ENCOUNTERS: World Wall 3

02:55 — I reach over to turn my alarm off for the third time. I only have 20 minutes to get ready now and out the door to work. I get dressed in the dark, trusting the process because I picked these clothes last night. Running low on time, throw my toothbrush, toothpaste and a yoghurt in my backpack before I head out.

03:15 — I jump every light because the stillness of the night frightens me. No other cars meet me on the way because the suburbs ain’t woke yet.

04:05 — A whiteboard in a boardroom is filled corner to corner with black marker scribbles detailing the plan for the police operation. Which units will drive in which cars, which roads they would be driving along and what code they would be using over their walky talkies. Women and men in blue uniforms and black bullet proof vests fiddle with their holters, tightening and loosening again just to be sure their guns stay in place. Others are wearing reflective gear with their neighbourhood watch name on the back. Unlike me the three slight women don’t look scared, it’s just another day for them. The one with an all black cap and green eyes catches my eye. She has a loose cigarette and a purple lighter in her hand, she’s standing at attention with her eyes fixed on the board but you can tell her mind isn’t in the room. I look down to see her left foot tapping, the white tick on her Roshe’s occupying my time long enough to wonder why she would put those beauties through whatever we were about to get in to.

04:25— Walking past a group that will be positioned opposite the train tracks, where they will intercept people running in search of escape, they go over their plan one last time, join hands and bow their heads in prayer. The brief silence is interrupted by a deep growl and then bark coming from the back of a K9 Unit van, frightening but reassuring. Sitting in the back of the car, trailing behind a casspir, the water bottle and notepad I have on my lap look and feel redundant. Waiting in a dark ally for the message to advance, three men huddled near a broken wall of what used to be a house, lose their brief reprieve from this world and fall off their cloud when the blue lights begin to register. They begin to move back behind the double brick remains. Captain we are driving with sees this and reaches for his black walky talky, “we have to move in now, been spotted by a group here at the the top of the street, if they tip off the others this will be a bust.” He accelerates and drives straight into the middle of what looks like an open field.

04: 35 — Panting, barking, shouting and torches flashing every which way. When the car stops, Captain runs out, leaving the car running — leaving me with only a split second to think. Ditch the water, pad and microphone on the seat, sticking my phone into my back pocket as I run after him. Bits of broken glass and rocks crush as we go. Bodies fling themselves over the fence, under the bridge and leap for the tracks to flee this onslaught. When I catch up to him, he’s cornered two dazed women. One wearing shorts and the other a shiny tracksuit and a patchy weave atop. They’re both barefoot and confused. He tells them to come out. Shards of Black Label beer bottles give way under their heels, which seem impervious to the pain. One picks up a hoodie, the other a backpack. An officer takes it and begins to search it, throwing out bits of her life as he goes. The search is interrupted by another body that throws itself off the overhead bridge, through a gap in the fence and over the tracks. The glimpse of her revealed her youth, wearing pink denim shorts, carrying a Hannah Montana backpack. Even though many legs head her way, she makes it through to the other side.

04:55 — One by one people are cuffed and get escorted through the overgrown bush towards the vans awaiting them. Some in silence, some crying and others loudly proclaiming their innocence. One limping man stopping intermittently to take a drag from his asthma pump, he isn’t as disorientated as the rest, he looks like he is here because he is a forgotten person. While the vast land looks like an ordinary open field, getting closer to the walls, we find informal structures (a cardboard box here, a sheet of metal there and cloth or sheets of newspaper pretending to be the walls that provide shelter). Against the furthest wall many of these “structures” house women who sell themselves nightly to get their next hit. “We find the same women here over and over again. They just can’t get out and unhooked, so they sell themselves here against the wall to get more,” says a woman in blue. “I see it over and over again, the same story. They start experimenting when they are young, then just can’t get off the stuff. Tik, whoonga, dagga, mandrax whatever it is. So they come to places like this to fund their habit.” As they are rounded up and cuffed, all their eyes look dead. Like they were expecting this, aren’t scared of anything anymore. Like the openness, the coldness of their reality had hardened them to whatever awaited them in jail or wherever they land up next.

05:24 — A blood curling scream comes from under the bridge. A quick sprint in that direction reveals a man’s leg stuck in a metal rod that once formed part of the fence. An officer says the man was caught in the fence trying to run. They help him get unstuck and don’t cuff him, one man in blue helps him hop along to the now half full casspir. He asks for his tablet, says he left it in his backpack near the fence. One of the ladies in the fluorescent neighbourhood watch vests goes to check for it. No tablet. He insists that he can’t leave this place without it.

05:50 — An elderly man looks on through the bars that cover the window in the casspir, he watches as police unpack some of the things they found that night. Emptied wallets, phones, drugs and various instruments. Bloodied pants and shirts also make the cut. He sucks on a lollipop as officers take pictures of their loot, laughs when one officer tells him his days of dealing on this land are done.

06:02 — One of the walls free of being a fourth wall for the open legs and shoot up’s is littered with graffiti. “No more pain” reads the biggest scribble in white paint.