’s it?”

“For now. Yes.”

The two men stood up, closed their binders and walked over to the doorway.

The young man shook his head. His eyes were bright with brimming tears and he clenched his fists on the table. He opened his mouth to speak but then said nothing. Instead, he shook his head again and exhaled slowly. He pushed his chair back, stood up and walked towards the held-open door. He was shown back through the hallway. Neither of the men spoke to him. At the end of the hallway, the dark-haired man swiped his card on the sensor. The door opened and he nodded at the young man.

As he walked into reception, he heard the door close behind him. There was a new woman, he noted, behind the glass booth. She watched him as he approached the automatic doors and walked outside.

It was still dark. He could see his breath on the cold night air. He shivered, then tugged his hood out from the back of his sweatshirt and pulled it low across his eyes.

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