There was a time when my team and I regularly did some maintenance work at the Banda Kaba TM building (pronounce; Banda Kabe). For those who don’t know, it’s in Bandar Hilir, Malacca. It was at least a twice a year routine, 3-4 days tops, usually done after office hours and sometimes if there were glitches during the maintenance activity, we could even spend the whole day at the building, until the next evening. But it was normal when it happens. We’re already used to it.

So, we were finishing up a day’s work one afternoon. It was already 4:30pm and we were lacking sleep from the night before and couldn’t wait to get back to our hotel rooms. After packing up our supporting apparatuses, we went to our cars. Epul was hitching a ride with me, in my old Proton Saga/Iswara kereta kebal. Meanwhile, Encik Sam, the most senior of us all, was hitching a ride in Handsome Hassan’s Subaru Impreza WRX STI. It’s important to highlight the lack of sleep portion of this story here. Handsome Hassan will always be handsome regardless of anything. Encik Sam, being the elder, would look older and more inoffensive when he’s sleepy. Epul and I on the other hand, late 20s at that time, with Javanese blood in our veins, unshaven, by default would look unpleasant, while hostility was written all over our faces when we lack sleep. At least that was what I thought when I looked at Epul and again, when I looked in the mirror. In addition, it was also important to take note on the cars we drove, obviously.

As the story goes, Handsome Hassan drove his Subaru Impreza WRX STI with Encik Sam riding shotgun, in front of our car. We exited past the security guardhouse and through the main gate. There was an unusual traffic congestion along the Jalan Banda curve, linking up with Jalan Banda Kaba. After the sharp curve, we realized that there was a police road block, just in front of the Banda Kaba police station. The road block was a non-issue to us. All I could think of at that time was the prospect of dipping myself into a warm bath in the hotel’s bathtub in a few minutes time.

The police guarding the road block didn’t bat an eye on Handsome Hassan’s car. His gesture of letting them through the road block was lethargic and apathetic. Well, why should he be anything but? We are all good men here. Oh, I can’t wait to get through. Chilly hotel room and a warm bath in a bathtub; an exciting combination for me.

It’s funny to notice the detailed transformation of a face that was initially jaded, suddenly sprung out interested and full of life. The rejuvenated police officer guarding the road block halted my car, as Handsome Hassan and Encik Sam drove away into their paradise. The officer knocked Epul’s side window and pointed his finger down. I lowered the window.

Any problems officer?” Epul asked.

Driving licenses and Identity Cards. Both of you”, he replied, firmly.

When we gave him our documentations, he took it and straight away went inside the station, leaving us there in the middle of the road, ID-less, like a couple of idiots. What is this shit? What’s happening? What the fuck did we do wrong? I thought I’ve already apologized to the school canteen lady for stealing a piece of fried chicken back in the year 1998. This cannot be! It’s ridiculous! I want my chilly hotel room and a warm bath in a bathtub, now!

Another officer came to our car and instructed us to park inside the station compound. I obliged. There was a BMX bike laid on the ground, cluttered nearby where my car was parked. We were then instructed to gather at a spot beside the building with several other Malay-ish, male civilians. The same officer asked all of us a few questions which I couldn’t remember what exactly because my mind was somewhere else. Maybe general questions about our backgrounds. Maybe, maybe not. All I can remember was the officer jotting down the inputs from us on pieces of forms that he was holding. Oh, and there was a teenager among us, holding a plastic bag with a handful of kacang panjang and a packet of granulated sugar inside. I bet the BMX bike was his, the kacang panjang was his mother’s.

Not long after, like a flock of sheep, we were herded inside the police station into a dark room. Our backs were placed against the wall. The room was dark because initially the lights were not lit. When all of us were inside, the lights were turned on. We were standing in a line, facing a huge mirror in front of us. The wall behind us was printed with height charts. Through the mirror I can see the sorry and exasperated faces off all the Malay-ish, male civilians that were gathered. Yes, it sounded ridiculous for being a slowpoke, but that was when I finally realized that I was in a police line-up, an identity parade! Roger “Fucking Verbal” Kint! I don’t have any affiliation with Keyser Söze for crying out loud!

Two different officers then escorted two Malay-ish, males in handcuffs into the room. One was placed to stand next to me and the other one was placed at the end of the line. Their handcuffs were removed. Before exiting the room, one of the officer warned with a huge frown on his face, “Stand still! Look in front!”, while pointing his finger towards us. I’m not sure whether the message was for all of us or just for the two guys who entered last. Again, looking at the mirror, which I then realized was a one-way mirror, I looked at that two particular persons. The persons that might be the reason Epul and I, and all the others were brought to the damned place in the first place. I’m judging and cursing them silently, there and then, while disregarding the Presumption of Innocence. I took a glimpse at Epul who was standing nearest to the exit. He was struggling to open his eyes due to the sleepiness.

It was close to four minutes of silence. The door then opened and the same two officers who brought the two “real” suspects entered. They handcuffed the two again and took them away. The officer who initially halted my car then stood at the door and said, “Thank you gentlemen for being cooperative and assisting the Royal Malaysian Police. You can now collect your IDs and can be excused. Thank you again”. His smile was insincere, I can tell. Tak ikhlas.

While walking to my car, Epul managed to confront the officer that dismissed us earlier and with a sleepy scowl, he said, “Did you know that we were working all night at TM Banda Kaba? Sleepless. We were just about to go back to our hotel. To rest. Why us? Do we look like criminals to you?

The officer replied, “I’m sorry sir but it’s part of our duty to randomly select people with the closest descriptions to the suspects for the police line-up. And we thank you for your contribution to the community. By the way, do you smoke?

Epul was suddenly confused by the sudden change of topic, “Errr, yes. Why?

Here, take this unopened pack of green Sempoerna. My personal gratitude. Ikhlas.

*****

Handsome Hassan and Encik Sam laughed at our story while we were having Nasi Goreng Sup “extra pedas” for dinner at a restaurant along Jalan Parameswara that night.

Apparently, I didn’t take any warm baths in the bathtub for the remainder of that trip.

But do I really look like a petty criminal?

*But seriously, was it actually a random selection, or was it a material bias, or was it a facial judgmental bias? You tell me.

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