Pick up

My only complaint about the school is the guard. He is sullen, rough and slightly scary. I have never seen him smile at, talk to, or engage with a child in any way. He smokes constantly and the sidewalk outside the gate is littered with his butts.

Though the realm of his power is limited, he rules over his small domain with a fierce militancy. We all have keys for the magnetic gate, but we only dare enter with the guard’s approval.

At the appointed hour he skulks towards the door, claps his hands twice and waves us in. Ayis, parents, grandparents all crush forward. The guard then stands outside the gate, smoking and looking shady.

The only time I have seen him diverge from this routine was when one dad – desperate for an early pick up – bribed him with a smoke.

How he managed to get –or keep – his job is a mystery.

I have heard that in Shanghai the lesser branches of public security –crossing guards and security guards – are positions reserved for history’s rejects: laid off employees of SOE’s that can not find work elsewhere, or – a more ominous and intriguing possibility – former Red Guards. I do not know if these rumors are true, but, if they are, it explains a lot.

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