Slowly but decidedly, Pepe climbed the creaky old stairs to his parents’ attic. Once he had arrived he looked around in the poor light for the chest that he knew had to be there, among all the other things his parents had collected over the years. His intuition showed him the way and a few moments later he knelt down before the chest, which was covered in a layer of dust. He felt his heart beating heavily when he let his hands glide over the rusty latch. Then he cleared his throat, folded his hands for a couple of seconds and unlatched the chest.
When he lifted the heavy lid, it was as if he came face to face with his past and with the past of his parents, who had both, passed away recently. It had been the day before yesterday, when his father had spoken his last words only a week after his mother had died, that Pepe knew the time had come to confront his ghosts from the past. That was why he now knelt before the chest with mixed feelings and wondered what in heaven’s name had come over him. In fact, he already knew and that caused him to lunge into countless images that suddenly presented themselves to his inner eye.
In a split second it felt as if he was back in his early days with the Los Angeles Police Department, before he worked in crime investigation and he patrolled the streets of the red light district with his partner. Suddenly Pepe pictured vividly the scenes that took place there and the situations that he had to deal with. In any case, that was what he tried hard to do, for the girls there; most of them were no older than twenty, were robbed, beaten and exploited on a daily basis.
In his reminiscing, Pepe felt the same anger of all those years ago building up inside of him again. The way in which the clients, if you could name them as such, treated the women of the street made him red hot with fury. It was as if these men had the right to take their lust out on them. Pepe had judged the men harshly in those days, but now he felt sorry for them. For, he knew that both the women who sold their bodies out of necessity and the men who put their egos in first place and neglected the women’s well-being, brought to life one of our collective train of thought’s most twisted assumptions.
That is, they all kept the lie alive. The huge lie that it was necessary for these women to sacrifice themselves as prostitutes to prevent the rape of other women, as well as the lie that they had chosen this profession of their own free will. Pepe knew better. Sure, there was the occasional woman who had chosen to lead this life, but you wouldn’t find her behind the red-lit windows in Pepe’s precinct.
No, 99.9 % of the women who were condemned to this harsh, cold life and to roaming the streets after being ditched by their pimps were the product of broken homes and poverty. When Pepe realized this, he felt sadness gnawing at his stomach. Prostitution was good for nothing. That’s why Pepe didn’t comprehend how others could condone the breaking of all those parents’ harts, the shattering of their dreams, all caused by the suffering inflicted on their daughters.
“How harsh and uncompassionate we are,” Pepe whispered despondently, “that we can treat vulnerable children in such a way,” and he gulped in despair. Yes, the women with the red lights, they were the strong ones, he said to himself. Then he repeated out loud what he had learnt after 35 years of loyal police service: “In the vulnerability of life lies great strength.”
He gulped once more, cleared his throat and focussed on the chest again. There he noticed the pile of letters his father had written for his mother in their younger years. These were the letters that his father had spoken of on his deathbed. If he were to read these, everything would make sense to him; that’s what his father had said. He would know why Pepe’s parents had raised Pepe and his brothers and sisters with such fondness and why in all his days with the police force, Pepe had looked after the less fortunate ones in society with such compassion.
Pepe felt his eyes pricking and his hart beating in his throat. His quivering fingers untied the ribbon around the little bundle of feelings and passion. Then Pepe unfolded the letter on top and while his tears dripped onto the tattered page and blurred the ink, he began to read out loud his father’s first words. “My darling Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light tonight.”
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