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The green grass of London
essay [ ]

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by [corazón ]

2007-02-19  |     | 

The door flung open and heavy boots trampled down the steps to our basement flat in London. We were sitting in the large living room on cushions for want of chairs, food on a cloth on the floor...eating and talking. We were four girls from all corners of the globe who shared this flat. Rita, a big Australian shop assistant with thick black hair, Sam, a blond Irish hairdresser, Janine, the little medical student from Gaboun, West Africa, who always wore big round earrings and maxi dresses, and finally me, the German typist, currently out of a job, like, actually, all four of us. Startled, not knowing what was happening, we got up, dazed and before anyone of us could say a word, we were encircled by six policemen, no, not the nice Bobbies from the street, but guys from the local station who meant business. We looked up at them like dwarfs at Giants, unable to utter a word.
“This is a raid! Where are the drugs?” yelled one of them, looking at me. “What drugs?” I stammered and wanted to sink into the ground. “Don’t be clever with me, girl! You’re all booked and this flat will be searched right now!”
“Do you have a warrant?” asked Sam, trying to be on top of the situation, but I could see her trembling. The answer was a loud laugh from all six officers. They pushed through us and disappeared into the rooms, as if they knew the flat like their own. The furnished flat had a large entrance hall adjacent to which were two small bedrooms and a bathroom. The lounge was an open room with another two bedrooms on one side, a bathroom and a small kitchen which led to a much cherished little garden with trees and wild flowers, ideal for home grown food, but none of us was taking the time or effort to cultivate or at least clean it.
“I need to call my parents!” said Rita, the youngest, in a surprisingly calm voice. “Forget it!” came the sharp reply and the tallest guy who looked to be at least 2 meters in height, barred the way to the staircase.
Before I knew it, I was grabbed and pulled into my bedroom. “Is this your room?” the copper asked me, I nodded. “I need your name and passport, where do you come from?” We were all questioned about our nationalities, ages, work permits, student visas etc. I watched angrily as the man pulled the covers and sheets from my bed and threw them on the floor. My clothes in the wardrobe suffered the same fate. I closed my eyes and thought of my parents at home in Germany, who expected me to be there at Christmas… it was already the beginning of December and rather cold, and I was grounded here in London, probably having to spend Christmas in jail!
“Ahh, look,what we have here!” Turning around, I saw the man holding up a white plastic packet and dangling it in front of me. My eyes became as big as saucers.
“This.. I… I’ve never seen this before…, honest! I don’t smoke this stuff, I hate it!”
That was the pure truth, but the reaction was a big, victorious grin in his face.
“Sure, Sweety, never seen it before, we’ve all heard that before, haven’t we?”
His roaring laughter was amplified by his five colleagues who each held up a similar size packet. “Hash, Shit, Grass, whatever you wanna call it, it’s here, and you’re all arrested!”
My heart stopped, Rita cried, Janine went white as a sheet of paper and Sam murmured angry words, something about her lawyer… who, of course, did not exist…
Then we heard the usual…”You are arrested for possession of illegal drugs and anything you say…” the rest was swallowed by the heavy boots dragging us upstairs and into the green van waiting in front of the house.
That was it, Christmas in jail… “oh God, how am I gonna tell Mum???” we all said at the same time and took each other’s hands…
The five men sitting in the big cold vehicle with us did not encourage any thought of escape. Janine cried the whole way and muttered in French, as far as I could tell from the pieces of words and sentences I caught, she was rehearsing what to say to her parents after they were told about the arrest of their daughter in London, who they thought was studying English at the university and staying in a youth hostel…run by the Catholic Church…
In truth we were all guilty of smoking the occasional joint, Sam bought it from friends at the pub around the corner who were regular visitors to our flat, I quite liked them in my naïve way of thinking at that time. My own boyfriend smoked it but I did not like the taste of Hash. It was the fashion of those days to smoke some kind of light hallucinogenic drug, the bands smoked it and their fans needed to mimic them. In order not to be the odd one out, “the straight one”, I made believe I inhaled, but in reality I only puffed occasionally, more often than not I found an excuse not to take the joint, because it made me sick. Any of the heavenly effects my friends were claiming to have when smoking, eluded me completely. At my first time, we were smoking in our flat in the living room and while some of the guys collapsed snoring on the couch, Rita, Sam and Janine plus some others, whose names I have forgotten, were painting flowers on the wall… what they said they saw: flowers and crazy shapes in the brightest colours until the wall looked like it had been adorned by the famous hands of Picasso’s whole family. I, the odd one out in the real sense of the word, felt wide awake and as sober as after a midnight swim. But wanting to be accepted as “cool and in” I started babbling silly things and said I was seeing animals and tiny angels and in between the green and purple flowers soon grinned my strange creatures, dogs with bird’s heads, elephants with wings and angels with two heads and big red hands…
But after about half an hour of painting and singing with my friends I suddenly felt so sick that I was sure not to make it to the bathroom in time. I spent the night and the next morning feeling as if I had drunk at least ten bottles of whiskey alone…
Never again, was my oath after that experience, but, of course, I tried it a few more times, always with the same result, weaker every time, still I finally realized that Hash was not for me!
The rest of that night we sat in a cold and bare room at the Police station, each one of us was called separately and interrogated. After several hours of the same endless questions, the officers were tired of wasting any more time since we could not tell what we did not know, so they called the Legal Aid lawyer who was appointed to represent us at the trial which was scheduled to be held two months later. We were told to stay in London, our passports taken from us and we had to report to our local police station at a certain time every day. I felt like a criminal! Although I knew I was innocent, I had been stupid enough to let myself be dragged into this mess by so-called friends who in fact had reported us to the police! It was clear after long discussions with my flatmates that the coppers had planted the packets of Hash in our rooms in order to be able to charge us with possession. They needed their victory, but we knew that none of us girls had had drugs on her or in the flat at the time of the raid. We knew, but how could we prove it? Who would believe us?
Our Legal Aid lawyer Cliff was a good looking young man in his early thirties who smiled the whole time he spoke to us and assured us we would be acquitted very soon.
So we trotted to the Police station every night at 6pm, freezing in snow and ice, carrying the heavy can of Paraffine which was our only source of heat and had to be refilled nearly every day during the cold winter months.
“ Damned Cops! I’ll kill them when this is over!” Sam was an angry ball of hate and swore like a drunkard, I had never seen her like this and she showed us a new, very aggressive side of herself. I was angry, too, angry with the cops, angry with myself for having been so naïve, angry about having to lie to my parents why I was not coming home for Christmas…nor for my birthday…..
Of course, we were foreigners in a foreign country and had broken its laws, what did we expect? We were lucky to be free on bail and able to work and stay in our flat, none of our parents had been informed, not even our landlord, who was only concerned about his rent and ordered us to clean up the “mess in the living room”, meaning our “works of art” on the wall…
These two months passed very slowly and every time I went outside I felt a thousand eyes looking at me, watching my every move. All policemen I saw looked like the guys who had “busted” us and seemed to know everything about me.
For our friends, however, life went on as normal, they were hanging around the pub at night and begging us for grass or offering us some. I could not bear the smell of it any longer but Sam and Rita kept smoking in secret. Since we all shared the flat and paid for it I was not able to stop them from baking a Hash cake in our kitchen for Brian’s birthday, Rita’s boyfriend. We had agreed not to smoke anything else than cigarettes in the flat, no grass or other drugs. To get the smell out of the rooms, all windows were opened and we froze for half a night just for a Hash cake which, I was sure, must have tasted awful! Of course, nobody admitted it… anything for the sake of getting high!
For me, this time before the trial were days of reflection and looking into myself. What did I want out of life? To get high? Yes, certainly, I wanted to get high on life, love, an exciting career, travelling the world…
I decided if I got out of this trial a free girl, I would go back home and start a serious job as an interpreter, translator or language teacher, skills I had acquired successfully the previous years.
“You’re so straight, the bore is killing me!” my boyfriend David told me and that was the end of our relationship.
London, as much as I loved it, could not give me any more, it was a lonely city without friends and those fleeting acquaintances with people who all seemed to want to use each other made me very sad and depressive.

