Law and the Hawker

Three dice, two coins of the lowest denomination, a half-eaten roll of wine gums and a Samsung Galaxy with the netted lines of a smashed screen had fallen out of his brown herringbone jacket pocket and lay next to him on the road.  The jacket was old and stained. Its elbow patches were worn and had, in parts, become unstitched.  ‘Do you think he is breathing?’

‘I am not sure, but I wouldn’t get too close.’

‘You could just ask me,’ the man said opening his eyes.

The two policemen jumped slightly at this sudden and unexpected change in the man’s vital signs.  They had, they thought, killed him or at the very least seriously incapacitated him beyond the capacity of speech.  The man then closed his eyes and his hand slipped into his jacket pocket. Not finding the phone that he knew he had placed there some minutes before, without raising his head, he patted the ground next to his hip searching blindly but steadily for it.  His hand paused as it touched the wine gums.  He picked them up and, still with his eyes closed and with his hands slightly shaking, he loosened one from the plastic wrapping and popped it between his swollen lips. But as soon as it had entered his mouth it exited, propelled into the air together with a fountain of shimmering saliva and blood.

His fingers then dislodged the next two gums from the tube, discarding them at the policemen’s feet.  He had not meant this as a sign of disrespect, it was merely because his transverse humeral ligament had been badly bruised from the beating which the policeman had recently administered to it. This had restricted his shoulder’s movement from the full articulation that it had been capable of some minutes before. He then dislodged the next wine gum from its wrapping and, with a slight wince, he placed it into his open mouth.

‘You don’t like the yellow ones then?’ Asked the older policeman.

‘No, they are fucking disgusting.’ He said as he sucked with an expression that suggested he was, at least, enjoying whatever colour gum he now had in his mouth.

‘I have never really liked the black ones.’ Said the younger of the two policemen thoughtfully.

‘That’s unusual. Most people like those,’ said the man as he then began to chew with the few teeth that he had left in his jaw.

He swallowed and then his hand placed the now diminished roll of sweets back into his pocket and resumed its search for the phone. His hand paused as it touched it and a slight look of relief crossed his features.  His fingers caressed its smooth back with the predilection of a man who affectionately strokes his wife’s hand which has found its way, in the cinema, onto his knee.  Gently lifting the phone off the road he raised it above his face, opened one eye and looked into the webbed blackness of the smashed screen. The two men standing over him could see his eye rolling upwards as he let out a sigh of annoyance.

‘You couldn’t tell me the time?’ The man asked slipping the phone back into his jacket pocket. ‘I am meant to be meeting the person who gave me these umbrellas to sell in the town.’  With this his left hand lurched out in an attempt to find the bucket in which he had been carrying the small compact umbrellas before the beating.  ‘I trust the umbrellas are still there?’ he asked.  ‘It would be a real inconvenience to me if they weren’t. I would certainly lose my commission.’

But by this time the two policemen were not paying him any interest. Instead their attention was taken up by a man who was discussing the legality of their actions. The man, although he had not intervened, had taken, by the sounds of his heightened tone, a strong exception to the policemen’s actions.

‘You can’t just beat a man like that.  He does have rights you know.’

‘Well he certainly does not have the right to gamble and hawk on these streets, that much I can tell you,’ said the older policeman.

‘Gamble? Who was he gambling with?’

‘He was throwing dice while he sat on the pavement.’

‘You can’t gamble with yourself.’

‘Who says?’ Said the younger policeman.

‘Now if you don’t mind sir whether you can or can’t is not the point.’

But the man was no longer interested in discussing the conceptual and definitional parameters of gambling but was instead searching on his phone for the country’s constitution in an attempt to explain to the police their duties and the illegality of indiscriminate beatings and arrests.

‘You see, there it is.’ The man said looking at the screen which had only partly loaded. ‘You can’t just arrest a man without cause.’

‘Oh,’ said the older of the policemen, ‘but we had no intention of arresting him. We merely took preventative steps towards the prevention of a crime.  Now if you don’t mind you will have to step away from the scene.’

‘What? Or you will beat me?’

‘Now sir don’t take that attitude.  We’re are only doing our job.’

With this, the younger policeman reached for his truncheon and accordingly the man who had raised the objection, who was still waiting for the rest of the constitution to upload, moved, with a certain degree of urgency, further down the street. And it looked, at least to the policemen, as if he had in fact lost interest in his line of argument due to the presence of the truncheon or perhaps due to the slowness of the connection speed of his iPhone.  However, out of the earshot of the police, the man now raised his phone to his ear and began to speak to somebody in a hushed voice.

