A Saturday morning.
The Station Commander from Linden police station called and asked me if I could meet 2 of his detectives at an address in Windsor East, an adjoining suburb for which he has responsibility.
Its not a hostage call he told me...its that the cops at the scene need someone to help them decide who is lying to them....the young black couple who are the potential defendants; or the old white woman who is the actual complainant.
The station commander and the detectives are all black South Africans and are keen to be as impartial as possible....so when all else fails...well... get the fat white guy to make the call!!
Either way they look good...either way, I look bad.
Oh well...it beats working for a living!
I pulled up outside the flat a few minutes later, my (un-necessary) use of lights-and-sirens having got me through the traffic in good time...although there was a newspaper vendor on the corner of DF Malan Drive who came very close to meeting the Great Editor in the Sky when he didn't take the siren seriously...still...that’s why we have ambulances.
The detectives are impressed with my day-glo orange jacket...my 2 cell phones...my pager...and my S&W .357magnum handgun...you can't be too careful.
They told me the following story.
The old lady...Mrs Rorschach... had complained that the young couple...Mr and Mrs Gumede... were harassing her and making her life miserable by shining a bright torch light into her bedroom windows. The young couple denied they were doing any such thing.
The patrol van 'Konstabels' had been called several times by the old lady but had found no evidence that the young couple were harassing her...or even-on one occasion-,that they were actually at home.
That Saturday morning she had gone over to the Gumedes' flat with a knife and threatened to stab them unless they left her alone.
At that point some neighbours called the cops...who eventually called me.
I decided to speak to the Gumedes first.
The door was opened by a very thin, very scared looking, bespectacled young man, who swallowed nervously when he saw me at the door. The day-glo jacket made me look even bigger that I normally looked...and the bullet proof vest didn't help either.
(Okay...actually...I wasn't wearing a vest...it was all just a lifetime of boerewors rolls and full fat coca cola)
I was festooned with ID cards and radios and pagers and cell phones and my pistol was prominently displayed.
After assuring Mr Gumede that I wasn’t there to arrest him...well, not right then anyway...I invited myself inside....the Gumedes sat holding hands on the sofa.
I kept my sunglasses on to maintain authority and promptly walked into a table, grazing my shin.
I kicked the table.
Also to maintain authority.
I asked Mr and Mrs Gumede to tell me their story.
They had moved into their flat 2 months earlier. It was directly across the road from that of Mrs Rorschach. Their east-facing kitchen window over-looked her west-facing bedroom windows.
She had come over to their flat on the day they had moved in with a tray of coffee for them and the removal men and welcomed them to the neighbourhood. They were happy that someone had been so nice to them. Over the next few weeks she would regularly knock on their door with small gifts and home made cakes.
And then....quite out of the blue...she complained to the police that the Gumedes were shining their torch into her bedroom.
From friendly to crazy in one day.
And she was too old to have PMT, Detective Molefe had told me.
The Gumedes were nonplussed and didn't know what to do...so decided to just ignore her.
Her complaints to the cops increased and eventually culminated in the knife wielding event.
I walked over to Mrs Rorschach's door -that was on the east-side of her flat....the opposite side to her bedroom.
An old woman, rosy cheeked, hair like Medusa, dressed in several layers of clothes opened the door. She looked like she had wandered off of the set of 'One flew over the cuckoo's nest'.
Turning on the charm, with my hand on my pistol...and wishing I was wearing a bullet proof vest and not just 30kgs of extra fat...I persuaded her to let the me and the detectives – ( Molefe and Buthelezi)-, to enter her flat.
She offered us tea but I had seen her false teeth sitting on the table guarding the carton of milk…
...that her cat was drinking from.
Also… the smell of urine was just too strong.
Cat and human.
She showed us how she had modified her bedroom so that the torch beam couldn't penetrate the curtains and disturb her.
She had taped kitchen foil to the windows to reflect the light back to the Gumede's flat.
This she had covered with cardboard.
This she had covered with a blanket.
And then she had closed the curtains.
She told us that the light still got through to disturb her.
So she was sleeping in her bath...on the east side of her flat, behind the bedroom as it were.
We went into the bathroom....those windows were also covered with tin foil and card board; and she had constructed a shield from cardboard and tin foil to pull up over herself when she was in the bath...but she said the torch light still found her.
She explained that it came in through her bedroom windows; went down the hall; turned right; and right again into her bathroom and then that it went up over the edge of the bath.
The cops looked at each other and shook their heads
They looked at me
We all looked at Mrs Rorschach.
“Ma’am…ah….do you take any medication on a daily basis for any reason?”
She looked at me slyly….I’m supposed too….you know….but they’re trying to kill me.
“Okay ma’am…could we have a look at the tablets please?”
She took us to her freezer where she had hidden them so that the Government wouldn’t be able to see them on their machines. She showed me a mix of tablets that formed the then-fashionable combination of meds du jour for crazy-crazy people.
“Do you have any family?”
Yes…but I don’t speak to them because they’re also trying to kill me…
“Okay...I understand that....that's why we are here....to protect you...please give me a phone number of someone and I will call them and tell them to leave you alone...”
Oh...that would be good....do you mind doing that?
So she gave me a number for her brother...who told me that she had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic when she was still in her teens;that she was on a shedload of meds which she occasionally stopped taking...and that the family had clubbed together to rent her the flat and give her a stipend...but that they wanted nothing to do with her...not ever...and certainly not on a saturday morning.
