The inspector called and demanded I come to his office in Pretoria to file an oath regarding a police case that I’m part of in South Africa. I was sitting with our lawyer in her Jo’burg office; it was physically impossible for me to get to his office before it closed. I turned to her, “Can you help me deal with this? I’d like to make an appointment for tomorrow, but our phone communication skills aren’t exactly happening.”
She took over. Evidently her phone communication skills with the inspector weren’t much better.
I arrived the next day to Inspector Pitja’s office at the agreed upon time. I knocked on the door, but there was no answer. I knocked harder. Still no answer.
I called his cell phone.
“WHERE ARE YOU?” he demanded.
Trying not to cop attitude, I replied, “Outside your office door, at the police station. I thought we were meeting at half past eleven.”“DON’T MOVE!”
He arrived minutes later. Being in a standard, no frills government building, watching this man in front of me in a purple silk shirt, sporting an afro, I felt as though I was in a made-for-tv movie from the 70’s.
“SIT!” he instructed my colleague and me. We sat on the hard, straight backed wooden chairs in the office that wasn’t much larger than a closet. A small closet, at that. I looked at the faded, mint green, standard government color walls, flakes peeling in one corner. The inspector stood behind his desk, flipping through mountains of paperwork, looking for our particular case. Once found, he stared at me with bulging eyes and said, “NOW. YOU WRITE AFFIDAVIT. YOU KNOW HOW, RIGHT?”
“Actually, no, I don’t. What information needs to be included?”
He didn’t answer me for a moment, simply staring, not comprehending how I could NOT know how to write an affidavit, that process that takes up so much of his time. He began flipping through our fat file. “WHERE IS THAT FUCKING AFFIDAVIT?”
I took great care not to look at my colleague. I knew if I did, I would start laughing, which could be considered inappropriate.
He found the affidavit and shoved it at me. “SEE. AFFIDAVIT.”
I held it, reading the statement of another colleague. I wondered, silently, if I really should be seeing what someone else testified. I obviously didn’t respond quickly enough for the inspector. In an exasperated voice he shouted, “AFFIDAVIT. WRITE IT. I, LORI MCLEESE, PASSPORT NUMBER, DOOT DE DOOT DOO DOO, AT RESIDENCE DOOT DE DOOT DOO DOO, SWEAR DOOT DE DOOT DOO DOO…” As he shouted, he held his hands up near his shoulders, flipping them over with each syllable of doot de doot doo doo.
The laughter bubbled dangerously close to coming out.
“YOU HAVE DEGREE!”
I wasn’t sure if this was a demand or a question. Hesitantly, I said, “Yes. In education.”
“THEN YOU WRITE AFFIDAVIT. NOW!”
I smiled. “Thank you. I’ll do that now.”
“HURRY!” he demanded as he gave me a sheet of tired lined paper and a ball point pen that had seen better days. “WRITE ALL YOU KNOW. I’M GOING TO DURBAN. I NEED TO FIND MY ACCOMMODATION, MAYBE SATISFACTORY, GET A BOTTLE OF WHISKEY. WRITE!”
I put pen to paper, following his doot de doot doo doo instructions as well as I could remember. He thrust the file at me again, opened to the page of the f$@#ing affidavit. “JUST LIKE THIS!”
And he left the room. My colleague and I dared to look at each other for the first time since entering the confined space. Laughter erupted. “Where are we and what are we doing?”
I scribbled as quickly as possible, wanting to get back to my office and allow Inspector Pitja to get closer to his bottle of whiskey.
He hurried back into the office.
My colleague and I both said no at the same time, as I continued to pen my affidavit.
“SO GOOD! THAT MEANS YOU GO TO CHURCH EVERY SUNDAY.”
My colleague, a Jew, and I, a non-practicing anything, looked at him hesitantly. Should we explain there is no correlation between church attendance and smoking? We smiled and I continued writing.
He lit a cigarette, blowing smoke out the window. A knock at the door and two other government officials entered. They dismissed us with only cursory glances as Inspector Pitja hurriedly extinguished his cigarette on the stacks of files on his overloaded wooden desk. I briefly stopped writing to consider how quickly the office would burn, given the solid wood furniture, the ton or two or paperwork stacked on the desk and in corners, and what appeared to be leaded paint. Probably would go up in flames pretty fast. I remembered we were on the third floor and made a mental note to jump out the window once I saw flames.
I continued writing.
His colleagues left. Inspector Pitja lit up the smashed cigarette. “FINISH!”
I smiled. “There is so much to write, sir. I am almost done.”
I concluded with the mandatory “This is true; I can state this with clear consciousness,” and the other doot de doot doo doo statements required before applying my signature.
I handed it to him, respectfully, with both hands. He took it, stared at it, then looked up and stared at me in silence for many uncomfortable seconds. I simply stared back, not smiling, not showing any emotion. Boisterous laughter ensued. “ONE HUNDRED PERCENT. THIS IS PERFECT!”
Only then did I smile. “Thank you. Thank you for your assistance. It was a pleasure meeting you.”
Only the meeting wasn’t over.
“THIS GOES TO CASE. I CALL YOU. YOU COME IMMEDIATELY! IMMEDIATELY I SAY!” and he pounded the small section of the desk not plastered with files.
“Um, I live in the United States.”
“I DON’T CARE! YOU COME IMMEDIATELY! IMPORTANT!”
Let’s try this again. I chose my words carefully. “I don’t live here. I live in another country. It takes a long time to get here. I am happy to go to court, but I would need a month notice to make the plane ticket.”
“FINE! TICKET, NO PROBLEM. BUT RIGHT AWAY. YOU DON’T WAIT!”
This meeting was over. In so many ways. I smiled and thanked him, wishing him safe travels to Durban and hopes that he found a bottle of whiskey to his liking.