The policemen, seemingly with due cause, lost interest in the malcontent and looked down the main road as another police vehicle, with its blue lights flashing, made its way down the busy main road towards them. It parked and two men got out and they began what turned out to be a lengthy discussion.  They sat on the bonnets of their vehicles talking.  One man went to inspect the man in the herringbone jacket.  After returning he shrugged his shoulders and the younger policemen seemed to begin a re-enactment of what had happened.  The older one stopped him in mid-demonstration in order to demonstrate a kick that he had delivered to the man as he lay on the ground.  There were shrugs and seemingly some disagreement between them.  The older of the policeman seemed to be demonstrating to the younger ones the difference between the use of the side of the foot or the use of the toe.  The others nodded and there seemed to be at least some consensus from how each man moved their feet in small mimetic re-enactments that the use of the toe was the kick of preference.

‘Excuse me!’ The man in the herringbone jacket was calling. ‘How late is it do you think? It seems to me to have got pretty dark. And where the fuck have you put my umbrellas.  I told you that I will be needing those.’ He waited for a reply. And when none was forthcoming he, not without some associated pain, slowly shook his head. ‘My god this country has really gone to the dogs.’

But none of the policemen were listening. It was not their fault as the man’s voice had become little more than a whisper.  A whisper that was largely drowned out by the approach of an ambulance with its siren on. It stopped and a man with red overalls got out and shook hands with the policemen.  He went to the back and took out the self-loading bed.  And began to push it towards the man in the herringbone jacket who was still lying half on and half off the road behind the police vehicle.

It must have been at this time that the man who had first expressed some disagreement with the policemen’s actions arrived back.  He was accompanied by a lawyer who was unfolding a file of papers.  ‘Now,’ said the man, ‘let me show you. For we have it here. We have a copy of the constitution here where it is stated quite emphatically that arbitrary arrest and the physical violation of a prisoner’s body are outlawed.’  The older policemen got up and went towards them and took the paper from the lawyer’s hand and began to read.

‘Where did you get this?’ he asked.

‘It is on the internet.’

‘These are certainly interesting ideas. But where is the section on loitering and on gambling in public and on the vending of merchandise which break after five minutes of use?  Where is that?’

The policemen, the man and the lawyer stood over the pages and began to read.  They finally had to admit that there seemed to be no such clauses in the constitution that mentioned such things, other than a reference to the Public Protection Act.  But the lawyer reiterated that, at least, one thing was clear to him, one couldn’t gamble as a single entity. That at the very least a second party was needed and that at least the presence of exchangeable tender would be required.

‘Wait a moment.’  The younger policeman went around to the back of the vehicle and came back with two five cent pieces.

‘And what is that?’ The lawyer asked.

‘I am surprised you ask. Because that is clearly ten cents in the form of two five cent pieces,’ said the policeman.

‘And?’ Replied the lawyer not fully understanding quite where the witness was taking him.

‘Legal tender, used for the purpose of gambling,’ he said with an emphasis that seemed to suggest that he thought he had now constructed a watertight case against the man in the herringbone jacket.

The lawyer looked dejected. ‘Well even if that is the case, you have now compromised and contaminated the scene of the crime.  How will you ever prove that they are his and that he was using them for the purposes of gambling with himself. And even so I still very much doubt that gambling can involve one person and ten cents.’

And three dice.’ A man said who had been listening to the conversation from a distance but had now drawn closer.

In fact, by this time a relatively large crowd had developed around the lawyer and the policeman.  The paramedic, the three other policemen and at least nine people off the street had now crowded around them.  Some were asking for the constitution to be read out, others were complaining that something should be done about the sales of umbrellas that broke when one opened them, others felt that wine gums might be illegal if they contained traces of wine in them, it could amount to drinking in public.  This line of argument was amended to ‘potential eating of traces of alcohol in public’.  In fact, such a heated debate had begun to take place on all of these issues that the policemen began to feel that this may be an illegal gathering which might require the use of force and the legitimate use of the powers of arrest.

With this, the lawyer began to search the constitution cross-referencing this with a google search and said that in fact, by the looks of it, this might be a bit of a grey area, with the right to assembly and association being contradicted by certain local bylaws.  With this news, the police began to draw their batons and the crowd fled leaving only the lawyer clutching the now disordered and dirtied pages of the country’s legal foundations.  And then from the other side of the police vehicle came a shout from the younger policeman. ‘He’s gone!’

‘What? Whose gone?’ cried out the others.

‘The umbrella salesman. He’s not here anymore.’

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