This is a true story:
There was this time, when I was with the Police, that a small, older woman came to the front counter to report her son missing. Her clothing looked a little disheveled and she was carrying a plastic bag. Although her hair was tied back, plenty of it had escaped and almost floated around her, like a wispy halo. I believe she was of Indian descent and was a little difficult to understand but certainly not impossible. Naturally this was also compounded by her stress and anxiety of her belief that her son was missing. In briefly assessing the situation I guessed her son would have to be in his late twenties at best and this was not going to be a child we would be looking for.
So she tells me her son is in Australia and he calls her every day to make sure she is all right as she has had some issues too, with her mental health. But disturbingly he hadn’t contacted her for 4 days. She describes him as the loving son, the good son. On a crumpled piece of paper she’s handed me, is an Australian phone number, his passport number and a photocopied driver’s licence picture but no licence details. She’s pleading with me to find him – like any mother, she just wants to know her boy is OK. I see the confusion and fear in her eyes and feel compelled to do whatever I can to help her. So I show her a place to sit and go back into the offices to dig around, both with the phone calls and the data base surely I will be able to give her an answer. And after that there is a lot more to do but I’m hoping it doesn’t have to go that far.
I call the number she’s given me and ask if her son lives there and is employed there as the manager of the backpackers hostel. According to his mother, he’s been working there for 3 years – y’know, he gets cheap or free accommodation for managing the place. Yet according to the person who answered the phone this was not the case. Her son, let’s call him Mike, had not worked there for two years at least. It was the owner I was talking to so I just scratched around the surface to find out if he was worth digging – and he was, as I found some interesting, although sad, information.
So the owner of the backpackers hostel tells me this; Mike left the job two years ago because his mother found out where he worked. She was mentally unstable and harassed him and called the cops on him numerous times even though he was just trying to quietly live his life and get on with it. She told the cops he was suicidal or had killed someone or was going to be killed.
Also, Mike sent her money every month too, to help her cover bills and have a better life. The hostel owner understood she was under care and lived in a particular place but he couldn’t say where. He believed she had been diagnosed as schizophrenic. I thanked him for his help and asked if he knew where Mike might be now. He didn’t – but he did have an old mobile phone number which I took down. I rang the mobile number which was in Australia too and left a message on an answer phone – which did not say ‘Mike, leave a message’ – but someone else’s name. This may be for a very good reason though.
Mrs Patel and I wait for the phone call, I make her and I a cup of tea and I sit with her. With the information I had about her state of mind I gently coaxed her to tell me what was going on. From her perspective at least. I was prepared to wait half an hour before expecting to have the phone call returned – naturally I’d prefer immediately, especially when it’s a message from the police.
“So when was the last time you actually heard from Mike?” I ask between a couple of sips of tea.
“He’s angry with me!” She exclaimed.
“That’s Ok, families squabble – but how long has he been angry with you for?”
She squeezes the paper cups’ rim flat between two worn-out looking fingers and twists the cup gently in her other hand – just going round and round the rim.
“I haven’t spoken to him in two years…” she drifts off and starts to tear up. “I had a dream that swords were stabbing him all over and I could feel the fear and the danger he was in. I need to help him – to warn him of this!” She kept looking at the cup and turning it. “He will die if I don’t find him and protect him! I need to – I’m his mother!”
My heart went out to her as I knew she truly believed her son was in danger.
“Is this why you came into the station to report him missing? I ask.
“Yes…” she nodded. “You will find him and I will be able to tell him, save him.” She gazed at me anxiously.
I take her hand from the cup and lightly hold her fingers, forcing her to make eye-contact with me and stop giving rim to the cup!
” Mrs Patel – who do you think would want to do this to him and why?”
“Well God, of course.” She seemed almost startled at the idea that I wouldn’t know that. I could see her change as she became incredibly suspicious and cautiously pulled her hand away.
“What makes you think God would want to do that to your son?” I ask openly.
“I messed with the TV aerial at home and was so angry with one of the other people that live there that I pee’d outside in the garden…”
I’m not often one lost for words but this time I coughed to make up some thinking time and had a sip of tea.
“Sorry Mrs Patel – excuse me…so you went to the toilet outside in the garden? And that is why God is going to hurt your son with swords?” I have to use a fair amount of question marks as that is what is grammatically correct but really these questions are used like statements – she’s nodding and confirming as I’m feeding her back her story so that I can understand what the hell she is talking about. That really is irrelevant but I realise I have a person here who is mentally ill and has quite possibly not taken her medications for who knows how long.
Short story long – apparently the television backed onto her room and made too much noise. Often it was late and it was always the same old fellow watching something too loudly as he was deaf. So when she asked him to turn the volume down so that she could go to sleep, he would tell her to fuck off and all sorts of other nasty stuff – and loudly, being deaf and all. So in order to get him back, after not having any luck and being called names, Mrs Patel took the TV aerial so that he couldn’t watch any programmes at all.
So the old fellow upped the anti and left the TV on with the white noise at it’s loudest and had been going to bed deaf as a doornail and at the other end of the residence where the men slept. Well Mrs Patel was furious and took a dump and so forth under the window of the old man and being summertime it certainly didn’t take more than a few times to get flies a-buzzing and a super high hum going under his window.
After, funnily enough, four days of this drama going on, Mrs Patel suffered severe guilt for her actions and believed God was going to strike her son dead. When I did track the son down eventually, I explained to him that I wouldn’t expose his whereabouts or phone number etc to his mother. She was very ill and he had been embarrassed too many times and lost too many jobs by allowing her into his life. I felt sorry for him too. It’s never easy living with mental health issues whether you are the one ill or the surrounding network of someone who is ill.
Well I had listened to her story, I knew her son just did not want anything to do with her. This wasn’t something that was going to be healed and she couldn’t expect a phone call on Wednesday at 2 pm or anything. Something else needed to change as the relationship between them both would not.
I asked her afterwards, ” How great do you think God is?”
“Oh God is greater than all things.” She said very confidently.
“Is he greater than man? Than a human being?”
“Of course – he made us, his is greater than everything put together, his love is greater – just everything.” She replied.
“So then tell me this, why would God have such a human spiteful nature to hurt your son – that spite or judgement is a human trait. God is far, far more loving than that. Another human being may feel like that if you do…you-know-what under his window – but God would never do that – he’s most probably chuckling at us having this conversation now.”
I smiled at her and she started to cry, I quickly put my tea down and gave her a hug. She clung to me like a limpet and had a good weep. I handed her tissues which didn’t really get used as much as my shirt. Finally she pulled away and wiping her sad brown eyes, she said to me, ” I have never thought of it that way before – of course God wouldn’t be that petty!” She had a watery smile on her face and gave me another hug. “Thank you , thank you so much!” She said delightedly.
“Now you just need to make friends with your house-mate I believe.” I winked at her.
I found out her carer’s name and tracked down which residence she worked in and she came in to pick up Mrs Patel. She was so grateful to find her safe and sound, she said that poor old Mrs Patel does this every now and again. Although we didn’t see her back – not while I was there anyway.