I don’t think anyone wakes up of a morning and thinks, Hmm, I’m going to die today. Unless you are on death row somewhere that is. Actually I remember very little of that day, we had gone from living in the camp for a week to performing 12 hour shifts 3 days a week. So I woke up at 5 am at home, showered, shaved and dressed leaving in time to start at 6 am. It was a Thursday, one of those sunny summer days we have in Queensland, the sky was bright and the temperature hovered around 30 degrees Celsius, a perfect day indeed. What more could you ask for in life? I had found my niche in the workforce, a well-paying job, one that I had experience in and very little pressure from above. My duties for the day were that of number 3 officer, it involved doing the searches, any medical escorts – basically the odd job boy. Dying hadn’t crossed my mind at all.
Happiness lurked on the horizon like a rising sun, ready to beam down and release me from the depression that has plagued my life on and off over the years. It still amazes me that we can compartmentalise our lives and store the crap well away from the day-to-day living. It reminds me of the origins of the word shit. I read that when fertiliser was shipped in the days of sail, the containers were marked Store High In Transit. Because if they were allowed to get wet a gas would form and when some poor soul went below with a lantern, BOOM, another ship goes down. So I had stored high in transit the happenings over the years that caused me some mental/emotional concern. They were stored that high I believe they weren’t even on the manifest. So happiness reigned and I actually smiled sometimes. My marriage ( first ) couldn’t be called a good one but hey, I stored that somewhere in the hold.
A quiet camp with few prisoners in it was the signal for a late afternoon cuppa and a chat. The Manager had gone somewhere and a siesta like feeling hung over the office, time flies and I had to perform a handover security check. Between our office and the main gate a row of wooden buildings stood near the fence. These structures housed store rooms, interview rooms, nurses station and a holding cell. A basic walk along the veranda and do a pull check on the padlocks and a visual of the doors, nothing arduous here. I had checked the first door on the first building when it felt like a hot dart had been stuck into the base of my skull, the pain – I had felt nothing like it, then again and again. Landing on my knees I fell forward and stuck my hands out, then I felt something crawling on my neck, wasps. Grabbing hold of the rail I pulled myself up and staggered to the next building, stopped and looked back. There, stuck high in the veranda rafters, a paper wasp nest the size of a cereal bowl. Being an idiot I continued with my security check, no problems I’d been stung a couple of dozen times over the years.
Back at the office I began to feel a little unwell and sat down at my desk, my neck stung and I rubbed it. Tom, one of the officers looked over and said, “You don’t look well at all.” I told them what happened and Tom grabbed the fly spray and out he went. He returned hurriedly, “Bloody hell, there are dozens of them.” So they all stormed out for a look-see and I hobbled after them, we had a 16 seater bus parked next to the office and I leaned against it before sliding to the ground. Tom sprayed them again, this time flame thrower style after lighting the spray. By now I didn’t care about the wasps, all I wanted to do was breathe. Tom had another look at me and raced inside to call for an ambulance. Another officer sat me up against the front of the bus, big mistake, my head fell forward and my world view changed completely.
The transition was gentle, I could see myself sitting there head down and one of the other officers standing off to one side staring at me. His aura glowed a deep blue and spread out for what seemed a hundred metres. I stared past him at the camp, it began to disappear and took on the appearance of a wide expanse of light woodland. I knew when the ambulance turned up and could see the paramedic squatting down next to me, her voice seemed a long way away, “Let’s get him in the back, he has no blood pressure.” Who cares? I didn’t, the being standing in front of me seemed more important. Yes it was angelic, in as much as it had long black hair and wore a white shift. No, there weren’t any wings and it wasn’t clear as to its gender. The voice seemed musical though when it said, “Come on Laurence, it’s time to go.” What could I do, I followed. My next memory is of me standing alone in front of some barrier, or chasm, and on the far side stood a throng of people I knew who had passed. The feelings of love overwhelmed me, nothing else mattered, no one else mattered. I was definitely going home this time.
Then a bump, I came to in the ambulance as it drove out through the gate, smiled at the paramedic ( who looked nothing like the being ) then nodded at my mother who sat behind her, she’d been dead for 6 years. I went away again and apparently stabilised going over the railway crossing. They gave me a quick check up at the hospital and sent me home, anaphylactic shock. I took another day off and returned to work on the Saturday. Going through that gate to start my shift seemed a little different somehow : the sun didn’t shine as brightly, the air didn’t feel the same and the colours around me had dulled somewhat. My neck hurt, a festering lump had formed, wasps have dirty stingers and to this day there is still a small pimple where the stings went in. My belief is part of me still lurked on the other side of the chasm, wanting to go home.
I have a stash of anecdotes about this job, however they are of a superficial nature and really offer nothing much to the world. I’ve come to the same point that I did in the Policeman’s Lot series, it would be repetition. In the next few weeks I will present the major events that almost sent me to where I wanted to be. But for those who need a ‘My God are people that stupid’ story I’ll finish each segment with one of them. So here’s the first one,
Be Careful where you give yourself a haircut. In the old jail a prisoner, usually of doubtful talent would be appointed prison barber. He would have a tiny room next to the officer’s toilet and perform haircuts at set hours. We would check his scissors daily and make sure he wasn’t involved in any dubious activities. At my new job we held a barber set in the office, it consisted of the basics: trimmers, scissors, comb and cleaning kit all packed in a wooden box. If a prisoner needed a haircut he would come and sign it out and get one of his mates to give him a trim. Some used it for beard and moustache trims. We used it for ourselves when we lived in, mainly moustache trims and me having a total Uncle Fester haircut on a dare. I felt naked and the following morning one of the crims said, “Are you after a free trip to Disneyland from the cancer council Boss?” Smart arse.
We’ll call our victim Figaro ( the Barber of Seville ), he turned up at the office and signed out the kit, “When you’ve finished lad, clean it and bring it back.” “No worries Boss.” He returned it an hour later looking a little sick and hobbled away, I didn’t take any notice. The following day he seemed a little tardy in turning up for musters and hung around on the veranda outside the mess at meal times. The day after he could hardly walk and another officer brought him to the office, Figaro opened his trousers and the officer looked inside. OMG. The nurse was called and whisked Figaro away. You guessed it, he had decided to do a little Brazilian on his nether regions and with shaking hands had zoomed across his scrotum and chopped a huge chunk out of it. I still cringe when thinking about it, he needed seven stitches in his scrotum. The joke went around, ‘Where’s Figaro? He doesn’t cut hair anymore he slipped and got the sac.’ Ho, Ho. What was worse I had trimmed my moustache after he brought the clippers back. We had a tannoy system to call prisoners to the office and make announcements, something akin to an episode of MASH. The word came down from the Boss, ‘No cutting of hair below the neckline.’ I passed on the edict via the tannoy, of course the cry went up, ‘Why not?’ So I announced, ‘Because Figaro used it on his knackers.’ A loud ‘Aargh’ the only reply. Life can be funny.