Thursday 21-Dec 2006
Knock knock. The door shook from the vigorous impact of the door knocker just as Chris was sitting down to dinner with his family. His dad groaned and went to the door. "Good evening, Officers, how can we help you?" his dad's voice floated in from the entry way.
Uh oh, cops! Chris grabbed his knife and fork tightly, and his stomach tensed up. What were they here for? He could hear their response from the table. "Good evening, sir, I am Sergeant Tom Parker from the Victorian Police. Is Chris Mackenzie here?"
Chris gasped, and suddenly found it difficult to breathe. He had feared this moment all year. One bad decision, one day of lunacy almost a year ago, and he'd just known that it would catch up with him. His life was probably over. He didn't know quite what the police would do with him, but when his parents found out?
"Yes, he's here, I'll go and get him."
Chris looked around, feeling trapped. He realised that his mum was looking at him strangely with a question on her face. He forced himself to breathe, to relax, and hoped that he could stop from wetting himself. He mustn't let them know how scared he was. All year he'd told himself that it didn't really matter, nothing really mattered anyway, but now that they'd come for him, he found that it did matter. It mattered a whole lot. In fact, it was everything.
His father came into the room. "Chris, there's some police here to see you."
He took a deep breath, and pushed his chair back to stand up. He nearly collapsed when he went to stand up, and grabbed at the back of the chair. Was it too late to run?
Yes. His father came over, took his arm and helped him towards the door. Chris's mind froze as they came towards the police, but his father's hand propelled him forward, towards his doom.
"Is your name Chris Mackenzie?" one of the two police officers asked. He just nodded, unable to say anything else in reply. This was it. The police officer would ask him where he'd been on that day in December last year, and then it would all be out. All out, and all over.
"Where were you last night?"
Chris looked at the police officer in total surprise. Last night? Gradually it dawned on him that they weren't here for what he thought. Last night? Why were they asking about last night?
Chris shook himself. "Uh, okay. In the afternoon I was playing cricket at the park with my friends, Geno and Peter. After we ate at the shopping centre, they said they were going to the skate bowl, and I came home about nine o'clock."
"Are you sure you got home at nine?"
"Sure. Mum and Dad were here."
The policeman looked at Chris's dad. "Is that true?"
"Yes. We were watching 'Missing Persons' when he got home, and we talked about how hard the police work to find their target."
Missing Persons was a show that showed Police at work as they chased down real world missing persons. It was a real mixed bag, from confused old people and troubled teenagers who'd run away, through to people missing for years. Mostly they found the person if they'd just gone missing, but sometimes they found bodies or nothing. Lately, Chris had sometimes wondered whether he'd be on the show one day, with the cops chasing him after he ran away from home.
The policeman smiled. "All right, thanks for your time."
Chris looked at the officers. What was all this about. Did he dare ask them? Maybe it was just best if they left as soon as possible. But his dad had other ideas. "Officers, what is this about?"
"There was an attempted robbery at a stereo store last night. Peter Walker and Geno Pacchini are helping us with our enquiries, but the security cameras show a third person. Someone identified Chris as one of their friends, so we are here to check."
"Are they okay?"
The officers looked at Chris. "Well, they're not hurt, but they're in a lot of trouble."
Chris nodded. That made sense in a screwy kind of way. Neither of them was very clever. They'd tried to get him into trouble before, but he'd steered clear of their after-dark activities. His parents might think very little of him, but he wasn't that stupid. Although, considering what he'd done, perhaps he was, but just maybe he could claim to have learnt his lesson. He wondered who the third person was. "Helping them with the enquiries" huh? Obviously not very helpful.
The officers left after giving Chris a sort of friendly warning about not being led astray by his mates, and Chris and his dad went back to dinner. At the end of dinner, his dad sent his thirteen-year-old brother Jay and his nine-year-old sister Bec off to their rooms. Chris started to stand up. "Young man, you are staying right here with us," his father said.
All of a sudden Chris's nerves were back. And oh, he was right to worry too. "Chris, you're just sixteen. There's no reason for you to be so afraid when some cops come to the door looking for you, unless you've done something wrong." His parents stared intensely at him.
Chris squirmed. What could he say? Yes, he'd done something wrong. Very wrong, and he had no idea how his parents would react if he told them. But could he somehow avoid telling them now?
"Are you going to tell us what you did?"
Chris shook his head, panic showing clearly on his face. Reluctantly he lifted his eyes to look at his mum and saw a horrified expression on her face. He hated that expression, hated how she was upset with him, but it seemed to be happening more and more lately, and he didn't seem to know how to keep it from appearing.
He knew that he was thoroughly screwed at this point. His mum would get it out of him. Not only did she have eyes in the back of her head, she had an uncanny ability to see inside his head too, although it didn't seem to make her any more understanding of his "problems". And this problem, no way. He could not tell his mum and dad about this one at all.
Last year, he'd begged and begged, and he'd been allowed to leave school a week early to go and help his uncle on his farm up in the Snowy Mountain Country after a storm had damaged the property badly. But when he got there, they'd had to wait a couple of days for some insurance clearance, and there was nothing to do. One of the farm hands had got an SMS message inviting him to join a rally to stand up for Australian values in Sydney the next day. He'd told Chris's uncle that they were going fishing down on the coast for the two days, but he and Chris had actually made the six-hour drive up to Sydney that night. The rally was huge, bigger than a football crowd, and then it had actually turned into a riot, which was no surprise to Chris's friend.
