Artist As Witness

Entry by: kevley

19th June 2015

They were waiting for Mr A when he’d returned home after dawn prayer. 
He could hear indistinct voices as he wandered back up the lane towards his house; as he got closer their words became clearer and he realised they were in his kitchen. 
He was nearly at his back door before he could make out enough of what they were asking his wife to realise that they were there in some sort of official capacity. 
“Does your husband teach many children?” 
“Does he make much money from it?” 
There was a male voice asking questions, and he recognised his wife's giving vague answers, but she didn't sound herself.

“Ah, here he is” said the man, as soon as Mr A entered the room. He smiled and held out his hand .
“I am from the Religious Police – and this is a colleague from the Civilian Branch” – he pointed to a woman, who was younger than he expected, and dressed in a standard police uniform. 
Mr A thought about asking for their names and some sort of identification, but decided against it. Things weren't done that way these days. His father had been an Inspector with the police but that was under the old regime, when the rules were very different. People were still innocent until proven guilty. That seemed such a long, long time ago.

He was still wondering whether to shake the outstretched hand, when it was slowly withdrawn and the Religious Officer said :
“We would like you to come to the station in town tomorrow at 9 am to make a witness statement. I take it you can attend?” 
“Yes, I suppose so”, said the Mr A, and then regretted being a bit vague.  
“I mean, yes, I will be there. Can I ask what you want me to give a statement about?” 
“Oh, don’t worry about that”, the man smiled again. “We’ll explain all that tomorrow when we see you”. 
With those words he gestured towards the female officer and they both left the house, as quietly as they arrived. 
“What was all that about?” his wife asked. 
“I don’t know dear, honestly, I have no idea”. 

The next morning his granddaughter came and picked him up in her husband’s cousin car. 
She got there in plenty of time, and asked him a lot of questions as to what it could be about? 
He said he had no idea. 
He had not seen any crimes in the street, or anywhere else. 
He didn't know of anyone who was being charged with anything. 
His wife said that the Religious one had noticed some of his paintings on the wall, and had asked about them. They then talked about him giving classes to a few local children, but she couldn't remember whether she had brought up that topic or the policeman. 
His granddaughter asked her if the Civilian policewoman had said anything. 
“No, I don’t think so. Not a word.” 
The granddaughter looked worried.  
“Is that bad? Mr A asked? 
“It could be. It means it is more likely to be a purely religious matter.” 

His wife stayed at home. She was worried and wanted to go along, but they didn't want to show the police any signs of worry. If they acted innocently, then maybe the police would believe them. Maybe.
His granddaughter drove quickly down the mountain and then through the countryside, and then were on the edge of town. 
Neither said much, as they both knew that there was no point in speculating – they just had to go and see what the police wanted. Let them speak first. Which they assumed they would, but you never can tell in this country. Not since the Religious Police had been formed.
She parked the car a little way from the police station. They both agreed a short walk would do them good to clear their thoughts. 
“You never know when I will be able to feel the fresh air on my face again,” he half-laughed, but they both knew, it wasn't that funny. Give the wrong answer or let them confuse you, and they could decide to keep you as a guest whilst they investigated further. 

He gave his name at the front desk and the Officer behind the desk – Civilian Branch – looked bored at him and roughly pointed to a wooden staircase on the other side of the hall. 
His granddaughter motioned him to go first, so she could give him a gentle shove if needed. 
His hand grabbed hold of the banister and wobbled a bit. Scraps of paint moved under his palm; he was expecting something untoward to happen when he put his right foot on the bottom step, but nothing did: it seemed firm enough, able to bear his weight. 
He slowly made his way to the top. He got used to the bannister being a bit shaky, and his granddaughter’s hand on his back was reassuring, at least he wasn't alone getting to the room, but he doubted whether the police would let her sit in on the interview. 

The Religious Officer put his head through a door as soon as Mr A set foot on the landing. 
“Please come in here,” he said smiling “I hope it wasn't too inconvenient getting here?” 
He stepped into the corridor and let the man and his granddaughter enter the interview room. There were 2 chairs set out for them. 
Mr A quickly considered that they were happy to let his granddaughter sit in on the interview. He tried to work out if that was good, or bad.   
 Once they were all seated, the Officer said:
"Let's begin by having a cup of tea?"