Finally, the day of the trial was there. We dressed as grown up and straight as we could, in skirts and blouses, a cardigan or a jacket to match, very little makeup, hair tied in a bun or tail at the back. We travelled by underground to the court building, our hearts beating down in our boots; I imagined them as little red gremlins with big innocent eyes hopping alongside us, their knees probably shaking worse than our own... was I high, or was my imagination running wild permanently?
Walking through one of London´s beautiful parks lifted my spirits considerably. After all, I had a clear conscience, the spruces were lushgreen and the grass patches where the sun had melted the snow were as green as in the summer. The sun was smiling at us, looking up I thought I could see it winking at me...
Cliff, our lawyer, was there to greet us and led us into a room full of people. The public was not interested in our case in particular as we had not made the headlines yet... but were generally invited to listen for educational purposes…
I only hoped nobody in that room would recognize and photograph me...
The police inspector acting for the prosecution presented his case and to our laymen’s ears it seemed that the evidence against us was overwhelming and we were all “guilty as charged”. Later, as he went on, however, it became clear that the only culprit was Sam, who had been dealing Cannabis and other drugs for some time and was already known to and wanted by the Police. How could she have deceived us for so long? Anyway, as sad as it was, there and then it was everybody for herself…
My heart slowly climbed up towards my abdomen…
“Don’t say a word,” Cliff told us sternly, “let me do the talking!”
This was music to our ears…
Then Cliff talked at length about us, elaborated on the statements we had given on the day of our arrest and through all the legal terms none of us could follow we only understood that in his closing argument he gave an Oscar performance telling the judge that we had been misled and did not know we were breaking any laws.
“Your Honour, these are good, well brought up girls from decent families, foreigners, who did not know they were being misused and who are unfamiliar with our strict laws. They had no intention of doing anything wrong. I am absolutely sure, they will never again touch anything remotely resembling even a cigarette!”
I felt the cigarette pack in my pocket…holding onto it for support…
After endless minutes of silence, of unbearable waiting for the verdict, the judge looked at us with a grave face. Oh God I thought, this is it, we’re finished, we will be thrown into the Dungeon to rot!
My legs went somewhere else, I could not feel them, they had decided to go into hiding. I searched for Janine’s hand, found Cliff’s instead…
“The evidence presented in this case shows beyond any reasonable doubt that Samantha D… and her boyfriend John M… are guilty of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Samantha D. and John M. are herewith sentenced to a term of incarceration of twelve months each…” I looked at Sam, her eyes were dead, her face showed no emotion, my God, what would become of her!
Then the judge turned to us. We looked at him like beaten dogs begging for mercy…
“For lack of evidence all charges against the accused…” up came Janine’s and Rita’s names, finally mine …are hereby dismissed. I advise you, however, to refrain from frequenting the said pub and those people you call your friends, to go home to your parents and become honest hardworking people!”
The bang of the gavel pulled me back into reality. Had I heard correctly? I was free, we were free?
The cheers of Janine, Rita and their boyfriends seemed to come from another planet, far away…
Suddenly, I found myself in Cliff’s arms, “Congrats! You’re free! What are you going to do now, Sydney?”

Sybille (Sydney) Krivenko GISC2052924 2007

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