I let my legs hang under the swing, swaying slightly. It was dull, but I’m not ready to go home yet. Emily had been gone all summer, and staying in my apartment all day was boring. This recreation area is small, but I still love coming here. It has a tiny playground with swings and an old metal slide. There is also a sandy area by water that is frequented by young families. It’s only a twenty minute walk to my home, so I do not need to take the bus, or bum a ride from my Grandmother. Best of all, None of my other friends come here. They either live too far away or don’t like the fact that so many little kids are around so it is a great place to be alone. They also avoid it because of the wall. You can see it looming, just on the other side of the lake. Most people are afraid of the wall. Outside the wall, there is no protection.
I like to be alone sometimes. My friends do not spend a lot of time reading and drawing, they don’t always understand me. Emily understands me. She doesn’t think that it is strange when I just want to stay home and read a book. I’ve missed her so much this summer. Emily and her family were away for the summer at one of the beach cities. Her family always invites me to places, they are pretty rich and know my Grandmother can’t afford a lot for us. Grandma Anna usually lets me go places with them, but this time she said no. She did not want me leaving the safety of our city. It wasn’t fair that I had to miss out just because she is afraid of everything. I was angry when she said no, but I did not say anything. I just have to remember how lucky I am that she took me in and that I am not a ward of the city.
I take a deep breath and stretch my legs in front of me, feeling the cool metal of the chains on my hands. I tilt my head back pumping my legs and let the breeze blow on my face. In the distance, I see two enforcers walking towards the lake. Their crisp black uniforms, impeccable, striding forward with great purpose and authority. I hop out of the swing, and gather my pencils and sketchbook, moving closer to get a better view.
When I was a little kid, I was taught to respect the enforcers. These people were the front line in the protection of the city. They made sure all laws were followed and guarded the city against invasion. They could arrest anyone they saw fit; they didn't even have to answer to the city governors or Elders. The Chancellor was their only authority. Typically you would never see them, most of the enforcers day was in the shadows. Seeing two of them at the same time was frightening and a little exhilarating.
There is a young family in the sandy area of the beach. I place myself near them, trying to blend in. I pull out my small sketchbook and a pencil from my backpack and start a rough drawing of the enforcer closest to me. He is young, with blond hair peeking out from his cap. I try to hear what he is saying to his partner, but his voice is too soft.
I watch as they approach the wooden dock. There are four small crafts tied to evenly spaced posts. The boat closest to the shore has a bright blue tarp stretched over it, as though protecting whatever is inside from potential rainfall. I lean closer, pretending to read my sketchbook. The blond enforcer taps the boat lightly with his foot. Nothing happens. The second enforcer pulls the tarp back. I try to lean forward to see better, but it doesn’t help.
"Out of the boat," a voice sounds from the second Enforcer.
I watch as an older man slowly rises from the rowboat. He has long dark hair with streaks of gray throughout, and a single feather was hanging from it. His skin is leathery and brown, almost as dark as some of the farm colony workers I once saw. His face looks cross and deeply lined, but his bright blue eyes are friendly. The man is unsteady on his feet as he steps onto the dock. It is as if he hasn't walked for days.
Is this what a criminal looks like? I reach for my sketchbook again. His eyes seem too kind to be evil, and he is old. I had always imagined criminals to be young and hardened like the ones you would see in the movies. I add a shadowed line on my page to try to portray the uniqueness of his eyes, I will add some bright blue when I get home.
Grandmother always made criminals out to seem like frightening wild monsters; This man could barely walk. He looked like he belonged in a hospital, not on a tiny boat.
I strain to listen as the enforcers speak with him, but their voices no longer carry over the noise from the beach. The older man is now waving his arms emphatically, looking distressed. He reaches towards the pocket on his worn jeans, and in an instant, the first Enforcer grabs the man's wrist and points a stun stick at his chest. The second Enforcer reaches into the man's pocket and pulls out a small rectangular book and begins leafing through it.
How strange No one carried those books around anymore. It was a requirement to be chipped so no one would need to carry identification. I could see the Enforcer talking to the older man now. The man was still resisting whatever it was that was being said. His face fell, tears freely flowing now. I shift and feel sorry for him. It seemed like this man needed medical staff, not an enforcer.
The crowd of people on the beach were starting to take notice now. Many were openly staring. The woman near me speaks quietly to her husband
"The crime homeless people bring to this city is horrific, next thing you know he would have been selling drugs to our kids out of his boat! Thank goodness for the enforcers."
I try to picture the older man selling drugs to three-year-olds, all while sobbing and hobbling at them, waving a cane "drugs, drugs for sale" I laugh out loud, the woman next to me turns angrily, giving a loud huff.
One of the Enforcers was now attaching a thin band around the homeless man's wrist and leading him towards the road. The second Enforcer has made his way towards the growing crowd on the beach, walking upright, with purpose.
He had a stoic look on his face and speaks with authority, telling everyone. "This man has been arrested for a failure to obtain a legal residence. Please be assured that the matter has been taken care of, and you will be safe. Go about your business as normal."
The area clears quickly. Families return to their spots on the beach, not giving the Enforcer a second look, and the activities of the day are resumed. I grab my stuff and begin to walk back towards the park. What might happen to this man and why he was taken into custody. I don’t understand why being homeless is illegal.
Criminal acts are rare in the city and dealt with promptly. I know when caught in a crime, people lose their citizenship and have to leave the walls. I know outside of the walls are chaos and lawlessness. This situation was the first time I had ever actually witnessed any wrongdoing. It is hard to think of the older man as a bad person.
I will ask Grandmother Anna and the Elders at church what happened to criminals. Do they count as neighbors? I have been taught to love those around me; however, I have never learned what to think about criminals. Grandmother would be annoyed with all my questions, but she would know what to do.