Before they could say anything, The Civilian Officer from yesterday promptly brought in a tray, and placed it on the table before sitting down next to the Religious Officer and starting to pour four cups of tea. 
She was quite chatty, asking them how they liked their teas , what route they had taken to get there. 
Her colleague happily let her carry on, and was busy looking through a folder, which he rested on his side of the table so that the visiting pair could not peek at the contents.  

Once the tea had been passed over to them all, the Religious Officer smiled at the other three in turn, then took out a recording machine from a desk drawer put in the middle of them all, pressed a button on it and said:  
“I shall begin. This is a recorded witness statement of Mr A, given in the presence of his granddaughter Mrs B. 
“Mr A your worked as a school teacher?” 
“Yes, I retired 3 years ago.”  
“And have you had any income since then – apart from your teacher’s pension?” 
“Well, yes I have.” 
Mr A stopped, trying to decide if they had brought him all the way here for tax matters.  
By the look on the Officer’s face he realised that he was expected to give details. 
“I still teach art to local children after school and at the weekends, in the holidays. I don’t have many students and they don’t pay me much. I do it more to keep myself occupied rather than for the money…” 
“I am not concerned about your earnings at all” the Officer interrupted him. 
“I have brought you here to ask about one of your students in particular. An old student who has since moved to the capital. And has been producing some” he paused, whether to think of the correct word or for the drama, Mrs B wasn't sure later 
“Interesting works. Yes, works that definitely interest us at the Department of Religious Affairs. 
We want to know what the student was like when you taught her. And where she might have got such”  - another pause - “unusual ideas from”. 
He smiled broadly at Mr A and then across to Mrs B. 
Mr A only ever had one female student who he knew had gone to the capital - and had been good enough to produce paintings that would get noticed, discussed, exhibited - and come to the attention of the authorities. 
He decided there was no point trying to play games with the police, so he asked: 
"I assume you are referring to Student C? She is the only one I know who has moved to the capital, but I have not been in contact with her since, and don't know what art work she has been producing." 
"Yes", the officer replied. "What sort of student was she? What did you teach her?" 
"She was very quiet, talented, by far and away the best student I ever had. She had a strong sense of colour." 
He waited a moment to collect his thoughts, and found him smiling at the officer. He decided all he could do was tell the truth as he remembered it: 
"She was very eager to learn...I took it as simple curiosity, but she asked a couple of times what I knew about the great Western artists..." 
He noticed the officer raised his eyes up at that, so he quickly went on, the tension apparent in his voice that he realised his mistake and wanted to correct it as soon as possible:  
"Of course, I meant to say the so-called great Western artists. I told her very little about them...because I know very little about them myself, of course. I told her I could only teach her the official syllabus. And that is what I did." 
"And she hasn't been in contact since?" 
"No, it is 2 years since I last saw her. I heard that she didn't even come back for her grandmother's funeral. Which was talked about locally, of course. Her father said she was very busy with her studies in the capital, suggested she had an important exam, but you know...people talked." 
"Of course, of course. People talk in small villages like yours'" the officer said, not smiling as naturally this time. 
The officer paused for a few moments, and then looked through the folder again, which is was still keeping hidden from both of them.
He then spoke again:
“So can I say that your official witness statement is that whilst she asked about subjects that were off the official syllabus, you did not answer her questions in any depth, you did not encourage her to go beyond the official syllabus, and that- and this is the most important point - that you have had no contact with her - either directly - or through third parties - since she moved to the capital?" 
Mr A nodded, and when the officer reached the end said "Yes." 
"Good," said the Religious Officer closing his folder and  standing up. "My civilian colleague will write out a statement along those lines, and when you have signed it you will be free to go." 
With that he switched off the recording machine, put that in his pocket and the folder under his arm and then walked out into the morning sunshine that was drenching the corridor without saying Goodbye to any of the other three. 
The Civilian officer looked at Mrs B and said :
"Should I go and make us all another cup of tea before I begin?" 
 Mrs B smiled and said:
“Oh yes, please.” She leaned towards the Civilian and almost whispered under her breath:
“Do you know what sort of pictures Student C has been creating?”
“Oh, I don't get to know details like that. Just be thankful that it looks like he's finished with you.
She exclaimed as she got up and left the room.