The town bustled with activity. People came in cars and on bikes and on foot. They moved jovially about in search of a good time. Some of them lived inside the city and some on the outskirts of town. Visitors came through on their way to other places and often stopped for a meal or to shop. Sometimes they visited family or friends who lived there before going on to the places set on their agendas. It was just like any other town. It had cute, quaint areas that people loved to photograph and visit. It had beautiful parks in which families played and ate picnics.
It had unsavory sections that everyone in the town loved to turn their nose up at or blame someone else for causing. Those sections had less fortunate people. They had meager supplies and wore clothing from many years ago. Some people looked on that part of town as a blight. Those parts were not to be seen by visitors. They were kept in the shadows and hidden away.
It had long been my job to keep the peace in the town. I took my job very seriously. When there were uprisings and injustices, I did my very best to placate those who had a problem. I kept anyone from getting too mad and using that anger to hurt other people in the town. I had been trained for this job since I was a child. Keeping the peace seemed noble. I believed it was my calling and that it was right.
Sometimes, though, I lay awake in my bed at night and remembered. I remembered my training for this job. The lessons had been hard. Not hard in a way that challenged me and caused me to grow, but hard in a way that often stunted me. The lessons had made me have to work much harder to fit in with everyone else. They had taught me to fear.
The lessons I learned had taught me to keep the town looking a certain way. It was my job to display proudly the cute and attractive parts for all to see. It was my job to keep the unsavory, less fortunate parts of town hidden. No one needed to see that or know it existed. It made people uncomfortable. I was assured no one would like our town or visit it if people looked too closely at the parts that weren’t pretty.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my efforts to keep the peace in this town weren’t rooted in my desire to make the town better, cleaner, or more efficient. I desperately avoided conflict out of fear. When the town had disagreements and disapproval, someone might get hurt like I had in my lessons. Avoiding the hurt had mixed in with keeping the peace.
When I began to think this way, it became harder to do my job. I looked more closely at the unsavory parts of town, and at the cute parts of town. Sometimes I couldn’t tell the difference anymore between them. Keeping the peace was sounding a lot more like hiding the truth. The closer I looked I began to realize there were lies hidden in the cute parts of town. It was like rot hid behind beautiful decoration. It put on a pretty face as long as no one looked too closely. The pretty flowers and well-manicured lawns hid secrets and lies. The ones that hid behind the pretty façade were the ones who had taught me my lessons. Deep down, I started to question my role and my training.
At the same time, I began to see that the unsavory parts of town held glimpses of beauty. In the dark and dingy, someone shared with someone else who didn’t have enough. They were both unkempt and in need of a good bath, but one of them had more than the other and they gave freely because they had enough to share. It was a bright shiny kindness that was right there for anyone to see had they just looked closely enough to spot it. Some of the children in the unsavory part of town were happy with very little, while some of the children in the cute part of town were never satisfied.
One day, I walked through the town, lost in my thoughts and I almost ran into someone. “Excuse me, sir!” I said, “I didn’t see you there.” He smiled at me with kindly eyes and said, “It’s okay, I almost never see me here either!” and chuckled low at his own joke. His enthusiasm was infectious, and I found myself smiling for the first time in weeks. “Are you new in our town?” I asked him, trying to decide if I had seen him around before. He carried an air of familiarity but stood out in a way that I would have been certain to remember if I had seen him. “Oh, I’ve been around before,” he said mysteriously, “And what about you?” I looked him in the eye and said, “I’m the peacekeeper for this town.”
He looked at me for a long moment, tilting his head to the side. It was as if he could see right through me. When he asked me, “How is that going for you? This keeping the peace?” I knew that he had in fact seen right through my façade. “Honestly,” I replied, not knowing why I was talking so openly to this stranger, “I don’t even know what I believe anymore about keeping the peace.”
“Hmph” he said and turned to look over the town. We stood there, looking around. We saw the streets and the shops and the parks and the people. The cute side sat proudly on display, distracting you from looking toward the unsavory side. I was thinking to myself that this just would not do. “You know,” the gentleman said, turning to me, “I think there’s a new sheriff in this town. They don’t cotton to keeping the peace. They come out with guns blazing, even at a picnic.” He chuckled that mysterious chuckle again.
Who was this sheriff? Was this man claiming that he could make the changes? I turned to ask him and was shocked to find him gone. “Hey!” I said, looking around. There was no sign of him. Where had he gone? Was he taking over as sheriff? I walked all through town looking for him. As I walked through town, one of the kids from the unsavory side waved at me. I stopped walking and I waved back. The little girl ran over to me. “I wish I could go play in the park” she said, “we never get to go over there.”
I thought about my conversation with the man and I said, “You know what, let’s go play over there together.” Looking over at her mom I said, “I’m going to take her to the park to play, I’ll watch her.” Her mother looked at me with a smile that seemed to say “finally” and nodded. The little girl and I walked into the park together and I began to push her on the swings. When some of the people gave us a funny look, I cleared my throat and said loudly, “This park is for everyone in this town. It is open to all the people here and no one is to be kept out!”
As the carrier of authority, they could not stop my declaration. Their own rules of decorum demanded they do what I say with the power they had already given me. It was then I realized that the man had not been talking about himself, he had been talking about me. I was the new sheriff in this town. I held the power to change it.
2 thoughts on “The Town”
Noice! Metaphor, message, pace, the fluidity of the read…it borders on the sublime, Beth.
Wow. I’m amazed.
That was an excellent ending.