The crowd had pretty much lost control, running around looking for Lebos — actually, anyone who looked vaguely Lebanese — and beating them up. Chris had run with the crowd, swept up in noise and commotion, making a lot of noise himself, and thinking he was having fun. Then suddenly, Chris had found himself at the front of the crowd just when they'd caught someone, an older man who looked vaguely Lebanese. Suddenly, here was a target, something to discharge the intense emotions that had been built in him up by the crowd, and Chris had snapped. He'd howled, swearing and cursing the man for being a Lebo and punched the man in the face. Oh it had felt good, he would've liked to hit him again, but the man had gone down and then Chris had been swept away by the crowd as the cops came for them.
They hadn't been caught, and later, when they were driving back down to the farm, his friend had been buzzed, but Chris had been deeply ashamed. He'd hit someone! For no reason other than that the crowd had decided he was a Lebo. He'd wanted to, he'd wanted to do something, something to make up for that wrong he'd done, but he didn't know what he could do; just turning himself in would get him into trouble but not do anything for the people who'd been hurt.
The riot had caused incredibly strong reactions throughout the country. When he'd come home at the end of the week, his parents were still in shock that such a riot could happen in Australia. And really, it seemed pretty strange to Chris, even though he'd been in it. The government and police were frothing at the mouth, and the police had been rolling up the culprits by gradually chasing down the SMS message chain, were still working on it in fact. Chris had figured it was only a matter of time before they caught up with him, but the farm hand had moved on, and Chris didn't know whether he'd been picked up or not.
Chris had been dreading his parents finding out for months. The worm of guilt had stayed low in his belly for that whole time, eating away at him. While his parents claimed to hate racism, he thought that they were hypocrites — they consistently taught their children not to treat people any differently because of their race, but they both railed against damn Asian drivers and the new immigration wave of middle-eastern visa over-stayers. So he wasn't exactly sure what they'd say about the racism aspect, but the fact that he'd been a public riot: that was something they'd never forgive him. He already had enough experience with the way they reacted when they were angry with him for small things.
The weird thing was that the riot, and how Australians were, had nothing to do with racism. Chris had thought a lot about this over the last year, and the way he saw it, Australians weren't at all racist. Australians were culturalist. There were some cultures, like the great Australian beach culture, which were great, and there were others which were okay. Chris's grandparents used to get all riled up about Italians and Greeks. While they still had a strong racial and cultural identity, Australians had learnt that they meshed nicely with the existing Australian culture, so they were okay now. On the other hand, it wasn't clear whether some of the newer cultures — the Asian and middle-eastern cultures — would fit in or not. Some cultures were okay and some were not okay. So, it wasn't racism, it was culturalism. It's just that race was the easiest way to recognize culture. And because of this it made Chris laugh when the government talked up Australian multi-culturalism — just what did that word mean?
"Why won't you tell us? Do you think we'll think worse of you if we know what you did, or if we have to imagine it?" His mother really knew what buttons to push. His mouth was dry as he looked at her, but he still couldn't speak, couldn't say anything, not that he knew what he would say if he did.
His mum spoke gently, but he couldn't miss the urgency and concern in her voice. "Chris, did you hurt a girl?"
His expression changed to one of hurt and alarm, and he found his voice. "No, Mum, no, never."
The silence grew, and his parents kept watching him. Chris cracked under the pressure and began to tell his parents about it. To his surprise, they listened in silence. When he was finished, they were quiet for a long while, and then they looked at each other.
"So, what did you learn?" That was a typical question from his dad. He would always ask Chris that, and Chris had been incredibly frustrated with it in the past. There was never anything to learn. But this time, he realised, he'd learnt quite a lot.
"I learnt not to just do what other people are doing. I didn't ask enough questions, and then I just got carried along with the crowd. Since then I've trusted people a lot less." Chris frowned, and realised something. "I guess that's why I didn't get caught up with what Geno and Peter were doing."
But there was one lesson he'd just learnt that he wasn't going to talk about, which was that what happened actually mattered. It was a running battle between Chris and his parents: nothing really mattered, because he wasn't clever enough to get good enough marks to get to university, so nothing good was going to happen in his life, so why bother? His parents fought with him about this every chance that they got. They were making his life miserable, and he couldn't see why they cared.
He was surprised. They weren't as demeaning to him about being in the riot as they were over much smaller things. As if somehow, doing something really bad meant that he didn't get in as much trouble. But gradually he worked out that this was grownup trouble, and they were treating it in a grownup way. Somehow it made a difference that he knew that he'd screwed up.
In the end, they didn't really lecture him, or even punish him. They did virtually ground him indefinitely, which meant that he had to ask them for permission to go anywhere outside the house. If that meant that he had to call his dad on his phone, well, that meant he had to wear the cost of the phone call. When Chris pointed out that he'd managed without that for a year, they agreed, but explained that they had to do something.
All in all, it was the most memorable meal Chris had had for a long time.
The riot was a real event. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_Cronulla_riots.