I had 4 options :-
Firstly, we could just leave her there...she probably wouldn’t stab the Gumedes....and if she did...well...it wouldn’t be my problem and she would be locked up for good...
Secondly,I could ask Molefe to arrest her on an attempted murder charge and hope that the short,sharp shock of a weekend in Sun City (the notorious Johannesburg prison) would jumpstart her brain...
Thirdly,we could schlep her through to the Sterkfontein (State) Psychiatric Hospital and get her committed (under a then-existing special Police power).
That though would have taken the whole afternoon and I still hadn't had lunch...
Fourthly,we could take her to the Johannesburg Hospital and try and get her admitted there for a short stay...it had a nice clean well run Psych Unit...I believed that she only needed some short term but intensive TLC...I worked at the Jo'burg Gen and knew that I could,-in theory-, use the same admission-pathway that the Ambulance service used...
...and there was a Bimbos on the way back that gave a cop discount.
“Okay ma'am....we're going to take you to a safe place where you can get some sleep for a few days...perhaps you'd like to pack a bag...?”
Buthelezi helped her pack her nighty and toothbrush.
Molefe gave the cat to the Gumedes to look after since it was their fault that we were there in the first place.
“Okay ma'am...please put your hands out in front of you...I'm afraid that I need to handcuff you...I'm sorry...”
As we left there was some muttering from the by-now-assembled crowd about the fat white cop arresting old ladies...
Molefe and Buthelezi didn’t even try and hide their relief that they weren't being blamed...
I didn’t bother to explain...and the handcuffs...well...crazy is crazy after all
..and did I mention that this was a voluntary gig...?
We duly arrived at Ward 497,the female psychiatric unit at the Jo'burg Gen,having by-passed casualty,pretending we were an ambulance crew.
I told the Nurse in charge of the ward what the problem was and she said she would need to speak to the registrar on call.
About 10 minutes later an aggressive ,well dressed,well fed, butch-looking young woman stomped into the ward...she looked like she had been asleep.
She didn't bother to introduce herself...why would she...she thought we were all cops...and Mrs Rorschach was just another crazy person...and it was saturday afternoon after all...
I told her my story and asked if she could admit the patient for an assessment and then possible transfer to somewhere more suitable if it was necessary.
Why didn’t you go via casualty ?
“Well...I know that ambulance crews can admit directly to you if they think the patient is at risk...and I'm a trauma nurse...and a paramedic as well in fact...and so I was hoping we could just do this nice and easy for the patient...her life is unravelling at a rapid rate...”
Well...she sneered...you're not ambulance men so you can't just walk in here and demand we admit anybody off the street...!!
Molefe and Buthelezi looked at her...
...and then at me...
“Okay....well...I appreciate that doctor...but this lady does need admission and if I sit in casualty for 4 hours waiting to be seen I'm confident that the MO will admit her....I'm really just trying to save everybody some aggravation...”
Well....I don’t care...who do you think you are...just walking onto my ward...
Again...Molefe and Buthelezi looked at her...
...and then at me...
I raised my right eyebrow
“Well...humm...actually...police officers are allowed to detain people for 72 hours for a psychiatric evaluation at a state hospital...it's not so outrageous that we would pitch up here...”
Well...in case you hadn’t noticed ...she announced triumphantly...this is not a 'State' hospital!!
Eish said Molefe shaking his head,as he and Buthelezi looked at each other...
...and then at her...
...and then at me...
I raised both my eyebrows, and shrugged my shoulders to loosen my neck muscles...
“You're correct..doctor... this is not a 'state' hospital....its a 'provincial' hospital... ….but what I can do though is arrest you...and take you to Sterkfontein and get you admitted for a 72-hour assessment....how do you fancy that then...Doctor?”
You can't do that....she smirked...I'll just tell them I'm a psychiatrist!!
“Sure you will ...and I will tell them that you are having delusions....that you think you're a psychiatrist...”
“Honestly....who do you think they're going to believe...a hostage negotiator and 2 detectives...or some crazy women shouting that its all a misunderstanding...and ...by the way...a crazy woman in handcuffs...”
“Ja...handcuffs...have you ever been handcuffed doctor...you know..apart from when you’re having sex?”
You can't do this....I'm getting the Matron!!
“Eh...Molefe...just arrest this doctor for obstruction of a police officer will you...?”
Eish Lucien...but you're not a police officer...you're the negotiator...
“I know...but you are a police officer....remember? ...and unless you fancy sorting this mess out by yourselves...oh...and buying your own lunch as well by the way....you can just arrest her...”
Eish Lucien...are you sure...?
Eish...doctor... You have the right to scream...
...you have the right to scream as loudly as you want...
...no one cares...
...no one will come...
You have the right to an attorney...
...we will make him scream as well...
Please turn around doctor and let me handcuff you...Eish Lucien...
The matron chose that moment to bustle efficiently into the ward...large,Afrikaans,tired of life and love and nursing...she looked at the psychiatrist...looked at the cops...at the patient...and then at me....
Jislaaik Lucien...I might have known...what kak are you up too now my boy?
So I introduced her to Mrs Rorschach who was by now quite catatonic...told her my story and got my lady admitted.
To make nice,I apologised to the doctor.
You wait...she shouted...One day you'll need help....and then....and then....she spluttered …
“Ja...and then ...what doccie...?”
I hope you meet someone like yourself....
“Ja well...so do I doccie...so do I....then I might survive.”