In Mexico, in the upscale neighborhood where I lived with my host family, color ran riot on the houses, dogs lived on the roofs as if that were the most normal place in the world for dogs to live, and there was a night watchman. He rode his bicycle through the dark and quiet streets armed with a whistle. The first few weeks, the soft two-toned whistle woke me up three or four times a night, and I wondered grumpily why he blew his whistle when all was well. What would he do when all was not well? Not blow his whistle?
As the weeks passed, though, it woke me up less and less, until it was only when I was studying or reading in bed late at night that I’d hear it: whee-oh, whee-oh, almost melodic, a sound that told me all was well. I saw these night watchmen occasionally when I was out late. They invariably rode rickety bikes probably older that I was. The watchmen were just men—no uniforms, no fingers on the triggers of long rifles, like the police, no billy clubs, no scary tattoos and bodybuilder muscles. Just that musical whistle, which I only ever heard calling peacefully, “All’s well.”
They earned their keep going around the neighborhood by day collecting money for this protection service, like apologetic mafiosos. Sometimes I wondered why people bothered. A man on a bike with a whistle wouldn’t stop me if I were of a criminal persuasion.
But I suppose what people want is to feel secure, even if they aren’t, to see outward manifestations of that security. There are wars and corruption and car accidents on the news every night. People murdering those they once loved and those they’ve never met and those who believe something different than they do. Children gunning down other children. Entire lives changing—or disappearing—in one instant of terror. Diseases we have no cure for. Diseases people can’t afford the cure to. Wildfires that consume entire towns. Tsunamis that kill thousands. Men who beat their wives and women who drive into lakes with their children because they think it’s the only way out.
Every night we hear of armed robberies and drug cartels and hate crimes. But every night, too, drifts in that gentle “All’s well,” real and near and human. And somehow it’s enough.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/R. Nial Bradshaw