“Hey.” I wave at my colleague in the lounge room.
The sun shines brightly above the clouds, but the rays of light and halted by the thick layer of smog that lives over the city. Which doesn’t matter much anyways, since the building has no windows.
“Come sit down,” he replies, waving back at me. “The usual?”
I nod and he hands me translucent green plastic bag which contains my daily lunch of noodles, sausage, and pickled vegetables. I prefer to take my lunch break a little earlier to avoid the rush of the rest of my section. I pick up a pink plastic stool from the side of the room and sit down. We eat wearily and without much conversation, being the only two in the room, which was fine by me. I never really enjoyed being a part of a large group. I always told myself that I liked the big crowd, that the bustling communities and the large departments was for me. Coming here now, dead center in the capital, is certainly overwhelming. The days of sitting behind a desk filing papers have been replaced by days spent sitting behind a desk looking at a screen and noting down anything and everything in desperate attempts to get a promotion. But I can’t complain much. The pay is certainly more attractive.
“Hey, you alright?” my colleague asks, waving his chopsticks at me and breaking my dead stare at the wall.
“I’m good”, I mumble back, stuffing in another mouthful of the warm noodles. “How has your shift been?”
“A few more bike accidents than the usual,” he replies with a chuckle. “But otherwise uneventful. Yours?”
“Saw a young man try to pick a fight with an older grandma. Bumped into her and knocked her bag on the ground, started yelling at her. The man’s friends pulled him away,” I replied. We both shook our heads in unison, a mutual sign of recognition. Even if I don’t feel bad, it is an action that has become second nature to me. It’s hard to feel bad when you’re behind a screen. Silence is restored as we continue with our meals, each lost in our individual thoughts.
I must admit, I’ve wanted to work for the government since a young age. I blame it on my father. His personal values that shined in his policing career transferred directly over into his family life, and he continues to uphold the law and the President’s every word. I mustn’t complain, however. “Work hard and you can become anything,” he told me many times. “Take every opportunity you have.” It was these words that I had followed which had led me here in the first place. Or anywhere I have been. The day I graduated secondary school, I was recruited by my father’s police station, switching out my school uniform for the policeman’s cap and suit. Working my way up the ranks eventually led to enough independence to afford a retirement for my father and mother, and I held the station chief rank for a strong five years. The thrill of sporting the white star above the brim of my beret slowly wore off as the years ticked by, although the pride certainly did not. Last New Year’s, I exchanged my proud uniform for the bland and humble outfit of a true government employee. To truly help the people. I pause my thoughts to pick up piece of vegetable that had fallen in my noodles and take a bite of the sausage. To truly help the people. To make the country a safer place. To uphold justice, honesty, and lawfulness. But how? I try to shake these thoughts of doubt out of my mind. I had moved from living just outside the third district with my parents to living by myself in an apartment in the first district.
“Hey.” The voice interrupts me again. I look up, and bite my noodle short to keep it from dangling off the corner of my mouth. The noodle stub splashes back into the soup, sending droplets of the chili beef broth flying onto my shirt. I sigh, knowing that the next washing cycle wasn’t until next week. My colleague waves his empty bowl of noodles in front of me. “I’m finished eating. Going to go back to my station now.”
“Alright, have fun,” I reply sarcastically. He saunters out of the room, disposing of his meal in the trash can. I don’t know his name. I don’t know most of the people’s names who work here, and I don’t bother asking since I haven’t seen anybody else ask. I guess it’s good to keep a level of anonymity while doing government work. You don’t really need to know the person who works at the desk next to you anyways—you are connected by your care for the country as a whole. I figure this also keeps spies out and uninterested in the entire business. They would die of boredom in this section. What would it be like to be a spy? I think that I have the potential. I always felt that I had the potential to become an actor and I trust myself to keep cool in intense situations. Working for my country undercover. Come back after every mission and be received as a hero. Or not, because I’m a spy and have to make sure that my identity isn’t known, so no big celebrations. But at least I would be recognized in the history books as a critical citizen of my country. Every star has his beginnings, and mine will with the security department, spending hours after hours after hours staring at the screens around me, writing bland reports on the scenes that unfold.
My family describes my job as being the guardian angel of the millions of people who live in this city. I watch over them with a sharp eye and protect their peace. Watching through cameras hidden in the lampposts that illuminate the streets sounds exciting, but every day is the same dreary scene. I watch and I see everything that happens, good or bad, accidental or not. A drunkard, gripping the gear shift and switching to reverse, kicking on the gas pedal to run somebody over just one more time out of anger or the feeling of a job not finished. A motorcyclist ramming his vehicle into the door of the wrong house, the full weight of the heavy wooden frame crushing the elderly man living inside. A bicyclist taking too sharp of a turn while on the final leg of her grocery trip, her own body treated by the oncoming truck in the same fashion as the heads of lettuce that rolled out of her basket: an organic speedbump, and nothing more.
I can’t do anything about it. I watch over them with a sharp eye and protect their peace, yes, but I have no control over the situation. What can I say about it other than what had happened? I furiously jot down the facts: license plate number, truck manufacturer, facial description of driver, facial description of victim, facial description of the lettuce. I can’t draw conclusions. We should do this now, we should do this now—these are the thoughts that get you sent to a life behind bars. Radical thinking, breaking the harmony of the people. Always trust the system. I’ve gotten the memo. Would I rather go back to my police station and directly help a few, or stay here and indirectly help millions?
I finish the last bit of my pickled vegetables and take a sip of the broth. I slurp up the last bunch of noodles left and stretch out, satisfying a mosquito bite on my right shoulder in the process. I throw the wrappers of my meal back into the plastic bag, take the last bite out of the sausage and toss the end bit in the broth. I stand, feeling like the most useless guardian angel ever. There’s only so much a small town policeman can do.
I walk back to my station before the government finds an excuse to replace me.